Wasted time

A couple sitting at a table in a restaurant. The man looks interested; the woman looks bored.

It’s tempting to think of time that did not result in what you wanted as a waste.

Wanted to write a chapter for your first novel, but instead you were daydreaming? Wasted time.

Got home and wanted to do the dishes and the laundry, but instead you watched Netflix? Wasted time.

Looking for a relationships, but you went on eight dates, and none of them resulted in anything lasting? Wasted time.

Success doesn’t work that way.

Maybe you needed the daydreaming to come up with a great idea. Maybe you needed to give your brain a rest so you can work productively in the future. Or maybe you’ve learned a lot from your “failed” dates, which will help you find an amazing significant other soon.

Don’t measure the results of your efforts over short periods of time. Don’t measure output for a given day or a given week. Instead, ask whether you’ve reached your goals (or: gotten what you wanted) this quarter or this year.

The periods where “nothing” is happening may turn out to be key to reaching your long-term goals.

Yours,

— Peter

Why marketing a vegan restaurant is easy

The interior of the vegan restaurant Umami Good Food, in Santa Cruz de La Tenerife.

I’m on a trip to Tenerife, a sunny island in the Canaries.

And when I travel, I seek out vegan restaurants.

I’ve been vegan for a while now. Many restaurants have a vegan option or two, but when I go to a fully or mostly vegan restaurant, I have way more  options and I’m more likely to find healthy food that I like.

I’ve noticed that almost all vegan restaurants, here and in other places I’ve visited, have great food at solid prices and have plenty of business. Why is that?

If you’re starting a new restaurant, you could cater to the masses of tourists. But then you’d be competing with dozens, if not hundreds of restaurants, and your customers would have a hard time knowing why they should choose your restaurant over your neighbor’s restaurant.

If you start a vegan restaurant, though, people will come find you. I and many other vegans will look on Happy Cow and make our way across town to seek your restaurant out.

You won’t get as much business from people just walking by, but you don’t need to.

Catering to a very specific group of people makes your marketing easy. 

Yours,

— Peter

How to feel more grateful when your progress seems slow

A closeup of a snail on wet ground.

Does the slow pace of your progress bother you?

When you want to learn a difficult skill, you will inevitably hit periods when your progress appears slow.

There are several reasons for this.

First, progress does not happen linearly. You might go weeks or months without measurable progress. And then you might have an afternoon in which you achieve all of your goals, out of nowhere.

(Although measurable progress, or apparent progress, is not the only important type of progress. Improving your mindset can make a world of difference too. But let’s not get too far off topic.)

The second reason why your progress might appear slow is that you are not a static, unbiased observer. As you get better at whatever skill you’re developing, you are also becoming a better critic. The higher your skill level, the more potential improvements you’ll notice. When you were less skilled, you simply could not notice these potential improvements. Another way to look at this is that, as you learn, you’re raising your standards for what is a “good” performance.

Third, when you first learn a skill, your ability level is low. The learning curve is usually shaped such that you can make the biggest gains with relatively little effort early on. For example, when you’re learning to speak in public, you can fairly quickly learn to improve your posture, to wear clothing that flatters you on stage, and to apply basic structure to your speech. It might take you five or ten speeches to master those basics. But learning how to make your audience laugh or when to pause for dramatic effect takes more time and practice. You will not develop those skills as quickly, so when you’re learning more advanced sub-skills, your progress, if you had to put a number to your overall performance, is slower.

Feeling that your progress is slow, though, can hurt your motivation. Early on, you learned a lot and got better every time you practiced. Now, you might practice for a month and not be able to tell the difference between your performance today and your performance a month ago.

How can you stay motivated when your apparent progress has slowed down?

One simple way to maintain your motivation is to generate some gratitude for the progress you’ve already made. You cannot conjure gratitude out of nowhere, but you can pay attention to certain things that will generate that feeling of gratitude for you.

In particular, take a look at how Past You performed.

And when I write Past You, I mean more like One Year Ago You than Three Weeks Ago You.

For example, a few years ago I suffered from pretty serious burnout. At one point, I could not clean the house for half an hour without panicking. I remember those moments now, but I forget some of the details. When I read in my journal and see what I wrote back then about my struggles to deal with basic daily tasks (such as deciding where to go for a cup of coffee), I feel tremendously grateful.

I still have problems these days, but they are better problems.

To use another example, I sometimes think that I am not getting much better at bouldering, despite climbing for several hours two or three times a week. But, now and then, I ask a friend to film me when I go climbing, so I can go back and look at myself climbing a route or problem a year ago. When I compare my skill now to my skill a year ago, there is marked improvement.

Incidentally, being able to look at (or “look at”) Past You to feel more grateful is a good reason to record yourself sometimes. For some skills, it will be obvious how to record your performance: you could film yourself playing a sport or speaking in public, for example. For other things, such as when you’re developing a new mindset, you might record your thoughts in a journal.

That means you have two homework tasks today:

  1. Look at yourself from some time ago. Can you tell that you have improved a lot since then?
  2. Record your current level of skill at something you’re looking to develop in the coming year. Write down what you’re struggling with, or record yourself.

Let me know how it goes! 🙂

Yours,

— Peter

What’s most important to you?

Graffiti on the side of a building, viewed from a train car, reading "The purpose of life is to be happy. - Dalai Lama"

Is loyalty more important to you than autonomy? 

Do you value stability more, or adventure?

Would you rather invest your time and energy into improving your leadership or your compassion?

In short: what do you value? I find this question fascinating.

Here are my top ten values:

  1. Happiness
  2. Growth
  3. Competency
  4. Love
  5. Fun
  6. Openness
  7. Authenticity
  8. Autonomy
  9. Adventure
  10. Wisdom

How do they strike you? Is anything not on my list that is on yours? Or vice versa? What do you value? And what does your significant other value? If there are differences, what can those differences teach you?

For inspiration on which personal values you might choose from, take a look at James Clear’s value list.

And to figure out what is most important to you, play The Values Game.

Yours,

— Peter

My top reads for personal growth

A page from Mark Manson's "Models", with one of my highlights.

Would you like to develop yourself?

Do you want to grow as a person?

Do you believe that you have untapped potential and do you want to unlock it?

If you’re anything like me, personal growth (or personal development) is one of the keys to a happy life. Sometimes I wonder whether personal growth is in fact the most important value for me. I don’t think I could be happy without continuous improvement.

Personal growth comes from learning new concepts and then applying those concepts to your life. Theory plus practice. Where do you get the theory from, though?

Here are the books and articles that have made the biggest impact on my personal growth. They are what I recommend you read first if you want to develop yourself.

(But I did not list these in any particular order.)

  • Ernie Zelinski’s The Joy of Not WorkingErnie explains why and how you could be very happy without doing “work” as we traditionally define it. You know how you can’t have a good romantic/sexual relationship unless you are first comfortable being single? The same thing applies to work. Get comfortable not working and you’ll have a much healthier relationship with your work afterwards.
  • Harry Browne’s The Secret of Selling Anything. Harry teaches you what mindset you should have when you sell something. He shows you that selling is an exchange of value, in which both parties get something they want. He explains why you can become good at selling, without stress, simply by paying attention to what other people want. (Note: the book is very male-focused, which I don’t like. The insights remain extraordinarily valuable, though.)
  • J.L. Collins’s Stock Series, or The Simple Path to Wealth. Jim teaches you how to think about money and investing. He explains how anyone can invest simply for the long term and how you can grow wealthy over time by following a simple formula that produces steady (but not flashy) returns. (Money is such an important part of your life. If you’re not good at managing your money, this series or the book is a great place to start your growth journey.)
  • Cal Newport’s Deep Work. Cal explains why the age we live in is so filled with distractions and how those distractions ruin our productivity. Meanwhile, Cal tells us, the world increasingly values people who can focus for long periods of time. Finally, he shows you how to work “deeply”—producing the best work you’re capable of.
  • Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep. Developing yourself requires a healthy body and mind. One sure way to ruin your body and mind is to sleep poorly, or not to sleep enough. Read Why We Sleep and you’ll learn why prioritizing sleep is important for pretty much everything you do.
  • Mark Manson’s Models. In Models, Mark explains to men what makes them attractive to women. That might sound like a narrow focus. Perhaps you are a woman, or you are a man not looking to attract women (not now or not ever). Still, this book is immensely valuable. You see, the crux of Models is that it explains the concept of neediness and why it can be the number one obstacle to getting the results you want. Yes, the book is about dating, but the lessons on neediness apply equally to other domains in life, such as business. 

Read one of these books, then put the theory into practice. You have to do after learning. Without doing, you will not internalize the theory, and you will not grow.

I repeat: read one and then practice. When you can tell that you’ve made progress, move on to the next materials and practice its concepts. Rinse and repeat.

Enjoy the ride.

Yours,

— Peter