Category: Life Lessons

You are a special snowflake

You are a special snowflake

When my main source of nutritional information was magazines like Men’s Health, I tried every diet imaginable in order to gain weight or to lose it. “Fats are bad”, so I decreased my fat intake. “Just saturated fats are bad”: best indulge on some avocados and peanut butter. “No wait, you should skip the carbs”: okay, so no more bread for me. Though not every diet gave me the best results, they did work in terms of scale weight. What I also noticed was that without fats, I felt more hungry even though I just ate a large meal. I could go some while without >100 grams of carbohydrates, but I would end up lethargic from eating just protein and fats.

In the end, I found that I perform best on 200 grams of protein, 80 grams of fat and the carbohydrates for my remaining intake. I don’t need a fancy diet, I need moderation when I am trying to lose weight, and to eat a little extra when I am trying to gain. I found out what works best for me by trying a lot of extremes. Years of interest in nutrition and exercise taught me that me that everything in life should be treated as an experiment.

Derek Sivers states in Tim Ferriss’ book Tools of Titans:

“Treat life as a series of experiments.”

Or similarly, by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”

By making adjustments to what you are doing right now, tracking the results over time and examining afterwards, you learn how your body responds to a certain stimulus. By changing behaviour based on these tests, you make small increments in improving yourself. Whenever you ask yourself: “Should I squat once a week, twice a week, daily?” the only appropriate answer I reckon should be: “Try them all!”. In exercise, consistency is key. You need volume for bodily adaptation, but how much? In that sense, everybody is a special snowflake. Find out what works for you.

Gratitude is the best combatant of fear

Gratitude is the best combatant of fear

The concept of being alive may be overwhelming at times. The fact that your time on earth is finite can be both debilitating and motivating. The same thought may cause you to realize that you want to do so much in a limited timespan, urging you to pick up on that book you always wanted to read, make the trip you have had in your head for years, or cause you to say: “Fuck it!”, and move your livelihood abroad. It incentivizes you to make the best of your time on earth and decrease the amount of meaningless crap that occupies your days

On the other hand, your limited lifespan may provoke anxiety. The fact that by age 25, you probably have somewhere around merely 2 times of your already spent time left. Time which in hindsight flew by. The realization that one day you will be dead forever, the realization that you won’t be around to experience what the future will look like in one hundred years, the realization that nobody will even know of your existence after a couple of generations. Thoughts like these make you wish you could stop or reverse time. Churning on these thoughts may lead to existential dread. Though I believe that not everyone experiences these thoughts in the same manner.

In light of these morbid thoughts, you do well to be grateful. Ryan Holiday, author of the Daily Stoic, provides us with an early morning exercise that can repel dark thoughts:

Firstly, be thankful that you have actually woken up, many people will not have this privilege today.

Think about the immense luck you have of actually being able to experience everything around you. Your parents just happened to meet at the right place and moment for you to even exist. Not just that, every person in your entire family lineage aligned impeccably to lead to your birth. Even before that, your genes can be traced back to a primordial soup in which scattered simple molecules formed the first proteins. Over thirteen billion years of the most improbable of circumstances in an immensity of chaos that randomly came to order and formed you.

Without making too many assumptions: if you are able to read this on a computer, connected to network of servers and computers all around the globe, you were born in the best time to be alive yet,  in one of the more favorable places on earth. While you get to experience all this, you are being immobilized by thoughts, even though it is so intensely unlikely of you even being able to think. Wouldn’t it be better to just let gratitude flood out your heinous thinking and simpy enjoy it all?

Cut the crap, you’re not busy!

Cut the crap, you’re not busy!

Take a walk in any office and ask how people feel. I bet that people claim to be busy more often than not. Especially in an environment where people are dealing with a constant flow of e-mail requests and an unending amount of meetings, it is hard not to be overwhelmed. It doesn’t matter how hard you work, there is always more to do. That’s not necessarily bad though. As Jacob Lund Fisker writes in Early Retirement Extreme:

“Busyness is seen as a virtue.”

Cal Newport explains in his book Deep Work: In an environment where productivity is hard to judge, for example in creative endeavours or in knowledge work, looking busy is the only proxy of being productive and valuable.

But also in personal life when trying to make plans, everybody seems to be in a rush. There is just so much to do and there isn’t enough time. Literally, consider all the options you have in a given moment to spend your time. By choosing to do one thing, you have to discard thousands of opportunity’s to spend your time. (That’s why I find it hard to believe that people can be bored, that’s another topic). But if you “mistake busyness for importance – which we do a lot – you’re not able to see what really is important.” – Michael Lewis.

Though it is not always a very pleasant thought, Marcus Aurelius insists you to remember that your total time is limited. This is not just a life and death matter, but you also can’t tell whether your mind is clear enough at an old age to enjoy all the things you want to do (book 3-1, Meditations). So it is not just good to have a sense of urgency in life, moreover, you should make a concious effort to critically examine whether what you are doing is really important to you.

If you are feeling busy, life is controlling you. You have to accept that some things can’t be changed, but how you spend your time isn’t one of them. Are you mindlessly browsing Facebook and YouTube? Are you catching up with people who aren’t actually your friends? Are you doing work that isn’t moving your company forward? It is time for you to cut the crap and take control of your life.

You need principles, not some magical silver bullet

You need principles, not some magical silver bullet

One thing I’ve learned by reading a lot over the past years is that the principles guiding the advice from some book are often a lot more valuable than the actual presented content. What I mean by that can probably be best explained by an example from Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Although this book looks to be about personal finance on the surface, see what happens when you apply the book’s lessons to other areas in life, like fitness:

For example, in the start of the book Ramit writes:

“I have met with thousands of millionaires in my years as a financial counselor[…]. They all lived on less than they made and spent only when they had cash.”

What happens when you rewrite that sentence to be:

“I have met with thousands of cases of successful weight loss in my years as a personal trainer[…]. They all ate less than they needed and indulged only when they had room in their diets.”

Simply replacing the financial aspect with a health expert still yields the sentence to be true. That is because it is not the advice that counts, it’s the underlying principles that are the real lessons. Another one:

“Being rich is about freedom.”

Or:

“Being healthy is about freedom.”

Being rich allows you to be independent of whatever you do daily. You don’t have to worry about earning enough to buy life’s necessities when you engage in some type of entrepeneurial activity. Being healthy allows you to engage in all type of life’s activities without worrying about becoming sick or having pain while doing so. The underlying principle is that having the basics in life in check will allow you to do all the things you deem important without worry.

So instead of looking or silver bullets that you treat like magic:

read them for what they’re actually saying: “I need to eat less to lose weight” or “I need to spend less to have more money”. Though these examples may help and provide useful guidelines, read them for what they are and try and to find the underlying principles the next time you are given advice. Use these to become a little better in all areas of life.

Book Notes – The 48 Laws Of Power – Robert Greene

Book Notes – The 48 Laws Of Power – Robert Greene

NOTES

  • #1: Never outshine the master
    • Make those above you feel comfortably superior
    • Displaying talent may inspire fear/insecurity in others
    • Make your master appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power (The Canvas Strategy – Ryan Holiday)
  • #2: Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use your enemies
    • Friends are the ones who will betray you more quickly due to envy
    • Enemies are more loyal, since they have more to prove
    • Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit, because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.
    • An enemy at our heels sharpens our wits, keeping us focussed and alert
  • #3: Conceal your intentions
    • If people have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense
    • Everything in seduction depends on suggestion:
      • You cannot announce your intentions
      • Appear to want things you do not desire
      • Support ideas contrary to your sentiment
      • Do not close yourself off
    • The simplest form of a smoke screen is (a bland) facial expression
    • Create patterns, only to break them when the right moment arrives.
  • #4: Always say less than necessary
    • The more you say, the more common you appear
    • The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish
    • Once words are out, you can NEVER take them back
  • #5: Guard reputation with your life
    • Ruin the reputation of others by instilling doubt in the public
    • By not caring how you are perceived, you let others decide how you are perceived for you
  • #6: Everything is judged by its appearance.
    • What is unseen accounts for nothing
    • Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, or buried in oblivion. Stand out, be conspicuous at all cost.
    • Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious than the bland and timid masses.
    • Attention – whether positive or negative – is the main ingredient for success
    • People feel superior to those whose actions they can predict
    • There is power in contradiction: remaining mysterious
  • #7: Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit
    • Never do yourself what others can do for you
  • #8: Make other peopple come to you
    • When you force the other person to act, you are in control
    • Alternatively, force the other by a fast attack
  • #9: Win through actions, never through argument
    • Argument = resentment
  • #10: Avoid the unhappy and unlucky
    • Misery is infectious, though positivity is too
  • #11: Learn to keep people dependent on you
    • Therefore becoming inexpendable
    • To maintain independence, always be needed and wanted
  • #12: Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim
  • #13: When asking for help, appeal to peoples self-interest, never to their mercy or gratitude
    • Gratitude is a burden
    • Though sometimes mercy pays as you paint someone as being more powerful, therefore tickling a peoples desire for power
  • #14: Pose as a friend, work as a spy
    • Ask indirect questions
    • Reveal a fake secret
    • Truth should be attended by a bodyguard of lies
  • #15: Crush your enemy totally
    • Otherwise he will recover
  • #16: Use absense to increase respect and honor
    • Create value through scarcity;
    • But only after creating engagement
  • #17: Keep others in suspended terror: cultivate an air of unpredictability
    • Being predictable = being controlled
    • When you are unpredictable, people make up their own reasons and stories for your behavior
  • #18: Do not build fortresses to protect yourself – isolation is dangerous
    • Don’t be cut off from information
  • #19: Do not offend the wrong person
    • Every person will react differently to your strategies;
      • The arrogant man: will overreact
      • The insecure man: will nibble you to death
      • The suspicious man: sees the worst in people
      • The serpent: will wait and strike
      • The plain man: will not take bait because he will not recognize it
  • #20: Do not commit to anyone
    • Do not choose sides
    • Maintain independence
    • Play people against eachother
    • Everyone wants the virgin queen
    • Let others do the fighting. Be supportive but stay neutral
    • Secure your interests by being a mediator
  • #21: Play a sucker to catch a sucker
    • Seem dumber than your mark
    • People will never suspect your ulterior motives
    • We try to justify people being smarter than us
  • #22: Surrender when you are weaker as a tool of power
    • It gives you time to recover and irritate
    • Surrendering will unsettle the opponent
  • #23: Concentrate your forces
    • Intensity over extensity
    • ‘If you are not in danger, dont fight’ – Sun Tzu
  • #24: Play the perfect courtier
    • Avoid focusing attention on yourself
    • Practice nonchalance
    • Subtly arrange to be noticed
    • Never be the bearer of bad news
    • You are not your masters’ friend
    • Do not criticize those above you directly
    • Be frugal in asking for favors
    • Don’t be the court cynic
    • Be your own mirror
    • Master your emotions
    • Be a source of pleasure
    • Never try to hard to impress, as it is as if you are trying to cover up a deficiency
  • #25: Recreate yourself
    • Be the master of your own image
    • Don’t let others define your image for you as you will be limited to your assigned role
  • #26: Keep your hands clean by using:
    • Scapegoats
    • A cat’s paw
  • #27: Play on people’s need to believe something to create a cultlike following
    • Offer a cause but keep it vague
    • Provide rituals, ask for sacrifices
    • We are in a rush to believe something, that is why silver bullets appeal so much
    • Create an us vs. them dynamic
  • #28: Enter action with boldness
    • Hesitation will infect execution
    • Mistakes are easily corrected by more boldness
    • If boldness does not come natural, neither does timidity. It is an acquired habit
  • #29: Plan all the way to the end
    • The ending is everything
    • Don’t be overwhelmed
  • #30: Make your accomplishments seem effortless
    • Act as if you can easily do much more
    • Teach no one your tricks
  • #31: Get others to play with the cards you deal
    • Provide options that lead to outcomes favorable to you
    • The other party will feel in control
    • When provided with a choice between A and B, we rarely think of the other letters
  • #32: Play to people’s fantasy. Manufacture romance
    • Truth and reality are equal to disenchantment
    • Reality: change is slow and gradual. It requires hard work, a bit of luck, a fair amount of self-sacrifice and a lot fo patience.
    • Fantasy: a sudden transformation will bring total change in ones fortunes, bypassing work, luck, self-sacrifice and time in one fantastic stroke.
  • #33: Everyone has a weakness
  • #34: Act like a king to be treated as one
  • #35: Master the art of timing
    • Never seem to be in a hurry (as it is perceived as a lack of control)
    • Always seem patient
    • Learn to stand back when the time is not yet ripe
    • Time is an artificial concept created to make the limitless of eternity more bearable
    • Success that is built slowly will last
  • #36: Ignore the things you cannot have
    • Sometimes it is better to leave a small mistake than to try and fix it
    • You choose to let things bother you
  • #37: Create compelling spectacles
    • Dazzled by appearances, nobody will notice what you are really doing
    • Words put you on the defensive
  • #38: Think as you like, but behave like others
    • Unconventional ideas as a cry for attention
    • Blend in and show yourself only to tolerant friends
  • #39: Make your enemies angry while staying calm yourself
    • The cause of anger is oten larger than what seems to be its instigator
  • #40: Despise the free lunch
    • It usually involves a hidden obligation
    • Stay clear of gratitude, guilt and deceit
    • Be generous
    • The value of something increases irrationaly due to sentiment and emotion
  • #41: Avoid stepping in a great man’s shoes
    • It comes with expectations
    • Create your own name and identity
  • #42: Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter
    • Within a group, trouble almost always has a single source
  • #43: Work on the hearts and minds of others
    • The key to persuasion is softening people up and then breaking them down.
    • The keyhole analogy: “People build walls to keep you out; never orce your way in – you will find only more walls within walls. There are doors in these walls, doors to the heart and mind, and they have tiny keyholes. Peer through the keyhole, find the key that opens the door, and you have access to their will with no ugly signs of forced entry”
  • #44: Disarm and infuriate with the mirror effect
    • Seduce the enemy into thinking you share the same values
    • Narcissus effect: mirror others to appeal to their self love
    • Avoid being negatively associated to someone
  • #45: Preach the need for change, but never reform too much at once
    • Make change feel gentle
  • #46: Never appear too perfect
    • Envy creates silent enemies
  • #47: Do not get overconfident by victory. Learn when to stop
    • Past results are no guarantee for the future
  • #48: Assume formlessness
    • Become unable to grasp by your enemies
    • Never show defensiveness

Each law in in itself is a complete life lesson. Robert explains each law by observances, transgressions and reversals of each law, denoting the key points to power. I therefore highly recommend this book for anyone in a corporate setting, however the advice is very relevant for (romantic) relationships in general. If you liked these notes, you can support my blog by purchasing the full book on either:
Bol.com: The 48 Laws Of Power on Bol.com
Amazon: The 48 Laws Of Power on Amazon
Check out this book on Goodreads. I rated it 5 out of 5.
You should create a personal online space

You should create a personal online space

Obviously, there are several benefits to writing. Writing is one of the most important meta-skills in life. Just think about the amount of e-mails people send daily. Your style and the clarity of your writing will determine how willingly your colleagues will respond to your requests. Especially when sending e-mails externally to clients, you will be judged by the effectiveness by which you can put your thoughts on the figurative paper.

Additionally, you create an online platform where you can express yourself. You set a stage where you can influence people, perhaps change lives by putting out meaningful content. This is arguably the most important reason of creating an online space for yourself. However, becoming an increasingly more important reason for creating an online space for yourself is:

Controlling the information people find when they search for your name online.

 

In the current day and age, the information people find about you online is having a greater and greater role in your daily life. For example, when applying for a job, the first impression is not just created by your cover letter, motivation or curriculum vitae. Online presence is arguably even more important. Your online presence is not just determined by your social media for example. It is also very dependent on what other people write about you. Enough examples exist of careers being destroyed by online accusations. Since it becomes more and more easily to put out content, it is progressively more important to manage what people find when they enter your name in Google.

By creating an online space, you can mitigate the risk of having your reputation ruined by false allegations. Furthermore, by putting out quality content, you distinguish yourself from the people who’s online presence consists just of pictures of them getting wasted with friends.

This shouldn’t be the first thing that comes up when people search for you online.

Creating a blog is free. If you have purposeful information to share, there is no reason not to start one, so I encourage everyone to do so.

Spend more money to save more

Spend more money to save more

I read Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich a couple of weeks ago, and one of his advices has been resonating with me:

“Spend extravagantly on the things you love, and cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t.”

Initially, this seems to be just solid financial advice. By spending only on the things you enjoy and cutting costs everywhere else, money goes towards the areas in life that provide the highest value for money. Subsequently, this will steer life away from the areas that aren’t providing value at all. Like most of Ramit’s advice, though financially minded, it is applicable to a lot more of life’s areas.

For example:

  • Friendship: spend most of your time with the friends closest to you, while avoiding toxic relationships with people who tend to drain more energy than they ultimately end up providing.
  • Fitness: do the exercises that provide you with the most benefit, like compound movements (squats, deadlifts, bench press, rows), while avoiding exhausting yourself doing just isolation work.
  • Nutrition: especially when trying to lose weight, ‘spend’ your minimally available calories on foods that you enjoy and keep you full, while declining on mindlessly eating the dense foods that do not provide the same satisfaction.
  • Time: since time is a non-renewable resource, use it wisely by only dedicating it to activities that provide value to your life. So read a book instead of aimlessly wandering around Reddit or Facebook.

By applying this advice to your entire life, you will guarantee that all of life’s resources are used optimally. That means being completely honest with yourself and sometimes making the most difficult decisions ruthlessly, in order to decrease every distraction to make the most valuable investment of all resources.

Consequently, by guiltlessly spending more on the most enjoyable area’s of life, it will in fact become a lot easier to avoid the value draining activities, therefore:

  • Increasing your savings while getting more for your money.
  • Losing more weight by actually eating the foods you enjoy.
  • Inceasing free time by doing more of the activities that provide value.

So start consciously making decisions with this advice in mind, in order to transform your life step by step.


If you liked this article, you can support my blog by purchasing the full book on either:
Bol.com: I Will Teach You To Be Rich on Bol.com
Amazon: I Will Teach You To Be Rich on Amazon 

 

My trick to reading over 9.000 pages a year

My trick to reading over 9.000 pages a year

At the start of 2016, I tried to quantify my desire of wanting to read more. Other than being fun to do, reading is one of the most valuable activities in life. It allows you to:

  • Improve skills like analytical thinking and memory, but also learn new skills from the texts itself.
  • Learn about people and different personalities you encounter in real life.
  • Gain perspective, form and alter opinions.
  • Improving vocabulary and writing skills. As I prefer reading books in either Dutch or English, it also helps in becoming more proficient in secondary languages.

Futhermore, it is the ultimate activity for winding down after a busy day. By reading for an hour before bed, you consequently eliminate screen time to favorably impact melatonin (sleep hormone) production. Because reading requires focus it can act as a de-stressor, since your brain is occupied with reading instead of engaging in imaginary discussions and reminiscing about cringe-worthy past experiences.

Though I had an interest in reading more, it was still a challenge to do so with life getting in the way. In order to read more, I combined the following 3 principles I learned:

  • Start by doing the ‘smallest’ possible activity. An entire book seems like an obstacle, but just 25 pages before you put the book down, that seems doable! For some people this amount may be less, 10 pages. This clears the hurdle of starting to read, since the activity will only cost half an hour of your time at most.
  • To put time and effort into something, block off a moment in your calendar dedicated to just that task. For me this is the moment before I go to sleep.
  • James Clear has written an article on measuring, in which he states: ‘What we measure, we improve’. Once he started measuring how many pushups he did, he became stroinger. By recording his values, he began living with more integrity. He tracked his reading habit of 20 pages per day, which increased the numbers of books he read. I applied this same strategy by literally creating a 365 day grid on a piece of paper. This piece was then stuck to the cabinet next to my bed. After I read 25 pages for that day, I crossed off the box relating to that specific day. This allowed for a visual reminder of how much I read until the present day. On top op that, it motivates me to keep a streak going and to prevent gaps in the overview.

The result was that I read 7.125 pages; or 32 books in 2016. I intend to break that number and at least read the  9.125 in 2017, so I created a new grid. In addition to a “reading grid”, I now also added a pushup grid (45 pushups daily) to get me to do 16.000 pushups in 2017. Most likely it wont stop there, since the 3 principles noted above are applicable anywhere in life.

Why diving into a cold ocean is a lesson in stoicism

Why diving into a cold ocean is a lesson in stoicism

What started out as a fun idea about kickstarting the new year has in the meantime become a yearly tradition. Though the Dutch have been eagerly running into cold water on the first of January for at least 50 years, it was just 5 years ago I made my first attempt.

At first glance, there is nothing fun about voluntarily entering water approximately 7 degrees Celcius. Especially when the air temperature is even colder than that. However, since it is a shared experience with close friends, it is not all bad. Furthermore, it does provide a feeling of starting the year off good by facing the fear of the cold water. Because that is essentially where the challenge lies. Every year the closer we get to New Year’s Day the haunting thought of going into the icy water of the North Sea, the more the thought looms in the back of my mind.

Waking up January first, though the alcohol of the night before seems to still be functioning as a sedative, my heart rate is up. The dread sets in while thinking about the task at hand. All reasons for NOT doing the dive are flashing in my mind. The hours leading up to the dive seem like purgatory, but before I know it, I’m standing on a windy, rainy beach, wearing nothing more than swimshorts.

A quick countdown commences before we start sprinting towards the dark green tides. Within moments the water receives our bodies and surrounds us with its freezing embrace. After being submerged the task is done. While being wrapped in a towel back on the beach, the only thing I could think was: that was easy, let’s do this again next year!

And how is this not analogous with nearly every obstacle in life? How often do we get worked up by some challenge for days, only to later think back on the challenge thinking: was this the confrontation I so feared?? Then why does it make sense to comply with these feelings and to let yourself become weary by this mental burden. Though you cannot exert control over external factors such as the water temperature, you can control how you feel about the ordeal. Or like Marcus Aurelius has affirmed: ‘Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been’.

So why make something twice as difficult by letting the hamster in your head run its wheel?