I’ve been trying to get my shit together for the past four years.
After reading tons of self-improvement books, logging 130+ coaching hours, and reflecting with myself and others on how to live a great life…I’ve discovered that there’s not just one single formula or idea to make it happen.
But there does seem to be a mindset that every person who is happy or fulfilled seems to possess:
Focusing on what they can control and not what they cannot.
The old adage goes:
If there’s something you can do about it, do it. If there’s nothing you can do about it, then obsessing over it just means you suffer twice.
Yesterday, I signed up for my first coaching certification program.
It entails joining a community of coaches for weekly calls and trainings, intense practice, and accountability.
If the goal is to be able to pay for my life, why would I add this hefty monthly fee to my budget?
Simple: It’s an investment.
Life is not about saving money. It’s about putting that money toward things that will bring you massive returns.
The goal here is to become an extraordinary coach and business owner, making it easy to pay this program off.
On a smaller scale, I pay for a haircut once each month (and I’m thinking about bumping that up to once every two weeks). I could limit the amount of haircuts I get or even teach myself how to cut my own hair. But I love the way I look after I meet with my haircutter. We always have a lovely conversation, laugh our asses off, and I look fresh as hell leaving that place.
The fun experience and level of confidence I feel are well worth the cost to me, so I invest it happily.
What are you willing to invest in? What are you willing to pay money for that other people would scoff at?
I preach on and on about the importance of sleep. And it’s still the thing that most gets me in trouble.
Good or bad quality sleep is the difference between all other habits or tasks being much easier or much harder.
Here are some actionable tips.
• As it gets closer to bed time, make your environment darker. Turn the big lights off. Light some candles. This activates melatonin, the chemical in your brain which tells you it’s time for bed, making you more sleepy.
• For the love of God, set boundaries on screen time. Blue light is damaging to your eyes and it diminishes sleep quality. Turn the TV off before bed. Put the phone away. Read or listen to an audiobook or a podcast. My rule: No matter what, my phone goes on airplane mode at 10pm. I listen to an audiobook until I’m bored to death and then fall asleep.
• Get an eye mask. I didn’t like having something on my face at first; it felt claustrophobic. But I quickly got used to it. Like the first bullet, this keeps everything dark which helps you sleep through the night without waking as the sun rises and lights up the room.
• Before you do anything, drink cold water. A glass or two is ideal. Coffee is lovely, but the first thing your body needs is hydration. It just went seven to ten hours without water and is totally dehydrated. I’m stunned every time I feel like death in the morning and then feel instantly better after chugging half my water bottle.
• An inverse of the “Falling asleep” tip—Make your environment bright. This lets the brain know that it’s time to be awake and alert. Keeping things dark confuses the mind and makes it think we should still be asleep.
• If you have time (and most people do), do something you enjoy right when you wake up. Listen to upbeat music. Go for a walk. Do some stretches. Having a productive morning is necessary for setting the stage for the day, but you can make things easier on yourself by throwing in some fun, too.
• Avoid passive activities like scrolling on your phone or watching TV until after you’ve pursued some active activities. Things like: Reading, cooking, walking, stretching, exercise of some kind, writing, etc. Wake your brain up first and take charge. You’ll also find you probably won’t feel like doing something passive after being more active.
Of course, getting consistently high-quality sleep takes a bit of time and intention. Going to bed and waking up at the same times every day is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
It takes discipline, which makes it difficult.
Things come up. We want to have fun. Some nights we simply can’t fall asleep.
There will be ups and downs and that’s okay. So long as you keep being mindful of the importance sleep has on the things you care about in life, you’ll be able to keep making adjustments.
In the past, whenever something I wrote didn’t resonate with someone, I would go into a mild panic. Insecurities would bubble to the surface and I would assume I was wrong about everything.
Luckily, by exposing myself to respectful arguments and by putting my work out on a daily basis…I’ve been able to completely shift my mindset.
When I read that he wanted to push back on one of my philosophies, I didn’t shrivel; I got excited.
Having debates can be uncomfortable, but only if you feel married to your ideas and that what you believe is tied to your identity. This can feel like passion, but it often leads to unnecessary suffering. When someone disagrees with a deeply-held belief of ours, it feels like they’re disagreeing with who we are.
If instead we recognize they are simply disagreeing with an idea or concept, it makes it much easier to verbally spar.
It’s possible to become excited for a fruitful exchange. The worst case scenario? You have your mind changed—which isn’t a defeat, but instead a great victory on your journey of growth.
Because they typically require that you overload yourself with a bunch of new rules and habits.
Now, if you’ve read any of my stuff in the past, you know I love rules and habits. They are the path toward a healthy, fulfilling, and ultimately free life.
But they need to be learned and adapted slowly, progressively.
If the 95% of failed New Years resolutions teaches us anything, it’s that going balls to the wall with good decisions isn’t enough. Those decisions have to be engrained in your day to day…set in stone.
When something is a habit, it’s easier to simply do that thing than it is to think about doing it. It feels like it does itself.
Making extreme and immediate changes to your routines may bring you success in the short term, but there’s a reason every single winner of The Biggest Loser has gained all (usually more) of that weight back within two years.
Overloading strong habits will inevitably lead to burnout and a sense of failure. Surprisingly, this doesn’t lead to lasting change.
I’ve had many clients feel pumped up after a coaching session and do this. At the end, when we come up with their Next Actions, they get antsy.
• “I’m gonna go to bed before 11am each night.” • “I’m gonna exercise every morning.” • “I’m gonna read at least 20 pages every day.” • “I’m gonna meditate every morning for 30 minutes.”
Every single one of these actions is beautiful and would certainly be powerful if applied to one’s life. But going from zero to all of these is impossible to maintain.
Naturally, they come back and tell me in the following session that they fell off with their Next Actions, usually with a tone of failure.
But that’s not a failure in execution; it’s a failure in planning.
It sounds boring as hell, but the only true way to build strong habits is to ever so slowly integrate them into your life.
I have strong exercise habits; it took me three years.
I have strong productivity habits; it took me nine years.
I have strong relationship habits; it took me 27 years.
The things that will sustainably change your life will take time. That sucks to hear, but it’s the only way.
As we get older, it gets harder and harder to stay in consistent contact with all the people you’d like to keep in touch with.
But if you’ve ever tried to set up a call or a hangout with a buddy, you might have heard this little nugget:
“Sorry, I’ve been really busy lately.”
What this really means, however, is:
Sorry, you just haven’t been a priority lately.
On face value, this response is nonsense. ‘Too busy’ implies that in the past week, they simply haven’t had five minutes to send you a text or call you up.
The subtext behind this explanation is that they haven’t devoted any brain space to communicating with you because they’ve had other things on their mind.
And guess what…
People are generally busy. We have careers to focus on, families to see and take care of, and our own bodies and minds to tend to.
It can be frustrating and hurtful to feel like your friends are ‘too busy’ for you, but:
1) Would you want to force it by spending time with someone who doesn’t truly want to engage?
2) You can use that time to take care of other essentials for yourself—hobbies, career, or other relationships.
To those who receive the ‘I’ve been busy’ text:
Don’t let it insult you at your core. Take the opportunity to put effort into other areas. But if it’s a serious situation, bring it up with the other person and tell them how you feel.
To those who send the ‘I’ve been busy’ text:
Be straight up with the person. If you haven’t truly cared about catching up or spending time together, say so. It can sound harsh, but ripping off the band-aid means feeling the immediate pain and discomfort now…and avoiding this worse, throbbing and lingering pain that can last months or even years.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “We should catch up man…” then immediately think…Do you really mean that?
Or rather, I have no idea how to guarantee success in your creative or business endeavors.
On top of this blog, I’ve launched a weekly newsletter, a podcast, a YouTube channel, and a life coaching business. And while I don’t have thousands of fans tuning in…I can speak as someone who has gone from 0 people interested to hundreds who consistently return to hear what I have to say.
I’m eternally grateful for even one subscriber.
Any success I’ve had has been the result of a single two-step process:
1) Create high quality work that brings people value (i.e. makes them ponder, laugh, or otherwise captivates their attention).
2) Don’t stop.
There’s no secret marketing strategy or underground series of tricks.
It doesn’t matter how beautiful the packaging is on the bag of dog food. If it doesn’t taste good, your dog won’t eat it.
People don’t read my shit to make me feel good. Maybe they’ll do that once or twice and throw a Facebook like or comment my way.
But over time, the herd thins out and what’s left are the people who simply enjoy what you’re putting out there.
The goal is to thank them by continuing to give them value. And hopefully, they’ll enjoy it for long enough that they’ll tell other people. And so on.
If you want to build something and get people interested, you must first be aware of these truths:
• Only .01% of creators ‘make it big’ quickly. It takes a long fucking time to build your skills, find your voice, and gain a trusting audience.
• If your goal is financial, you will certainly quit. Again, even by following the two-step formula mentioned above, there’s no guarantee that you’ll pop off any time soon. You have to love the process. Ask yourself, “Would I still be making this if I only had 10 fans two years from now?” If the answer is no, then readjust.
• When starting out, you must focus on quantity; not quality. The quality will naturally come after you create a TON of shit. I never planned on becoming a writer. I accidentally got good at it by writing this blog every day for two years.
Last night was my first day back to the jiujitsu gym in four months.
I took time off because I had a bunch of family events for the holidays and trips and flights I didn’t want to miss out on. I didn’t want to increase my chances of getting COVID.
Spoiler alert: I got it anyway.
There are a number of life lessons I could write about (and have written about) from my short time doing jiujitsu. But today, I want to talk about something you can apply to any type of practice or community.
Being a n00b
Last winter, I remember hopping into class for the first time. It was fucking terrifying.
The thing was, I wasn’t really scared to get my ass beat—though that would happen each and every night. I was aware that that was simply part of the process going in.
No, what intimidated me was jumping into something with a group of people who already knew each other for years.
My thoughts: They are a family. I am an outsider.
I felt the same way when I started acting in the theatre program in college. They are a family. I am an outsider.
It’s tough when everyone:
• tells stories you were never a part of • knows everyone’s names and facts about them • is constantly talking and laughing with everyone else besides you
How to change things
To be clear, by no means was I ever excluded or belittled at my gym. There’s just a noticeable difference between feeling truly close with the people you practice with and not.
The lesson here: That closeness doesn’t happen overnight.
It’s analogous to building trust with someone. It’s an organic and slow process.
Slowly but surely, I would talk more, tell more jokes, and get enough time in with my gym peoples to tell stories of my own.
One day, I was talking to a classmate before class, and I said something like, “People should feel lucky to come in and join your guys’ gym.”
She raised an eyebrow and unironically retorted, “You mean, join our gym.”
Holy fuck. I’m in.
I got lucky to become closer with an amazing group of people. Not every group of coworkers, athletes, or neighbors will come together in such a way and that’s okay.
The point here is: When you enter a new community, the feeling of being the outsider can be daunting and often discouraging.
You may think, They already have their group. They don’t need me.
But if you keep showing up, keep listening, keep caring, and the group is a good bunch…then after a bit of patience and consistency, you’ll find you have another family.
My old thoughts: They are a family. I am an outsider.
My thoughts now: We are a family. Outsiders welcome.
Not that sitting down to write for 30 minutes is a taxing task, but giving yourself breaks with everything you do is vital.
I used to go to the gym six days a week. I love exercise, but this was actually hurting my muscles and my overall progress.
There needs to be space between everything you do to give yourself time to breathe and build up clarity.
• Working out every other day • Taking five-minute breaks for every 30 minutes of work • Going for walks • Spending intentional hours in a hobby or passion (preferably something that has nothing to do with how you make money)
Especially for the ambitious folk, rest can be difficult to prioritize. But recovery time counterintuitively produces higher quality results in the long run.
A few weeks ago, I was trying to explain the value of inflicting discomfort or “pain” upon myself to a friend.
She was puzzled.
This was understandable. It’s difficult to put into words, especially because the benefits are intangible and feelings-based.
But I’ll do my best here.
I described the freezing cold showers I often take. Most people shudder when I do this. A shower is supposed to be a peaceful and enjoyable endeavor.
But even the occasional cold shower can boost your immune function, reduce depression, and speed up your metabolism.
I also told the story of when I ran a marathon in 2020. During the last seven miles, my legs stopped working and it was possibly the most uncomfortable two hours of my life.
“Why didn’t you just stop,” she asked, befuddled.
Several reasons. Firstly, I ran it with my jacked military buddy who kept pushing me to continue, especially when I most wanted to quit. Without his accountability, there’s no chance I would’ve completed those 27 miles.
Secondly, I was excited for the sense of accomplishment of doing something I didn’t think I could physically do. My buddy and I both chugged a Coors Light after we finished. I hate Coors Light, and that was the best beer I’ve ever had in my life.
But the last and deepest reason is the crux of this blog post.
Pain ≠ suffering
Like most animals, we have evolved to see pain as a malfunction or as an alarm. We feel pain and our brains go, Oh shit, something’s wrong.
This is obviously a good thing. If a bear were to start eating you in your sleep, you’d want some sort of alert.
But over the many years of our evolution, as we’ve advanced societies and stepped away from battling the elements…many of us still make this association when it’s not necessary.
You’ve probably gone for a run or started working out only to stop a few minutes in. Why?
Because you didn’t like the discomfort.
Your brain assessed the situation, said fuck this, and aborted the mission. It declared that something was wrong. You might have even decided in your mind, I can’t do this.
But you certainly can.
Hypothetically, if I told you I’d give you $100,000 to complete an intense, hour-long workout, you’d feel much more capable.
Here, the action is the same. The pain is the same. The only thing that’s changed is your relationship to the pain. Which proves we can alter the meaning and power of discomfort.
When I’m running, the voice in my head tells me, “You have to stop. You can’t keep going.”
But then I just remind myself: It’s only pain.Nothing’s wrong.
But what does it mean?
To be clear, my friend wasn’t advocating for a purely pleasure-filled life with zero obstacles and zero challenges.
Her main question was: “Why do you make yourself do things you hate?”
In fairness, I have no idea how to quantify the benefits. I can’t say that I’ve made this much more money or I’ve taken this or that action.
But I can vouch for an increase in confidence I feel when doing difficult things.
If I can run seven, miserable miles with legs that don’t work, I can surely sit down and write when I don’t feel like it.
If I can stay under that freezing cold shower water when my fight or flight system is begging me to turn the knob, I can certainly take on projects that I feel unqualified for.
Why do I torture myself?
To strengthen my courage muscle—proving to myself that I can do things I don’t think I can do (or that I’m scared to do).
To reinforce the truth that although I’m in pain, I’m certainly not suffering…I might even be thriving.
When the Buddha spent a month under the Bodhi Tree pursuing enlightenment, he was challenged by the evil demon King Mara—bringer of death and desire.
Mara’s army rushed toward the Buddha, but he did not plea or run away. Instead, he placed his hand on the ground and calmly stated that the seat beneath the tree was his and that they were welcome to join him.
The sword of each soldier fell to the earth and turned into a flower.
The moral of the story? LSD was strong even in 500 BC.
Negative thoughts and emotions are omnipresent. For the vast majority of us who don’t plan on spending years training to be a monk…anxiety, doubt, envy, longing, depression…these are things we must battle with almost every day.
The problem is: Many of us approach these demons by vigorously wishing them away.
A few years ago, when I was struggling with suicidal thoughts and depressing episodes, I refused to take action until the demons left me alone.
But they’ll never go away.
As of right now, I’ve never been happier with myself or my life…and the demons are still around.
The only difference? I have a healthier relationship with them.
By following the Buddha’s example, by inviting the demons in for tea with open arms, they become laughably weak. Their swords disappear.
It’s analogous to when a bully is making fun of your shoes. The second you join her and start talking shit about your shoes too, her words become utterly powerless.
Today, the thing that brings me the most mental pain is my anxiety over money. It has crippled and even paralyzed me at times.
That’s my demon. I handle it in two steps:
1) Clearly identify the demon
Not in the Western sense of tracing it back to its source from some childhood memory. There’s validity in that, but in the moment it’s not my priority.
For this, I note each thought, feeling, and physical sensation.
• “I feel tightness in my chest.” • “I see images of me getting evicted.” • “I can hear the disappointment in my friends’ voices.”
By simply articulating each and every thought and feeling, I get a sense of clarity and lightness.
2) Invite the demon in for tea
This can take practice.
As stated above, the demon isn’t going anywhere. So you might as well become friends and get the most out of your time with him.
The obvious caveat here is that I’m not a therapist or psychiatrist. These are just strategies that have lasted millennia and can help you the next time a demon knocks on your door.
You can try to slam that door in his face, but he’ll just grow bigger and stronger.
Make him a cup of tea, and he’ll shrivel down in strength and size.
Simple advice I heard from a friend the other day.
It’s lovely because you don’t have to change who you are or pretend to be something you’re not.
It’s more like a ‘build your own character’ practice.
She said she loved the fact that her friend deleted Instagram because it was bad for her mental health. So my friend changed her own relationship with social media.
It got me thinking.
What are things people I respect do that I wish I did more of?
So I made a list in my Notes app. Here are the first three examples:
• Change out of sweats and into work day clothes to feel more professional and productive. • Get cheaper, more unique, and more thoughtful gifts for friends and family. • Actually go hiking and spend more intentional time in nature.
What about you? What do you respect in the people you know? How can you do more of those things in your own life?
• How will I find my next project? • Where do I find good clients? • Can I pay my bills next month? • How will I make this work?
I’ve had plenty of days where my financial uncertainty and stress has lumped itself in my chest in the form of physical pain.
But oddly enough, it’s all been worth it. Here’s why.
• I never count the days until Friday or the hours until the end of the workday. • No one tells me when to show up to work, what to wear, or how to act. • My schedule is crafted entirely by me. • PTO is not a thing. If I want to take a long weekend trip to visit friends, I can. • I can work wherever I want so long as I have my laptop and an internet connection.
Now, I’m not saying you should care about any of these things too. I know many people who would be an anxious wreck if they were in charge of their own schedule.
My point is: No matter what you’re doing in life, discomfort and sacrifice are unavoidable.
The question you need to be able to answer is: What discomfort or pain do I want to feel and what sacrifices am I willing to make?
• takes care of their health • does anything for their friends • works hard for the things they love
I think crafting and molding an ‘identity’ is great if it gets you to take action toward the things you care about. But on the other end, I find it to be totally poisonous.
Recognizing your strengths, weaknesses, and innate interests is a healthy practice of self-awareness. But tying yourself down to an identity can do some serious damage in the long run.
I’m not a person who…
• goes to the gym • is musical • puts themselves out there
We are not some concrete structure where the rules and foundations are set in stone. It may be uncomfortable to deviate and stretch our comfort zone, but once we’ve done it, by definition, we are no longer a person who doesn’t do that thing.
Fuck your identity.
Keep your identity small. “I’m not the kind of person who does things like that” is not an explanation, it’s a trap. It prevents nerds from working out and men from dancing.
Last night, I made a game-time decision to drive up to Philly to beat the snow and visit my friends for the weekend.
Three short lessons and I’ll have you back to the rest of your day:
1. Before you pack up the car, write a list of every item you want to bring on paper or in your Notes on your phone.
As you put items in the car, cross them out or delete them. This may feel tedious at the time, but it’s the only way to ensure you remember 100% of what you want to take (leaving or returning).
The same thing is true when you go grocery shopping. When I shop without a list, I always come back with more donuts than anticipated.
I made a list for this last-minute trip, but it was too vague. I wrote ‘Work Stuff,’ so I brought my laptop and notebooks. But I forgot my mouse and keyboard.
I’ll be fine without them, but taking six seconds to write those things down would’ve saved me the inconvenience.
2. Visit your damn friends.
There are only so many opportunities to spend memorable, quality time with the people you care about. Take advantage of them.
Take the long weekend. Buy the plane ticket. Pack the car.
It’s always worth it.
3. Have conversations with your friends with no phones in the room.
And old friend told me years ago, “When you’re with someone and they have their phone out in front of them face up, it’s basically a big fuck you.”
Some of you might get defensive when you hear this, but it’s true. It tells the person that they are not the priority. It says, I’ll give you my attention until I get a notification.
Look around the dinner table and see how many people have their phones out.
Unless you’re waiting to hear back about your brother in the hospital, put your fucking phone away when you’re spending quality time with friends. A few dives into your phone can completely upend a conversation.
Last night, the three of us sat and talked and caught up for three hours. Not one of us looked at our phones. It can sound corny, but this meant our only option was to look at each other and actively listen to everything that was being said.
99% of the time, you don’t need your phone.
Put it away. Keep it in your coat pocket. Hell, leave it in your car.
Yesterday, I went on an errand run in the morning.
I got my teeth cleaned at the dentist and my car tuned up at the shop.
Dale Carnegie’s self-help classic, How to Wins Friends and Influence People, is quite archaic in its language (consistently referring to women as secretaries, etc.). But it’s a classic because of its timeless tips on how to conduct yourself in social and professional settings to more easily connect with others.
My favorite tip is probably the simplest:
Use people’s names.
You don’t have to be Donald Trump to love the sound of your own name. Everyone does.
Whether its your nurse, your server, or your mechanic…using someone’s name does several things:
1) It gets their attention.
When the two guys were walking around and fixing up my car, I used their names after reading their name tags. Before then, they were asking me routine questions without making much eye-contact. When I used their names, they would basically stop what they were doing and look directly at me.
When I was a server, whenever people would use my name (if they weren’t an asshole), I felt like I wanted to do more for them.
“Hey Dillan?” will always get more attention than “Excuse me sir?”
2) It shows respect.
When you use a stranger’s name, they will very often look pleasantly surprised—as if no one has ever called them by their name before.
This is probably because for most of us, we’ll meet someone, learn their name, and forget it completely after one or two seconds.
That’s because we don’t genuinely care to learn their name in the first place. But if I told you I’d give you $100,000 to go to the grocery store, meet 20 people, and remember all their names…you would do it effortlessly.
Actually using someone’s name—especially right after learning it—is a surefire way to remember it quickly.
Just don’t overdo it. I got pitched by a salesman last week and a typical sentence from him sounded like:
“Dillan, that’s awesome. And you know what’s so awesome about that Dillan…is Dillan, when you told me that…”
Dude, I get it. You know my name.
It’s obvious when people are doing it to appear respectful versus when they genuinely want to treat you like a human being.
Which brings me to the last benefit.
3) It reminds everyone that we’re all just a bunch of humans.
It’s very easy to go about your day and see others as nameless, faceless extras in the movie of your life.
But she’s not Dentist 1 and he’s not Mechanic 3.
Those are humans who have families, hobbies, and anxieties. Treat them as so.
It’s a great habit to get into. And you never know…you could make someone’s day.