Do the Opposite #68

Shiny New Things Are Fool's Gold, Compare Down Not Up, See Obstacles as Opportunities, What Is Truly Necessary

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Shiny New Things Are Fool’s Gold

Every week I find myself fantasizing of what it would be like to get a new hobby, to start learning a new language instead of continuing to learn French, to pick up some other sport instead of carrying on with running.

We all do this. Will we ever achieve expert-level results in any activity? It all depends on one choice. That choice is presented to us when a thought of a shiny new activity makes its way to our head.

If we get seduced by that thought, we’ve lost. Every new activity or project will follow the same process:

  1. Get bored or blocked in our current path

  2. Come up with an idea of another path we could take

  3. Start on it, enjoy the first couple of easy steps

  4. Oh no, it gets harder and practice is boring

Then the cycle repeats and repeats. Is that so bad you ask? What’s wrong with trying new things? Well, what I’m talking about here is different. New experiences and directions can be amazing when taken at the right time. This cycle above is not about discovery and enrichment of life, it’s about escape and fear.

It’s similar to taking a bus for a couple of stops, returning to the bus stop, taking another bus for a couple of stops, returning … you get the point.

Have you met people that are trapped in this cycle and can’t get out? I have and it’s soul-crushing to watch them do it again and again. They always seem to be trying something new, never making it beyond beginner level. I’ve been that person and I still sometimes do this, but I’m trying to get better at catching and stopping it.

When we have successfully caught ourselves at that precise moment — the moment of considering a new shiny path and negotiating whether to take it, the moment where our future is being decided — we can make a decision to stick to the hard, boring path we’ve been walking on so far. In that moment, we are fighting with the Resistance (Steven Pressfield’s term for the power that pushes against our aspirations and tries to stop us from doing our work).

If we give in and start something new each time things get difficult, we will always be in the shallow water. To move away from it, from being an amateur in 10 things and become a Pro in 1 or 2, we have to deny ourselves the fleeting pleasure of a new distraction and double down on our existing activity or project.

That’s how we get deeper and deeper in a skill through the years. A musician or a painter are not made in one year, it takes decades. Once we think we’ve mastered the skill and got to a good level, it’s just one of the levels of mastery. If we continue, a new, deeper level is revealed. Our effort brings compounding benefits over time.

All we need is to push through discomfort and boredom.

I invite you to throw away all the shiny new things. I’ll keep running, keep learning French, keep writing this newsletter, keep learning Go (the programming language). What activities are you going to recommit to?

“You must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work… You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success.”
― Chef Jiro


“Think Like a Bronze Medalist, Not Silver” by Derek Sivers

This article is gold ;) In our uber-connected time, we don’t compare ourselves realistically anymore. Before the Internet became ubiquitous it was way less stressful. We only had direct access to hundreds of people not billions. We compared ourselves to our classmate who became a manager earlier than we did; to a friend who visited a couple of foreign countries; to a cousin who got into a University in another city. These days anyone if fair game.

Oh you can speak 3 languages? Cute. Online, you see people who know 6 or 7. Wow, you learnt to code in 2 years? Here’s someone who did it in 5 months. Yay, it took you a year but you built a business that’s making $1000 USD per month. Here’s an Instagram influencer who is 20 years old (or less) who gets $3000 for posting one story on their account. I have many more examples but you get the idea.

The problem is NOT that there is always someone who is doing certain things better than we are. The problem is that we are seeking these people out, thinking that looking at them will somehow motivate us to do more and do better. Sometimes that works, but usually we just end up feeling worthless.

What Derek wisely recommends is that we don’t compare up but compare down. Make sure you take time to look how far you’ve come, how much you’ve learnt; how many people who have started at the same time as you have given up, and you didn’t.

This is not to feel superior over others. It’s to prevent our minds from comparing ourselves to others and feeling inferior.

For me personally, the recipe is: compare myself with myself whenever possible. Sometimes it’s worth checking what the people in the same field/occupation are doing, the ones a little above where we currently are. See what they are doing that works which you could adopt to improve your own results. Don’t obsess over their actions though, only use that practice to get inspired and to get fresh ideas. As soon as you start feeling inferior or defeated, stop and focus on how far you’ve come already. That’s the cycle I seem to go through :)

“Freedom is Worth It” by Amar Ghose

I’ve accidentally found this post on Twitter and I really enjoyed Amar’s story. The story is about his dream of running his own business (ZenMaid) and having the freedom to decide when to work, where to live and how to spend his time.

What makes this story interesting to me is that it wasn’t quick and easy, but took years and a great amount of effort to take off the ground. We are constantly bombarded by the stories of quick successes, “30 under 30”s, brilliant multi-million or even billion exits etc. This represents a tiny amount of cases, of businesses that people build over time. What’s worse, it often discourages us from even trying. Amar’s story puts that narrative on its head: reading it you think “Why not me?”

Why brainstorm, why struggle, why deny the comfort of a stable job, why stand out, why try? Because freedom is worth it.

“What Is Truly Necessary? A Guide to Living Frugal” by Leo Babauta

Frugality is one of the themes I cover often in Do the Opposite. It’s easy to understand but can be tricky to implement in your own life. Leo shares some practical advice on how to decide what we truly need in our lives and what we can let go off, saving time and money along the way. The most important point here is that for each of us the collection of things and activities we can painlessly get rid off is going to be different and that’s normal. For someone, going to the movies every other week is a cherished activity, and for another it’s the product of boredom and indecision. For someone, owning and investing in photography equipment helps them fulfill their dreams, aspirations and/or pays the bills, for another person it’s something they bought for fun or because they wanted to try out a hobby. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but looking at your purchases and subscriptions every once in a while and analyzing whether they still make sense in your life is a good way to declutter your life and move into a better place along the money-time continuum :)


Seeing Obstacles As Opportunities | Ryan Holiday

Ryan’s book “Obstacle is the Way” made quite an impression on me some years back. I definitely recommend checking it out. This video is a great preview of the kind of thinking Ryan advocates for.

We all live in a Universe where things worth doing are almost always NOT easy to do. Different obstacles seem to block our way towards our goals every day. We can either let them block our way and slow us down or we can use our ingenuity to turn them into opportunities that speed us along.

How Mindfulness Changes the Emotional Life of Our Brains | Richard J. Davidson

These days meditation is everywhere and every other person recommends it to us. Maybe we are that person, recommending it to others :) Why is it so effective in relieving the stress, how does it change our perception of every day reality?

*Passing the microphone to Richard*

What To Do If Teammate is Showing Better Leadership Than You | Jocko Willink

Someone at work is doing a better job than you? This is a common situation to find oneself in. It’s not always clear what the best course of action is. Jocko shares some thoughts on the subject of leadership, but we can extrapolate his advice to other related situations.

The Pharcyde - Drop (Official Music Video)

An absolute masterpiece. This music video, directed by Spike Jonze, was shot backwards, then reversed. That allowed Spike to create really cool visual effects that seem to defy the laws of physics. The Pharcyde had to memorize and articulate the lyrics of the song backwards.

Tweet of the Week



“Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”
— Sun Tzu

“Do extremely difficult work. That seems obvious, right? If you do something that's valued but scarce because it's difficult, you're more likely to be in demand and to be compensated fairly for what you do. The implication is stunning, though: When designing a project or developing a skill, seek out the most difficult parts to master and contribute. If it's easy, it's not for you.”
— Seth Godin

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.”
— Maya Angelou

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.”
— Brené Brown


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Keep doing the opposite,
Alex Kallaway