Starting from the beginning
“I hope the growth visible on this page inspires you to follow your own journey.”
3 tips to read more books
My New Year resolution every year:
“I want to read more books!”
And I’m certainly not the only one because it’s one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions in the world. Many students, entrepreneurs, and employees want to read more but can’t find the motivation or time to do so. Therefore, the primary purpose of this blog is to increase the number of people who are happy with the number of books they read a year.
Until 1.5 years ago, I was only reading 2 or 3 books a year. Some years even zero. I haven’t pinpointed one reason for this, but I think it was a combination of multiple things. When the COVID-19 epidemic started I saw it as an opportunity to read more books. Sort of like a COVID resolution. It worked. I finished 25 books in 1.5 years. That’s almost 14 books a year. You’ll certainly find book gurus who read a lot more than that, but hey, it’s about progress not about a number.
“Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not who someone else is today”
This is a quote from the book “12 rules for life” by Jordan Peterson (I certainly recommend it). With that in mind, I guarantee you that after reading this blog, you’ll read more. Without further ado here are 3 tips to help you put that number of books in the elevator.
1. Get yourself an EMPTY bookshelf
Most people use their bookshelf to show off with books they haven’t read. “Look at me how smart I am because I read a lot of books”. This bookshelf will be different. It won’t let you show off that easily. From now on, you may only put the books on it that you’ve finished. Put the other’s you haven’t finished yet somewhere you don’t want your books placed. For example in a closet, under a bed, or in your shower (just kidding). Do it now if you can, otherwise, you’ll probably forget it.
In that way, you have a PUSH-factor (the ugly place) and a PULL-factor (the empty bookshelf). So, you have 2 physical reminders to read more. Stop being an “I-Show-Off-With-Books-I-Haven’t-Read” kinda person and be honest with yourself. You’ll be more proud of your s(h)elf.
Extra: If your bookshelf is filled to the point of satisfaction, maybe it’s time to empty it again. Then you can let the PUSH & PULL factors do their magic another time.
2. Read one page every day
Reading (at least) one page each day was for me the most effective way to read more. It’s an example of a microhabit. A microhabit is something you do every day, but just a little of it. This concept was popularised by the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear (I still have to read that one). By keeping it small, there’s a high chance that you can do it every day. One page takes for the average reader one minute. Everyone can set one minute aside each day to read one page. I do this just before I go to bed. When I’m really tired it will probably be no more than that one page. However most days I realize that the book is genuinely interesting and I finish the chapter.
Even if you would only do the bare minimum of one page each day, which I don’t believe, you’ll still read 365 pages a year. That’s one book. More than most people do!
Extra: You can raise the one page to more pages to ensure that you’ll read even more. Although, be careful of raising it too much because even two pages sound more challenging than one. Subconscientiously it may lead to days you don’t read. We want to avoid that.
3. Try different forms of reading of
These days, there are a lot of different ways to read a book. You can read a physical book, read on your e-reader or smartphone and even listen to audiobooks (which you technically can’t call “reading”, but for me, it counts as reading). Experiment with these different forms and try to find which works best for you. For me, it is a combination of physical books and e-books.
Extra: Borrow physical books and e-books from your library. This is a very cheap way to get in touch with more books. You’ll also feel less disappointed when you won’t finish a book.
These are, in my opinion, the 3 most effective ways to read more books. I’m sure they’ll help you. I’ve also a lot of other tips in mind, but those will be for another post.
Book 1: Ideas, Blogs & Self-Realization
A Little Story
Once upon a time, there was a young warrior. Every night laying in his bed, a stream of interesting ideas flushed through his mind. At first, he thought: “Well this is annoying, I can’t sleep because of this.” But after a while, he realized that writing down the thoughts helped. It helped because the ideas were permanently written down so they could not be forgotten. Because of that, there was no need to worry anymore. Now, he could go to bed peacefully.
After a while, the warrior had a big pile of ideas. Then the apparent question emerged: “What should I do with these ideas?” After a few days of thinking, he got the answer: “I will read more books to have more ideas! Maybe these new ideas will challenge my current ideas, but that’s okay, all I want is more ideas”. And so it happened. From then on he called himself the “Read More Warrior”. Reading book after book, the ideas piled up to fill his whole nightstand. The next victim was his desk and eventually, even his whole bedroom was filled with ideas. When people came over to his house and saw the pile they asked: “What are you going to do with all these ideas?” and the warrior responded: “No idea”.
One day a visitor gave him some wise advice “Maybe you should stop hoarding these ideas in your comfortable little room and send them into the world. How would you otherwise know if these ideas are any good?” Motivated by this conversation he bought a domain name to make his own blog, but realized quickly that it was not what he wanted to do. “Blogs are for people who are crying for attention and I don’t want to be one of them!” He thought. His plan from then on: “I will talk about my ideas in real life.”
This plan worked well, he joined a book club and talked with friends about the books he read. But after a while, he stumbled on a book called “Show Your Work” by Austin Kleon.
The book is built around 10 rules:
1. You don’t have to be a genius
2. Think process, not product
3. Share something small every day
4. Open up your cabinet of curiosities
5. Tell good stories
6. Teach what you know
7. Don’t turn into human spam
8. Learn to take a punch
9. Sell out
10. Stick around
Which I’ve also shown graphically in the following mind map
There were three rules that really resonated with me, which are underlined above. In the chapter Share something small every day Austin Kleon promotes having your own blog. Use it as a tool for self-realization and not for self-promotion. When it seems like this blog is becoming too self-promotional, please let me know. 😉
In the chapter Open up your cabinet of curiosities he states that you should ALWAYS acknowledge the people from who you got these ideas. For this reason, you will often find a lot of links to other sources in my blogs.
And last but not least, the most important rule in my opinion: Teach what you know. It’s the smallest chapter of this book. Austin Kleon says here that when you are learning something it can be a good idea to share your learning journey and help others to do the same. So by teaching what you learn, you learn it better in the first place. Also, even more important, you can get feedback from the people you taught. And from that, you can learn something which you can also teach to others and this will form an endless feedback loop. And that’s the reason why I made this blog.
Share something you’ve learned or made recently. This can be anything, ranging from how you are learning to play a music instrument to how you organize your daily life. Share it with a friend, or to the bigger public online.
5 reasons why you should read more books
This blog is all about reading more books. The Read More Warrior wants you to read more books and he will do anything in his power to help you with HOW to read more books. Nevertheless, it is first important to know WHY you would want to read more books. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. This blog focuses mostly on non-fiction books, but some of the same principles will also apply to fiction books.
1. Books can change your life
From my experience books can really change your life. You have probably heard these words “change your life” a lot these days from self-improvement gurus. They use it often as clickbait and I confess that I’ve used it also here in this blog post. Nevertheless, there is some truth in it. I can honestly say that several books changed my life, in small and big ways. In this blog, I’ll share with you how different books impacted my life.
2. Books are the perfect mentors
I often have the feeling that I miss some kind of mentor in my life. When I hear stories about the relationship between apprentice and mentor like Alexander the Great and Aristotle, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud or Ryan Holiday and Robert Greene, I have to confess I feel some jealousy. If you’re like me and you want a mentor but you can’t seem to find one, read books. You can see the books you read as your mentors. When you apply the concepts that you read in books, you learn from the experiences of the writer.
3. Reading books is a productive kind of leisure
I’ve always had a craving for more information. Curiosity is a very important human trait, but I’m convinced that I used it the wrong way for a long time. My leisure consisted mostly of checking social media, reading magazines, and watching YouTube. These triggered my curiosity very much because there was a continuous supply of new, attractive information. On the contrary reading books seemed like work that required a lot of effort.
The problem with social media, magazines, and YouTube is that there is often little depth in the information. Because of that, I forgot like 99% of what I had read or watched while feeling that I was learning something. Books form a solution because they often go very detailed into one specific topic. You can see them as the “specialists” of the information world. Social media, magazines, and YouTube on the other hand can be seen as the “generalists” of the information world. Because books are specialized and have a lot of stories to back up the same concept or argument, the central message is in my opinion unforgettable. A book called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport helped me to make this transition from watching Youtube to reading books
4. Books help with choosing a gift
When you become known in your inner circle as someone who reads a lot of books, it will be very easy for others and for you to choose a gift. Just ask them the give you a book! I always have a list of books that I would like to read and when someone asks me what I want for Christmas (All I want for Christmas is youuuuuuu babyyyy ) or my birthday I will send them this list.
It also works the other way around. When you read a lot of books you’ll often have the feeling: “This book would be perfect for my sister/friend/dad/….” Now you know what you will give them as a present for Christmas, their birthday or just randomly because you like them.
5. When there’s a natural disaster you at least have something to keep warm
One of the few scenes of the film “The Day After Tomorrow” by Roland Emmerich which I can remember is the one in which they decide to burn the books of the library to keep warm. Please keep your good books and only burn the bad ones. I’m not responsible for any damage! And if you only read on your e-reader, well you might have cold toes during a natural disaster.
Think of your own reason to read more books. Write it down clearly and beautifully on a small card which you can place on your nightstand, or close to your reading chair. It can also act as your cue for your reading habit. For more information on habits, read the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.
Book 2: Values, Boats & Cake
A Little Story
Once upon a time, there was a young warrior. Every day he worked on his blog. He had made this blog because he wanted to share his ideas with the world. After the three first posts, he thought by himself: “Well, what am I writing about?”. It was a complex question. He wanted to share his ideas, but did he want to share all his ideas? No, of course not, then he would turn into a human spam and Austin Kleon had learned him not to turn into a human spam. But how would he know what to share and what not?
“Maybe start with stating some key values for the blog,” said a voice in the back of his head. “Great idea! Thank you, voice in the back of my head!” said the Read More Warrior out loud. Suddenly he stumbled upon a beautiful book. He took it from the shelf, turned the front cover to his face, and read the title: The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy.
The 3 Key Values
Everything starts with Curiosity. For me, the boy in the book symbolizes Curiosity. As a child, we all are infinitely curious. Everyone goes through a phase in which they will ask their parents over and over “Why?”. I think we can all benefit from staying with one foot in this Why-phase. Keep asking these Why-questions. Try to get as close to the truth as possible. Talk with people. Listen actively. Experiment. Read. Write. Share your ideas. Share them clearly and creatively.
The observant reader noticed I wrote “with one foot” in the previous paragraph. What about the other foot? Well, I think Curiosity is a good thing although if you only keep asking questions like: “Why do I want to read more books?”, “Why can’t I have my creative ideas at a time I don’t have to sleep?” or “Why do I have a hole in my sock?” you would stay in a kind of passive mindset. But when you use your other foot (with a hole in its sock) to ask “How” questions like “How do I read more books?” “How can I use my creative ideas?” or “How can I fix my sock?” you will be one step closer to an active mindset that will keep you going.
In my opinion, this is the most brilliant quote in the book. For me, the fox symbolizes Honesty in this book. Letting a fox make such an honest statement is very cleverly done by Mackesy. Just think about the expression “As sly as a fox”. My mind was blown when I realized that.
To break the ice, I will start by telling you something. I honestly thought that the writer was a woman. Both men and women can have the name, Charlie. Somehow when I read the book and saw the beautiful drawings combined with the very vulnerable writing style, I convinced myself that Charlie Mackesy was a woman. A visit to his website proved the opposite.
Why is telling the truth so important? When you’re honest with people, you can form a far deeper bond with them. I’m certainly not the only one who thinks Honesty is important: the eighth rule of Jordan Peterson’s book 12 rules for life is “Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie” and Sam Harris has written a book called Lying about why you shouldn’t lie. I cannot explain it any clearer than Harris does in his book:
I’ve spent much more time thinking about this third value, than the other two. I first thought that it needed to be gratefulness. Somehow I couldn’t find myself writing anything about gratefulness, although it’s important to me. So I thought “Maybe there is another value that is more important and is blocking my writing in some way”. Then the invisible blockade showed itself suddenly the value Courage.
For me, the horse symbolizes Courage in this book. Why is Courage so important? Why did I first think that gratefulness was more important? When you are grateful for someone, it often takes Courage to say it to that person. It might be the reason why I first thought that gratefulness was important. But Courage is also important for other things. Asking for help when you need it requires Courage. Being honest even when you think that a small white lie will make everything easier, requires Courage. When you go on a curious adventure to challenge your own beliefs, you need Courage.
I like to see it in this way. I don’t see myself as particularly courageous, but I try to act courageously whenever possible. My best friend says it best:
Like asking your crush on a date, reaching out to your greatest example, or signing a contract that will force you to read more.
Extra: Have Fun in the Process
When you keep the three above values at the front of your head, keep some space at the back of your head for a fourth smaller, but not less important value: “Have fun in the process” For me, the mole and his cake symbolize this value. I even laughed out loud once while I read a page about this mole and his obsession with cake. I had never laughed out loud while reading a book before.
Having fun in the process by making some jokes or taking yourself not too seriously will elevate all the other values and makes them also easier.
I don’t mean this in the typical economic sense but see “the rising tide” as “Have fun in the process” and “all boats” as the three values Curiosity, Honesty, and Courage.
Think about your own key values. Write them down somewhere where you see them often. It’s okay if you steal one or multiple of the above.
How to remember what you’ve read
This biological fact will be the starting point for this post about remembering. Remembering more of what you’ve read is actually very simple. Higher Engagement = More Remembering. Additionally, we want to engage in various ways. Why do we want to do that? Well, I like to see how learning and remembering work in our brain, like this:
See the book you’ve just read as this one line on a plane. This plane is our brain. In this case, the line is very lonely and doesn’t get visited by Attention, the nourisher, who seems to be wandering around randomly. Even when Attention comes close to the line, it just steps over it. This line is destined to fade away over time, purely out of loneliness. Who would not want to fade away when it gets ignored that much?
We need to give our line some friends. These friends will form interesting intersections with our line. These other lines can assume many forms: other related books, drawings, habits,… What will happen now is that Attention will find one of the lines, hop on it, and walks over the line like on a tightrope. Attention gets really excited when it sees an intersection. It will hop enthusiastically onto the next line and will follow that line until there is a new intersection. Chances are one of these lines will be the book we’ve read.
Now that our book gets visited by Attention it gets nourished and will form stronger connections with the other lines. Because of that, we will remember what we’ve read way easier and it will come to us spontaneously when we need it.
Here are some ways to construct these helper-lines:
How can we use drawing to remember our books? First of all, we can doodle in our book. When you envisage something very vividly while reading, try to sketch what you imagine on the sidelines. It’s often easier to bring a drawing before our mind’s eye than a piece of text, even though both contain the same information. See it for yourself: What is easier to recall: The above drawing of the lines or the text which explains it? Drawing is also very fun to do, even if you aren’t proud of your drawing skills.
Secondly, you can try to make a visual summary of the book after you’ve read it. I especially like this in the format of a Mind Map (you can find an example in my post about Show Your Work). There are many great sources out there why Mind Maps are so interesting and how you can do it (my source Tony Buzan’s Use Your Head), so I won’t go too much into detail here.
Take action. Apply the concepts of the book. Experiment. This might be very straightforward for practical books because they guide you step by step on what you need to do. For more abstract books it might be trickier, but I’ll leave it to you to be creative with it.
To give a personal example. A while ago I’ve read the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport which gives very practical advice on how to use technology like social media, mail, laptops, and smartphones. Applying the concepts of the book in my daily life was not that easy, but it had a profound impact on my life. I can guarantee you that I’ll never forget that book.
Talk about it
When you’ve finished a book, try to think of at least one person who might benefit from reading this book and then recommend it to that person. When the person will read it too and talk with you about it, you’ll make a lot of helper-lines in your brain. You’ve probably also helped that person, or at least challenged their current ideas.
I’ll be generous this time and give you a choice: Do or Draw? Apply the concepts of the last book you’ve read to your own life. If it is impossible for some reason, try to visualize the concept by making a drawing.
Book 3: Resistance, Dragons & A Compas
A Little story
Once upon a time, there was a young warrior. Every day he woke up, ate breakfast, brushed his teeth, and started with his day. One specific morning he felt like starting to read a book. His eye fell on the dark blue book he had bought recently. When he took it from the shelf and saw that it counted 500 pages he remembered why he hadn’t started it yet. He was scared like hell of reading it. “Well, that’s going to require too much effort, I’m just going to watch some TV instead,” he thought. When he put the book back on the shelf he felt the air that was displaced, brushing against his face. Or was it?
After lunchtime, he really needed to write something for his blog. He opened his computer, but before opening his word document, he thought, “Well, I can check social media for a minute before I start writing.” After scrolling on Facebook for 5 minutes he went onto Instagram, LinkedIn,… suddenly 30 minutes had passed! He felt guilty because now he had no time anymore to write during his lunch break. He still needed to check his mailbox though, there was still time enough for that. He opened his mailbox, but there were no new emails. There was only one weird mail in his spam box which contained the following message, “I await your urgent response, why didn’t you pay for the reptile scales that I’ve sent you?” This mail was sent by a certain Mrs.Therese Nina. Or was it?
In the evening he felt like going for a run, but his sports socks were still dirty. He wanted to go so badly, so he washed them by hand, put them in the drying machine, and started ironing them. While he was ironing, suddenly someone rang the doorbell. It was his friend who lived in the neighborhood and asked him if he wanted to get some drinks at the local pub. “Alright then,” he said, “no running tonight.” His friend asked him why he smelled fire in the house. Oh no, he had forgotten to take the iron of the socks, and now the whole house was smelling like burned socks! Or was it?
After a lot of drinks, he went back to his house and fell asleep. He dreamed about standing in front of a cave. He was scared of the cave, but somehow his legs forced him to go inside. When he went inside he immediately smelt burned socks. A few steps further he saw a shiny object on the ground. When he picked it up, he realized it was a reptile scale. He suddenly noticed that there were a lot of them scattered around the floor of the cave. All he wanted to do was scream and escape from this scary cave as soon as possible. But his legs magically kept moving him deeper into the cave until he felt some displaced air, brush against his face. He froze, it was the same feeling he had earlier that day. He wondered where it came from. All of a sudden he saw where it came from.
A DRAGON! This colossal monster strangely enough could speak. “What’s your name, you filthy mortal?” asked the dragon. The warrior replied with a cracking voice, “I’m the Read More Warrior”. The dragon started to chuckle: “Do you know who I am? My name is Resistance, and I’m going to eat you alive.” Before the warrior could even move one step, the dragon launched at him and he felt the sharp teeth of Resistance penetrating his skin.
He woke up with sweat dripping on his forehead. After a few minutes, he realized it was just a nightmare and tried to relax. Until he saw a book laying on his nightstand which was called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. When he opened the book there was a little note in it:
The Battle: Resistance vS Warrior
Our life is in an infinite battle. Every day we have to fight Resistance to converge the life we’re living, and the unlived life within us. Resistance is the force within us that stops us from achieving great things. Resistance can assume many forms. It sounds very spiritual, I know. I’m not a spiritual person, to be honest, and some parts of the book were way too spiritual for me. But this way of thinking helps me a lot somehow, so I thought it might help you too. This book is for everyone who is pursuing something in his/her life which requires delayed gratification. And I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that everyone who is reading this, is doing that already.
The Weapons of Resistance
We experience the presence of Resistance often as fear. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of throwing away education, and fear of poverty are a few in the list that Steven Pressfield enumerates in his book. However, Steven Pressfield says further, our biggest fear is Fear That We Will Succeed. Fear is the least pleasant emotion to feel, but we can use it to our advantage, as we will see in “The weapons of the Read More Warrior” part.
Let’s say for example that you want to get fit. You might experience fear towards pursuing a healthy body. However, don’t forget that Resistance also has other weapons in its arsenal. Resistance will start to rationalize your avoiding behavior. “It’s raining, I can’t go for a run today”, “I’ve no time today to exercise”, “I’m going to sweat and then I have to take a shower”, “In three days I’m going to swim together with my friend, so I don’t have to sport today” are some examples of these rationalizations.
Don’t judge rationalizations on their truthfulness. Often you can just ignore them or find an easy solution if you would want to. You could use a raincoat while running, or even just enjoy the feeling of the dripping rain on your skin. You could make time for exercising. The fact that you will swim in a few days, doesn’t mean that it’s illegal to exercise today.
Procrastination is the sliest method that Resistance can use against us. When you’re dreaming about learning a new language like Spanish, we don’t say, “I’m never going to learn Spanish.” Instead, we say, “I’m going to learn Spanish tomorrow.” The latter is way easier to believe and now we’ve fallen into the trap of procrastination. The Warrior can only do one thing against procrastination, which is starting now. This brings us to the weapons of the Warrior.
The Weapons of the Warrior
1. Starting now
If you know already what you want to do, and you know that you should start, stop reading this blog. Turn down your computer/smartphone or whatever you’re reading this blogpost on and just START. Take for example reading. Starting is the most difficult part of reading. But, remember that stopping with reading is the second most difficult. This is also true for many other activities like writing, exercising, and playing an instrument.
If we’ve slain Resistance today, it doesn’t mean that Resistance is dead forever. Resistance will reincarnate like a phoenix and will battle us again the next day. Because Resistance is so consistent, we have to be consistent too. Applying this into practice often takes the form of trying to read, write, exercise, cook, or whatever you’re pursuing, every day. In other words, we need to make Atomic Habits out of them.
3. Using Resistance as our Compass
Resistance is our enemy in many ways, but don’t forget that we can use Resistance to our advantage. This dragon will show up when we try an activity that requires delayed gratification, but not for mundane activities which give us instant gratification like watching TV, scrolling on social media, or buying things for the sake of buying things. Steven Pressfield puts it like this in his book:
Because of this, we can use Resistance as our compass in life. A lot of us don’t exactly know what we want to achieve in life. When you experience Resistance while pursuing something, it indicates that it is important for you and it might be worth it to face your fear and pursue it anyway.
Give Resistance an uppercut by starting today. In the previous post I gave you a choice, this week I won’t.
We need to talk about our spare time
A little personal story
I loved YouTube. I don’t know if I love it anymore. I think I don’t. In the majority of the previous three years, a significant part of my leisure existed of watching YouTube. The videos I watched, ranged from Kurzgesagt to Ali Abdaal. These infotainment videos contained a lot of information that I could learn from. While watching these videos, I felt proud of myself, “Look at me, watching all these information-dense videos. I know a lot now, and because of that, I must be a wise person”.
When I look back at it, I realize that all these videos were just giving me the feeling that I was learning something. The rate of new information was just way too high to learn something from it. And because the information was very shallow, not much of it was retained. Something needed to change.
I came across the book “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport which made me reframe how I spent my leisure. Because of this book, I’ve only used Youtube for ukulele lessons over the previous six months. Well, that’s not completely true, I recently gave the infotainment YouTubers another try. Just three minutes later I realized that quitting YouTube, was one of the best decisions I had ever made.
From reading this book and applying the principles, I learned more than three years of watching YouTube.
The Basics VS The Digitals
In my opinion, the best leisure is both productive and energizing. I’m convinced that most of us don’t use our spare time in this way. I would lie if I would say that I use my spare time always productively and energizingly. Nevertheless, it can be helpful to strive for this ideal.
Our surrounding is very dynamic nowadays and there are a lot of things that are calling for our attention. As a result, it is difficult to make a conscious decision about what we do with our free time. I like to divide the things we do in our spare time into two groups: The Basics and The Digitals.
Reading a book
Listening & playing music
Moving your body
Real-life social interactions
Texting and mail
Because Digitals are often better at catching our attention than The Basics, there is a tendency towards a more technological use of our spare time. This tendency needs to be put on hold, in my opinion. This can be achieved by making The Basics cool again. In this blog, my emphasis is on reading so I will try to make reading as cool as possible.
Making The Basics Cool Again
The Basics have three advantages over The Digitals:
- They are more productive
- They are better at energizing us
- They are less addictive
You might object, “The Digitals are everywhere and they are very important for our everyday life. It would be a mistake to stop using them.” As a disclaimer, I would like to say that I’m not for the complete abolishment of The Digitals in our spare time. I agree with Cal Newport’s book “Digital Minimalism” in which he promotes the critical use of The Digitals. This means that we only use The Digitals when they serve our goals AND are the best way to achieve them.
We can use The Digitals as a support for The Basics and by doing this, we simultaneously make The Basics cool again. Here are some examples:
Let’s say our goal is to improve our writing. What we can do is read more in our spare time. When we read a lot, we will be exposed to many interesting ideas. Now we have more things to write about. We can also share our written ideas on social media or our blog. By using these Digitals we can get real-world feedback that improves our writing, which is our goal.
Let’s say our goal is to learn a new skill like drawing, cooking, or juggling. We can buy books which give us step for step explanations about what we need to do to learn these skills. On the other hand, Youtube has a lot of videos that visually show the specific skill. The videos are also faster, easier, and cheaper to get. By using Youtube, we learn a new skill, which is our goal.
Let’s say our goal is to improve our social life. We can go to more events, dare to say hi to strangers, or even just ask more questions. Spending less time on our phones, and having more real-life interaction with our friends, lovers, or family members deepens our relationship with them. Nevertheless, calling or texting can be used to arrange these rendezvous. By using texting to arrange a rendezvous, we improve our social life, which is our goal.
Open your phone. Go to the screen time/digital balance section in the settings. Normally, you can see there how much time you’ve spent on each app that day and the days before. You can also see how many times you’ve opened your phone. If that isn’t a shocking enough experience on its own, try to remember the information you’ve seen in that time especially for apps like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or even your browser. Do you remember anything from it? I didn’t.
Book 4: Social Media, Neck Pain & Bird Shit
This might be the last thing you ever read online!!!
A little story
Once upon a time, there was a young warrior. Every day, in the afternoon his neck and lower back began to hurt. “Why is this?”, he wondered. One day he started to do some exercises to improve his posture. That helped, but it didn’t feel like solving the root of the problem. What was causing this bad posture?
Another day he went walking with two of his friends. He saw a tall building on which there were a lot of pigeons shitting on it. You could see white lines of bird shit from far away. The warrior asked his friends while pointing to the tall building, “Am I wrong, or do pigeons always seem to shit on the tallest buildings?”. His friends had a surprised look on their faces, and answered, “I haven’t even noticed that tall building before”
One day sitting in a bus, he observed that everyone was crouching over their phone, staring at their screens like they were in another universe. He felt lonely because of this, and he also felt scared, scared of being bored. So he reached for his phone, and the phone suited his discomfort. However, his back and neck started to hurt again and he didn’t notice all the tall buildings outside with bird shit on them.
While scrolling on his phone, he saw a post about a book called “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport. “That’s ironic”, he thought “a book about digital minimalism, which reaches me through my phone”
Of all the books I’ve read, this book had by far the most impact on my life. That’s also why I’ve referenced the book so often in previous posts. For me, the main benefit of this book was that suddenly I had way more time at my disposal and my attention span increased. Friends of mine who also read the book and did the 30-day challenge (about which later) experienced also another benefit: they felt less stressed.
Because of the title and of the recent hype about “digital detoxing”, you would expect that this book is a manifesto against technology. It is in a certain way, but the key message of the book is something different. Or at least, it was something that I didn’t expect.
Cal Newport doesn’t want you to abolish all your new technologies. No, he wants you to use new technologies like smartphones, social media, mail, but only when it serves your goal. He wants you to become a better person because of technology while trying to avoid being enslaved by these addictive technologies.
But how do you do that? Cal Newport has found a highly effective way in which you first perform a digital clean-up called the 30-day challenge, in which you abandon as much of your digital technologies as possible. After that period, you can reintroduce the technologies which meet the following requirements: They serve your goal AND are also the most effective method to accomplish your goal.
You might ask, “Why do we need to clean up before we reintroduce? Isn’t this additional step needless? Couldn’t we just remove the unnecessary technologies from the beginning?” but that would be a mistake, because of loss aversion. I’ll give you the following personal example. I thought before the 30-day challenge that YouTube was essential to me, so I would never see it as unnecessary and certainly wouldn’t remove it. The only thing that convinced me to remove YouTube was the 30-day challenge. However, I was certain that when the 30-day challenge was over, I would use YouTube again. 30 days passed and I realized that YouTube wasn’t essential to me. This is a clear example of loss aversion in action.
Hopefully, you now feel the momentum to make a change. Don’t waste this momentum. Act. Rebel against the enslavement of people by technology. Remember: You can use technology, but don’t let it use you! (more information in my previous post). I encourage you to perform the “Your Turn” (see below) of this post. But before that, here are three small things you can do right now to start the ball rolling:
Buy or borrow the book “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport. Read it. Do the 30-day challenge. Change your life.
How rubber bands can keep you going
Don’t be scared, you won’t be hurt. Or at least, the biggest part of you won’t. There is probably lingering a small dragon somewhere inside of you. This dragon named Resistance, however, is not safe. Resistance is going to die.
The Read More Warrior has found a new weapon: rubber bands. Resistance hates rubber bands. When dragons come in touch with rubber they turn into rubber themselves, as we turn into stone if we would look into Medusa’s eyes. Rubber dragons are not as scary as the real ones, and can even get sold as toys for kids!
Of course, we aren’t going to shoot with rubber bands. However, we can use rubber bands to battle Resistance. How? Let me explain. Showing up daily is the best antidote to Resistance, but showing up daily is easier said than done. We need some extra motivation to pull that off. To explain the concept I’ll use a personal example. I try to write daily. If there is another habit that you would like to do daily (like reading) you can apply the same concept to that.
I have two containers, one is transparent, the other is not. In the beginning, the non-transparent container is full of rubber bands and the transparent one is empty. Every day, I take one rubber band from the non-transparent container and put it around my wrist. From then on only one rule applies: I can’t put this rubber band off unless I write a paragraph. When I’ve finished a paragraph, the rubber band goes to the transparent container. *puts rubber band in transparent container*
“That’s silly, why should that work?” you might ask. Well, first of all, these containers are a visual cue for my daily writing habit. (For more information about habit formation, I recommend the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. This technique I developed was highly inspired by this book.) So when I see these containers, I’m reminded that I should write that day. You can’t build a habit that you forget about.
Secondly, the transparent container visualizes the writing progress. I find seeing the slow but steady progression deeply satisfying. It’s like watching new leaves sprout from a plant and seeing it grow for several months. I don’t know why, but someway I feel the urge to organize a big party when my big transparent container will be full one day.
Thirdly, having a rubber band around my wrist is slightly irritating. Because of that, I want to put it off as fast as possible. That ensures that I will start writing soon. Starting with writing (or reading, or whatever other habits you try to do daily) is the most difficult part. After that, the writing almost seems to take care of itself magically. However, after a while, you realize that there’s only one thing that comes close to the difficulty of starting, and that’s stopping.
Lastly, there is the push and pull effect. We want to see the rubber bands in the transparent container, which is the pull factor, where we can see our progress. We can’t see our progress in the non-transparent container, which is the push factor so our subconscious wants the rubber bands out of there. This effect can even be magnified by making the non-transparent container ugly and the transparent beautiful.
After a while, you’ll begin to notice that every day the same story repeats itself:
See containers -> Don’t feel like doing [habit] -> Put rubber band on wrist anyway -> Start with [habit] -> Feel weird because now it’s difficult to stop with [habit]
What you could do to increase the push-pull effect, even more, is use two transparent containers: a small one and a big one. The small one is easier to carry around, but one day it will be full. So now and then you can empty the small transparent container into the bigger transparent container. This empty small container will have again a bigger pull effect. In the bigger container, you can further track your progress.
Use the rubber band technique for a habit you want to perform daily. If you can’t choose which, I’ll choose for you and I choose reading one page a day.
Book 5: Habits, Guerrero and Fruit
A Little Story
Once upon a time, there was a young warrior. Every day, he wanted to learn something new. He was interested in a lot: programming, playing the ukulele, and performing a handstand were just a few of the list. One day he wanted to learn Spanish. Just because guerrero sounds way cooler than “warrior”. The first day he felt a burst of motivation and he played Duolingo for three hours straight. He was very optimistic that he would learn Spanish fast. How difficult can it be to learn a language? The next day, he played Duolingo again for three hours. Nevertheless the following days his motivation declined as fast as the motivation had emerged. “Duolingo is just a silly game and a waste of time,” he said to his friends. A few days later he gave up his Spanish learning journey and moved on to the next one.
Now, he wanted to read 52 books in a year, one for each week. However, this time he developed a routine because he didn’t want to make the same mistake he did with learning Spanish by solely relying on occasional motivation. He did some calculations and found out that to reach this goal, he had to read about 33 pages each day. That seemed a lot but also doable, so he started with his routine and was very strict about it. He wasn’t allowed to sleep before he had read 33 pages. It required a lot of effort and he often stopped right at the 33rd page, nonetheless, he kept with it, at least for a while. Some days had passed and he began to notice that he was becoming very tired and he even started to dislike reading. He was on the brink of giving up.
Until he encountered the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. This book eventually saved his reading habit, his sleep, and his motivation. SPOILER ALERT: There even occurred magic on some days.
Why Atomic Habits Work
Atomic habits are activities you do daily in order to reach your goal, but in such a small amount that it is very easy to keep up with it daily. Examples of this are reading one page, exercising for two minutes, writing a paragraph, or learning 3 new Spanish words each day. Atomic Habits combine the advantages of the two methods most people use: the occasional motivation method and the high demanding routine. I can explain why Atomic Habits work so well more easily by classifying the days that occur into three categories:
- High Motivation days: These are rare, especially when you’re already performing the habit for a while. Be grateful for these days.
- The “Just 1 page”-days: On these days, your motivation is on a vacation to Ibiza. You really don’t feel like performing your Atomic Habit, but just because it requires so little effort, you do it nonetheless. After one page, you close the book and you’re done for that day.
- The Magical days: I love them. These are the days that seem like a “Just 1 page”-day in the beginning, but when you’ve read 1 page, you realize it’s genuinely interesting and you keep reading. You feel the momentum and aren’t going to let go of it any time soon. You even feel like punching yourself in the face because you didn’t feel like reading just some minutes ago. These days are pure magic. Don’t waste them.
In this book, James Clear divides a habit into four parts: Cue, Craving, Response, and Reward. For example, you see a bar of chocolate while you are waiting in line in the supermarket (Cue). Chocolate is your dirty pleasure and you begin to crave it (Craving). You can’t stop yourself from buying the chocolate (Response). While walking back to the car, you enjoy tremendously every bite of the chocolate bar (Reward).
Let’s say you want to start a good habit. Then James Clear says that you should make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. If you want to break a bad habit you should do the opposite which means make it invisible, unattractive, difficult, and unsatisfying.
Note that these four tips to make or break a habit correspond to the four parts of a habit. I recommend that you read this book Atomic Habits for more information about how to implement it in your life, but here are some things that I did. If you’re not interested in my life, you can skip the following paragraph, no hard feelings.
What I did because of this book
- I started to develop the rubber band technique. This rubber band technique combined with using a big calendar as a habit tracker ensures that I write daily.
- I read one page each day or let’s say at least one page because it’s often way more. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing a blog about reading 😉.
- I also signed a contract with a friend of mine which makes me pay him 50 euros when I perform a certain bad habit again.
- I increased the resistance to using social media by removing them from my phone and even removing some of my social media accounts permanently. Honestly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
- I started learning Spanish again. Duolingo opens automatically when I open my browser on my laptop, in that way I remember to learn my Spanish daily.
- The most fun experiment I did because of this book was placing a big bowl of fruit on the table in the living room. My mom didn’t like it because then the fruit would spoil faster than in the fridge. Nevertheless, the fruit-eating rate at home skyrocketed. Just because the fruit was now visible and not hidden in the fridge.
If you keep up with your Atomic Habits daily, you’ll get 1% percent better every day. By reading one page each day, you’ll get 1% smarter every day. However, you need to remember that reading itself shouldn’t be the goal.
I’m convinced that you can even take this one step further.
I assume that you want to read more. Why would you otherwise be reading this blog? Start today with reading at least one page each day. I know you can do it.
3 ways to get more ideas
I was sitting alone on a camping chair, in the middle of a dark damp grass field. I could feel the moist grass touching my legs. I was camping in the countryside of France, and my sense of time was completely gone. My neck started to hurt and this time it wasn’t because I was looking down at my phone too much. It was because of the opposite. My gaze was focused directly above me, on one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. Thousands of stars were scattered across the dark sky, more than I had ever seen in my life.
For some reason, a weird experiment came to my mind. What if I would try to illuminate the stars even more by turning on my headlamp? Sitting in my camping chair, with my headlamp turned to the sky, I suddenly felt very stupid. The light of the headlamp obviously didn’t brighten the stars. Nevertheless, this stupid experiment resulted in interesting observations. I started to see some shooting stars. These were not shooting stars as I was used to. They seemed quite big and were not moving in straight lines. After a minute I realized that they weren’t shooting stars, they were bugs that were attracted to this beacon of light in the middle of the dark!
Why do I tell this story? It might not be obvious, but this little anecdote very much resembles how I see creativity. First of all, creativity often comes with experimenting. Even if these experiments are very silly. By taking action and trying, results may come that you would never have expected. Secondly, creative ideas are dynamic like the bugs in this anecdote, and not as straightforward as the “normal” shooting stars. It’s a good thing when ideas change. Don’t be arrogant. Lastly, if you put on a light long enough in the middle of the dark, bugs will inevitably come. Likewise, if you’re very consistent with showing up every day, ideas will come inevitably.
When I was sitting there, alone in the dark, I had a notebook with me. I wrote down my thoughts about this beacon of light attracting bugs that looked like shooting stars. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon this note, and it reminded me of something I had read in the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. In this book he uses the following analogy:
I found this a very interesting way of putting it, but I was convinced that I could make a better analogy:
2. The Plane of Possibilities
The Generalist vs Specialist debate is something I find very intriguing. There are a lot of good books written about this topic like Range by David Epstein, and Essentialism by Greg McKeown which are on the opposite sides of the playing field. But what does this debate have to do with creativity?
Look at the drawing above. You can see the Plane of Possibilities. This plane is extremely big and contains all creative possibilities. This makes it very difficult to choose where to begin. However, this can be solved by only using a small patch of the Plane of Possibilities. See this patch as your territory or your specialism. Now you know where to begin, that’s the first important step. The problem now is that the boundaries of our territories restrict our freedom. This can be solved by grabbing some things from outside our territory and putting them inside. This is often called thinking outside the box. Now we have a lot of different topics, ideas, and concepts in our territory. Now you can get creative by combining these in a new way.
3. Creativity = Curiosity?
In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield also had another interesting analogy. He writes something like, “Let the Muse lead you away from the warm comfortable glow of the campfire”. Sorry that I am messing with your analogies again, Mr. Pressfield, but this sounds too spiritual to me. I would like to use the word curiosity instead of Muse.
Curiosity is one of my three key values and is strongly linked with creativity. I even dare to say that it is a prerequisite for creativity. So get curious. Ask questions. Look at things from a different perspective. Read books, the ideas inside them are fertilizers for the ideas inside your head. Get out of your comfort zone. Think outside the box.
Perform your own silly experiment. Chances are you’ll get new interesting insights. If you don’t have any inspiration, try this. You may have noticed that while ascending a staircase, you can take 2 steps at a time. However, try to take 2 steps at a time while you’re descending a stair, and observe how you feel. Be careful, I’m not responsible for any injuries.
Your Turn, Again
Buy a notebook and pencil and have them with you at all times. Ideas might come when you would not expect them, and you would probably use them in ways you would not expect.
Book 6: About Lies, Allergies and a PlayStation
A Little Story
Once upon a time, there was a ten-year-old warrior. Every day, after the bell rang at school, he biked straight back to his house. However, one day, a friend of his asked if he wanted to play some video games at his house. The young warrior didn’t have his own videogames, so he was convinced rapidly. They went together to the friend’s house and played on his PlayStation for hours. It was extremely fun, but he needed to go back home. When the warrior arrived back home, his parents were waiting. His parents asked him where he had been and he lied, “I stayed at school to do some homework with the other kids”. His parents were convinced, and the young warrior felt very smart because he had tricked his parents.
Some hours later, his mom stormed into his bedroom yelling, “We know that you went to your friend’s house and played video games there. Why did you lie to us?” The warrior was surprised and wondered how his mom had discovered it. Nevertheless, a harsh punishment followed which seemed unreasonable for the young warrior. A week after the conflict, his mom came to him and said, “You know darling, going to your friend without saying, wasn’t the reason we punished you. It was because you lied to us.” After that moment, the young warrior tried to never lie again, but those so-called “white lies” kept showing up. That was because he was convinced that there was nothing wrong with them. Until he read the book Lying by Sam Harris.
A White Lie
Lies about small matters, which are “harmless” to others and are often seen as a form of politeness.
3 reasons why you shouldn’t lie
Most people are convinced that, in many cases, lying is a bad thing. However, they don’t dare to say that lying is always a bad thing. I’m convinced that you should never lie. Only life or death situations may be an exception. If you’re not convinced, here are some reasons why you shouldn’t lie:
- When you lie, you deny people access to reality. This may damage them in ways you don’t know beforehand. Like Sam Harris says in his book, lying determines the choices they can make and because of that it’s an assault on their autonomy.
- Once people discover that you lied, they will have difficulties believing that you’re an honest person. Even if it is just a small lie. It will inevitably keep lingering in their conscious or subconscious.
- When you lie, you need to keep track of your lies because inconsistency is the nr.1 reason lies get discovered. Keeping track of your lies requires a tremendous amount of effort. Let’s be lazy and let the truth keep track of what we’ve said.
How to stop lying
This might be obvious, just stop lying, but it’s more complicated than you might think. Lying often has become a habit, and like all bad habits, a clear strategy for quitting is needed. Here are some steps:
- Acknowledge that lying is bad. Keep the three reasons listed above in your mind. If you’re not convinced that lying is bad, sorry I can’t help you.
- Notice when you lie. Sometimes I realize I’m lying at that moment. Other times I realize it later. When you notice that you lied, write down your lie on paper. Make for yourself the rule that you have to keep these written lies with you all the time. You can only get rid of them when you’ve corrected these lies to the person you lied to. In my coat, I have a paper with two lies I’ve told. I haven’t been able to correct them because I’ve not seen the person I lied to for a while. So be careful with your lies, your coat may get heavy.
- Correct When you feel the urge to lie, don’t do it. When it’s too late and the lie has been told, try to correct yourself and be honest about the lie. Don’t lie about a lie, that would be the beginning of an endless feedback loop.
- Learn to say, “I don’t feel like talking about that” when you want to keep your privacy while avoiding telling a lie. White lies often feel like an easy fix in those situations. Yes, they are easy. No, they are not a fix.
Another Little Story to End
When I was younger, I was really shy and silent. This probably was because I’m introverted, and because of this I’ve limited energy for social interactions. Looking back now, I think there was also another reason, but first I need to tell you something.
There are some lies that I’m specifically allergic to. I noticed that people could make very blunt statements and act as if they know 100% sure they’re right. In reality, they’re often not 100% sure, but they hope that by coming across as confident, they are more likely to “win” the debate. Jordan Peterson’s books have taught me that debates are not something you win, and the truth is not something you have. No, you’ll get closer to the truth by going into dialogue, and by listening actively to others.
Now that you know my allergy, I’ll try to explain what the other reason was that I was so quiet. I was convinced that in these debates it was of no use that I said something. I felt that way because I had not already thought through the problem beforehand. Now, however, I’m convinced that’s not required. My thoughts are valuable, even when they are wrong. So, I need to bring them out as long as I am honest about my ignorance. So, these days I try to say more what I think, but without arrogance.
To finish here is a quote for my fellow introverts:
Think about the last time you lied. Fix this lie by saying to this person that you lied.
When you can’t fall asleep
A Little Story
“Where did the time go that I was afraid of the dark?”, I thought while lying in my bed, “Maybe I should invent some sort of reverse sunglasses which can let you see in the dark. An interesting feature might be that the brightness might be controlled so that you can train yourself gradually to face your fear of the dark” I was honestly very proud of this idea so I turned on the light and wrote it down.
Some minutes later I was wondering, “Was it worth it to write this idea down? I’m probably never going to use it anyway and now I’m even more awake so it would be even more difficult to fall asleep now” I was very tired and really needed to wake up early the next day, but I couldn’t fall asleep. It felt like my two brain hemispheres were fighting for which side to sleep on while ideas were accreting like bugs to a beam of light (link to …). “I want to write down my thoughts while keeping the light off because the light makes me more awake. Maybe, I can invent a pen of light that illuminates my notebook while writing. Or I could grow a bioluminescent Panellus stipticus (fancy term for a mushroom that lights up).” The ideas kept accumulating and I turned on the light again to write them down.
“F*ck, I’m still awake and I need to fall asleep right now. How long have I been laying in my bed without sleeping? I don’t dare to look at my clock because if I do, I’m certain I won’t fall asleep this night at all. I’m blaming you, my silly ideas, why do you keep emerging? Why do you keep me awake? Why do you convince me to turn on the light and right you down? So that you will get immortalized? As a punishment I will erase you, I will burn you!” Of course, I didn’t dare to do that. I’m way too keen on my ideas, they are like my babies. What if I have to write down these ideas? I don’t know.
To write or not to write? That is the question.
Am I the only one having sleeping problems? Probably not. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not that I have amnesia or something, but every day I lie awake in my bed for at least 30 minutes and sometimes even an hour. It’s not because I’m anxious or something. It is because the creativity locked in my brain seems to unlock itself right before I want to sleep. My brain seems working at a very fast pace and comes up with a lot of creative ideas. Actually, a lot of the posts and concepts that are listed in this blog come from these late-night ideas.
Because of this, I have a daily dilemma. What do I need to do with these ideas? Should I write them down at that moment? Or should I try to ignore them because they ensure I’m not falling asleep any time soon? These are questions that bother me a lot, so I thought it would be fun to investigate this problem and try to find an answer. This post is the result of this search.
Why you are creative just before falling asleep
Do you know what Dali, Einstein, and Aristotle all had in common? Besides being famous, they all used the transient state between awakeness and sleeping for being creative. How did they do that? Well, they hold an object like a stone or a key in their hand while sitting in a chair, trying to fall asleep. When they would almost fall asleep the object would fall out of their hands and make a noise that would awake them. This is also known as the “dropping the spoon”-method.
In this method, Dali and the others make use of the theta brainwaves which occur while falling asleep. These theta brainwaves are highly associated with flow state and creativity. (I’m probably a bit oversimplifying though). So that’s the reason why you’re so creative before falling into sleep.
So these theta waves are very helpful for our creativity, but the problem is that they occur just before falling asleep. This combined with the fact that sleep cleans up our brain, we often forget these ideas. We even forget that we’ve forgotten these ideas! So to store these ideas, we have to write them down at the moment we have them.
Argument contra writing
In James Clear’s book Atomic Habits he says that the bedroom is only for sleeping. If you want to sleep well, you have to form a strong link in your brain between your bedroom and sleeping. When you do other things in your bedroom, like writing, your brain might get confused. So every time you write when you are in your bed, your brain will associate your bed more with writing and less with sleeping. This might make falling asleep more difficult.
Argument pro writing
A friend of mine, Joris, convinced me that it’s probably better to write these ideas down. I really liked the analogy he made.
Every day, you have to work a minimum on an important cause and you must keep this habit going. It doesn’t matter if you succeed, as long as you do it daily. However, remember that this minimum is only the foundation that will eventually lead to greater things.
Let’s say that you write down some sentences every day, which requires considerable effort, but at the same time, you ignore the flowing inspiration when it occurs at 1 AM. That’s like gathering branches and tinder for days or even weeks, but when the universe places firestone in front of your feet, you say, “I’ve already done my job today for the fire”. No, at that moment, you should seize the opportunity and harvest the fruits of your preparing, tedious labor. Your daily structure makes the difference for your cause, but the fury of some decisive moments does even more.
So, to write or not to write? I think you should write. Or at least I think I should. If I hadn’t written down my ideas, this post (and the rest of the blog) probably would have never existed.
Put a notebook and pencil on your nightstand. Don’t be afraid to use them. You’re future creative self will thank you.
Book 7: About Generalists, Snipers, and Darwin
A Little Story
Once upon a time, there was a young warrior. Every day he was wondering about what he wanted to become. Of course, he wanted to become a professional warrior, but that was impossible these days. Feeling sad because this dream was off the table, he searched for other possibilities. One day, as an 18-year-old, he needed to decide on what he was going to study. He based his decision on his grades and his interests as a kid: encyclopedias about animals, plants, and the Earth. That he would go on to study bioscience engineering didn’t surprise anyone.
The first three years of his study rapidly went by. He was getting good grades, followed interesting courses, and even became good friends with some of his fellow bioscience engineering students. Nevertheless, he felt like he was not in the right place. He began to search where this feeling came from. He could not track it back to bad grades, boring courses, or no friends.
So, he went on to think a little deeper.
There was one big problem, he was afraid to talk about this feeling. He was afraid that when he would talk about it, he would face disbelief. “How can you feel that you are not in the right place when everything in your life is going well?”, they would say.
So, without talking with someone, he went on to think a little deeper.
In the third year, he chose a specialty so what if he had chosen the wrong specialty? He went back over the other specialties, but they all seemed less interesting, so his specialty was not the problem. The thought of stopping his study altogether even occurred sometimes. In the meanwhile, he got really into reading books. He thought, “What if I had the wrong reasons to study bioscience engineering? What if I had interpreted my childish love for reading encyclopedias wrong? Maybe I don’t have to do something with science about nature, maybe I have to do something with books”
So, he started a blog about books, nevertheless, he went on to think a little deeper.
He was longing for something more, beyond the walls his study imposed on him. However, he didn’t know what he was looking for outside the safe walls of the university, so he stayed. He didn’t become a “self-made” college drop-out, like Bill Gates. He was too afraid. He kept reading more and more books ranging from astronauts to North-Korean refugees and from fungi to Braitenberg vehicles. Finally, something clicked in his head, he loved variety.
It seemed like the whole world was screaming: “SPECIALIZE!”, certainly in the university, but the warrior knew that he was more of a generalist. This conflict between specialization and generalization occupied most of his mind. “Do I have to specialize or do I have to learn about new topics?”, he thought. A book called Range by David Epstein helped him a lot in his search for answers.
Let us oversimplify life for a moment and see it as a game. You are given a limited amount of competence points and you can allocate them to a wide range of areas. For example, when you allocate a point to language learning you can’t use the same point anymore for mathematics, art, or public speaking. What are you going to do? Are you going to spend all your competence points on one area you like? Or are you going to spread your competence points as much as possible?
Being a specialist is like being a sniper. If the target is far away and clearly defined, you’re the man for the job. Being a generalist is more like having a swiss army knife. When the target is close and a lot of different skills are required, you’re the man for the job. I think that for me the best thing is something in between. Here are some examples of these in-between scenarios.
Here you have a specialty, but it’s supported by other proximate or distant areas. I especially like the one on the left. Here you have a specialty, but you also have some good competence in some other distant areas. This combination is in my opinion very good for creativity and the one I try to follow personally. For example, writing is my specialty for this blog, but other distant things like, learning Spanish, running, drawing, and even falling asleep provide me a lot of ideas for my writing.
The Role of the Specialist
What do specialists do actually? I like to see it this way: imagine that all of our human knowledge is represented by a circle. A good specialist would position himself at the boundary of our human knowledge and would try to move beyond it. The specialist would go into the unknown and gather new information. From this perspective, specialists are heroes.
There are also disadvantages to being a specialist. For example, there is a high chance that you get a very narrow view of the world. You see every problem in the world as a problem that can be solved with your specialistic knowledge. Another thing that might happen is that this new knowledge might die out if it doesn’t get used by others or when it is not interlinked strong enough with the rest of the human knowledge.
The Role of the Generalist
After that the specialists have made some outward bulges, it’s the role of the generalists to fill the gaps. Because the generalists know a broad range of subjects, they can more easily get creative and combine knowledge from distant areas. They interlink the knowledge gathered by the specialists and ensure that the knowledge gets used in the real world. Now, the human knowledge circle has become bigger.
Extra: Building a Network
You probably know Charles Darwin, yes, that bearded guy who is the father of the evolution theory. Charles Darwin was a very interesting person. He was a good generalist, an example. He did experiments in areas that ranged from geology to psychology. This wide experimentation led him to discover the evolution theory. But, like many other geniuses, he didn’t do all the work on his own. He was known for having a broad network of specialists and generalists, with whom he exchanged a lot of letters about his experiments and questions. So, what if you are a generalist who needs to know something specific about a subject? Or what if you are a specialist who wants to hear some other perspectives so that he can see his problem in a new way? You would need to network.
This post isn’t about finding out if generalists are better than specialists or vice versa. The book Range by David Epstein does not say that we should all become generalists and that we don’t need specialists. I needed to write this post for myself. I have asked myself often questions like: “Am I becoming too specialized?” or “Am I spreading myself too thin over a wide variety of areas?”. Writing this down made me realize that I’m more a generalist, and that’s okay. I hope this post may have helped you with your own exploration of what you are.
Think about what you are or what you want to be. Are you a specialist? A generalist? Something in between? Try to make your own competence-different areas graph. If you don’t already know, explore!
7 Lessons from 7 Books
Note: You can click on the drawings to go to a post about that subject.
The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
Resistance is your biggest enemy and will do anything to keep you from taking action.
Lying – Sam Harris
By lying you deny the people you lie to access to reality.
The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse – Charlie Mackesy
Have fun in the process
Atomic Habits – James Clear
Just read one page each day.
Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport
You can’t imagine how much time you will spare if you would stop with social media.
Range – David Epstein
Don’t be afraid to stay at the surface and experiment a lot before going into the deep.
Show your work – Austin Kleon
Share your work with the world to see if it is good or not.
Which of the above lessons resonates most with you? Read the post linked with this lesson even if you’ve already read it. Repeating is the first step of internalization.
Book 8: About Flowers, Mountains, and Basketball
A Little Story
Once upon a time, there was a young warrior. His life was full to the brim with learning new skills, new hobbies, new interests, virtually every activity you can imagine. As a proud Generalist, he thought that was how it was supposed to be. The more the better. The newer the better. The faster the better. Being on the move all the time he didn’t notice that he was spreading himself very thin over a broad range of activities. He was good in a lot of things but great in none. He was interested in a lot of things, but not on the top of the game in any of them. He was motivated by a lot of things but began to notice that he became exhausted. Slowly, day by day he spent less time doing the thing he loved most: reading books. Nevertheless, he wanted to keep learning Spanish, keep making money, keep DJ-ing, keep studying, keep writing, keep playing music, keep drawing, keep running, keep doing handstands and keep meeting with friends. He didn’t want to quit with one of these because all were so fun and challenging. So, he said to himself, “I will work harder!” like Boxer the workhorse in Animal Farm to fit all these things into his schedule.
One day on a vibrant spring day, the warrior noticed the smell of growing grass and the opened flower buds while walking in the park. He saw in the distance a little girl with a flower in her hand, trying to give this gift to her mother. However, the mother didn’t seem to notice. She was on her phone. While seeing how desperately this little girl reached with the flower to her mother’s back, I could not help but think: “Does this mother know what is essential?”
A few days later the warrior got covid and needed to be quarantined. He had to cancel a lot of plans, but as a substitute, he obtained time for himself. After reminiscing about the little girl and her mother he realized he was not that different from the mother. He knew deep down that virtually every of his so-called interest was not that essential. But which of them were the truly essential ones? That was the question. With the help of the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown, he moved step-by-step toward the answer to this question.
The Three E’s
After writing a post about Generalism two weeks ago, I thought it would be interesting to write something about the book Essentialism. I remembered that this book reminded me of specialism, so it would be nice to compare it with the book Range. I decided to re-read Essentialism. However, to my surprise, I realized I was wrong, plainly wrong.
The basic structure of Essentialism exists of three things: Explore, Eliminate, and Execute. Exploring many options is actually a characteristic of Generalists. This confused me. Wasn’t Essentialism about Specialism? Apparently not the way I thought. Nonetheless, I like that the first step is exploration because it is my “specialty”. I can say that Curiosity is my thing. From the second step on, however, my expertise ceases. Eliminating is my Achilles’ heel. I find it enormously difficult to say no to opportunities, requests, or invitations. This requires Courage that I don’t always have. The last step, Execution, can be fairly easy with the right tips and tricks once you know which are your essentials in life. Though, it is important to stay Honest with yourself on which activities you should execute.
After reading the book, I realized something: Generalism and Essentialism don’t necessarily exclude each other. They are in an interesting symbiosis. I’m trying to become an Essentialistic Generalist or Generalistic Essentialist, which way around, I don’t know yet.
How To Discover Your Essentials
What I’m going to propose right now might sound like kicking in an open door. Nevertheless, I recommend answering these three following as concrete as possible. Most people have a vague, general idea about the answers to these questions, but the clarity of purpose doesn’t hurt you. Here are the three questions you should ask yourself according to Greg McKeown:
- What am I deeply passionate about?
- What taps my talent?
- What meets a significant need in the world?
The overlap of these three is what should be your essentials.
How To Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing
In order to keep your essentials your essentials and don’t let your life fill with non-essentials, you can use two strategies:
1. The Mountain
The best-selling author Neil Gaiman proposed the following in his commencement speech. Try to imagine where you want to be as a distant mountain. When you don’t know if you should or should not do something, think about whether it takes you towards or away from your mountain.
2. Memento Mori – Memento Vivere
Remember that you will die – Remember to live. Realize your time is limited. Why would you spend time on non-essentials? As an exercise, you can look up your life expectancy and turn it into days. Then you can calculate how many days of these you have already had. I have already had 7786 days of my 27225 days. This was a revelation to me.
Extra 1: The 50 Book Project & Essential Intent
The concept of essential intent laid out in this book is something I find severely interesting. Essential intent is the combination of statements like “I want to change the world” or “I want to help people” that are inspirational, but not so actionable as statements like “I will read book 50 books” of which it is possible to measure progress but are too bland. Both inspiration and actionability are important to keep motivation at a high level.
So, I was thinking about the essential intent of this blog. My first brainstorming resulted in statements like: “Sharing life-changing ideas since 2021”, and “Lifelong Learning Through Books” but those were not actionable enough. Then I thought of “The 50-book project” and with it, came the right Essential Intent:
“On a quest to search for the 50 most lifechanging books”
(To convince people to read more of the right books and learn more as a consequence)
Why is this such a good essential intent in my opinion? Let’s break this sentence down into three parts.
“On a quest to search for…” highlights the fact that the journey is more important than the destination, which I’ve learned from Jordan Peterson. It highlights that life is dynamic and only by acting and experimenting do you find what is right. This blog is the perfect example of it. I started with it to share my thoughts on books I have read creatively, but I didn’t know where it was leading. However, by reading this book Essentialism and writing about essential intents in this blogpost I realized what the purpose of this blog is.
“…. the 50 …” makes it very concrete. Now I know that I am going to search for 50 books. 50 motivates me because I know it is doable but challenging enough at the same time. It will require dedication and time to find those 50.
“… most lifechanging books.” Books have always been and will stay the focus of this blog, but why do I use this overly used word “lifechanging”? Well, the thing is, I love books that are very practical and are about things you can apply in real life. I want that after I’ve read a book, I:
- Learned something new
- Am inspired to change for the better
- Know how to take action to make that change
When I can check off all of the three requirements above, I know I have read a terrific book. In that case, it would be a shame to call it anything different than “lifechanging”
Extra 2: Just Stop – Another Little Story
As a 10-year-old boy who was tall for his age chances were high that I would go out and play basketball or volleyball. I chose basketball. I loved playing basketball and I was rather good at it, not the best player you would have seen, but good enough to play across the country. With a father who had played soccer at high leagues and a grandfather who watched every game I played it was clear that my family supported me in my basketball career. Years passed. I changed clubs, won championships, and trained hard. All of a sudden Covid-19 came and we were not able to train and play basketball for a long time. I soon realized I didn’t miss playing basketball. This was the first time I even dared to ask myself, “Can I just stop?” This thought didn’t come unexpectedly, the last years I had spent many hours driving to trainings and games all over the country, sacrificing time with friends. At the same time, I got very few minutes on the field. The input/output ratio was clearly out of balance. I wanted to stop but stopping was way more difficult than I thought. “How would I keep fit? Am I just being weak, and I should keep training hard? Then probably one day I will get my minutes on the field, like my father always says. And, oh yes, I should not forget my grandfather he would be disappointed when he hears that I will stop,” were thoughts that ran trough my head.
Eventually I made the choice. I just stopped.
Some of my predictions were right. My father and grandfather were indeed disappointed. Other predictions were wrong: I managed to stay fit. However, none of it mattered. The advantages outbalanced the disadvantages. Suddenly, I had way more time on my hands and started reading, writing, and even a blog. It all started with one decision. Just stop.
Extra 3: My personal clean-up
Things I stopped doing:
- Instagram, Snapchat
- YouTube for fun
- Watching TV on my own
- Student jobs: DJ, tutoring & working in a bookstore
Things I could start because of that:
- Read More Warrior
- Reading more books
- Learning Spanish
- Starting a book club
- Learn to play the ukulele
- Learning to perform a handstand
Think about one thing you did today that was non-essential. Try to stop doing this. If you need help with it, Atomic Habits is an informative book that helps you to erase a non-essential bad habit.
Slow Steady Growth
A little story
Once upon a time there was a young warrior. He was proud of his name. He called himself the Read More Warrior. He wanted to help people to read more books. He gave tips & tricks to read more and recommended great books, all under the notion of trying to get people to read more.
Why did he think that reading more books was so important? Well, somehow reading a lot of books had became a part of his life, a part of his personality. That was because some of the books he read changed his life radicly. He became interested in the notion that books can lead to radicle change in peoples life. So he thought: “Wow, these books changed my life, I should read more books and then my life will improve even more”. For a while he foccused on reading as much books as possible. He chose often smaller books because they were easier and in that way his book count would increase faster. Then he could boast about his reading rate. With the motivation to read more books, he stumbled across a certain technique called speedreading and applied it right at that moment. The amount of books he read in one month skyrocketed. Until one day he felt something was wrong. He decided to do what he often did when he felt something was wrong: he went to the Old Magnolia Tree.
Arriving at the Old Magnolia Tree, to his surprise he smelled rotting flowers and saw that the tree was not doing well. Next to the tree, a wizard was looking at the tree. When the wizard noticed the warrior, he approached him and said, “Hello ambitious warrior I’m the Learn More Wizard, what is your name?”. “My name is the Read More Warrior and you seem to be a wise man. Can I ask you something? Lately, I’ve kept reading more and more books, so normally I would have come across more and more life-changing ideas right? That seemed not to be the case at all. I remember little of what I’ve read. I don’t feel like these books are part of me. I have not internalized these books. I did not do anything different after reading these books than before. I want to ask you this, is reading books a waste of time?” While saying this the warrior felt very awkward, he had recommended everyone to read more. But now his core idea was under attack. “Well,” answered the wizard “I also read a lot of books. But I read them very slowly. I want the books to become part of me. I want to internalize them. I want to do something different because of the book I read. I think your problem is that the method to obtain your goal has become the goal itself. You don’t want to read more. You want to learn more. Let me tell you a little story. Six months ago an ambitious warrior like you arrived here. His name was the Grow Fast warrior. He found this Old Magnolia Tree beautiful, but to him, it was not big enough. He knew plants needed water to grow so he decided to water the tree five times per day. He thought that then the tree will grow faster. However, the roots could not breathe because the ground was soaked all the time and the tree started to die. You can see the result of that even to this day. Remember, my dear Read More Warrior, that plants need time to grow, and so do you.” Inspired by the wizard, the Read More Warrior acknowledged the fact that he needed to read slower to learn more. Suddenly, as if by magic, one flower blossomed on the Old Magnolia Tree.
Most of us (including me) want to get things done as fast as possible. We want quick fixes, shortcuts, and instant gratification. These things are often very seductive, but there is a better way: slow steady growth. Slow steady growth comes forth out of the principles of Atomic Habits by James Clear and Effortless by George McKeown. Here are some personal examples of slow steady growth.
While I was still playing basketball, I often sprained my ankle. Using an ankle brace to avoid spraining the ankle again was very common and even recommended by my doctor. So, I started to use a brace. However, the problem was that the brace makes your ankle weaker. The brace absorbs the impact and the ankle gets lazy. Many of my fellow basketball players were dependent on their braces, some of them even used the braces for just going for a run. I was fortunately spared of that. I was lucky, because a good friend of mine, who was a volleyball player, recommended me to start brushing my teeth like a flamingo, on one leg. It seemed silly at first, but by trying it and keeping with it, my ankle became stronger and my balance improved drastically. When I learned to slackline later, I had a great advantage over other beginners because I had trained my balance twice a day for years, without enormous effort. That is the power of slow steady growth.
In the first year of university, I gained some weight, like many other students. This resulted in laughter at the gala ball when my friends noticed that my suit trousers were too tight at my but. This was probably because of the food I ate because I exercised as much as the year before. A friend of mine asked me to join his challenge of eating vegetarian for half a year. I gave it a try. At the same time, a family member was trying to lose weight by using a very intense and expensive protein diet. He lost weight rapidly, but after a month he couldn’t keep up with it so he stopped. Soon he was back at the weight he started with. It was not my goal with my vegetarian diet to lose weight, nevertheless, I did. After the challenge, I kept eating vegetarian because it seemed not to be a burden to me. I got interested in eating as much plant-based as possible and I worked very gradually toward a vegan diet, finding alternatives for animal-based food one product at a time. All the while I slowly went back to my pre-university weight. That was the power of slow steady “growth”.
Becoming A Writer
The dream of writing a book has been in my head for a while. The problem is, I don’t know exactly about what and I don’t have that much writing experience. However, by writing daily for this blog I practice my writing skills and I get ideas for a book here and there. In that way, I hope this blog will prove to be a good investment to achieve my dream. That will hopefully be the power of slow steady growth.
F**k speed reading
Speed reading. You’ve probably already heard about it. It originates from a good thing. Namely, that you want to read more, but probably can’t find the time to do so. Speedreading is the solution! Or at least, that’s what some speedreading gurus want to sell you.
Let me ask you a question. What do you want? Spending 2 months reading just one book or spending one week reading 3 books? If you are like me, you would have probably chosen the last one. I have also fallen into the trap of wanting to read more and more. I was even reading smaller books so that in that way I can read more books. In that way, I can show people my bookshelf and say, “Look how many books I’ve read!” However, it misses the point completely. Yeah, maybe it can be a good idea to read more books, but you should not read books just to read books. You should read books to learn something, to do something, to experiment with something.
Maybe I should rename this blog to the Read Slow Warrior.
The good things of speed reading
I must admit, speed reading is not all bad, I’ve read some books on speed reading and although I’m not a big fan of speed reading, some of the concepts in these books have stayed with me.
“The preparation: read the back cover, index, and table of contents first.”
“Scan through the book to have a general view of the chapters and more importantly the visual graphs and figures.”
These are two things I do with every book I read. There is also one other thing I have learned from the speedreading books but this is not always recommended.
“Skim through the book, and skip uninteresting parts.”
At first, it sounded very convincing to me that it was very important that you have to skim through the uninteresting parts of a book. But a post of Ryan Holiday made me think about it a bit more. In the case that you have to skip parts because it is not interesting or it is not written well enough, is this book really worth your time? That’s what you should think about.
For the ones that want radicle change
If you really feel like slow steady growth is nothing for you and you need radicle change then I can recommend you some things.
- Read the book The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau and apply the principles.
- Stop letting social media use you
- Shave yourself bald
Give yourself 1 month the time to read the book that is on the top of your “want to read” list. Fully immerse yourself in the book during the full month.
Book 9: About Listening, Pinocchio & Trains
A Little Story
Once upon a time, there was a young warrior. He was sitting with his family at the dinner table, blowing air over a spoon of too-hot soup, when his dad told him: “I spoke with Mike yesterday, he wants you to join his basketball team again. You will get a lot of chances to play on the field and you only need to train 3 times per week and …” “Dad,” the warrior interrupted, “you’re not listening. I told you already too many times that I don’t want to play basketball anymore!” The rest of the dinner was filled with silence. Sometimes, the warrior felt like his words went into one ear of the person he was talking to, and those words soon came out again on the other side.
“YELLOW MUST BE THE IMPOSTER!” echoed a metallic voice throughout the bedroom. It was Saturday evening and the warrior was video calling with his friends while playing the game “Among Us”. The stakes were high, he was Yellow and indeed he was the imposter. The goal of the game is to hide the fact you are the imposter, which requires a certain amount of lying. The warrior, however, was a very bad liar. His lying would have been equally obvious if his nose would grow like Pinocchio. Somehow he was proud of the fact he was a bad liar. Now his friends were certain that they could trust him.
Saturday night video calling while playing “Among Us” had become a weekly tradition. Because of the covid quarantine, there was no other way to stay in touch with his friends. When it was time to go to bed, one by one his friends left the call until just he and one friend remained. After some funny conversations suddenly his friend’s face changed. With a serious face, hiding a glimpse of sadness he began talking about his ex-girlfriend. It soon became clear there were a lot of emotions involved. The warrior’s brain was running at full speed, he wanted to help his friend as best as he could. So he was thinking full time about which advice he should give and was already thinking about his response when his friend just said the first word of the next sentence. He thought about similar situations in his own life which might help his friend. He was trying very hard, but he didn’t feel like he fully understood what his friend was saying. As if by magic, he remembered what he read in a book called You’re not listening by Kate Murphy.
He turned his approach of listening totally upside down in mid-conversation. He tried to focus solely on his friend, not on his own thoughts as if in some kind of meditation. He showed he was interested and didn’t interrupt him with one of his own stories. He stopped giving advice. He just nodded a lot and when his friend stopped talking, he thought of a good question to keep him going. It was 3 am and the video call ended. The warrior felt weird. He had never had this kind of conversation before. It felt like he was misleading his friend, couldn’t he have helped him better by giving him advice? He felt like he had let his friend down. But was it really?
The next day, he got a message:
“Thanks, warrior, you don’t realize how much the conversation last night helped me”
This simple sentence, with such an emotional load, touched him so deeply that he burst into tears. Each tear was a little package filled with happiness.
What is listening?
Real listening is not the same as just letting the other’s voice vibrate the little bones in your ear. It requires some effort and is more difficult than you think. By listening, you try to find out what the other person means, thinks, and feels. You don’t just accept what you hear and formulate a nice response to it.
Good listeners try to interrupt as little as possible, ask the right questions, and focus fully on the other person, not on themselves. They try to be fully present. Master Oogway from the film Kung Fu Panda says it best:
Using your full focus on listening is more difficult than you think. This is mostly because of the speed discrepancy between thinking and talking. Your thinking will inevitably go faster. The challenge is to try to use that extra bandwidth to notice things like body language. Don’t daydream about unicorns while listening, please.
Another pitfall might be that when you hear the story the person is telling, it reminds you of something you have experienced yourself and you feel the urge to tell your own story. Try to stop this urge. Don’t tell it, even if you think that it can help the person. It is not about you, it is about them. The other problem with telling your “own” related story is that for you it might seem very similar, but in reality, it is never completely the same, because everyone is unique. The other might even think your story is totally unrelated to what they were saying, which might worsen the relationship.
It is natural to feel the urge to help them, to fix their problem. Often you can’t and often that’s not what they want. With real listening, you help them with fixing their problem by helping them to think about them. As earlier said, thinking goes faster than talking, which also involves another problem. Because thinking goes so fast in your head it may seem like you’re running around in a maze without an exit. But when you talk about it, you are obliged to slow down, and maybe then you notice a small hole in the wall, just big enough to escape.
How To Be Listened To
Here are some guidelines which might help when you feel like somebody is not listening to you.
- Choose the right listener – you will find them by being a good listener yourself
- Tell stories – not just a list of facts*
- Don’t complain – nobody likes to listen to people that complain all the time**
- Be curious – other perspectives might shine a new light on yours
- Be honest – trust can be easily lost when you lie
- Be courageous – when you open yourself you are vulnerable, but in these moments, the strongest bonds are made
- Have fun – saying something funny even in the most emotional conversations can help
*A great book about storytelling is Storyworthy by Matthew Dicks
** To stop complaining, I would like to refer to one simple concept I read in a book called Effortless by Greg McKeown which helped me a lot. First, try to notice when you are complaining. Or notice when you want to complain but the words are still in your head. When you notice that, search for something you should be grateful for in that situation and say that instead. For example, once my parents came to pick me up to go back home but they were late. My grumpy self inevitably started thinking, “They are late again”. I noticed this thought and realized I should say this, “I am privileged that my parents are going to pick me up and I don’t need to go back home by train.”
You can train your listening skills, you know. Read this book. Hold the concepts at the back of your head during conversations. Something that I try to do is to start conversations with strangers at the train station or on the train itself and listen to what they are saying. So, train in the train.
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
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.
Start capturing your thoughts in notebooks. The best day to start was yesterday. Failing that, today will do.
Book 10: About Courage, Showers and a Piano
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:
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.
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?
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.
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
I’m not responsible if you die from getting a heart attack under a cold shower. Always assault a doctor before trying it. Don’t do this if you have heart disease.
“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:
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.
Take a cold shower as soon as you can and try making it a daily habit.