Tag Archives: cal newport

There are Two Types of People

I found the newish Early to Rise podcast, hosted by  Jayson Gaignard who riffed on truth, love, and self.*

Gaignard had originally planned on breaking down another idea during this podcast, but thanks to a Twitter response about a previous episode, he spends this one talking about who we are, and how we choose to be that person.  

The first eight minutes or so are mostly thanks and self-promotion, including the quote “attention is the new currency.”  (2:20)  Jayson, if that’s the case then drop all this stuff to the back end of the show and give us the content. It’s too bad it takes so long – especially for new listeners – because once he gets into the good stuff, it is good.

The catalyst for this episode came from him saying that who you surround yourself with matters, and his example was a Harvard study that reported fat people have fat friends.  Weight being the semi-sensitive subject that it is, he got a retort that he was fat shaming.  Not knowing what this meant, he looked it up and his first response was to edit the previous episode and take it down.  

He chose to face this criticism and see what the roots of it might have been, because as he says leaders, “speak the truth, they see things as they are and not worse than they are.” (10:40)  Truth is an key idea from the podcast, and finding it in our lives can be hard because it can be at odds with how we live.  I think what Gaignard is getting at with this comment is that we can cloud our views with what we want to see, rather than what actually is to be seen.

Gaignard says, “Growth comes at the end of your comfort zone.” (11:20)  This echoes what Jill Taylor writes about in her story, My Stroke of Insight.  Taylor, a brain scientist who suffered a stroke writes, “Essentially I had to completely inhibit the level of ability that I could achieve, before it was time to take the next step.  In order to attain a new ability, I had to be able to repeat that effort with grace and control before taking the next step.”  Cal Newport promotes the same idea in an example about a friend who learned to play guitar, “While practicing, the strain on his face and the gasping nature of his breaths can be uncomfortable to watch.”  It’s easy to forget, that it’s hard to stretch ourselves.  

Once we square the truths in our lives and start to push our boundaries, Gaignard suggests we be mindful of our focus.  “What you focus on is how you’ll feel, and how you’ll feel becomes your reality”. (11:50)  Taylor puts it in more scientific terms, sharing that we can choose the neural circuits we want to run.  Her analogy makes it seem as easy as choosing ice cream flavors but in a way that’s what it’s like.  

When I first took my kids to Chipotle, I had no idea how their children’s menu worked. I didn’t know what sides came with an order and what choices they would like best.  Now that we’ve been a few times, it’s easy to order.  Taylor says that our brains are like that, except instead of streamlining our burrito orders, we fasttrack our thoughts.  When we fire the same neural loops, those loops run better and become closer to our default.  If we can choose to focus on thoughts we want, then those are the thoughts we get.  

WAIT! You say, I can literally feel myself get mad, the chemicals stream through my body like bubbles of carbonation in a shaken can of soda.  That’s true, but according to Jill, it’s only for 90 seconds.  Your body’s physiological response is limited to 90 seconds and anything after that is how we are choosing to act.

According to Gaignard, controlling this internal world is what successful leaders do.  

If you look at anyone who is a leader, whether it is a mom leading a family or an entrepreneur leading a business, the thing that makes them different than everyone else is they understand that there are two worlds.  The external world they can influence, and the internal world which they can control.  And that internal world is the world that you have to master yourself and most people won’t do that because it’s too hard. (15:50)

How do you master that internal world?  Gaignard has four steps.  (19:30)

Step 1: Turn to the truth.  Are you losing money, why?  Is it lattes or late work?  This part might be painful because it’s going to require change.

Step 2: Remember that you are in full control of your business.  It’s not the markets or the customers – it’s you.

Step 3: Ask better questions and make better decisions.  What are your performance markers?  Is it the number of emails you go through? No, it’s the number of steps for the next project.

Step 4: Take action. “If there is no action the you haven’t truly decided.”  Are you waiting for an invocation to begin?  Here it is.

The episode concludes with a great talk from Suli Breaks, about the two types of people in this world.  

*It looks like the episode I listened to isn’t available now, I’ll update the links when it is.  


Life and Entrepreneurship with Pat Flynn and Tony Stubblebine

In episode 80 of Smart Passive Income, Pat Flynn interviews Tony Stubblebine, CEO and co-founder of Lift.  Lift is an app that allows users to track small actions that lead to larger goals on a daily basis.  .

The interview starts with a summary about Tony’s career before starting Lift. (6:15)  

I had been bootstrapping my own software company for a long time before Lift, and the first three years were just incredibly hard and difficult.  I had so much work and so little money,  but somehow in year four it just completely flipped.

Tony is one of those people who suggest that it’s going to take three to four years to get your project going and lifted off the ground.  As this happened for him, he was able to hire more people that did the work for him and he created a “passive income stream,”  but in doing so this led him to question what was next.  

In moving from this first startup to Lift, Tony said he was looking for something to pursue that involved human potential, “I got something that I was personally interested in and that I enjoyed.” (7:15) Tony realized that he wanted his next project not to be just about software, but also about living better.  He started Lift then, to scratch his own itch.  Finding a problem and solving it is something that John Saddington echoed when he started Pressgram.  About the desire and conception he wrote: “In a dimly-lit Cuban-Mexican joint I drafted out an application that would satisfy my desire for digital publishing and filtered photos. No obvious solution had emerged that I was satisfied with. That itch was now begging to be scratched…”

Lift is a tool people use to help tackle their goals through habits, and do in a small way each day.  Part of what makes habit formation possible is removing the decisions we face towards whether or not we do them.  I don’t want to run or write or code or read, but when those things are on my phone, popping up as alerts I can respond to them.  We’re removing the option not to do them by including them on a device we like to do things from.  When a Facebook alert pops up or an email gets sent to you, there is a mental rush that people want to say something to you. I suspect that this plays a role in the success of the Lift app as well.  

Tony also mentions in the interview (9:45) that it’s important to break things down into small steps and make regular progress toward them. Run a marathon or build a website are not habits, but run a mile and write code for 20 minutes are.  Lift allows users to break down their large goals into achievable habits and do them in a specific way.  

In a March, 2013 TEDx Talk, The First 20 Hours – How to Learn Anything, Josh Kaufman talks about breaking new skills down to the smallest portions.  Take the running example again.  If you want to run a marathon first you have to run ten miles, but before ten you must run one.  But before you even start running you need running shoes and make time for running.  You find the smallest steps and do those.   For Josh this came when he was trying to learn the ukulele.  Having never played before, and not knowing where to start, Kaufman tried to find the most important parts of playing.  In his search, he found that there were four chords that accounted for almost all the songs he wanted to learn and that was all Kaufman really needed to know. Don’t believe it? Well most pop songs are just four chords.  

Returning to the interview, Tony talks about the things Lift can do, Pat tries unsuccessfully to guide the conversation back to focus on entrepreneurs and what they can learn.  To Tony, it’s about getting your life in order before you can be successful at anything. He says, “entrepreneurship is also about balance, if you don’t have the rest of your life in order it starts to intrude on your work and it starts to drag you down.”  (12:45)  In Choose Yourself!, James Altucher writes the same things: (page 32)

But in order to have a fully functioning life, we need a functioning body, a healthy brain, a functioning social life, a functioning idea muscle, and a very fundamental sense that there are some things we can’t control.

Why is this so important?  Why can’t you just bear down, lose focus on your friends, family, and fitness?  Tony says that if you get to this point, “you’re not qualified to be an entrepreneur anymore.”  This happened to John Saddington, founder of Pressgram mentioned above, he writes: “My body was calling it quits and I don’t blame it as I was attempting to finish out a double Master’s degree, exit a startup that I had started with my brother, make a significant pivot with another venture (including a possible capital raise), as well as develop a secret project that had eventually became a major focus for the next year.”  That secret project became the Kickstarter for Pressgram and John righted his non-business ship, including removing 27 pounds.  

Besides having your life in order, Tony’s other tip is to know what the key parts of your business are, “it’s much more important to figure out the one thing that really matters and be aware of when this happens and be ready to grab it.” (14:00)

Some call this serendipity,  on the Tropical MBA podcast, John Myers says to “be the engineer of your own serendipity”, in Manage Your Day-To-Do Scott Belsky does this by unplugging and opening himself up to serendipity.  

About half way through the episode (19:15) Pat starts to wonder what would happen if Lift had a penalty feature.  If you don’t do one of your habits, then ten cents is deducted from your bank account.  Tony says that this might work, but the research his team has done suggests that in the science of behavior design, positive reinforcement might be a better tool.  They’re trying to get people to do one thing on a consistent basis, they’re using the carrot instead of the stick to get you to eat your carrots.  

Besides positive reinforcement, Tony says that small progress is important, and small progress is Steven Pressfields’ first step toward turning pro. Pressfield writes that the first step toward going pro is to do something for one hour.  Leo Babauta at Zen Habits writes that one way he built the habit of flossing, was to floss just one tooth.  In Daily Rituals there is this quote from Joseph Heller, “If I write a page or two a day five days a week, that’s 3000 pages a year and it does add up.”  

What sort of insights then has Tony gotten from running Lift?  There must be a treasure trove of productivity hacks for entrepreneurs for dealing with email, late nights, and travel right?  Nope.  The first and only insight he mentions is how to meditate more.  (26:10)

Tony says that many entrepreneurs work on meditation and that it’s helped him personally.  (28:15)  Being aware of how he’s feeling lets him switch from task to task and remain engaged with them.  He gives the example of ripping through his email inbox and then jumping over to do an interview with Pat and then immediately after being interviewed, he’s interviewing a designer.  

Tony isn’t the only executive who find that motivation is helpful.  In Be Excellent at Anything, Tony Schwartz and his team share that meditation has helped a lot of executives even though many were reluctant to try it.  They share why one CEO started meditating: page 202

I didn’t start meditation because I was interested in higher states of consciousness. My goal was practical. My job involves dealing with all kinds of different people and activities, and it’s hard to stay focused on any one. I’d always find myself ruminating about the last meeting or anticipating the next one. I took up meditation because I wanted to see if I could learn to slow down my mind.

Schwartz and Stubblebine both suggest keeping meditation short – two minutes – and use one of two techniques.  You can focus on your breaths and count them as they go in and out or you can be mindful of whatever pops in your head, but let it leave as easily as it comes.  The same CEO shares his thoughts on mindfulness or mindful meditation:

Breath counting was fine, and it really helped me, but it wasn’t very interesting. Mindfulness was much more intellectually engaging. It was fascinating to actually learn to observe my own mind the way I might watch a movie or a play.  It was a revelation to discover that I could observe an emotion – anger or frustration or irritation or even sadness – without feeling like I had to react to it. .. I got so I could name it and then just watch it pass by.

Along with meditation Tony shares one other tool, a script.  Scripts allow us to not have to convert mental energy to something that doesn’t require it and allows us to consistently make the right choices.  Dan Andrews at Tropical MBA talks about personal and professional scripts often.  

Tony’s script is for telemarketers when they call and it goes like this. (31:00)  “Thank you so much for calling, (pause) but we’re not interested, (pause) goodbye.”  He says that the pauses are there to give them a chance to say goodbye and to Tony, he was polite and this conversation fit the pattern of normal, non-irritating conversations.   It’s also automatic so he doesn’t need to think about what to say about getting out of the conversation and the script prevents a swing of emotions because the call was irritating or frustrating.

Tony and Pat end the conversation with two more practical tips for entrepreneurship.  Tony suggests that if you never take money from somewhere you owe, you’ll never go out of business.  For him this meant consulting on the side until he had enough to pay himself, then after getting enough to pay someone else, he did.  He suggests not taking out loans or to mortgage your house because those are the things that will knock you out of business.  

His second tip is that you need to put in the work and care about what you do. This part of the conversation tip-toes along a line that Cal Newport says might not exist, but Tony’s point is less about pursuing passion and more about pursuing something.  It took him three years of hard work at his first startup and he had to do that every day.  And if you do find something you love doing, then that will be your hobby.  Tony ends the interview with a story.  At his old job he was working and saving and working and saving some more so he could buy a new television.  He spent three months looking for the best reviews, comparing models, and saving money from his job.  Finally he bought the television, but how much does he use it now?  “Almost never.” (35:20)  Now his job at Lift is what matters most and that’s what he wants to do.  

I chose to go back and take notes on this interview because it demonstrated the blending nature of life.  Your job and life are not mutually exclusive.  Everything we do affects the other things in our lives.  

Five Tips for Working in Asia, advice from Tropical MBA

In Episode 225 of Tropical MBA, Dan Andrews is joined by Jon Myers for a “jam session” of ideas about living and working in Asia.  The episode is a different limb than what Dan and Ian typically discuss, but it has some solid stuff, especially toward the end of the episode.

The beginning includes some stories about Asia including the crazy motorbike traffic, the kindergarten education (9:40), and that being close – but not in – China is important. (12:30)   The key part of the episode is when Andrews and Myers jump into their five success tips for working in Asia.

Tip 1: “Thou shall not do local business.”

Andrews and Myers talk about why you don’t want to just jump into an area  you know nothing about and try to fix things.  “Don’t think you’re clever and do Groupon for Vietnam” Andrews says (16:00) – often our ideas need deeper thought.  Pat Flynn has a technique he calls 777 brainstorming to help him find businesses in areas he cares about.  Flynn notes that “By targeting a market that involves a passion, problem and/or fear that I or someone I know has, I can be sure I’ll be interested in it enough to put forth the extra effort needed for it to become a potentially high profit site.”  Pat’s personal connection is important, if you try to jump in to something you don’t understand at all you miss the currents.  Dan warns, “You tend to underestimate the inherent intelligence of a place.” (17:15)

Early in the episode the guys talk about how there’s no Whole Foods and no formal gyms (7:30) and while these things would be nice, they don’t get started because the existing ethos of the place has adapted to not needing those things.  It reminds me that McDonalds has 10 million pounds of chicken wings in unused inventory. McDonalds thought that adding chicken wings to a menu that already featured chicken would work. It apparently didn’t.

Tip 2: You need a purpose and a vision.

Dan and Jon both have personal and professional reasons to be in Asia.  It’s not just the cost of living perks, like maid services.  If they didn’t need to be there for work, they probably wouldn’t be there at all.  Later in the episode Jon remarks that you could probably be doing the same thing in Detroit.

You hear about this dichotomy of perception time and again from entrepreneurs who have left their traditional jobs for new ones.  Working for yourself might look nice from the outside, but so does a snow covered landscape.  Once you get out in the metaphorical snow, things are different.  Out there includes long hours, doubts, and fears.  The irregular paychecks, the sometimes huge self-insurance deductibles, and the need to maintain a razor sharp focus are all inherent challenges that have to be aligned with your purpose and vision.

Tip 3: You must have an insatiable curiosity for where you’re going. & Tip 4: Get connected and get inspired.

These tips both stem from – I think – Dan’s environment.  He often talks on the podcast about connecting to entrepreneurs, expats mostly, who are moving and shaking in the region.  He loves living and breathing both the culture and the business that is Asia – but not the air –  and while he would probably be successful in doing these things elsewhere, doing them in Asia really appeals to him.  He says, “you’re writing the story,” and for him, Asia is a great place to do it.

Working in Asia means that there is a fluidity to what can happen and this appeals to Dan and Jon.  Deal making is more fluid, it happens with only a handshake (28:10), but to survive and thrive you gotta be tough.  At 25:30 Dan says:

You gotta have that grit and that long-term view that I’m going to hang for 24 months, and I’m gonna make it happen, and I’m not gonna demand that everything is the same as it was back home.

Tip 5: You must be mindful and have an attitude of gratitude

Dan says, “It feels exciting that I’m doing something different.” (27:00)  and you need to be ready for things, when they’re ready to happen.  During this exchange, Jon gives my favorite quote of the episode:

You have to be the engineer of your own serendipity.

How does being ready to seize that happen?  In Manage Your Day-To-Day, Scott Belsky – CEO of Behance before its acquisition by Adobe – wrote that he gets his ideas by unplugging. He tells a story about a camping trip where at first he was bored, but on the second day, “my brain suddenly reactivated.  My creativity and imagination reached a new velocity as soon as I unplugged.”  In the same article Belsky suggests you, “open yourself up to serendipity.”

Belsky isn’t the only one, Cal Newport blogged about trying to make a deeper connection between two ideas he was mentally wrangling.  Newport writes, “In my experience, this type of connection making is well-served by three ingredients: quiet, movement, and time. So I left my building and hiked onto a network of trails that abuts the Georgetown campus.”  Walking seems to be a common way to bring inspiration – serendipitously or not.  In Daily Rituals many writers went for walks after a morning work session.  Beethoven even walked with a pencil and music sheets to “record chance musical thoughts.”

In the episode Dan and Jon don’t mention unplugging but throughout they are talking about the spirit of unplugging.  They’ve unplugged from certain culture things. They don’t have CNN in front of a treadmill, they have a public track with a basketball court.  They don’t have TV to watch, they have cheap flights to Shanghai.

I enjoyed the episode, especially the part about Asia.  It’s an area that I can’t see myself in but their discussion included lessons that I can myself needing.