I'm tempted to take the easy way

In one of my favorite talks on creativity ever, John Cleese talks about some of the vaunted members of the Monty Python writing crew of whom he was a part and how he could see that certain writers would get to a good joke and be content with the funny thing they had written.

But others would see that they had written a funny joke and push past it to the truly hilarious joke. The kind of thing that sets a show apart and pushes it into the stratosphere of legend.

That little story rings true with me every day as I’m writing, making videos, shooting portraits, designing logos, sketches portraits, etc… I hit on something good and the temptation is always there to be content and recognize I did well, but if I press on and stick with it, something better is always around the corner.

But I want to do great. Good is a nice start and a stepping stone to greatness. Never be afraid to give up the good and go for the great. I read that somewhere and it’s a pretty good idea. It’s just scary and annoying sometimes to actually do.

You can be finished with the job when it’s good, but it’s up to you to make it great.

For those who are great, there is always a place in the world–and for some–in the history books.

Never give up in the light or in the dark

When a boxer raises his hands in victory we don’t see those years of work he put in when nobody was looking.

We don’t see the time he was running the stadium stairs panting and out of breath, legs killing him, heart rate exploding from his chest, and nausea sets in with that dull cold pain in the pit of his stomach.

We don’t see him barely able to make it up those steps and we’re not there to cheer him on. But despite the pain, he endures and refuses to give up.

He also refuses to give up when battered by his opponents punches when we are watching and cheering.

He has the ability to endure this storm because he refused to give up morning after early morning of running those dreadful steps, jogging in the cold, hitting the punching bag when his back and shoulders were burning, and taking a cold shower after each workout.

You could apply this same principle to Michaelangelo. We haven't seen his paintings from when he was a young boy. They were terrible, I’m sure of it. But all through his early years he pressed on and now we see the good stuff and it’s legendary.

So whether for a skill you’re practicing, a physical feat you’re attempting, health issue you’re battling, or a bad habit you’re kicking, never ever ever ever give up–especially when nobody is there to cheer you on. Cheer yourself on and get it done.

Just the act of enduring dozens and dozens of times is an accomplishment that you will always have–even if it doesn’t lead to great fame or fortune. Never give up whether people are watching or not.

The way I see it, perspective is a curious thing

There is a story of an ancient general praying to the gods for a blessing before a big battle. The return he received for his offering and prayer was that “the day of battle would be the day that a great civilization would be created.”

The general, of course, interpreted this as a guarantee that he would be victorious. But when he was defeated a great civilization was born, but it was the king who conquered him.

Perspective is a funny thing and it’s hard to get it. Almost nothing is as good or bad as we think it is.

Nothing is miserable unless you think it is and you’ll also never feel happy with the things you have unless you find contentment.

Be the fire, not the candle

Wind extinguishes a candle but energizes a fire. Think of the "wind" as the winds of change or the raging wind storm.

When we close ourselves from the things that scare us, when we construct boogie-men in our life, when we blanket ourselves and those around us with extreme levels of safety precautions, we foster a candle-like mentality that is ravaged whenever the wind shows up.

But by building up ourselves, by taking on challenges, by doing the things we don’t want to do when we don’t want to do them, we take risk, execute, work harder than we think we can, or when we push ourselves, we turn into the fire which sees the winds of change coming and is invigorated.

Challenge yourself and be fearless. Stand strong no matter the winds that batter you. Let them be the obstacle that raises you higher.

Problems of progress

We all tend to think of “progress” (whatever that is–I think we all have our own definition of what progress actually is) as a good thing. Whether it’s social progress moving in a way that’s good, or society moving in a direction that brings back things we think of as virtuous or good from bygone generations, progress is good… right?

Progress in the modern era has brought about first-world countries, comfort, hygiene, safety, and many other things that most would regard good.

However, with this progress, there are problems that pop up as well. As Seth Godin points out, the person who invented the ship also invented the shipwreck.

The cheapness and availability of food have lead to obesity problems. Videos games have made us not want to go out and play. The safety of the modern home makes sending kids outside into the world a more scary thing than ever even though it’s safer out there than ever before.

There is this concept that bad times create strong men and strong men create good times and good times create bad men who, of course, create bad times and the cycle carries on and on.

I think it’s important to have a strong grasp and respect for history so that whether we’re in the bad men or strong men times, we can embrace the luxuries that progress brings while still remembering the value of the difficulties of those who went before us endured. It made them the people who made the good times we enjoy (or vice versa.)

By remembering our history and applying the lessons of it in our life we can strike a sharp balance between modern comfort while avoiding the decadence that destroys lives, morality, and ultimately entire societies.

“If only you would believe…”

People like to say that “if only you would believe you could change the world” (or insert any other ambitious or momentous thing here.)

I always used to wonder what they meant by this. What exactly do I need to believe? And how does throwing belief out into the ether does that return wild successes to me?

I still wonder if most people who talk about belief leading to success know what they mean by it.

Anyway, the key to this belief thing is really, actually believing that change can happen.

That you can start going to the gym and be the next Schwarzenegger. That you can diet and train and run the Boston Marathon. That you can build a YouTube channel with 1 million subscribers and have people treat you like a celebrity. That you can beat cancer. That you can stop drinking. That you can kick your drug habit, etc… etc…

The moment you believe that you can make the change, the responsibility falls on your shoulders. With that responsibility comes the freedom to make the changes and movement necessary to achieve your goal.

Create new habits that lead to success because you’re the one in control of the habits you form or break as things stand. There are great power and responsibility in understanding that phrase.

Find the bad habits that hinder you, identify what you think you get from them, and then figure out what fear or desire triggers the habit and adjust, adjust, adjust until you’ve refined yourself.

Of course, if you believe that all your habits and bad traits are born-into you and unchangeable you will never change because you’re problems will be something you bemoan instead of work to change–because you don’t believe you possibly can change them.

The same goes for your greatest dreams. If you don’t believe you can achieve them and if you don’t believe you can adjust yourself to put yourself in a position to achieve them, you never will.

If only we all would believe that we’re capable of much more than we ever allow ourselves to dream of.

 
The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.
— Steve Jobs
 

Eyebrows

I’ve been practicing drawing faces for the past couple of months. I was terrible and I’m still not that great, but I’m a little better than I was two months ago.

Check out the portraits and progress here.

One thing I’ve noticed with each portrait is how different eyebrows are. Specifically, the inside edge of the eyebrow, closest to the nose is in a different place on everyone.

For some people, it extends over the nose a little, while for others the eyebrow doesn’t even start until you’re halfway out over their eye. There is a massive spectrum from face to face.

I guess it just got me thinking about all the little things that stare us in the face (literally) that go unnoticed.

Maybe we’d all be a little better off and happier if we took a few moments each day and just noticed something that we take for granted.

Appreciate what you have while you have it

I always figured I’d go and see Notre Dame someday, but I never thought I would watch it be nearly gutted/destroyed by fire on some YouTube live stream one day.

I think the lesson is to take nothing for granted and don’t wait. Take what you want, do what you want, work harder, be more resilient, and don’t figure things will happen just because you want them to. Make it happen.

Also, appreciate the things you have while you have them. Never know when you might lose something you like or love.

The "algorithm" will get even with you

Playing the short game, working the system, and cheating the algorithm all produce short-term gains without long-term success.

They’re like the seed that gets planted a bit too close to the surface so it sports quickly, but has no roots. It dies soon thereafter.

While it may be tempting to “cheat” the system, the algorithm will catch up and you’ll be left in the cold.

Spammy comments to fake engagement levels, fake thumbnails, clickbait, bots to inflate follower counts are all ways we see this in the online influencer field.

But when you build slow and build deep-instead of wide-you have an audience that is worth their weight. It’s better to have 3,000 real and engaged followers, than 300,000 “people” who hardly interact and will probably never buy anything from you.

Resist the urge to work the system. Instead, just work!

Speaking the language of your people

Who are you trying to reach? What language do they speak?

If you only speak English, but the man who can solve all of your problems only speaks Japanese, is he any help?

If you're trying to teach children by locking them in a room for 5 hours of hard, boring classes, will you be successful?

If you're trying to show off how intelligent you are by dropping lots of ten-dollar words, will anybody understand what you're saying?

If your audience has a short attention span and low level of education, speak succinctly and simply. Short and to the point.

If your audience is children, find what appeals to them and make it fun.

If you're smarter than everyone in the room, try to understand that effective communication is not showing off your big words, but rather conveying ideas efficiently with the present audience.

Speak the language of your people and lift them up in the process. Because if you can't speak their language, you certainly won't be able to help them.

What's the real problem?

It's easy to blame the things going on around you instead of sorting out the underlying problem.

Very rarely do our circumstances or “outside problems” prevent us from fulfilling our potentials and getting our to-do lists completed.

But we convince ourselves that they make all the difference. It's easier to blame the distractions than to admit we get distracted too easily.

So do you really "not have enough time" or could you use Instagram for an hour less every day?

Are you "overwhelmed with work" or are you procrastinating because you're afraid to take the next step?

It's hard to look honestly at ourselves, but that's where the growth is. Next time you're ready to blame the outside problems, look for the inside problems.

No outside solution will solve the inside problem. Take care of yourself and keep working to get better.

The muscle of self-discipline

No matter how badly we want to start doing something or stop doing something else, we always start strong, run out of steam, and fail to deliver.

Because no matter how strongly we want something, without the self-discipline to deliver, we will never achieve those goals. Motivation is a momentary thing, not a long term solution.

Without finding a way to strengthen and maintain self-discipline, the best-laid plans will only ever be that: plans.

What is the solution? I don't know. I'm still looking for what works for me as well. I think the answer lies in practice.

Practice being focused for short periods of time and then longer and longer. Practice doing the things you don't want to–especially when you don't feel like doing them.

You need the practice to make your will power, your self-discipline, your focus better and stronger. But like any muscle, you need to pace yourself and not wear yourself out every morning and run out of will-power-steam by mid-afternoon.

This is where eliminating decisions and establishing habits becomes so important.

When we have strong daily routines (morning, evening, etc…) we allow our strong self-discipline muscles to remain strong all day long instead of wearing them out by lunch time.

This is because we've eliminated unnecessary decisions and also anything that requires us to constrain our focus to the task at hand. You stick to the task at hand because it’s what your routine is and you’ve been doing that routine for long enough that it has become habit.

Start meditating, start reading, start eliminating unnecessary social media, and practice focusing every day. Practice doing that task you really don't want to just because you don't want to do it. When you get a package, force yourself to wait an extra day before opening it just because it's your self-control forcing yourself to wait and do something you really don't want to.

Strength the muscle and use it wisely. It helps.

Routines become habits become skills

To have anchors throughout the day where habits can be bred has been one of the best things I've ever done. We call them "routines".

You can ride through these bits of the day without having to exert much thought or using up your daily store of creative energy.

They instill a sense of familiarity into each day and help me feel grounded.

Right now I drink a glass of water, read my bible, pray, run, workout, stretch, read, meditate, draw, and write this blog each morning at the same time and for the same amount of time.

These are quickly becoming habits and they allow me to spend all morning working on bettering myself in many different areas without really thinking about it and it helps me avoid the distractions of the smartphone, social media, news, sports, and all things that are distractions each morning as I prepare for work.

Start with a small routine and expand as you feel comfortable and stick with it to build and foster routines into flourishing habits that happen automatically.

Self-doubt

While you're busying doubting how good you are, there is somebody else out there wishing they could get to your level.

Show yourself a little love and focus on doing what you can to get a little better every day.

 
We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.
— Anaïs Nin
 

The first fifty (50)

Do for the first 50 what you won't be able to do for the first 5,000.

This is true whether you're starting a new business, building a following online, working to be a better photographer, foster great relationships in your industry, etc...

Those first 50 people should be like golden treats that you cherish and love with all your loving.

They become the ambassadors to others and they will always be given the royal treatment because they were the first to believe in you and support you.

So whether they're your first 50 good followers, 50 subscribers, 50 clients, 50 customers, 50 contacts, 50 business networking targets, 50 commenters, etc... treat them like kings and queens and let them see how much you appreciate their support.

This is also true with inanimate objects. Your first 50 photos, 50 photo shoots, 50 sketches, 50 pages of that book you're writing, 50 blog posts, 50 email newsletters, 50 youtube videos, 50 Instagram posts, etc...

The first 50 are the gateway to the first 5,000 which leads to the first 500,000 and so you grow.

Just never forget the first 50.

No good thing can be learned in a day (or two)

Maybe I should correct that to "No useful or valuable thing can be learned in a day."

The good stuff, the stuff that will make you stand out from the pack, the stuff that will make you special is the stuff that requires practice. Practice is the key.

Very, very few of us can become elite by just relying on our natural skills. (i.e. Allen Iverson's famous "Practice" rant–he was elite!)

Allen Iverson says practive 20 times in a press conference. One for the ages.

By gutting it out, by making time for it, by practicing every day, you will become very good. Practice a task for 100 days and you'd be surprised at how good you can be.

What may surprise you, even more, is that almost nobody is willing to dedicate themselves for 100 days to practice anything.

100 days of running.

100 days of working out.

100 days of shooting a portrait.

100 days of reading.

100 days of drawing.

100 days of eating healthy.

100 days of meditating.

100 days of writing something.

100 days of making a piece of artwork.

100 days of going to sleep at the same time (and waking up at the same time!)

100 days of cooking a meal.

100 days of practicing a sport.

100 days of PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.

Of course, more than 100 days is even better, but 100 is a good start. You will be great at whatever you stick with for that long. But almost nobody ever sticks with it and most of us live our lives that way.

Think about how much better you could be at almost everything you do in your life if you set aside time to practice.

Some days are an aberration

Today is one of those days. Just different. Everything feels slightly off.

I've been pretty good about getting a blog post up at 8 am every day Mon-Sat for a few weeks now, but today it's 6:00 pm and I'm just writing the post. Why?

No real reason, no excuse, no dramatic occurrences. Nothing.

I do wonder when I have days like today if the circumstances really do affect me, or if I just find a way to blame them because the real issue is I'm tired and I don't have the self-discipline to push through.

No excuses. The hours of my day are the same hours of your day.

I must relax and focus on the singular task and hand and remind myself of who is in charge (hint: it's not the stuff distracting me.)

How to rise to the occasion

On Monday night I watched the Philadelphia Phillies biggest free agency acquisition, Bryce Harper get soundly booed by his former team in his first game returning to his old stadium.

The setting was intense and pressure-packed and he struck out badly on his first two at-bats, but as Harper felt more comfortable, he dialed in and got three straight hits–including a very, very long home run.

I watched Harper rise to the occasion and match the intensity of the situation in which he found himself.

It was a reminder that we never really "rise" to the occasion, rather we fall back to the highest level of training and intensity we put ourselves through.

There is a saying I heard a Ukrainian military official say once "We bleed in our training so that we don't bleed on the battlefield."

In the tense moments when the chips are on the table, we don't rise to the occasion, we fall back onto our preparation.

So should we have delusions of grandeur that we don't need practice and we'll just magically rise to the occasion?

Or should we be diligent when nobody is looking and build the level of training and skill onto which we'll fall back when the pressure cranks up?

 
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
— Bruce Lee
 

How many people will show up to your funeral?

A few years ago I overheard an old guy sitting at a bar in a diner eating his breakfast talking to a friend and wondering out loud how many people would show up at his funeral when he one day died.

I thought it was interesting. It begs the question, what are we doing impact the lives of those around us in a positive way?

Reducing my iPhone screen time

Apple allows you to check how much time you actually spent on your iPhone any day. It'll breakdown the average time you spent each day over the course of a week, it can show you what apps you used the most and at what times each day.

Two weeks ago I opened this and started looking at my numbers:

I averaged 6hr 14min on my phone each day.

Picked up the phone 92 times a day.

Received 124 notifications each day.

For me, I would have never believed I used the phone that much if I didn't have the data.

Step one was removing all the top time-sucking apps that I didn't need.

I got rid of Twitter, Reddit, twitch, all the games, and all social media aside from Instagram and YouTube because I test my videos on my phone via YouTube and Instagram's website stinks out loud.

I checked my numbers today for the first time since removing all that stuff and making a conscious effort to not use my phone as much, and the daily average is down to 2hr 18min.

Still not as good as I want, but I do read books on my little iPhone screen, I listen to podcasts while I workout, and catch up on YouTube while I'm running the treadmill, so I know that at least an hour of that screen time each day is not time that I'm wasting or avoiding work.

Now to snip away as much of that remaining hour. I'm hoping to get the usage down to around 90 minutes a day including all the reading and workout accompaniment.