What I Read Last Week

At any point in time, I’m typically reading 3 or 4 books:

  1. Some work related non-fiction
  2. Other non-fiction
  3. A novel
  4. An audiobook, usually fiction

I generally avoid the news, but I read a number of online essays and other journals as well.

Here’s what I recommend from last week:

Managing Oneself - This is one of Peter Drucker’s famous essays, and a piece I would consider a must read. He lays out the the important questions that any successful individual must be able to answer in order to live a fulfilling life, including “What are my strengths?”, “How do I work?”, and “What are my values?”. Knowing how you operate is key to succeeding in any aspect of life, and Drucker does a fantastic job explaining the importance of answering these questions and, more importantly, how you use the answers to guide your life.

Tuesday’s with Morrie - Many people had that one teacher or professor who changed their life. For Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie, his college sociology professor. When Morrie gets diagnosed with ALS, Albom reconnects with Morrie and the two spend the Tuesdays leading up to Morrie’s death discussing life and death. With such lessons as “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live,” and “Love each other or perish,” this book is filled with nuggets that may even reshape the way you view your life.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - I listened to this, which may not have been the best idea because it is terribly long. It’s an entertaining story of magic and war that follows the lives of the two magicians named in the title. It received substantial critical acclaim, and is even considered to be some of the best fiction written in the early 2000s by some lists, and is definitely well written and interesting, but there are a lot of other books I would recommend above it.

Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem and The Brutal Ageism of Tech - Both of these articles highlight many of the problems associated with Silicon Valley’s trend towards only funding and hiring younger and younger talent, while older founders and engineers get left by the wayside or ignored altogether. The article from the Times is definitely the better of the two, but both are worth the read.

Control Your Day

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned recently is the distinction between controlling your day and letting your day control you.

At the beginning of each day, you have the opportunity to do something great. The opportunity to take steps towards achieving your goals. To work towards the things that matter to you.

You also have the opportunity to let your day control you. To let other people dictate what you spend your time doing. To let the day play out without foresight as to how and why certain things will happen.

As written in Meditations: “You have to assemble your life yourself – action by action.” And assembling that life starts with controlling your day.

You have to be willing to wake up when you’re tired, say no to the things that don’t matter, and take ownership over what you do before you go to bed again.

If you let the day control you, you will always be working towards someone else’s goals. You will become powerless to the forces of others and float through life without truly embracing all of the opportunities in front of you.

This doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous, or relax, or do things purely for enjoyment. It means that you should be intentional about those things and take ownership over them. The lesson is not necessarily that everything you do has to be planned. The lesson is that the way you act and the decisions you make should be yours.

You are the only person who can determine where your life goes, and if you don’t control each day, then you will have no control over your life.

Controlling your day isn’t hard, but it isn’t easy either. It requires you to live with your head up, not down. It means you embrace situations proactively, not reactively and are intentional about how you spend your time.

You have been given a life filled with endless possibilities, and only by taking control of each day will you make those possibilities a reality.

Leading from the Bottom

At work, I am one of the most junior employees in the company. I have less experience than almost everyone. I’m one of the youngest people in the office.

And yet that doesn’t stop me from helping lead our company, because being a leader isn’t about your title or age.

Being a leader is about inspiring those around you to be better than they thought was possible.

It comes from encouraging everyone when things go wrong and not perpetuating the negativity that comes from failure.

It means you’re sincere and understand that when someone does something well, acknowledging that success will help drive future success.

It means having an opinion, not being afraid to voice that opinion, and then taking full responsibility when that opinion is wrong.

It means working your ass off so that the team can succeed, because the team is most important, not the individual.

Being a leader is an act of confidence, of integrity, and of optimism. It’s a mindset you have to work for, not something that can be given by someone else.

Leadership can come with age, experience, and knowledge. And those leaders lead from the top.

But by learning from those at the top, studying the way they think and act, you can lead from the bottom.

The Power of a Morning Routine

Over the past few months I’ve been working to build a solid morning routine in order to improve my productivity, health, and wellbeing.

Currently, my routine is as follows:

  • 5:48am – Alarm, get out of bed, drink glass of water
  • 5:50 to 6:00 – Eat breakfast, consisting of 30 grams of protein, which I have shopped and prepared for on Sunday
  • 6:00 to 6:10 – Shower
  • 6:10 to 6:15 – Dry off, shave if needed
  • 6:15 to 6:20 – Get dressed
  • 6:20 to 6:30 – Meditate and stretch
  • 6:30 to 6:35 – Brush teeth
  • 6:35 to 6:55 – Write down all the things I plan to do that day
  • 6:55 to 7:00 – Pack bag, water plants, leave for the bus
  • 7:00 to 7:30 – Bus/Walk to work while listening to an audiobook
  • 7:30 Arrive at work
  • 7:30 to 8:30 – Read
  • 8:30 to 8:45 – Prioritize all daily tasks, estimate time required for each one, and write out daily to-do list
  • 8:45 – Start working!

I’ve gone through a number of iterations in landing on this current routine, but doing so has allowed me to significantly improve the way I approach each day.

Our bodies operate on cycles, and by helping your body become accustomed to a specific rhythm, you’ll feel more energized both in the morning and throughout the day. Setting that morning routine also makes it a lot easier to get out of bed.

A mentor of mine taught me that you have to control your day – you can’t let your day control you. This starts from the minute you wake up, and by being intentional about how you spend you’re morning, you’re taking control of your own day, and ultimately your own life. Furthermore, in order to build better habits, incorporating these tasks into your morning routine can greatly increase the likelihood of success. I’m in the process of building a meditation habit, so I do that in the morning and haven’t missed a day since I started.

Make sure you take the time to write out, in detail, everything you want to accomplish in the morning. This will force you to estimate the time required to perform each task, as well as keep you focused on the things you have to do each morning. Doing so allows you to eliminate time wasting activities that aren’t serving you well.

Some people like to wake up early, others don’t. Regardless of what time your alarm goes off, setting a morning routine can help you control your day, be more productive, and live a healthier life.

Build Good Habits

Why is it important to build good habits?

Because they are the foundation for how you live your life.

From the moment you wake up, your mind controls your body based on the conscious and subconscious habits you have formed over time. These can be beneficial, like brushing your teeth every morning, or they can be detrimental, such as chewing your nails when you get anxious.

Building good habits has two critically important effects:

1. It makes it easier to do the things that are hard.

When a behavior becomes a habit, not doing an action causes a bit of pain. By building habits around actions that require significant effort, you can reduce the associated perceived effort.

Things that many consider to be good habits, like exercising regularly and eating well, can be difficult to accomplish because of the amount of effort required to do them. However, when you build a habit of running every morning and eating 30 grams of protein within 30 minute of waking up, your body will actually experience a feeling of distress when you don’t do this.

Charles Duhigg explains in The Power of Habit habits have a distinct structure: they start with a cue, that leads to a routine, and gets capped by a reward . By understanding how this loop works, you can teach your brain to crave behaviors that require immense amounts of effort.

2. It frees your conscious brain from having to make decisions.

When something becomes a habit, by definition, that action becomes almost involuntary.

We also know that willpower is a finite resource, which helps explain why it’s harder to maintain discipline at the end of the day than at the beginning.

As you build habits, particularly around things that are hard and require significant willpower, your conscious brain no longer has to use the precious willpower muscle to accomplish those tasks. They become automatic. This frees your mind to focus on the important decisions you face during the day, making you more effective in everything you do.

Habits explain why Barack Obama only wears a navy or gray suit and Warren Buffet spends 80 percent of his day reading. They can’t not act in these ways.

And they’re better off for it, because by mastering your habits, you master yourself.

Meditation and Acceptance

For the last two months, I’ve been meditating every day.

I was motivated in part by my roommate who regularly meditates for hours at a time and from watching the documentary “Free the Mind: Can You Rewire the Brain Just by Taking a Breath?”, and was curious to see whether or not I would experience any of the health benefits so regularly touted. Research shows that your brain chemistry actually changes when you meditate, so I carved out a time in my morning routine for a few minutes of meditation.

There are plenty of benefits that can come from meditation, but for me, the biggest improvement I’ve experienced has been an ability to achieve a much deeper level of acceptance in my life.

The past year has brought a number of big life changes for me, including graduating from college, starting my first full time job, moving, and breaking up with a girl I had been with for almost two years. This transition has been anything but easy. One of the biggest challenges has been learning to live in the moment and accepting that my life going forward is going to be much different than it was in the past.

Meditation has helped me a great deal in achieving this acceptance. I know I am happier in my life in part because of the 10 minutes I spend each morning sitting and focusing on my breath. With each breath in, I accept the world as it is, and with each breath out I release the tension and regret that fills my head. I feel deeply relaxed at the end of each meditation and I start the day feeling calm and energized.

It can be difficult to find time in our busy lives to simply sit and be in the moment, but if you can, you won’t be disappointed.