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You Should Cheat

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”Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvator Dali

Before you start insulting me, let’s make something clear, I’m not talking about relationships. Let me explain myself. We all do things that doesn’t fit in our ideal life. The best examples are eating fast food, drinking alcohol, taking load of caffeine, watching TV, browsing the internet, playing video games or being lazy. The list could be longer, but you see the point. Tuesday, I’ve received my copy Fallout 4 by Amazon. For those, who don’t what I’m talking about, Fallout is post-apocalyptic video games. The game is huge and can easily suck you in for hours. I took my copy and put it aside. I wanted to make a simple experiment. I told myself that would only play saturday (for the whole day) if all the important stuff I wanted do would be done (gym, writing, reading and projects). Without committing myself, I would have easily spend all my free time playing and I’m not joking. To my surprise, I was way more productive that way. What I can see about that…

  • My gaming experience was even better because I’ve delayed the reward. I was awaiting that moment all week.
  • I wasn’t ashamed to play for my whole Saturday, because everything I wanted to be done, was finished.
  • I did way more during my week by avoiding anything related to TV. I felt more satisfied about myself, therefore I was more happy and less stressed.

Cheating can also help you build habits. I love to drink Red Bull. I know it’s bad for the health. I remember in my college years, drinking 2 cans a day. Nowadays, I avoid it as much as possible. The best way that I used to stop was to let myself cheat once or twice a month. I’ve avoided the pain of removing what I like from my life, but at the same I’ve reduce so much the quantity I drink that it doesn’t have significant impact on my life.

Trying to be perfect is impossible. It’s a recipe for frustration. Let yourself deliberately cheat, not too much, but just enough.

Those Bullshit Excuses

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”The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.”Jordan Belfort

We always have excuses. Not enough money. Not enough time. Being too old. Being tired. Not having the skills. I could go on and on. I could find a thousand of bullshit excuses. During the last 4 months, I’ve postponed writing something for the simple reason that I was telling myself that I didn’t have enough time.

Really? In all honesty, I had time to watch tv, play video games and lose my time on internet. In the end, we choose what we really want. We choose that we are too tired. We choose that we don’t have the skills. The universe doesn’t use magic against us. It’s all us. It’s our damn choice.

How to (Really) Read a Book

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A good book deserves an active reading. The activity of reading does not stop with the work of understanding what a book says. It must be completed by the work of criticism, the work of judging. The undemanding reader fails to satisfy this requirement, probably even more than he fails to analyze and interpret. He not only makes no effort to understand; he also dismisses a book simply by putting it aside and forgetting it. Worse than faintly praising it, he damns it by giving it no critical consideration whatever.Mortimer J. Adler

This is the logical follow-up How to Read 50 Books in a Year. Reading a book doesn’t finish with the last page. Far from it. Work needs to be done afterward. That is in my opinion the most important part of reading a book. That will be the make or break in what you’ll get out of the book. Really reading a book means to be an active reader. If you go from point A to Z without any work, chances are that you will forget 99% of the book in a year. Here are some thoughts about my reading process.

*I’m active during my reading. That mean I highlight things of interest. It can be interesting quotes, stuff to apply in my daily life, interesting resources (books, movies, authors, music, etc.) or just interesting facts. In other words, highlight everything you find interesting. I don’t hesitate to write ideas or comments inside my books. They are my personal working tools. They aren’t meant to stay blank. You will read at a slower pace. That’s fine, it’s not a race. No need to rush.

*Once the reading is done, I write a summary of the book in Evernote. You can use whatever tools you want for that. I used to have a desktop folder with summary written in Word documents. To each is own way. You could write them on paper sheet if you want. In the summary, I’ll write about: the author, the subject/themes, what I thought about the book (make a critic of it), what I learned and whatever ideas that comes to my mind.

*After that, I will transcribe all book notes (things that we’re highlighted) after the summary. I’ll usually keep the most important stuff. I think notes should be well-organized for a later consultation. Dividing by chapters is probably the easiest way. Writing all your notes will boost the retention of what you just read. It can be a long process, but you’ll get use to it with time.

*As you can see, Fiction don’t follow the same pattern. I won’t use the summary/notes organization. I will start by saying what I thought about the book. Then, I will make a longer summary with quotes here and there if the book is like Game of Thrones or Dune. What I mean is that the book main point is to tell a story. The other option is to write you summary around the themes of the books. Here I’m thinking about Fight Club. Sometimes, you’ll have book that fall in between.

*The way you do your summary is personal. The important point is to do it. The way of doing will differ from person to another. Some people will keeps pages and pages of notes. Others will prefer the one page rule. It’s up to you. You can write on computer or by hand. You can use tables, images, whatever you want. The idea is to make it useful. For example, for my summary of The Borgias, I’ve included a map of Italy in 1492.

*I would suggest to keep a task list (if you read a non-fiction) when you are transcribing your notes. It’s a good way to make things you learn actionable. By doing that, you’ll commit to apply what you learn it the real world.

*I keep a system to check at least 1 or 2 old summaries/notes every week. That point is very important. You need to go back to your notes once in a while. It’s interesting to add new thoughts to your book notes after a year. You’ll see things differently each time you’ll return to it. I suggest adding new comments each time to make it a perpetual work.

I would rather read 20 books in a year with an active reading mindset than 100 in a passive reading way. I believe reading is an activity to make us grow. Making the most out of it make sense. See it as your personal school. You need to do your homeworks if you want a good grade. It’s the same for books. You need to do the work if you want to get the most values out of them.

How to Read 50 Books in a Year

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“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” George R.R. Martin

I never thought that one day I could have a “realist” goal of reading 50 books in a year. This is happening now. I’ve been asked by a few people how I read that much (I don’t think 50 is a lot, when some people a reading a hundred in a year). I don’t use fast reading techniques. You won’t find any hacks or shortcuts below. I’m actually a slow reader. I think anyone can do it with the proper mindset. Here are a bunch of ideas that could help you boost your reading in the next year.

*The first thing you should do is to make reading a priority. You probably watch TV for a few hours every week, play video games or browse internet (Facebook, Reddit, etc.). Instead of doing these activities, make reading your default option. I’m not saying don’t watch TV at all, but you can surely be creative and make more time for reading.

*One thing I do that help a lot is taking reading appointments. Whenever I have free time during the week, I’ll plug a 2-3 hours of reading in Google Calendar. Doing that will make you commit to do it. An other option would be to make a habit out of it, like reading 40 pages everyday. I don’t use that option because my days are never equal. But, I can see how it’s a great way to read much more.

*I suggest that you either always carry a book with you or one on Kindle (iPhone/Android). Dead times are underestimated. You easily lose few hours every week doing nothing. Read when waiting in line at the grocery stores, between gym sets, when waiting for meetings, in the metro or at any other dead times.

*I personally read 2 books at the same time. Usually 1 fiction and 1 non-fiction. Why am I doing that? Sometimes you won’t feel like reading a certain book. When you are tired, it will be way easier to read a fiction for example. You increase your chance of wanting to read something.

*It’s important to read stuff you like. If you don’t like what you’re reading, chances are that you will stop right at the middle. If you don’t like it, throw it away. As simple as that.

*I would say that one of the most important thing is to have a goal. Not aiming for an objective will make you fail. I know that I have to read 50 books before the end of the year and the goal is clearly inside my head. I track my progress and list each book I’m reading. I use a countdown to see where I’m at. It’s useful because you’ll know when you’ll have to read more. It’s just like project management, the closer you get to the deadline, the more time/effort you’ll put into your work.

*I think focus is mandatory. You need to make your reading a fun and relax activity. I usually make myself a coffee during the day or an herbal tea in the evening. Put your cell away. The last thing you want to do is check it every 2 minutes. And every time you stop, you’ll need to get your concentration back. I don’t use music when I’m reading, but some people like classical music.

Don’t know where to start? I did a bunch of book reviews if you need some inspiration: Moneyball, You Are Now Less Dumb, Steal Like an Artist, The Dip, 7 Years in Tibet, The Old Man and the Sea and Appalachian Trials.

Randomness #7: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Scotch, Nicaragua and much more

The sea gets deeper as you go further into it.” – Venetian proverb

[1] The Life and Times of A Remarkable Misfit @ Pursuit of Everything – It’s a short interesting book that I found by total randomness (it’s free and in pdf). It’s a bunch of essays about doing what matter in life, finding our purpose and being creative. The author, AJ Leon, has quit his job to travel the world and work on humanitarian projects.

[2] The 24 Books that Shaped Gabriel Garcia Marquez @ Brain Pickings  Gabriel Garcia Marquez died a year ago. If you don’t know him, he’s the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in Time of Cholera. It’s interesting to see his favorite books. from the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Alexandre Dumas, William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf.

[3] Not a single one of us knows what the future holds. The unexpected happens even when we’ve got everything mapped out” – A great quote by Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild. It’s true that we often try to anticipate everything that will happen. We make new years resolutions and we make long-term goals. We think that everything will go along our plan. But, a lot can change in a year. Life is full of surprises.

[4] Kill the Messenger @ Blu-Ray – That movie went under my radar. I didn’t even know the existence of it until last week. Based on the True story of Journalist Gary Webb. The film takes place in the mid 90s. Webb uncovered the CIA’s past role in importing huge amounts of cocaine into the U.S. that was sold in ghettos across the country to raise money for the Nicaraguan Contras rebel army. And then, he becomes the target of a vicious smear campaign that drives him to the point of suicide.

[5] 9 Short Quotes That Changed My Life And Why @ Thought Catalog – An interesting piece by Ryan Holiday. One of my favorite quote of the article is by Heraclitus: Dogs bark at what they cannot understand.And here his Ryan explanation to it:People don’t like change. They don’t like to be confused. It’s also a fact that doing new things means forcing change and confusion on other people. So, if you’re looking for an explanation for all the barking you’re hearing, there it is.” Ryan make the list almost each month, the reason? There is a lot of wisdom in what he writes.

[6] You should watch Ex-Machina @ Cinema – It’s already out in the United States, not yet in Canada (April 24th). It look like a great sci-fi movie. It’s the story of young programmer selected for an experiment in Artificial Intelligence. He must test the human qualities of beautiful female AI. It’s from Alex Garland, the writer of 28 Days Later and Dredd.

[7] Top 10 Fish Oil Supplements @ Labdoor – It’s tough to make the right decision when choosing supplements. When are never sure of the qualities of each of them. LabDoor did the job for us. They analyzed the 51 best-selling fish oil supplements in the United States. After the experiment, they classified the different products by “highest quality” and “best value”. The other great news? They did it for a bunch of other supplements like multivitamins and protein.

[8] Workflowing @ 5 by 5 podcast – I found a new podcast about productivity and efficiency. The hosts Mike Vardy and Michael Schechter have a weekly discussion (sometimes with a guest) about various subject like boosting your brain, resistance, the comfort zone, focus and a bunch of other stuff.

[9] Scotch Bucket list @ Cool Material – I’ll finish with some fun. This is a list of 15 bottles of Scotch you should try once in a lifetime. Some of them are affordable (between 50-100$), some are expensive and some are just…25 000$ (okay we’ll skip that one).

The Unmistakable

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They criticize me for harping on the obvious; if all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves.” – Calvin Coolidge

Have you ever search for your keys only to find out they were in your hand? The answer can be straight in our face and we can be blind to see it.  What we search can be so obvious, it’s natural to look elsewhere.

A while ago, I was trying to find ways to improve my strenght at the deadlift and overhead press. My first instinct was trying to find shortcuts. Maybe a new supplement could be my savior? Maybe I could add a new assistant exercise to my training? What if I wasn’t stretching properly? You can see where this was going.

After thinking about it, I concluded that if I wanted to get stronger, I needed to do more strength. As simple as that. I’ve added a few sets of singles (doing the maximum for 1 rep) to each session and after a week I was already seeing a big difference. We often try to find shortcuts, hacks, tips, tricks or whatever. We want to find the easy way to do things, because we want to avoid the hard way.

You want more money? Instead of cancelling your Netflix account, you could just find an another job or ask for a raise. You need to lose weight, drinking Coca-Cola Zero won’t make a big difference. What you need is to eat less carbs period.

We don’t need the new cool apps, the next productivity hacks or that new trendy idea. What we need is to stop bullshiting ourselves for one moment and do what fucking matters.

Start and Ignite

No matter what we say, starting is essential. Without the start, nothing will get finish. Look at all great works around you, they most likely comes from a small first step. That little step is most often the most difficult. We have ideas. A lot of them. But, fear and resistance keep us from going forward. I’ve had the fear of the start for a very long time. I was always waiting for the perfect moment. Their will never be a perfect moment. I couldn’t handle the idea failing. In Poke the Box, Seth Godin explains that pattern:

Today, not starting is far, far worse than being wrong. If you start, you’ve got a shot at evolving and adjusting to turn your wrong into a right. But if you don’t start, you never get a chance.

Did you know that the game Minecraft was started as a sideline? I can bet that Markus Persson didn’t know that one day he would sell it for 2.5 billions dollars. Without starting, the game would have never happened. Nobody has a clue of what they start will be a success or failure beforehand. We can’t predict the future. One thing we can be sure about, starting will increase your chance of success. On the other hand, waiting will decrease them.

You must repeat to process of starting and failing on and on. Worst case scenario? You will fail. Nothing dramatic about it. We are feed with stories of success, but we rarely see the thousands of attempts that lead to success. There is no magic formula. A dynamite will never explode if you don’t commit to start and ignite it.

The Dreamcatcher

“I am indebted to my notebook for the happiness of my whole life.” – Ben Franklin

The human mind has one great liability, it tends to forget. You can’t imagine how many ideas you have lost in the course of your life by simply not writing them down. A notebook should always be by your side to catch everything that comes out of your head. I’m a big fan of Evernote, but I find it better for short notes. If it’s an idea or an observation, I prefer to write it down. Beside, when I’m working, the last thing I want is looking at my cell.

My suggestion? Go back to the old school way. Get yourself a beautiful Moleskin notebook (the apple of the notebook a.k.a you pay for the name). Mine is the size of big Iphone. It fit well in my back pocket. I have it with me wherever I am.

A lot of great figures from history were keeping a notebooks. Charles Darwin, Ernest Hemingway, John D. Rockefeller and Pablo Picasso are among them. Do like them. Don’t let dreams fly away.

The Five Minutes

A little can make a big difference. George Leonard expressed that idea in a similar fashion in his book Mastery. For him, the five extra minutes of work his the chief difference between an amateur and a master. In other words, “the five minutes” means giving the second effort.

Think about it. You want to learn cooking. If after each time you try a recipe, you give an extra five minutes to write about it. What was good. What went wrong. What you could improve the next time. Those extra five minutes in 10 years could be worth gold.

What are your five minutes?

Foundation

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The awareness that health is dependent upon habits that we control makes us the first generation in history that to a large extent determines its own destiny. – Jimmy Carter

Everyone should have a life foundation. Here is mine. They are what I do on consistent basis or almost. From time to time, I neglect them and things start to go bad. As soon as I make it a priority to do it, things start to go well again. I’m not promising overnight success or the you will become the richest person in the world. But I can promise you that you will feel way better, you’ll have more ideas than ever before and stress will go down. If you don’t have time, find it.

1. Excessive reading. Aim to read a lot. Like 50 books or more a year. Read all the fucking time. Read about every subjects: history, psychology, philosophy, biology, finance, marketing, business, etc. Books can give you an insane load of ideas. The more you read, the more benefits you’ll get out of it. Put more in the bank, you’ll get interest. It’s the same principle with reading. PLEASE avoid crappy and easy books. Read stuff that will make you grow. You don’t have any idea what you should read next? Start with some philosopher like Seneca, Epictetus, David Hume, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Read biographies about great men like Alexander The Great, Churchill, Rockefeller or Kennedy. Try novels by Tolstoy, Balzac or Mark Twain. I’m currently reading Law of Success by Napoleon Hill.

2. Write a journal. I’ve already cover that subject in The Lost Art of Journaling. Writing a diary is powerful tool that can help you during struggles and bad time. You will find after a while that similar problems keep coming back. That’s where your journal become a teacher. You can learn from your own past. Writing helps emptying the head of all your worries. That’s mean you’ll be less stress. I would suggest to write even if things are going well in your life. Keeping a diary doesn’t just help with problems. It will improve your memory, it will make you get more ideas and you’ll get better at writing. Do it everyday.

3. Write 10 ideas. This is an extension of the journal writing. I’ve learned that trick in James Altucher’s Choose Yourself. Find a topic to write about. It can be anything from struggles, problems solving, finding business ideas, travel ideas or anything else that is useful. For example, you could write 10 ideas about why junk food is bad for you. Detail as much as possible (20+ lines) for each ideas. Make your brain work really hard. Do that for a couple of months and you’ll become an idea machine. It’s a wonderful tool, but you need to do it on a consistent basis to get the rewards. Keep in mind that your brain is like a muscle. You need to exercise it. If you don’t, the idea muscle will simply shrink.

4. Use the power of gratitude. It’s another thing I do in my personal journal. It doesn’t take much time. I suggest that at the end of each day, you write was good about it. It can be something anything. It can be as simple as the time you spent with a friend or the coffee you took at Starbucks. For example, today I was grateful for having a meal with my parents, breaking a record in the gym, reading a book and listening to good music. It can be anything that made your day good. You’ll find even good things about your shitty days. We tend to focus much more on the negative and that is a problem. In How to Be The Luckiest Person Alive, James Altucher suggest to express gratitude even for the bad stuff. The best example, your tight on money…you should be thankful for learning to make a budget. Once you learn to be grateful, you’ll open the newspaper and you’ll feel instantly happier. Why? Grateful people understand that their first world problems are nothing compare to the shit that happen everyday around the world.

5. Minimal boozing. In a perfect world we wouldn’t drink at all. unfortunately, society is really pushy to make us drink. Try a month without boozing and you’ll say no a thousand times. Not drinking isn’t the norm. The problem is that the more we drink, the more depress we are. Alcohol is cool in the moment, but it’s effects aren’t that good afterward. It isn’t good for you health, you mood and your brain. Keep it low, don’t drink more than 2-3 drinks each day. Keep it even lower than that in bad times. You feel bad should mean don’t drink. We tend to do the opposite and it’s self-destructive behavior. Alcohol won’t save you anyway. Face your problems.

6. Eat clean. I can make comparisons with alcohol consumption. I usually tend to eat more crap when I feel bad. The result is simple, I’ll feel even worse. It should be a must to eat three good meals everyday. Eat plenty of protein and vegetables. Try to keep junk food to a minimum. That include soft drink, dessert and chips. I suggest cheating once or twice max a week. I’m not advocating perfection here. I know we’re human. Keep junk as a reward, not a daily habit.

7. The 6 Items List. I got that idea from The Ultimate Sales Machine. You take a piece of paper before going to bed and you write your 6 most important tasks for the next day (no more). It’s a great tool because you already have a plan for your next day. You have the blueprint of what your best day should be. You go to bed without worry. You wake up and you’re already in fight mode. Even better, you can set a definite time to complete each task. One of the best way to use that list is to start early and do some of the work before starting to read emails. Believe me, it will be your most productive time of the day.

8. The Weekly Review. I got that idea from Getting Things Done 7 years ago. It’s one of the best way to keep your things organized and move toward your life goals. You set a period of 2 to 3 hours each week where you review what you did good or bad during your week. You plan what you want to do for the next week. It’s a good time to take a look at your current goals, empty your email inbox and do all the small tasks you didn’t have time to do. I usually break my life in different fields like work, learning, writing, health, finance, voluntary work and active projects. I’ll write 10 to 15 lines for each fields. On my part, I usually do this on Friday afternoon. In my head, that means the week is over.

9. Be the early bird. I’m far from being the best at that, but I’ve found that the earlier I raised, the more I did during my day. You can take advantage of the quiet morning time. You don’t have emails to answer, no phone calls to return and you don’t receive sms. All those things take a lot of time and make us lose focus during our days. That’s why it’s difficult to keep up with the work we have to do. It’s a modern society reality. We can’t avoid it, but we can be smart about it. The best way to do it is to have a morning routine you like. Get a good cup of coffee and read a book. Then, attack your work.

10. Move. This one is a must. I’m always surprise when I hear about people who do nothing. Get up and do exercise. Lift weight, fight, jump, run, climb a rope or play football. I don’t care what you do, BUT FUCKING MOVE. Our body was built to move. We’re not triggered to watch TV all the time. Get a good dose of sport 3 to 4 times a week. It can only be positive for yourself.

11. Play It Away. This mean you can’t be working or doing intellectual work all the time. You should plan a relaxation night or afternoon every week (even 2 if you want). Go watch a movie, play a video game, have a board game night with friends or go to the shopping mall with your girlfriend/boyfriend. The idea is to do something else than your routine. Look at a week without any planned fun and it will be the longest ever. You won’t see the end of the tunnel. I would suggest to plan relatively big events every few week. I’ve noticed that it help the mood to have something to look toward.

A foundation is personal to each person. It is a suggestion. Take what you think that can be beneficial for you and adapt it to your life. I’ve put what I think is the most important, but I could easily add a lot of other items on that list. Remember that your foundation should be your life guide. Avoid it at your risks and perils.