Podcast Crunch: No Such Thing As a Fish

WhyWhatHow: Things You Don't Know

WhyWhatHow: Things You Don't Know

Perfect for you if:

  • You love interesting factoids and trivia.
  • You’re a fan of “No Such Thing as a Fish” but always forget what you’ve heard.
  • You’re a Podcast lover, or a Podcast virgin: come share your favourites or learn something new!

I love little factoids. They make us laugh or stop and think. They remind us how little we really know. They add colour and meaning to the world around us. This post is a little window into that world of unknown unknowns.

The facts below are from last Friday’s episode of “No Such Thing as a Fish“: a light-hearted, meandering, and informative podcast that brings together four researchers from Stephen Fry’s QI to discuss their favourite four facts of the week. If you’re not already a listener I’d definitely recommend visiting their website or Facebook for a weekly dose of laughter and learning.

So, without further ado, it’s time for fact…

1. Avril Lavigne is the celebrity most likely to give you a computer virus in 2017.

Source: McAfee’s “Most Dangerous Celebrity” Study

Mainly driven by people searching for pirate music. Her spike in popularity is down to two things. First, the announcement that she’s working on a new album due for release later this year. Second, she’s become the subject of a bizarre conspiracy theory that she’s died and been replaced by an imposter.

The first ever human to get a computer virus was Dr. Mark Gasson of the University of Reading in 2010. He self-infected a chip he’d implanted his hand as an experiment to see if it would be possible to hack e.g., pacemakers.

The “first” computer virus ever was the Cookie Monster virus in the late 1960s which froze your computer until you typed the word “cookie”. After a while it would freeze again so you had to keep feeding it cookies incessantly. It was created at Brown University to wind up fellow students. A later version could be cured completely by entering the word “Oreo”.

Another early virus “Casino” gave you five spins to get a jackpot or it would swear at you and then remove all the files from your computer.

The American government has finally stopped providing updates on how they will deal with the Millennium (Y2K) bug. There was an obscure rule that meant that federal agents had to keep providing updates on how they would deal with the bug even 17 years after the threat had passed.

At their recent hacking conference, DEF CON participants managed to Rickroll US voting machines. During the conference local guests and companies (like the USP printing store) have to take extra security precautions to avoid themselves being hacked.

John McAfee (founder of the company) claims to be the most targeted hacking target in the world.

One hacking group was recently discovered to be using comments on Britney Spears’s Instagram account to hide updated addresses of its virus’s Command and Control servers.

2. One type of dinosaur is almost always found fossilised on its back: the Ankylosaurus.

Source: The Canadian Museum of Nature in Ontario.

This is because of “Bloat and Float”: they were swept out to sea; turned upside down because the gas in their belly was lighter; sank to the bottom of the ocean and became fossilised. The scientists at the Canadian Museum of Nature used Armadillos to study this effect.

Plesiosaurs had the longest neck of any dinosaur (23ft / 7 meters long) and may have had to keep it extended like a javelin to stop it from snapping when swimming underwater at high speeds.

The latest theory on dinosaur necks is that they had a swan-like curve to them. To hold their necks upright they would have needed to use half their energy pumping the blood up to their brains.

When horses go to sleep, their legs lock so that they don’t fall over.

3. Snakes that eat other snakes can eat snakes that are 139% of their body length.

Source: Snakes Are Long

They must eat the whole other snake in one go to stop it from rotting and because they can’t physically bite it into pieces. To fit it in they squeeze the snake they’re eating into their stomachs like an accordion.

A common snake keeping myth is that snakes stretch themselves out next to their owners or pets to measure them to see if they can eat them. This is not true.

Snakes sometimes mistakenly eat their own tails if for some reason it smells like prey.

An Australian snake was once observed eating another snake. A short time later, the snake was observed hauling itself back out of the other snake’s body. It had managed to turn itself around inside the predator snake and used the predator’s jaw to drag itself back out.

When snakes eat other animals they almost become another animal. Their:

  • Metabolism gets 40x faster
  • Blood becomes milky from the fatty acids it contains
  • Heart grows by 40%
  • Oxygen consumption increases between 36x and 100x depending on the relative size of the prey (from +60% to +150% of their size).

Up to half the energy a snake gets from eating a large meal is taken up digesting the meal.

N.b., When humans eat we increase our oxygen consumption by 25%; when we sprint we only increase oxygen consumption by 10x.

4. Medieval street performers used to multiply numbers together in public for entertainment.

Source: Lost Discoveries: the Source of Ancient Science.

In late medieval times, Arabic numerals were coming over to Europe from India and were more useful for e.g., division and multiplication than Roman numerals.

Initially they were distrusted and banned so street performers used to use their secret knowledge to perform otherwise “incredible feats” of multiplication e.g., (12 x 16)

Arabic numerals were actually known to exist from the 6th Century. There were failed attempts to introduce them to European thinking by Pope Sylvester II in the 10th Century but failed. People thought his ability to multiply was a kind of black magic. His subsequent reputation as a sorcerer dogged him throughout his papacy.

Zero in particular was seen as a particularly ungodly number. Due to the usefulness of Arabic numerals, Merchants began using them in secret. They would check each other’s mutual understanding by signalling “Zero” to each other.

The word “Cypher” comes from the same base word as “Zero”. The Persian polymath Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi named “Zero” and also invented the “Algorithm” the word for which comes from the Latin form of his name – Algoritmi.

German Zacharias Dase was a famous 19th Century “human calculator”. He once multiplied two 20 digit numbers together in six minutes in his head. He then multiplied two 100 digit numbers in eight and three-quarter hours. He is said to have had “an uncanny sense of quantity, he could just tell, without counting, how many sheep [up to 30] were in a field”.

In Moscow, buskers have to go through a rigorous assessment process to perform in the subway. The process included performing to a panel of professional musicians and judges from the TV talent show “Voice of Russia”. Prospective buskers must be able to perform at least two hours of original material.

That’s it for today! If you enjoyed this round of Trivia from “No Such Thing as a Fish” leave a comment and I’ll keep them coming. I was searching online for an existing write-up but couldn’t find anything similar.

Erin and I recently spent some time driving around the Baltics and Scandinavia. On the way, we discovered a few favourite podcasts that never failed to get us talking about the world around us. There’s many to choose from (yes, we’ve listened to “My Dad Wrote a Porno“) but here’s our top pick of brain busters for now:

What podcasts are you listening to at the moment? We always love finding out about more so please share your favourites with us below!

The Art of Journal Meditation – Finding Zen and Solving Problems

Journal Meditation

Journal Meditation

Perfect for you if:

  • You’ve ever felt confused or overwhelmed by an emotional situation.
  • You’re struggling to make sense of a difficult idea or topic.
  • You’ve tried keeping a journal but never made it stick.

Have you ever had a great conversation? Perhaps you got everything off your chest. Or felt like you took the world’s weight off your shoulders. Perhaps you solved a difficult problem you’ve been struggling with for some time. Or got some level headed advice or encouragement when you most needed it.

What if I told you there was a way to have conversations like that every day? That you could have them whenever and wherever you want? And that the answer is cheap, simple and available whenever you need it?

A Simple Experiment

To illustrate the point I want you to try a simple experiment.

First, find a nearby pen / pencil and a piece of paper. It doesn’t much matter what the paper is; a fresh piece or the back of a torn up scrap with writing already on it. Whatever’s to hand. If you’re really stuck: load up your favourite digital note taking app.

Ready? O.K. Now start a timer for 10 minutes. Use a watch, phone, tablet, computer or a good old fashioned wall clock. Whatever.

Now, wherever you have room to write, start with the words “What I am feeling now is…”. If you just rolled your eyes then try to reserve judgement. I know how you feel, trust me. Just go with it for now, even if it feels stupid.

Now Write – Write. Write. Write. Write. Write.

Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. Don’t worry about neatness, straight lines or readability. Don’t worry about getting off topic or whether to talk about or to yourself in the first, second or third person. Don’t even worry about having nothing to write about. Just write whatever feels right.

Write even if you have to write something like: “What I am feeling now is that this experiment is stupid and a waste of my time and I don’t have anything to write about anyway and what I should really be doing is working on my …” – BOOM. Now write about your “…” – let your brain off the leash. Go crazy.

Write until the timer goes off. This is the only rule of the experiment.

For some of you ten minutes may not feel like enough – if so, feel free to keep writing. Otherwise, when the timer goes off, feel free to put down your pen.

How are you feeling now? Excited? Surprised? Shocked? Angry? Happy? Sad? Calm? Clear?

Great! Transfer any next actions to another piece of paper or your productivity system.

Now take your piece of paper and shred / burn or tear it to pieces.

The Art of Journal Meditation

There is something about the power of “Journal Meditation” that never ceases to amaze me.  I’ve been using it to solve problems big and small for the last 10 years.

I use it for anything from 10 minutes to two hours. I use it first thing each morning, last thing at night and frequently between.

In fact, over the last ~15 years I’ve used it almost daily to help me:

  • Deal with regret, anxiety, loss and grief;
  • Solve difficult conceptual problems at work and in my learning;
  • Bring me up when I’m feeling low / bring me down when I’m flying too high;
  • Clarify the unclear, identify false assumptions and make difficult decisions;
  • Become friends with uncomfortable parts of myself I didn’t understand or like; and
  • Better understand and empathise with the people around me.

Why is it so powerful? There are a few reasons. Among them, Journal Meditation:

  • Slows you down;
  • Concentrates your mind;
  • Acts as a cathartic release;
  • Unloads your mind of facts and feelings; and
  • Opens a dialogue with your subconscious.

As a result its benefits include helping you to:

  • Identify, acknowledge and let go of your emotions;
  • Move forwards in your thinking; and
  • Teach you a huge amount about yourself and others.

Journal Mediation vs. Journaling

There are two main reasons that people journal:

  1. To record things for posterity.
  2. To bring order (a story) out of chaos.

For many people, Journaling serves both purposes. They get great pleasure from recording and recalling the events of the day. At the same time, the act of writing forces them to make sense of their emotions and impressions to those events.

But committing to a regular record of the day can quickly become an overwhelming burden. You need enough time, at the right time, and with the right equipment. You need to stay on top of it. You need to make it legible. You may even feel the need to make it profound and interesting.

As a result, many of us give up on our initial attempts at Journalling. We start strong but before long the prospect of catching up on a few days of backlog just doesn’t seem worth it.

That’s a shame, because giving up on Journalling entirely means losing out its second and arguably most beneficial aspect: story telling.

Unlike standard Journaling, Journal Meditation does away with the need to keep a record of past entries. Instead, it isolates precisely the second aspect of the process. Its power comes not from the output but from the process of writing. This gives it some curious properties and advantages.

Think about it: how many of the life changing conversations you’ve had were powerful because you kept them and listened to them over and over again? My bet is very few. The power of those conversations wasn’t in recording them – it was in the act of having them.

The same is true of Journal Meditation. The fact that nobody (not even yourself) will ever read what you’ve written again means:

  1. It doesn’t matter when you do it;
  2. It doesn’t matter how you do it;
  3. It doesn’t matter what you write.

This gives Journal Meditation two distinct advantages over standard Journalling:

  1. It is much easier to turn into a habit: you can do it any time, any way, any where with whatever you have to hand.
  2. You can be far, far more honest with yourself: harbouring unspeakable thoughts? Go crazy. Now destroy the evidence. No one will ever find out.

In past years I’ve used Journal Meditation as a safe way to explore my most vulnerable self: from my closest relationships to my deepest values and sense of purpose. Challenging yourself constantly, tugging always at “Why? Why? Why?”, relaxing in to the things that make you most want to scream and run away: these are the only ways to get smarter in life.

Journal Meditation is magical because it is one of the most effective, cheap and reliable ways to do just that.

How to Journal Meditate like a Ninja

One of Journal Meditation’s most magical properties is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. Test, review, adjust, repeat. These are all the steps you need to become a Journal Meditation Ninja.

For now though; here’s a quick cheat sheet of my own practice as it stands today. Hopefully it should be enough to get you started:


  • Morning: ~10 mins first thing. Usually a no rules brain dump of whatever’s on my mind.
  • Evening: ~10 mins as part of a PM review. Usually oriented around the day: “What went well? Badly? How can I make tomorrow 1% better?”
  • Whenever I’m overwhelmed, confused or procrastinating:
    • “What I am feeling now is…”
    • “The reason I’m procrastinating is…”
    • “I can’t work out XXX and it’s driving me nuts…” etc.,


  1. Sit down with pen and paper.*
  2. Set a timer (ideally for <10 minutes).
  3. Write non-stop until the timer goes off.
  4. Re-write any next actions on a new piece of paper.
  5. Throw the original piece of paper away.

* Writing on paper is slower, more deliberate and harder to go back over than typing on a keyboard. This is exactly why it is more effective than digital alternatives. That said, a paperless solution is better than no solution at all!


  • Keep hold of what you’ve written;
  • Worry about making it neat or profound; or
  • Overthink or try to get too much from the process.

Do: Write about…

  • Feelings: “What I am feeling right now is…”
  • Thoughts: Whatever’s on your mind.

If you’re feeling Zen consider reflecting on:

  • A thought starter such as:
    • “What motivates me is…”
    • “What I want more than anything is…”
    • “I sometimes feel afraid that…”
    • “I worry because…”
  • One of your values; or
  • An inspirational quote.

Also try inverting your reflections:

  • Internally vs. Externally:
    • “What I am feeling now is…” vs.
    • “What XXX is feeling now is…”
  • Blessings vs. Challenges:
    • “I am grateful for…” vs.
    • “I am struggling with…”


  • Make a note of 5 things you’re grateful for before you start.
  • Run/swim/meditate/do some yoga before or after your session.

That’s it for today! If you enjoyed this post you might also like this one on how to turn anything into a new habit.

Have you tried this exercise or some variation before?

If so:

  • What extra tips can you share?
  • How and when do you practice Journaling?

If not:

  • How did you find the experiment?
  • What did you like?
  • What did you write about?
  • What did you find challenging?

I love being corrected and learning new things so if you have anything to add then let me know in the comments!.

The Art of Memorisation and the Power of Spaced Repetition

WWH Memorisation and Repetition

WWH Memorisation and Repetition

Perfect for you if:

  • You’ve always wanted to be better at remembering things.
  • You’ve heard of or tried Spaced Repetition but aren’t sure what’s next.
  • “Why would I memorise things when I can look anything I want up in two seconds?”

Memorisation is a powerful learning technique that is often misunderstood, misused and misrepresented.

In fact, there are at least four compelling reasons why making time each day to memorise new things will change your life:

  1. It works out your brain: Memorisation is hard. Practising it trains discipline and focus.
  2. It improves mental speed: Looking things up is powerful but slow and limited by working memory.
  3. It creates meaning: More information improves our ability to identify and connect ideas in the world around us.
  4. It unlocks creativity: Memorisation gives our creative subconscious access to information that stimulates creative insight.

So, in today’s article and with those points in mind I’d like to:

  • Break down a recipe for faster learning with a story about the construction of the great city of Amsterdam;
  • Introduce you to some powerful techniques in memorisation, knowledge maintenance and understanding; and
  • Show you not only “What” to learn but also “When” and “How” to get started right away.

Whether you want to:

  • Nail an exam;
  • Learn a new language;
  • Understand more about the world around you; or
  • Become more proficient in your work;

You’ll find find something in here that helps. And by the end of our journey I hope you’ll:

  • Have some clear ideas of “When” and “How” to implement memorisation in your own life.
  • Understand how to avoid common pitfalls in memorisation and spaced repetition; and
  • Feel excited about the impact of a few simple tools in helping you reach your own goals.

For now, though, what better place to begin our story than a deserted marshland that would one day give rise to a bustling metropolis.


The city of Amsterdam is a marvel of engineering. Not for its cobbled streets, postcard perfect houses or infamous red-light district. Not even for its many canals, bridges or grand buildings.

Amsterdam is a marvel of engineering because, like a surprising number of cities, it is built almost entirely on a swamp. And swamps, as I’m sure you can imagine, are not the easiest places to build cities. Not least because things have a tendency to sink and disappear into them.

So how do you build a city on a swamp? The answer, of course, is on stilts; and Amsterdam is built on millions of them.

The Dutch discovered that if they drove long tree trunks deep enough into the swamp they would eventually hit firm ground. Sink enough posts and eventually you can even build a house on top of them.

Today, Amsterdam is home to roads, homes, museums, parks, palaces and cathedrals – all built on stilts. From this simple technique rose a powerhouse of trade that was, at one point, the wealthiest city in the world.

But there’s a catch: you’re still in a swamp!

Eventually, the posts begin to rot; and when the posts rot, the buildings start to sink, distort and lean on their weakening foundations. To this day, Amsterdam needs a clever maintenance system to keep their city above water. A system that regularly checks and maintains not only all the posts, but also the right posts at the right time.

So what does Amsterdam have to do with an article on learning and memorisation? Good question: the answer is that the analogy is just too good to pass up.

You see:

  • Our brains are a lot like the swamp that sits under Amsterdam;
  • Facts are like the posts we need to create stable platforms for learning;
  • Memorisation is like the act of driving those wooden posts deep into the swamp;
  • Spaced Repetition is like the process used to check and maintain them; and
  • Understanding and fluency are like the houses that we build on top.

Your brain is a marvel of engineering. Not for its neural highways, beautifully evolved structures or billions of interacting cells. Not even for its unlimited potential or incredible plasticity.

Your brain is a marvel of engineering because everything you known is built on a swamp; and, with the right tools, you too can turn that swamp into one of the finest cities on Earth.


Before we launch into practical tips it’s worth noting quickly that not all subjects benefit as much from memorisation as others.

Can you think of any subjects where the concepts don’t need much support from facts? The early stages of math, physics and most sports are good examples. These subjects are like little patches of firm high ground in your swamp: there’s not a lot to gain from fortifying their foundations. Instead, you’re probably better moving straight on to building understanding and fluency. Of course you may want to e.g., memorise proofs or complex new formulae as you advance but this is usually overkill early on.

Other subjects are located on swampier ground: Languages, History, Medicine, Geography, Chemistry, Biology, Law and games like Chess are all good examples. In these fact-based subjects, memorisation is fundamental to understanding and fluency. Time invested here is well worth the effort.

But time isn’t the only important factor in memorisation; quality is important too. Sure, you can throw a house up quickly taking shortcuts – sometimes you may not have a choice. Just remember: rush-jobs result in low quality or poorly sunken posts that rot faster and need way more maintenance. If you’ve ever crammed for a test only to find almost everything has sunk back into the swamp within the week then you know what I mean.

So how can we improve the quality of memorisation? Here’s a few tips to get you started:


Every building starts with a plan, whether it’s a quick sketch or an architect’s drawing. The same goes for memorisation.

So, before you jump in, always take the time to:

  1. Sketch a full picture: Make sure you can follow and understand the overall structure of the topic that you’re memorising.
  2. Fill in any gaps: Take the time to plug any gaps in your big picture sooner. They will become much harder to work around later.
  3. Break it up: Structure your thinking as much as possible into clear, bite-sized chunks. If your big picture is hard to follow it will be hard to memorise.

Once you have a clear and structured overview of the topic you want to memorise it’s time to…


Take a look at the following list of 15 random items: dog, chair, car, cow, wall, bottle, key, plate, king, phone, cup, ball, clock, carpet, window.

Now, take 30 seconds to try and remember the list – no tricks. Now try and recall them. Difficult right? We’ll come back to the list at the end of the section.

In the meantime we’re going to quickly learn about “mnemonics” (silent first ‘m’). A mnemonic is just a “memory trick”. and whatever their shape or size they all work in the same way:

  • By connecting many small bits of information together in a single new chunk.
  • By anchoring that new chunk as deeply as possible to existing knowledge in the brain.

If you’re not used to using mnemonics then this section may feel like overkill. You may even be tempted to skip it. Don’t. Why? There are two very good reasons:

  1. Time invested now will save you a ton of time in the long run (trust me); and
  2. These tricks will become easier and easier as you get used to them.

Some well known types of mnemonic include:

But most powerful of all are a number of way to tap in to our sizeable visual and spatial memories: E.g.,

  • Chaining: Creating a vivid mental image of two items in a list interacting with each other.
  • Peg System: Chaining items with nouns that have themselves been chained with numbers.
  • Memory palaces: Chaining items to places or objects within a well known space (like your home).
  • Journey method: Chaining items to places of objects on a well known journey (like your commute).

Whatever Mnemonic you choose, they will have much more sticking power if you make them:

  • Personal: by including as many of your own experiences and personal connections to people, places and things as possible.
  • Emotional: by creating or using examples that trigger an emotional response like anger, fear, curiosity or arousal.

For more detail on the above methods and a run down of even more, check out:

I would strongly encourage you to try out one or two of the methods and examples of these techniques. Anyone can master them and they become very powerful, very quickly.

What’s more, you can use them for almost any imaginable memorisation task: from learning facts or vocabulary to names, telephone numbers and entire speeches.

As an example, let’s take another look at our list of 15 items: dog, chair, car, cow, wall, bottle, key, plate, king, phone, cup, ball, clock, carpet, window.

Now take 30 seconds to try and remember them, but this time, I want you to create a clear mental picture of each item interacting in some weird way with the next item on the list.

The weirder the better: you might picture a dog sitting like a human on a chair, then a chair with four wheels that are cars etc.. whatever, go crazy.

Now try and recall them. Chances are that this time you remembered every single item on the list. Not only that, I bet you could remember it backwards! Why not have a go?

At this point we’ve carefully selected our posts from only the best tree trunks in the land and we’ve driven them deep into the swamp.

Now it’s time to talk about maintenance…


If mnemonics answer the question of “How”, spaced repetition answers the question of “When”.

Spaced repetition is an every day phenomena. In fact, as we go through our lives we are naturally exposed to important concepts over and over again. We constantly reinforce ideas and knowledge through e.g., personal experience, practice, reading, problem solving, discussion and teaching.

And, so long as frequency is a good predictor of (a) objective accuracy and (b) importance, all is well and good in the world.

But there’s a well documented and studied problem with this assumption. It turns out that frequency, at least in today’s world, is often a very bad predictor of both:

  • Partly because of the biased way we process information;
  • Partly because we tend to seek out biased information; and
  • Partly because the information itself is often already biased.

When it comes to learning and memory this is most obvious in our natural tendency to be lazy at maintenance. For example, we often:

  • Focus most on the posts we come across naturally; and
  • Prefer to maintain the posts we already know well and which don’t need that much work.

The result is self-delusion. An illusion of confidence where we:

  • Know a few things very well;
  • Rehearse them often because it is easy and feels good; and
  • Take that as evidence for a broader and more stable knowledge base than we actually have.

Meanwhile, the remaining posts in the foundation tend to rot away. As a result, whether we realise it or not, the buildings constructed on them become dangerously distorted or even collapse entirely.

In our analogy, the solution to this problem is a methodical maintenance plan that forces us to confront, check and maintain all the posts in the system. What’s more, to be efficient the best plans must know not only exactly which posts need checking most but also exactly when.

In the brain, it turns out that the most effective and efficient time to review a fact is just before you’re about to forget it. And our the solution to our neural maintenance problem is “Spaced Repetition Systems“.


There is no better way to maintain knowledge than through complimentary active recall techniques like:

  • Testing, testing and re-testing yourself;
  • Synthesising concepts in your own words; and
  • Teaching others.

(Incidentally, mindless rehearsing, copying and (re-)reading are all commonly used but terrible approaches.)

And yet, when it comes to spaced repetition, there is no tool more powerful, systematic or democratic than a simple, well designed flashcard.


Flashcards are not an easy shortcut. Creating good flashcards is a skill in its own right and often the end product of the active recall techniques listed above.

Of course you don’t need to do any of this, but, as with mnemonics, taking the time to think about your flashcards up front will save you a lot of wasted time down the line.

The exact formula of a perfect flash card is half science, half personal preference. The best way to learn is just to get started, experiment and discover what works for you over time.

For now, here are a few guiding principles to help you get started:

Keep it simple.

  • Keep information to a minimum:
    • Test yourself on just one thing at a time.
    • Never use 1 flashcard when you could break it into 5.
  • Minimise wording: Omit needless words.

Make it memorable.

  • Use mnemonics: Combine flashcards with memory techniques for the best effects.
  • Avoid sets: Break lists down into shorter sections.
  • Make it personal: E.g., link a foreign word for “chair” to your favourite chair at home.
  • Use emotion: Use shocking or emotive examples to illustrate points.

Make it unique.

  • Lead with context cues: If ATP stands for:
    • “Adenosine Tri-Phosphate” make the card “Biology: ATP” not “ATP: Biology”; or
    • “Association of Tennis Professionals” make the card “Tennis: ATP” not “ATP: Tennis”.
  • Use deletion: Keep cards unique by blocking:
    • Words out of sentences (cloze deletion); or
    • Sections from images pictures (graphic deletion).

Keep it accurate:

  • List a source: To help keep you clear on conflicting e.g., dates / figures.
  • Date stamp it: To help identify when a card may need updating.

For more detail on creating great Flashcards check out this fantastic guide from Supermemo or these language focussed tips from Gabe Wyner.

Perhaps the most important rule of flashcard creation is this:

  • Make your own flashcards

Downloading and/or using other people’s flashcard collections (also known as decks) does make things easier. It can even be a helpful way to learn how to make your own flashcards better.

But here are a few reasons it’s worth taking the time to create your own:

  • It sense checks your understanding: By not sense-checking your own understanding, you may end up learning other people’s misunderstandings.
  • It makes them yours: Your experience and decisions creating the cards as well as your personal connections on them are a big part of what makes them memorable.
  • They are easier to learn: Focussing on a specific fact for the short time it takes to codify it is a powerful reinforcement process on its own.

Congratulations! You now have the “What”s in your maintenance system. The question to turn to now is “When”…


Spaced Repetition Systems (SRSs) is the name given to systems and tools for scheduling flashcard reviews. They come in two flavours: Manual or Automatic.

Manual SRS

Perhaps the best known manual approach is the Leitner system. This is physical flashcard territory: it’s low tech, accessible and great for small numbers of cards.

The focus of this section is going to be on automatic digital systems. So, if paper and pen are your tools of choice checkout out Wikipedia and Google for some great pointers.

Automatic SRS

Automatic SRSs are digital tools that specialise in managing flashcard maintenance schedules. Their main advantages over manual systems include:

  • Managing customised review schedules for individual flashcards;
  • Automatically generating many related flashcards from just a few fields of information;
  • Scaling easily up to tens of thousands of flashcards; and
  • Embedding mixed media (e.g., pictures, videos, sounds) right into the card.

If you’ve learned a language recently the chances are that you’ve used an SRS. Notable implementations include Memrise, Duolingo, Lingvist, Skritter and (my personal favourite) Anki.

When it comes to SRSs, the main difference between tools are their self-imposed limitations. Anki is free and by far the most flexible and powerful of the options. And yet that does come at a cost in terms of its initial learning curve – luckily their extensive manual is excellent.

If you’ve never used an SRS before then you’re in for a treat they will totally change the way you learn almost anything you care to think of.

For example, as of today, my own Anki decks contain over 20,000 cards that teach me:

  • LanguagesGerman, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish and English;
  • History: Important dates and people;
  • Philosophy: Important philosophers and terminology;
  • Art: esp. taxonomical info for important artworks and terminology; to
  • Poetry: English and German for now;
  • Geopolitics: Locations, names and details of countries, cities, mountains, rivers etc…; and
  • Other: Random facts I’ve wanted to learn like the names for the phases of the moon etc…

Whatever floats your boat: from medicine, politics, music, economics, chemistry or wine to physics, sports and theology; the potential for digital SRSs is basically unlimited.


The best way to get started with SRS is to:

Decide what you want to learn, implement the tips in this guide and follow the magic formula of “read, test, improve, repeat”.

You are already on a much faster trajectory than I ever was!


As your experience with SRS grows you will discover two common pitfalls:

  • Review overload: Suddenly finding yourself with a backlog of 1,000+ cards to review.
  • Leeches: Cards that you just can’t seem to learn no matter how often you review them.

The first point is not to get stressed about either. These are common issues everyone wrestles with.

Review overload is often caused by either:

  • Getting carried away learning new cards; or
  • Taking an extended break from your daily reviews.

The best solution is prevention:

  • Set an amount of time aside each day that will be consistent and manageable over time.
  • Work out how many cards you can generally get through in that time and work to those levels.
  • Avoid the temptation to load lots of new cards if you have a quiet review day (this will come back to bite you).
  • If you are planning to go away, try and create some space by reviewing ahead (this isn’t best practice but it’s better than nothing!)
  • Be patient: We often greatly overestimate what we can achieve in day and greatly underestimate what we can achieve in a year.

If you do get stuck with a huge backlog of reviews:

  • Don’t panic.
  • Stop adding new cards – there’s no point making things worse.
  • Break the backlog down into manageable chunks – e.g., focus on cards in X topic or from Y date range.
  • Focus on working for X many minutes, instead of worrying about clearing X many cards
  • Be patient: Forgetting is an important part of learning. Everything will come back eventually.

Leeches are a common inhabitant of any swamp. They’re also nothing to worry about. When confronted with leeches simply:

  • Identify cards that you’re struggling with (Anki will do this automatically).
  • Review your leaches and ask yourself: Why am I struggling to remember this card?
  • Use the Flashcard checklist above. What can you include to make it more memorable?

A common cause of forgetting (even for easy cards) is interference:

  • Are there any other flashcards that are very similar to this one e.g., snap v.s., snaap?
  • If so, can you use contextual cues, personal links or deletion to make the cards more unique?

In a worst case scenario, just delete the card. Chances are your house will still be perfectly fine with one less post.


Memorisation and spaced repetition are part of an incredibly powerful learning toolkit.

Like all tools, they are perfect for some jobs and less so for others. They can be used skilfully or misused horribly.

With luck, you’ll now have some better ideas of “When” and “How” to implement memorisation in your own life.

Hopefully you feel like you understand how to avoid some common pitfalls in memorisation and spaced repetition.

What I hope most of all is that you feel excited about the impact a few simple, powerful tools in helping you to reach your own goals.

But perhaps one of the most valuable lessons we can take away from learning brings us full circle back to the city Amsterdam.

Learning is like building a city in a swamp. It isn’t easy, it isn’t always glamorous and it doesn’t happen in a day.

But if we stick at it, if we apply ourselves thoughtfully, if we can work each day a little harder than the forces that work against us, if we do all of these things with energy and diligence:

There’s pretty much no limit to what we can achieve when we set our minds to it.

That’s it for today! If you enjoyed this post you might also like these two on How to Learn a Language and 10 Steps to Learn Any Skill!

  • Have you had any good or bad experiences with memorisation or repetition?
  • What are your favourite tips and tricks?
  • What are you learning right now?

I always love new ideas on “What” and “How” to learn so if you have any then let me know in the comments!

Book Crunch: “Bounce”, Matthew Syed

Bounce, Matthew Syed

Bounce, Matthew Syed

“Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice”, Matthew Syed
Also available as: “Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success”
410 pages – Paperback | eBook (U.K.) | Audiobook

Perfect for you if:

  • You believe “I am not a Language/Athletic/Math/etc… person”.
  • You, or someone you know, wants to become the best, or even just better at anything.
  • You’re fascinated by the psychology of learning; be you learner, teacher or parent.

“Bounce” is a book for anyone who believes they are “not a Language / Athletic / Math / etc… person” and never will be.

Matthew Syed, a top ranked table tennis champion and journalist, has two clear messages:

  1. There is no such thing as “Natural Born Talent”; and
  2. Becoming an expert at anything is primarily a question of:
    • Mindset;
    • Motive;
    • Practice; and
    • Opportunity.

To be clear, Syed doesn’t discount the role of genetics entirely. Instead, he argues that:

  1. It is simply not as important as we often believe; and
  2. This slight shift in perspective makes all the difference.

Syed’s athletic career adds depth and colour to his conclusions. His evidence base is full of cutting edge research, interviews, and historical fact. His suggestions are immediate and practical.

In short, if you like what you read in this crunch:

  • Whether learner, expert or teacher;
  • Be you academic, athlete or professional;
  • Whatever your age, size, gender or nationality;

then “Bounce” is be a compulsory addition to your already bursting bookshelf.

Its insights will surprise, entertain and inform you. They may even change your life.


  • In learning, people tend to adopt either a “Fixed” or “Growth” mindset.
  • The “Growth Mindset” more accurately reflects what we know about learning today.
  • And yet we still use the comfortable “Myth of Talent” to make sense of the world around us.
  • Even though it is based on partial and inaccurate information.
  • And grossly distorted by our cognitive biases.
  • This is important because our expectations have great consequences for ourselves and those around us.
  • In fact, there are four main ingredients to learning:
    • Mindset: a “Growth Mindset” gives us a love of learning and a resilience to failure.
    • Motive: an “Internal Motive”, once sparked, sets intention and sustains drive and motivation.
    • Practice: “Purposeful Practice” with enough quantity, quality and feedback, is the bedrock of ability.
    • Opportunity: “Good Luck” in Where, When, What, Who and How separates the top 10% from the top 10.
  • Managing “Belief” is a final “X Factor” in balancing conflicting demands of “Learning” and “Performance”.
  • In conclusion: Your most basic abilities can be developed to extraordinary levels through dedication and hard work.
  • Do not let the “Myth of Talent” hold you and the people around you back.


In learning, people tend to adopt either a “Fixed” or “Growth” mindset.

  • In a Fixed Mindset:
    • People believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits.
    • They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them.
    • They believe that talent alone – without effort – creates success.
  • In a Growth Mindset:
    • People believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.
    • They understand that brains and talent are just the starting point.
    • This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.
  • It’s interesting to note that this mindset can and does change:

The “Growth Mindset” more accurately reflects what we know about learning today.

  • Learning relies on chunking and habit formation; a basic physiological process.
    This is true in all individuals and across all skills and learning types (e.g., perceptual, cognitive and motor)
  • Ability/intelligence is actually highly domain specific.
    Chess masters are good at chess but novices at general memorisation tasks.
    Reaction times in one sport (e.g., table tennis) do not generalise to other sports (e.g., tennis).
  • The main differentiating factor in performance is practice.
    I.e., the 10 year / 10 thousand hour rule.

And yet we often use the comfortable “Myth of Talent” to make sense of the world.

  • e.g., Experts and “Child Prodigies”
    Child Prodigies “Do not have unusual genes, they have unusual upbringings.”
    e.g., Polgár Sisters, Mozart, Williams Sisters, Tiger Woods, Bobby Fischer, David Beckham  etc…
  • e.g., “Black Athletes”
    There is no evidence for meaningful genetic differences at a racial level.
    In fact >90% of genetic variation occurs between individuals/small populations.
    Instead mostly a combo of environmental, social, political and momentum factors.

Even though the “Myth of Talent” is based on partial, inaccurate information due to e.g.,:

  • Iceberg Illusion.
    We can only see/consciously understand a fraction of the work it took to become an expert.
    We fail to spot the accumulated impact of many small factors or one small factor over time.
    See “Combinatorial Explosion” below.
  • Expert Amnesia.
    The subconscious nature of expertise means we can only describe and report a fraction of it.
    See “Combinatorial Explosion” below.
  • Expert Delusion
    Sometimes to boost performance (e.g., in deliberately eliminating doubt to improve performance)
    Sometimes to mislead (e.g., lying about performance and effort to others)
    Sometimes unintentionally (see Expert Amnesia)
  • Linear vs. System Dynamics.
    We assume linear relationships where complex systems and feedback mechanisms are at play.
    We miss the compounding impact of many small factors or one small factor over a long time.

And grossly distorted by our cognitive biases:

  • Combinatorial Explosion
    We are terrible at visualising exponential functions.
    E.g., How thick is a piece of paper after 103 folds? 93 billion light years (as thick as the Universe). 
  • Confirmation Bias
    We give more weight to information that confirms existing stories.
    This makes it hard to shake pre-existing biases.
  • Attribution Error
    We misattribute or find causation where there is only correlation.
    We mistake the direction of causation (which can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies)
  • Availability Bias
    We are better at remembering surprising or extreme examples.
    We tend to confuse how easily memorable something is with how likely it is.
    As a result, we weight extreme examples over “normal” ones in our mental models.
  • Halo Effect
    We extrapolate results from small to large populations without regard to sample size.
    We extrapolate performance between one or many domains (e.g., chess >> general memory).

This is important because our expectations have great consequences for ourselves and those around us.

  • Mindset: “Natural talent” based praise induces a fixed mindset in others. “Effort” based praise induces a growth mindset.
  • Motive: The “Myth of Talent” denies us/others the opportunity for self-improvement: “Why bother if I have no ‘natural gift’?”
  • Practice: In a “Fixed Mindset” we seek confirmation of our innate gift through easy tasks and risk avoidance. So we do not learn.
  • Opportunity: Our biases create self-fulfilling prophecies through both positive and negative discrimination (e.g., black athletes).

In fact, there are four main ingredients to learning:

A “Growth Mindset” gives us a love of learning and a resilience to failure.

  • In a Fixed Mindset:
    • People believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits.
    • They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them.
    • They believe that talent alone – without effort – creates success.
  • In a Growth Mindset:
    • People believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.
    • They understand that brains and talent are just the starting point.
    • This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

An “Internal Motive”, once sparked, sets intention and sustains drive and motivation.

  • Motive must be independent and internal: “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.”
  • Anything can spark it but “Motivation by Association” (e.g., through a shared local or national identity) is a powerful example.
  • Once sparked, motive must be “sustained” either internally or by virtue of its own momentum (see Learned Industriousness).

“Purposeful Practice” with enough quantity, quality and feedback, is the bedrock of ability.

  • Quantity: “10 year / thousand hour rule”. Consistently proven as biggest single differentiator of ability across all domains.
  • Quality: Practice must be constantly challenging. If something feels easy or subconscious, it is not improving (e.g., driving to work).
  • Feedback: “If you don’t know what you are doing wrong, you can never know what you are doing right”.
    • Must be timely (quick to follow the action), objective and attributable (See “Kaizen“).
    • Try to look for or design feedback loops in your practice (e.g., by standardising procedure).

“Good Luck” in Where, When, What, Who and How separates the top 10% from the top 10.

  • Where: In the right place. Determines Who and How. E.g., “Reading” for UK Table Tennis; Eldoret for distance running.
  • When: At the right time. Timing, at the start of an up-cycle, is everything. E.g., Hockey players born early in season cut off. Reading in the early 80s for Table Tennis.
  • What: Genetics, injury. Some genetic factors make a difference sometimes. Injury/burnout can unravel even the most promising career.
  • Who: With the right people. Ourselves, peers, parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, judges – all influence the course of our journey.
  • How: And the right facilities. Tightly linked with Where and When. E.g., It’s hard to be a tennis champion with no tennis court.

Managing “Belief” is a final “X Factor” in balancing conflicting demands of “Learning” and “Performance”.  

  • Our beliefs have a profound and physical impact on our experience and actions (see the Placebo Effect).
  • And it turns out it doesn’t matter what they are (e.g., divine, scientific) so long as our beliefs are sincere.
  • But “Learning” and “Performance” place conflicting demands on belief:
    • Learning: Openness to criticism, understanding of our own flaws.
    • Performance: Unwavering self-confidence and belief.
  • And believing the wrong thing at the wrong time can greatly disrupt both.
  • So, the ability to believe in and appropriately manage two conflicting realities is critical to optimising growth.

In conclusion: Your most basic abilities can be developed to extraordinary levels through dedication and hard work. 

  • Our ability to improve our intelligence and abilities is more in control than we ever imagined.
  • Luck and genetics do play a role but this is much less significant than we assume.

Don’t let the “Myth of Talent” hold you and the people around you back.

  • Get out there and take more responsibility for your own destiny!
  • Don’t let a few weeks of half hearted effort at some skill confirm your false beliefs.
  • Purposeful practice is not easy, it is hard, but it is also mostly available to everyone.
  • Understanding this will not only change you, it will also change those around you.

Related Reading

“Outliers: The Story of Success”, Malcolm Gladwell: Heavily referenced by Syed and for good reason. Gladwell’s pursuit of the truth is relentless. His book deeply debunks “The Myth of Talent”, including many deep and widely held biases, across a wide range of domains. Incidentaly, his new podcast “Revisionist History” is also fascinating.

“Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential”, Carol Dweck: Another primary source for Syed. Dweck’s decades of experiments and insights into the psychology of learning have deeply influenced today’s thinking on the topic. The idea and evidence behind “Growth” and “Fixed” mindsets began and come from here. A fascinating read.

“The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance”, Joshua Waitzkin: Waitzkin’s book tells the story of his rise to both International Master at Chess and a World Champion in Taichi Push Hands. His first hand insights of mastering not one but two domains to a World Class level make for fascinating reading. A wonderful and insightful book.

“Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”, Cal Newport: In this fascinating book, Cal Newport guides us into the requirements, benefits and importance of “Deep Work”. His concept overlaps almost perfectly with the idea of “Purposeful Practice”. For anyone looking for more practical tips on single minded progress, this is a must read. See the WWH Book Crunch here.

“The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”, Charles Duhigg: If you’re looking for more on the power of the subconscious then try this book for size. An amazing insight into the importance of habit in every aspect of learning. Also full of practical tips. See the WWH Book Crunch here.

“A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science”, Barbara Oakley: My final reading suggestion is another fascinating journey into the physiology and psychology of learning. Barbara’s book is as deeply practical as it is informative. If you’re looking for more on Chunking, Discipline and Creativity then look no further. See the WWH Book Crunch here.

TANQ entries for 'Bounce'

TANQ is WhyWhatHow’s growing central library of thoughts, anecdotes, notes, and quotes.

“Child prodigies may look as if they have reached the top in double-quick time, but the reality is that they have compressed astronomical quantities of practice into the short period between birth and adolescence.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“If we believe that attaining excellence hinges on talent, we are likely to give up if we show insufficient promise.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“If we believe that attaining excellence hinges on talent, we are likely to give up if we show insufficient promise.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“Once the opportunity for practice is in place, the prospects of high achievement take off. And if practice is denied or diminished, no amount of talent is going to get you there.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“The memory span of most adults extends to around seven items… when we witness extraordinary feats of memory (or of sporting or artistic prowess) we are witnessing the end of a process measured in years.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

On the constancy of working memory at 6 – 7 items. E.g., SF who learned to remember up to 87 numbers with practice but was unable to recall more than 6 – 7 random consonants (i.e., he was using mnemonics and chunking for the numbers). Same again with Chess Grand Masters – they are no better than novices at remembering board configurations that do not appear in natural game settings.


“Top performers are not born with sharper instincts (in the same way chess masters do not possess superior memories); instead, they possess enhanced awareness and anticipation… speed in sport is not based on innate reaction speed, but derived from highly specific practice.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“Federer’s motor programmes are so deeply ingrained that if you were to ask him how he is able to play an immaculately timed forehand, he wouldn’t be able to tell you… [he has] practised for so long that the movement has been encoded in implicit rather than explicit memory. This is what psychologists call expert-induced amnesia.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

On Combinatorial Explosion: “Imagine folding a piece of paper in two… now repeat the process a hundred times. How thick is the paper now? … the thickness would stretch eight hundred thousand billion times the distance from Earth to the Sun.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“Child prodigies amaze us because we compare them not with other performers who have practised for the same length of time, but with children of the same age who have not dedicated their lives in the same way.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“It is only possible to clock up meaningful practice if an individual has made an independent decision to devote himself to whatever field of expertise.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“Child prodigies do not have unusual genes; they have unusual upbringings.” e.g., Music (Mozart), Sports (Beckham, Woods, Agassi, Williams Sisters), Chess (Polgar Sisters), Maths (Devi, Gamm, Ramanujam, Flannery)

Matthew Syed Bounce

“The ten-thousand-hour rule, then, is inadequate as a predictor of excellence. What is required is ten thousand hours of purposeful practice.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“A key aspect of brain transformation is myelin, a substance that wraps around the nerve fibres and that can dramatically increase the speed with which signals pass through the brain. A 2005 experiment that scanned the brains of concert pianists found a direct relationship between the number of hours practised and the quantity of myelin… the very process of building knowledge transforms the hardware in which the knowledge is stored and operated.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“A key aspect of brain transformation is myelin, a substance that wraps around the nerve fibres and that can dramatically increase the speed with which signals pass through the brain. A 2005 experiment that scanned the brains of concert pianists found a direct relationship between the number of hours practised and the quantity of myelin… the very process of building knowledge transforms the hardware in which the knowledge is stored and operated.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“Eureka moments are not lightning bolts from the blue, but tidal waves that erupt following deep immersion in an area of expertise.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“If you don’t know what you are doing wrong, you can never know what you are doing right.”

Chen Xinhua Bounce

“The defects of a theory are revealed through testing, which, in turn, paves the way for a new theory. A theory that is not testable (i.e., a theory immune from feedback) can never be improved upon.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“Feedback is… the rocket fuel that propels the acquisition of knowledge, and without it no amount of practice is going to get you there.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“It is easy to see why aspiring sportsmen are so keen to work with top coaches. It is not just that they receive expert advice during the training sessions; far more important is that great coaches are able to design practice so that feedback is embedded in the drill, leading to automatic readjustment.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“The talent theory of expertise is not merely flawed in theory; it is insidious in practice, robbing individuals and institutions of the motivation to change themselves and society.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

On Carol Dweck’s Mindset: “Those who held the belief that abilities are transformable through effort, not only persevered but actually improved in the teeth of difficulties; those labouring under the talent myth, on the other hand, regressed into a state of psychological enfeeblement.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“The path to excellence could not be more difficult. It is steep, gruelling, and arduous. It is inordinately lengthy, requiring a minimum of ten thousand hours of lung-busting effort to get to the summit. And, most importantly of all, it forces voyagers to stumble and fall on every single stretch of the journey.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation, and it harms their performance [because] intelligence-based praise orientates its receivers towards the fixed mindset; it suggests to them that intelligence is of primary importance rather than the effort through which intelligence can be transformed; and it teaches them to pursue easy challenges at the expense of real learning.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“Nobody has got anywhere in life without working hard, by showing tremendous discipline, and by taking responsibility for their actions. That is what ultimately separates the best from the rest.”

Nick Bollettieri Bounce

“The power of the mind is exercised through the medium of belief, and it doesn’t matter whether the belief is true or false of how the delusion is created – so long as it is created successfully.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“Religion, in and of itself, confers real and tangible health benefits [and] religious belief bolsters [athletic] performance… the impact of religious belief has been found to transcend denominational boundaries… it does not matter which god you are praying to, so long as the belief is sincere… what [Christian] scriptures (see Mark 9 and Matthew) seem to be saying is that God does not act in proportion to the worthiness of the intercessor, but in proportion to the intercessor’s belief that God will so act. Substitute ‘sugar pill’ for ‘God’ in the previous sentence, and you have just defined the placebo effect.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

On performance: “To perform to your maximum you have to teach yourself to believe with an intensity that goes way beyond logical justification. No top performer has lacked this capacity for irrational optimism; no sportsman has played to his potential without the ability to remove doubt from his mind.”

On doublethink (combining unwavering self-belief with openness to correction and training): “Unless you have the ability to manipulate your beliefs over the performance cycle, it is difficult to perform well at anything, sport or otherwise.”

Arsène Wenger Bounce

On doublethink: “You have to make a decision based upon a realistic assessment of your own weaknesses and the scope for failure. But once you have committed to your decision, you have to flick the mental switch and execute the shot as if there was never any doubt that you would nail it.”

Nick Faldo Bounce

“Choking… is a kind of neural glitch that occurs when the brain switches to a system of explicit monitoring in circumstances when it ought to stick to the implicit system.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“People think it is hard when you lose. But it’s almost easier to come second because you have something to aim for when you finish. When you win, you suddenly feel lost.”

Victoria Pendleton Bounce

“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.”

Robert Louis Stevenson Bounce

On practice-built knowledge the very fabric of our perceptions: “Perception is thoroughly permeated by our concepts.”

Sir Peter Strawson Bounce

“The problem for the racial scientist is his yearning to generalize. It would seem that the notion of race is so deeply embedded within the human psyche that there is a collective blind spot when it comes to its use and meaning. We automatically put people of dark skin in a box marked ‘black’, and assume that any trait shared by some (even a tiny minority) is shared by all.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

“The overrepresentation of African-Americans in professional sport is almost precisely mirrored by an under-representation in positions of economic power…

In 2003… Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan… drafted five thousand CVs and placed archetypal black names such as Tyrone or Latoya on half of them, and white names such as Brendan and Alison on the other half. They then divided the ‘white’ CVs into high and low quality and did the same with the ‘black’ CVs. A few weeks later the offers came rolling in from employers… The ‘black’ candidates were 50% less likely to be invited for an interview [and] although high-quality ‘whites’ were preferred to low-quality ‘whites’, the relative quality of ‘black’ CVs made no difference whatsoever. It was as if employers saw three categories: high-quality whites, low-quality whites, and blacks.”

Matthew Syed Bounce

Engaging With Art – from Appreciation to Criticism and Connoisseurship

The Black Square, Malevich

The Black Square, Malevich

“The Black Square”, Kazimir Malevich

Perfect for you if:

  • You need two hands to count your gallery/museum memberships on.
  • You’re art-curious but have never really worked out what it’s all about.
  • “Leonardo” and “Michelangelo” are Ninja Turtles aren’t they?

N.B., To keep things tight this guide is skewed heavily towards a single format: painting. It can, however, be applied to almost any art form. From dance to architecture to hardcore German rap – whatever floats your boat, you’ll hopefully find something here to help you think about art in new ways.

I like art. I grew up with the Tate, the V&A and the British Museum. In my travels, I’ve visited hundreds of galleries and museums across dozens of countries. I’ve even read a couple of books on the topic.

And yet, if I’m honest, I still don’t really have a clue what it’s all about. I can recognise a Hirst, a Banksy or an Emin. I can nod knowingly at a Warhol or a Weiwei. I know that Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Picasso were important. I’m aware that impressionist art fetches tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars at auction.

But could I tell you why? I mean really give you a good explanation? The short answer is No. No I can’t. I don’t have a clue. Despite decades of engaging with art I still walk in and out of galleries and museums feeling like a fraud. Despite hundreds of hours of exposure I’m still constantly troubled by the same two questions:

  1. What the hell am I supposed to think about this?
  2. Why is this piece of art more important/valuable than that one?

“Enough is enough,” I decided, “I’m going to solve this once and for all!” And here, mis amigos, are the fruits of my labour.

What I discovered is this: there are no easy answers.

Art is a language and fluency takes years of hard, purposeful practice.

At the top end of fluency are two disciplines: Art Criticism and Art Connoisseurship.

Art Criticism is about placing and evaluating art in the context of other works. Which are more influential? More beautiful? More powerful? Your opinion is part of a group effort. The degree to which you are “right” or “wrong” is judged against the most common currently accepted ideas of art theory and history.

Art Connoisseurship used to be a technical role. The kind of person who could spot a Caravaggio from 1,000 paces based on brush stroke and technique. That’s still true to some extent. These days though, connoisseurship is more about placing artworks within a contemporary hierarchy of taste. Unless you’re one of a handful of influencers your opinion means very little here. Instead, connoisseurship means understanding changing trends and tastes in society. The accuracy of your opinion is weighed in cash. You may not like a piece of art, that doesn’t mean someone else won’t buy it for $300m.

Whatever the art form, these hotshots pretty much dictate what is accepted today as important and unimportant art. And that power extends into the past, present and future. Their decisions have surprisingly far reaching consequences for the development of our society and culture as a whole. That’s important because their judgement hasn’t/doesn’t always live up to the standards of objectivity and inclusiveness that our societies look up to today.

Though it takes a lifetime of dedicated work (and a good measure of luck) to reach those lofty heights, there’s also some good news:

  1. Anyone who wants to can become more fluent in art; and
  2. You don’t need ninja levels to transform the way you engage with it.

In fact, with a little thought, you can make more progress in a few weeks of purposeful practice than in a lifetime of walking aimlessly around galleries and museums.

So how does one practise art purposefully? It all starts with learning…

How to Appreciate Art.

Art Appreciation is all about you. You and a single work of art. Everything starts here, without it neither criticism nor connoisseurship are possible.

There are no right or wrong answers in art appreciation. Just your personal perception of and response to the facts.

To appreciate art you must first learn to…

Step 1: Experience it.

The first step in art appreciation is to take at least a couple of minutes to experience an artwork as mindfully as possible.

Slow down and take your time. If you have 30 minutes, you will get far more from engaging six pieces of art than sixty.

If you’re in a museum or gallery try this on your own, before you read any accompanying information. This is your opportunity to engage with art on your own terms. Enjoy making the most of it before you consider the perspective of the curator or other external sources.

If it’s a painting, don’t simply look. Try to see. If it’s a piece of music, don’t use it as a backing track to your thoughts. Really listen.

Take the whole thing in. Then isolate the details. Then soften and expand your observation back out to the whole.

As you do so, keep a gentle eye on your immediate and changing sensations, emotions and thoughts:

  • What physical sensations are you aware of?
    Scan down your body: what is your first impulse / instant reaction?
    Did your shoulders tighten? Did you cross your arms? Are you frowning or smiling?
  • What emotions do you feel?
    Confusion? Joy? Sadness? Repulsion? Frustration? Anger?
    Is the emotion strong or weak? How does it change?
  • What thoughts come and go?
    Are they pleasant or unpleasant? Related or unrelated?
    Don’t analyse or intellectualise at this stage, there’s plenty of time for that later.

Stay curious and open minded towards your own reactions. There are no right or wrong answers. Isn’t it interesting what does/doesn’t come up?

It is totally O.K. if you catch your mind wandering off. Simply make a note of what you were thinking about and bring it gently back to the artwork.

Mindfully experiencing a piece of art like this is emotional rather than analytical. It is surprisingly difficult to do without getting lost in internal narratives or judgements.

Stick with it, it does gets easier with practice. Learning to find that balance of focus is the first step to getting more from art than you ever imagined.

Step 2: Place it.

The second step in art appreciation is to place the artwork in your mental art map.

Read the accompanying placard (or ask someone else) to get a sense of “What”, “Who” and “When”.

Whatever the art form, this taxonomical information will sound something like:

  • This is a [Movement/style] [Sub-format] [Format] called [Name] created by [Creator] in/on [Date]
  • e.g., This is Fauvist oil painting called “Dance” created by Henri Matisse in 1910

This information is only a tiny part of the puzzle but it’s a useful way to organise art in your head.

If you’re serious about learning the language of art, write this information down and make a conscious effort to memorise it (there’s more on this in the tips you can send yourself at the top of the page).

Over time you’ll begin building up a sizeable mental art library that is essential for understanding art in its wider context.

Step 3: Understand it.

The final step in appreciating art is to try and understand it.

“Textual details” are those you can’t get from simply experiencing a piece of art. Instead you’ll need prior knowledge or external sources.

Don’t be afraid to look up more details on the spot. This one tip alone will totally change the way you experience your next gallery or museum visit.

You would be amazed at the scandal and gossip behind even the most forgettable portrait of a 17th Century noble. And the life of many artists or your average Greek myth contains more violence, sex and betrayal than an entire season of Game of Thrones.

In the case of much contemporary art, textual detail is often not just a bonus, it is essential. The experienceable artwork itself can be more like evidence at a crime scene: irrelevant and meaningless except in the context of the action or thought that created it.

When trying to get to the “Why” of an artwork there are thee questions you must ask:

  1. What?
  2. Who?; and
  3. What for?

Even if the message of a piece seems straightforward, you’ll soon discover that the full story is “rarely pure and never simple”.

Depending on the work / your levels of interest, you may also find it interesting to ask:

  1. Where?; and
  2. How?

Let’s cover each of these questions in more detail now.

i. What?

The first question to try and understand is “What?”

An artist’s intentions for any given work can range from stunningly simple to bewilderingly complex.

Consider the whole work and also its details. Ask yourself to what extent they are:

  • Representational/figurative
    Who/what/where are the subjects? What are their stories? Why were they included? Common figures in Western art range from characters in popular Greek and Roman myths to Biblical and political figures.
  • Abstract
    What elements of the photo are partly or totally devoid of references to the physical world? Why has the artist chosen abstraction? To express or elicit an emotion? To test an idea? To challenge the viewer’s preconceptions of art?
  • Metaphorical
    What obvious/hidden metaphors is the artist employing? Are the metaphors common or unique? How have they used the specific to comment on the general? Have they subverted the metaphor in some way?
  • Symbolic
    What traditional/subverted symbols has the artist included/omitted? What animals? What plants? What objects? Why? See Living Arts Originals and this Dictionary of Symbolism for  great introductions to symbolism in art.

Read the placard. Look it up on your phone. Ask a guide or gallery attendant. Contact the artist if they’re still alive!

Stay patient and curious. You can’t solve every puzzle in a single sitting.

Especially since many of the pieces are likely to be tied up in…

ii. Who?

In today’s art world, the artist almost always takes centre stage.

And yet, the truth is you will always find five important stakeholders behind any work:

  • The Patron commissions and pays for the artwork.
  • The Artist (and/or their workshop) creates the artwork.
  • The Collector owns the artwork.
  • The Exhibitor makes the artwork available to the viewer.
  • The Viewer experiences the artwork.

What do you know about these stakeholders today/historically?

  • Who are/were they?
  • What sort of time did they exist in?
  • What are/were their wider goals/motives?
  • If they’re an institution; who funds or owns them?
  • How and why have they changed over time?

Don’t underestimate the importance of this piece of the puzzle.

Without it you’ll find it much harder to fully understand…

iii. What for?

“What for?” ties together “What?” and “Who?”. It is the critical piece of the puzzle.

The two most immediately relevant “What for?”s to think about are:

  • Why was this artwork originally created? and;
  • What is the exhibitor trying to achieve by showing me this artwork today?

You might be surprised at how different the answers to these two questions are. What does this tell you?

Put yourself in the shoes of each stakeholder. Keep asking Why? – Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

  • Why did the patron commission this work? Why from this artist? Why in this format?
  • Why did the artist take on the work? Why did they choose to realise their idea in this way?
  • Why did the collector acquire this piece work? Why have they lent it to the exhibitor?
  • Why is the exhibitor displaying this work? Why now? Why in this collection? Why in this way?
  • Why are you here? Why are other viewers here? Why was this work important to the original viewers?

Remember: Artworks are tools. They serve different purposes for different people at different times.

They record and tell stories. They express and elicit emotions. They communicate or comment on the balance of power and authority. They attract money, fame and prestige.

Understanding these purposes will uncover new levels of meaning within an artwork. They will reveal hidden as well as public motives.

Perhaps most importantly, they will prompt you to challenge, rather than simply accept, the work as it’s being shown to you today.

iv. Where

Many artworks are commissioned and created with a final exhibition point already in mind. This spatial context has probably influenced the artist’s choice of content, format and technical approach.

This is important because exhibiting an artwork outside of its intended context can deeply impact its meaning. The power and authority of a work can disappear or even be reversed entirely by simply changing where and how it is presented. This is especially true for religious and political art.

Some things to consider include:

  • Location
    Was the artwork originally destined for a gallery? a church? a palace? a house? outdoors?
    Was it meant for a specific location? Was intended to be public/private?
  • Space
    What kind of space was the artwork destined for? Was it prominent? Or supporting another work?
    Was it meant for a stairwell or a corridor? On a wall? Above a door?
  • Lighting
    What kind of lighting was the artwork designed for? Were the levels of light high or low?
    Was the source natural? candles? an electric bulb?

Take a moment to think about the artwork in its original space.

Ask yourself:

  • Why has the exhibitor chosen this new context?
  • How could this have changed the way I relate to the work?
  • Is/how has the meaning of the artwork changed with the context?

You may learn things about both the artwork and the exhibitor that surprise you.

v. How

As of writing, Wikipedia lists the following formats under its article “The Arts“:

Some items may seem strange to you. You may feel outraged that others haven’t featured at all.

Where are calligraphy? Or metallurgy? Or textiles? Or gastronomy? Or any other number of creative forms of expression?

It is worth noting that the formats we traditionally consider as artistic vary considerably between individuals, societies and time periods.

One thing though is certain: whatever the format of a piece of art, learning more about that format will give you new meaning and perspective on the artwork.

If you’re interested in a specific format: start by reading or watching a good video on it (e.g., this superb video on sculpting in stone).

Even better, do a basic course in it. Nothing will give you more appreciation for oil paintings than learning the basics of the craft. Or for a killer guitar solo than learning to play the guitar.

Ask yourself:

  • Why the artist may have chosen this format?
  • What were the benefits? And the tradeoffs?
  • How has this work been influenced by their skill or experience in other formats?
  • How could/have others presented the same idea in different formats?

Do this and you may find the insights you reveal both surprising and rewarding.

How to Criticise Art.

Art criticism is the process of evaluating a work of art in the context of art theory and art history.

The most important word in this definition is “context”.

  • Art Appreciation requires no knowledge of art beyond the work being examined.
  • Art Criticism demands it.

There are many different ways to approach art criticism. All of them rely on building a deep and wide base of knowledge.

The good news is that the longer and more diligently you appreciate art, the richer and more meaningful your criticism will become.

Here are a few steps you can use to get started:

  1. Make the work part of a wider collection.
    If you’re in a gallery or museum, why not start with the collection the work is currently being presented in.
  2. Take a moment to consider this collection as a whole.
    What story is it telling? Not telling? What else could be included? What omitted?
  3. Now come back to the piece of art. How does it compare to the other works?
    In its ability to fulfil its function? In its influence? Aesthetically?

When art is displayed in galleries/museums, collections are commonly filtered and ordered in one of four ways:

  • By format – e.g., painting, sculpture
  • By/through time – e.g., Roman, 16th – 18th Century
  • By movement/style – e.g., impressionism, fauvism
  • By artist – e.g., as a biographical retrospective

Challenge this presentation and ask yourself: “If I could wave a magic wand, what other works might I compare this one to?”

You can create an infinite number of imaginary collections using any one or more of the following lenses:

  • Who – remember the patron, artist, collector, exhibitor and viewer.
  • When – what other works were being created at this time?
  • What for – how does this work compare to other e.g., political works across any other lenses?
  • Format – how does this work compare within its format? how about with works in other formats?
  • Movement / style – what explicit/implicit broader cultural movement was this work part of?

Go crazy. Consider works of the same size, shape or colour. Compare works that are similar or at different extremes of a spectrum.

As you go through this process it should hopefully become clear how deeply subjective and infinitely varied the field of art criticism is.

The stories commonly told in galleries, museums or text books are not “the” way art should be collected and interpreted. They are simply “a” way.

The fact of the matter is that there is no single best lens or right answer. There may be a number of “most currently accepted” answers but like all inter-subjective realities these too change over time. Don’t be afraid to challenge the assumptions and choices behind the collections you’re being presented.

In the meantime though, the idea of a “most currently accepted answer” brings us neatly to…

How to Become an Art Connoisseur.

What is an Art Connoisseur?

An art connoisseur is someone with excellent judgement in placing artwork within a hierarchy of taste.

In English, that means they’ll tell you not about how good or bad an artwork is but about how good or bad other people will think it is.

In particular, art connoisseurs busy themselves with the tastes, trends and theories of elite and educated segments of appreciators and influencers.

Art connoisseurs come in many forms and with a variety of different motives:

  • Advisors, auction houses, agents, brokers, fairs/festivals, galleries and the like are mostly financially driven; meanwhile
  • Artists, collectors, curators, museums and publications have motives than can be more complex and opaque.

An artist or collector might be driven to create or collect by money, prestige, aesthetics or even some political or social motive.

A curator might be driven by fashion, theory or the desire to make a name for themselves.

The Danger of Museums and Public Galleries

Museums and public galleries are an especially important type of connoisseur for two reasons:

  1. They are how most of us experience the majority of traditional art forms.
  2. Their claims of greater objectivity can create a dangerously false sense of security.

Though museums and public galleries may genuinely aspire to educate objectively, the truth is more complex. For example:

  • Many (e.g., most national) museums were set up specifically to promote artists of a particular nationality or format.
  • Most museums simply do not have the resources to collect and display the best of the best.
  • Every museum is curated by individuals with their own opinions and biases.
  • Every museum needs visitors and prestige to attract funding.

The result is that museums tend to display artworks:

  • That are similar to things we already know and like,
  • In ways that we feel comfortable with; or
  • That overhype the value and importance of their own collections.

This can, in turn, perpetuate a status quo which feeds back into narrow acquisition and exhibition policies.

Don’t get me wrong, museums and public galleries are great – many work extremely hard to do the best they can under conflicting pressures.

Just always remember: no matter where you are, you are never experiencing fact, you are experiencing someone else’s judgement of value.

The Path to Connoisseurship

People say you’re either born with “good taste” or you aren’t: that’s a load of rubbish. Like anything, “good taste” is a learned skill.

That’s not to say it’s easy. Good luck and “Who” as well as “What” you know play an even more important part in connoisseurship than in art criticism. If you work out a reliable formula for either of these then come back and tell me.

For now; here are two things that you can do to set off in the right direction:

First: Learn as much about the art market as possible.

  • Learn the mechanics: From artist and agent through to high-street gallery, art fair/biennale, major gallery and auction house. A superb book for this is Don Thompson’s “$12m Stuffed Shark”.
  • Stay up to date: Stay on top of latest art news. Follow auction schedules and results at major houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s. These will all help you develop an understanding and intuition of “Who” is buying “What” and maybe even “Why”.
  • Get to know the people: Meet as many other fledgling and experienced connoisseurs as possible. Visit galleries and shows with them. Ask them for tips. Ask them for insights. The most rewarding and enlightening sources for learning about art are the people who think, live and breathe it every moment of every day.

Second: Make art and art appreciation as full time as you can. 

  • Appreciate as much art as possible. When it comes to connoisseurship, a working fluency of art is a given. Getting there will mean appreciating as wide a range of art, exhibited in as many ways a possible, as often as you can. Don’t let geography limit you. Do this online or through books and catalogues as well as in person.
  • Read around the topic. Read. Read. Read. Try to understand current theories of Art History. Try to understand the History of Art History. Develop an extensive database of textual details that you can call on whenever required.
  • Learn continuously. Take courses in art theory. Take courses in art practice. Ideally both. Take up drawing, or ceramics or photography. Join a dance school or improv class. Understanding the struggles and limitations of your own creativity will give you new found respect for the works of others. You might even make some new friends!

I know this list sounds intimidating. The good news is that it’s not an all or nothing deal. Start somewhere and keep chugging along. As long as you’re motivated and excited by the world of art, your growth will come steadily and naturally.

And remember, with art, as with pretty much anything in life, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.


I wrote this guide as a way to help me engage more thoughtfully with art when I encounter it. I hope that it’s encouraged you to do the same.

There’s a tendency to view continuously investing in art literacy as an indulgence that’s only accessible and relevant to a select few.

In reality, I don’t think this can be much further from the truth.

Art – be it painting, sculpture and architecture or music, film and dance – permeates and shapes every aspect of our culture and society. It impacts every moment of our day to day lives through the beliefs and attitudes that it reinforces.

What art is harmful and what art is helpful? What art is good and what art is evil? These are the questions that art literacy helps us to answer.

When we engage actively with art we begin recognising and challenging “truths” as they are presented to us rather than just accepting them.

  • What kind of message does it send our children that the Western Canon (the list of artworks recognised as influential for all art) is almost exclusively White, Western and Male?
  • What impact does it have to listen to music that continues to objectify women in way that no other part of our culture will accept?
  • What does it imply to perpetuate art theories that label anything pre-16th century or non-European as “primitive”?

If we don’t make those decisions ourselves then someone else will make them for us. History is full of examples where the few have dictated an unquestioned truth and that path is not one littered with inclusive or benevolent outcomes.

What’s at stake here is not just a nice afternoon wandering around a gallery or museum.

  • It’s our say on what kind of art outlasts us and becomes part of our past.
  • It’s our choice about what kind of art, society and culture we want in our present.
  • It’s our decision as to what kind of step we choose to lay on the path towards the future.

Perhaps you agree. Perhaps you think that’s all a bit melodramatic. In either case, that’s what inspires me to keep going back to art, even if I continue to have very little idea about what’s really going on.

In any case, I hope you’ll agree that with a little bit of work and thought, the world of art can, at least, become a much more interesting and meaningful place.

Thanks for reading. Good luck, enjoy and have fun!

P.s., There’s a very good chance I’ve missed things out and got other things totally wrong. Wherever that’s the case, please tell me! I love being corrected.

Further Reading

“The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art”

“The Value of Art: Money, Power, Beauty”, Michael Findlay

“A Very Short Introduction to Art History”, Dana Arnold

“The Story of Art”, Ernst Gombrich

“Art: Over 2,500 Works from Cave to Contemporary”, Iain Zaczek, Mary Acton

Book Crunch: “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Dale Carnegie

How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie

How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie

“How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Dale Carnegie
360 pages – Paperback | eBook | Audiobook

Perfect for you if:

  • You have a deep desire to improve your ability to deal with people.
  • You’d like to improve your relationships at home and at work.
  • This isn’t the kind of book you would normally read.

“How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a treasure trove of practical tips for building better relationships.

If you asked me for just one book that you should read this year, this would be my recommendation. Its timeless wisdom will change your life.

Think that’s an exaggeration? Consider that:

  • It has sold over 30 million copies since its first edition in 1936.
  • It is consistently voted among the most influential books in American history.
  • It still, to this day, sells hundreds of thousands of copies each year.

So why haven’t you read it yet?

There are two reasons why I almost passed over it when I first picked it up 10 years ago.

  1. The title sounds like a manipulative book on Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP).
  2. I didn’t think I needed advice from someone else on how to make friends or influence people.

Neither of these points could have been further from the truth.

I’ll use Carnegie’s own words to answer the first point:

“The principles taught in this book will work only when they come from the heart. I am not advocating a bag of tricks. I am talking about a new way of life.”

Or perhaps you’d prefer something from Henry Ford:

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

Neither of those statements entails manipulative shortcuts. As you’ll see, it is impossible to apply Carnegie’s tips without genuinely becoming a kinder, more thoughtful person.

As for the second: If you feel uncomfortable reading books on self-improvement, I hear you. The question to ask yourself though is, “What have I got to lose?”

Carnegie’s wise words on the topic are:

 “Nothing will work in all cases – and nothing will work with all people. If you are satisfied with the results you are now getting, why change? If you are not satisfied, why not experiment?”

And it’s an important argument that authors like Timothy Ferriss are are still using today:

“Much of what I recommend will seem impossible and even offensive to basic common sense – I expect that. Resolve now to test the concepts as an exercise in lateral thinking.”

A bet with minimal downside, and a high upside, is one that you should take every time.

And how big is the upside? It’s high. According to the late John D. Rockefeller:

“The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee, and I will pay more for the ability than for any other under the sun.”

Convinced? The good news is that this book is not only good on “Why” and “What”, it’s also great on “How”.

Carnegie ran his popular self-improvement programs for decades with participants from every conceivable walk of life. His book is full of their stories. Stories about how they applied these principles. Stories about the huge changes they made in their own lives.

Reinventing the wheel is an extremely difficult and masochistic pastime. You may remember these wise words from Seneca: tutor to Roman emperors and (at one time) one of the wealthiest men alive:

“There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living; there is nothing harder to learn.”

Read this book. Learn from it. Keep it handy. Refer back to it often (I wish I had followed this advice more faithfully).

It will make you a better person. It will improve your life. Most importantly, it will improve the lives of the people you love and the people you meet each day.

And remember:

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world… as in being able to remake ourselves.”
Mahatma Gandhi

N.B., this feels like a bit of a cheat book crunch as the material is already extremely well organised. You’ll notice a lot more direct quoting than usual. Mainly because “If it ain’t broke…”. Enjoy!

3 Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

  1. Don’t criticise, condemn, or complain. “Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance and arouses resentment.” Put as much time and space between emotion and action as possible. Empathise and forgive. Do not measure others by the standards you set for yourself.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation. “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” but avoid hollow flattery. Instead, make your appreciation heartfelt, sincere and unselfish. Flattery is easily detected and universally condemned.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want. “The only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it… you may want to persuade somebody to do something. Before you speak, pause and ask yourself: ‘How can I make this person want to do it?'”

6 Ways to Make People Like You

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people. “You can make more friends in two months by being interested in them, than in two years by making them interested in you… If we want to make friends, let’s put ourselves out to do things for other people – things that require time, energy, unselfishness and thoughtfulness”. Make it a priority to keep an eye out for things that might improve other people’s lives.
    A great practical tip from Carnegie is as simple as follows:

    1. Take the time to find out the birthday’s of friends and acquaintances.
    2. Make a note of them in your calendar.
    3. Take the time each year to send a physical card.

    This kind of thoughtfulness costs very little but has a huge impact.

  2. Smile. “The expression one wears on one’s face is far more important than the clothes one wears on one’s back.” Smile in everything that you do. Smile sincerely, “An insincere grin… doesn’t fool anybody. We know it is mechanical and we resent it.”. Don’t feel like smiling? Consider Abraham Lincoln’s remark that “most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Still struggling? Fake it until you make it. Force yourself to smile and the mind will often follow.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language. “The average person is more interested in their own name than in all the other names in the world put together.” Remembering a person’s name is a question of effort not ability. Ask a person’s name. Pay attention. Make sure you’ve heard it. Spell it out if need be. Repeat it several times. Build a mental picture. Write it down. Don’t then become the weirdo who thinks repeating the other person’s name after every sentence will make them like you. That’s not how it works, be cool.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. “Exclusive attention to the person who is speaking to you is very important. Nothing else is so flattering as that.” Doing so will soften and subdue even the most violent critic and you may also learn a thing or two. “To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that the other person will enjoy answering.” And remember: “A person’s toothache means more to [them] than a famine… which kills a million people.”
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interest. “The royal road to a person’s heart is to talk about the things he or she treasures most.” Take the time to understand or even research a topic you know is of interest to someone else. Ask them about their past: “Almost every successful person likes to reminisce about their early struggles.” Doing so will not only improve your relationship, it might enlarge your life.
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Obey this golden rule “All the time, everywhere”. Use little phrases like “I’m sorry to trouble you,” “Would you be so kind as to – ?” “Would you mind?” and “Thank you.” “Almost all the people you meet feel superior to you in some way, and a sure way to their heats is to let them realise in some subtle way that you realise their importance and recognise it sincerely.”

12 Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking

  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. “You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lost it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.” because “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still”. Instead try to:
    1. Welcome the disagreement: This might be an opportunity to avoid a serious mistake.
    2. Watch out for and distrust your first instinct to be defensive.
    3. Control your temper.
    4. Listen first.
    5. Look first for areas of agreement.
    6. Be honest about and apologise for your mistakes.
    7. Promise to think over your opponent’s ideas and study them carefully.
    8. Thank the other person sincerely for their time and interest.
    9. Postpone action to give both sides time to think through the problem.
  2. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say “You’re wrong.” It’s “tantamount to saying: ‘I’m smarter than you are.'” Instead, consider that “you will never get into trouble by admitting that you may be wrong” and see the above point. Even if you know you are right, try something like: “I may be wrong. I frequently am. If I’m wrong I want to be put right. Let’s examine the facts.”
  3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. “By fighting you never get enough, but by yielding you get more than you expected.” Have the courage to admit your errors. Let the other person take the role of a collaborative and benevolent forgiver rather than an opponent.
  4. Begin in a friendly way.  Friendliness begets friendliness. Glow with it. Overflow with it. Remember that “a drop of honey can catch more flies than a gallon of gall.” and see also Aesop’s fable “The Wind and the Sun”.
  5. Get the other person saying ‘yes, yes’ immediately. “Begin by emphasising – and keep emphasising – the things on which you agree… that you are both striving for the same end and that your only difference is one of method and not of purpose.” Try to begin with questions to which the only conceivable reply is “Yes”. This will help things get off on a collaborative foot. And remember, “he who treads softly goes far.”
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking. “Let other people talk themselves out. They know more about their business and problems than you do. So ask the questions. Let them tell you a few things… Don’t [interrupt]… They won’t pay attention to you while they still have a lot of ideas of their own crying for expression”. Don’t waste air boasting about your own achievements: “If you want enemies, excel your friends; but if you want friends, let your friends excel you.”
  7. Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers. “You have much more faith in ideas that you discover for yourself than in ideas that are handed to you.” Allow others to design and become invested in their own solutions. Consult with them, collaborate on and influence a half finished idea rather than presenting a final solution. Avoid self-importance, instead remember “The reason why rivers and seas receive the home of a hundred mountain streams is that they keep below them.”
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view. Take the time to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If you can, sit down with a piece of paper and a pen. Set a timer for 10 minutes and begin with the words: “What X is probably feeling now is…” Keep writing from their perspective until the timer goes off.
  9. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires. Begin always with “I don’t blame you one iota for feeling as you do. If I were you I would undoubtedly feel just as you do.” Be honest about your own flaws and idiosyncrasies. It will help you be more sympathetic with those of others. Remember “Three-fourths of the people you will ever meet are hungering and thirsting for sympathy. Give it to them, and they will love you”.
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives. “People are honest and want to discharge their obligations, the exceptions to that rule are comparatively few”. They “will in most cases react favourably if you make them feel that you consider them honest, upright and fair”.
  11. Dramatise your ideas. Present your ideas in an interesting, creative and dramatic way that captures attention. Think laterally; how can you present tabular data in a creative way that encourages interaction and engages more of the senses than just sight? Take your inspiration from television and advertising – they’ve been in this game a long time.
  12. Throw down a challenge. “The way to get things done is to stimulate competition. I do not mean in a sordid money-getting way, but in the desire to excel.” Pay is not enough to motivate people. Instead the work itself must be motivating and exciting. Make performance metrics public. Let people enjoy a challenge. “That is what every successful person loves: the game. The chance for self-expression. The chance to prove his or her worth, to excel, to win.”

9 Ways to Be a Leader and Change People Without Giving Offence or Arousing Resentment

N.b., the judgement and skill behind the “How” in this section is more advanced and subtle. Carnegie illustrates them with some superb examples that are well worth reading in full.

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation. “Beginning with praise is like the dentist who begins with his work with Novocain. The patient still gets a drilling, but the Novocain is pain-killing.”
  2. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly. A great tip given here is to use the word “and” whenever you feel like using the word “but”. This avoids devaluing the initial praise and move feedback to a “good to greater” mindset.
  3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticising the other person. “Admitting one’s own mistakes – even when one hasn’t corrected them – can help convince somebody to change his behaviour.”  Call attention to or remember back to when you also struggled with whatever it is you are giving feedback on. Be open and specific with your examples. Talk about how you (wish you’d) worked through them instead of criticising directly.
  4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders. “Asking questions not only makes an order more palatable; it often stimulates the creativity of the persons whom you ask.” N.B., this doesn’t work with obviously leading questions. Instead, see “Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers.”
  5. Let the other person save face. “I have no right to say or do anything that diminishes a man in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him, but what he thinks of himself. Hurting a man in his dignity is a crime.” It’s also a quick way to shutting down collaboration completely. Even if you must correct or criticise someone, never do it in front of someone else. “Even if we are right and the other person is definitely wrong, we only destroy ego by causing someone to lose face.”
  6. Praise every improvement. “Abilities wither under criticism; they blossom under encouragement.” Can you look back on your own life and see where a few words of praise have sharply changed your entire future? Be specific and sincere. Remember, “we all crave appreciation and recognition, and will do almost anything to get it. But nobody wants insincerity. Nobody wants flattery.”
  7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to. “If you want to improve a person in a certain respect, act as though that particular trait were already one of his or her outstanding characteristics.”
  8. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct. “Be liberal with your encouragement, make the thing seem easy to do, let the other person know that you have faith in his ability to do it, that he has an undeveloped flair for it – and he will practise until the dawn comes in the window in order to excel.”
  9. Make the other person (as) happy (as possible) about doing what you suggest. Even when the task is irreparably undesirable. Try the following approach:
    1. Be sincere. Do not promise anything you can’t deliver. Forget about yourself and concentrate on the benefits to the other person.
    2. Be clear. Know exactly what you want the other person to do.
    3. Be empathetic. Ask yourself what the other person really wants.
    4. Consider the benefits the other person will receive from doing what you suggest.
    5. Match those benefits to the other person’s wants.
    6. Convey the request in a form that highlights those benefits.

Extra: How to make the most of the book

I’m including Carnegie’s own list of tips for making the most of his book because they’re solid advice for reading and self-improvement in general.

  1. Have a deep desire to learn and a determination to increase your ability to deal with people.
  2. Review each chapter quickly. Then go back over it thoroughly.
  3. Stop frequently to reflect and recall.
  4. Highlight and annotate as you read.
  5. Reread and review frequently.
  6. Apply the rules at every opportunity. See this post on the Power of Habit.
  7. Make a game of it. E.g., offer a 1 USD bounty to your friends and family if they catch you breaking its principles.
  8. Conduct a weekly review. Set aside 30 minutes. Ask yourself, what mistakes did you make? Successes? Lessons? What actions can you take to improve?
  9. Record your small wins. Write them down, be specific, review them often!

Start as you mean to go on! These points are worth dwelling on and putting into practice.

TANQ entries for 'How to Win Friends and Influence People'

TANQ is WhyWhatHow’s growing central library of thoughts, anecdotes, notes, and quotes.

“The person who has technical knowledge plus the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership and to arouse enthusiasm among people – that person is headed for higher earning power.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee… And I will pay more for that ability than any other under the sun.”

John D. Rockefeller How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Health is the prime interest of adults… their second interest is people; how to understand and get along with people; how to make people like you; and how to win others to your way of thinking.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.”

Herbert Spencer How to Win Friends and Influence People

“For years I kept an engagement book showing all the appointments I had during the day. My family never made any plans for me on Saturday night, for the family knew that I devoted a part of each Saturday evening to the illuminating process of self-examination and review and appraisal. After dinner, I went off by myself, opened my engagement book, and thought over all the interviews, discussions and meetings that had taken place during the week. I asked myself:

What mistakes did I make that time?

What did I do that was right – and in what way could I have improved my performance?

What lessons can I learn from that experience?

… This system of self-analysis, self-education, continued year after year, did more for me than any other one thing I have ever attempted.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Criticisms are like homing pigeons. They always return home.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Don’t complain about the snow on your neighbour’s roof when your own doorstep is unclean.”

Confucious How to Win Friends and Influence People

“A great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men.”

Thomas Carlyle How to Win Friends and Influence People

“When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices nd motivated by pride and vanity.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“I will speak ill of no man… and speak all the good I know of everybody.”

Benjamin Franklin How to Win Friends and Influence People

“I will speak ill of no man… and speak all the good I know of everybody.”

Benjamin Franklin How to Win Friends and Influence People

“There is only one way under high heaven to get anybody to do anything…. and that is by making the other person want to do it. Remember, there is no other way.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The deepest urge in human nature is ‘the desire to be important.'”

John Dewey How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Some of the people most things want include:

1. Health and the preservation of life.
2. Food.
3. Sleep.
4. Money and the things money will buy.
5. Life in the hereafter.
6. Sexual gratification.
7. The well-being of our children.
8. A feeling of importance.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“If you tell me how you get your feeling of importance, I’ll tell you what you are. That determines your character.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among my people the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement. There is nothing that so kills the ambitions of a person as criticisms from superiors. I never criticise anyone. I believe in giving a person incentive to work. So I am anxious to praise but loath to find fault. If I like anything, I am hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise.”

Charles Schwab How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Here lies a man who knew how to get around him men who were cleverer than himself.” (Epitaph)

Andrew Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The difference between appreciation and flattery? That is simple. One is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; the other selfish. One is universally admired; the other universally condemned.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Don’t be afraid of enemies who attack you. Be afraid of the friends who flatter you.”

General Alvaro Obregon How to Win Friends and Influence People

“I shall pass this way but once; any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Disputed How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Every act you have ever performed since the day you were born was performed because you wanted something.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Action springs out of what we fundamentally desire… and the best piece of advice which can be given to would-be persuaders, whether in business, in the home, in the school, in politics, is: First arouse in the other person an eager want. He who can do this has the whole world with him. He who cannot walks a lonely way.”

Hard A. Overstreet How to Win Friends and Influence People

“[Andrew Carnegie’s] sister in law was worried sick over her two boys. They were at Yale, and they were so busy with their own affairs that they neglected to write home and paid no attention whatever to their mother’s frantic letters.

Then Carnegie offered to wager a hundred dollars that he could get an answer by return mail, without even asking for it. Someone called his bet; so he wrote his nephews a chatty letter, mentioning casually in a postscript that he was sending each one a five-dollar bill.

He neglected, however, to enclose the money.

Back came the replies by return mail thanking ‘Dear Uncle Andrew’ for his kind note and – you can finish the sentence yourself.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Most people go through college and learn to read Virgil and master the mysteries of calculus without ever discovering how their own minds function.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others. It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring.”

Alfred Adler How to Win Friends and Influence People

“You have to be interested in people if you want to be a successful writer of stories.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“[Howard] Thurston’s method was totally different. He told me that every time he went on stage he said to himself: ‘I am grateful because these people have come to see me. They make it possible for me to make my living in a very agreeable way. I’m going to give them the very best I possibly can.’

He declared he never stepped in front of the footlights without first saying to himself over and over: ‘I love my audience. I love my audience.'”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“We are interested in others when they are interested in us.”

Publius Syrus How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The expression one wears on one’s face is far more important than the clothes one wears on one’s back… That is why dogs make such a hit. They are so glad to see us that they almost jump out of their skins. So naturally, we are glad to see them.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“You must have a good time meeting people if you expect them to have a good time meeting you.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not. Thus the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there.”

William James How to Win Friends and Influence People

“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

William Shakespeare How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Abraham Lincoln How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Whenever you go out-of-doors, draw the chin in, carry the crown of the head high, and fill the lungs to the utmost; drink in the sunshine; greet your friends with a smile, and put soul into every handclasp. Do not fear being misunderstood and do not waste a minute thinking about your enemies. Try to fix firmly in your mind what you would like to do; and then, without veering off direction, you will move straight to the goal. Keep your mind on the great and splendid things you would like to do, and then, as the days go gliding away, you will find yourself unconsciously seizing upon the opportunities that are required for the fulfillment of your desire, just as the coral insect takes from the running tide the element it needs. Picture in your mind the able, earnest, useful person you desire to be, and the thought you hold is hourly transforming you into that particular individual… Thought is supreme. Preserve a right mental attitude – the attitude of courage, frankness, and good cheer. To think rightly is to create. All things come through desire and every sincere prayer is answered. We become like that on which our hearts are fixed. Carry your chin in and the crown of your head high. We are gods in chrysalis.”

Elbert Hubbard How to Win Friends and Influence People

“A man without a smiling face must not open a shop.”

Chinese Proverb How to Win Friends and Influence People

The Value of a Smile at Christmas

It costs nothing, but creates much.
It enriches those who receive, without impoverishing those who give. It happens in a flash and the memory of it sometimes lasts forever.
None are so rich they can get along without it, and none so poor but are richer for its benefits.
It creates happiness in the home, fosters goodwill in a business, and is the countersign of friends.
It is rest to the weary, daylight to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and Nature’s best antidote for trouble.
Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed or stolen, for it is something that is no earthly good to anybody till it is given away.
And if in the last-minute rush of Christmas buying some of our salespeople should be too tired to give you a smile, may we ask you to leave one of yours?
For nobody needs a smile so much as those who have none left to give!”

A New York Department Store How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The average person is more interested in his or her own name than in all the other names on earth put together.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Few human beings are proof against the implied flattery of rapt attention.”

Jack Woodford How to Win Friends and Influence People

“There is no mystery about successful business intercourse… Exclusive attention to the person who is speaking to you is very important. Nothing else is so flattering as that.”

Charles W. Eliot How to Win Friends and Influence People

“If you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments. Remember that the people you are talking to are a hundred times more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they are in you and your problems. A person’s toothache means more to that person than a famine in China which kills a million people.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Whenever Roosevelt expected a visitor, he sat up late the night before reading up on the subject in which he knew his guest was particularly interested. For … the royal road to a person’s heart is to talk about the things he or she treasures most.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Jesus Christ How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The unvarnished truth is that almost all the people you meet feel themselves superior to you in some way, and the sure way to their hearts is to let them realize in some subtle way that you realize their importance, and recognize it sincerely.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Talk to people about themselves and they will listen for hours.”

Benjamin Disraeli How to Win Friends and Influence People

“There is only one way under high heaven to get the best of an argument – and that is to avoid it… You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lost it; and if you win it, you lose it.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“A man convinced against his will
Is of the same opinion still.”

Anon How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Hatred is never ended by hatred but by love.”

Gautama Buddha How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Yield larger things to which you show no more than equal rights; and yield lesser ones though clearly your own. Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him in contesting for that right. Even killing the dog would not cure the bite.”

Abraham Lincoln How to Win Friends and Influence People

“When one yells, the other should listen – because when two people yell, there is no communication, just noise and bad vibrations.”

Jan Peerce How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Men must be taught as if you taught them not
And things unknown proposed as things forgot.”

Alexander Pope How to Win Friends and Influence People

“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him to find it within himself.”

Galileo Galilei How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Be wiser than other people if you can; but do not tell them so.”

Lord Chesterfield How to Win Friends and Influence People

“You will never get into trouble by admitting that you may be wrong. That will stop all argument and inspire your opponent to be just as fair and open and broad-minded as you are. It will make him want to admit that he, too, may be wrong.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“We are incredibly heedless in the formation of our beliefs, but find ourselves filled with an illicit passion for them when anyone proposes to rob us of their companionship.”

James Harvey Robinson How to Win Friends and Influence People

“When we are wrong, we may admit it to ourselves. And if we are handled gently and tactfully, we may admit it to others and even take pride in our frankness and broad-mindedness. But not if someone is trying to ram an unpalatable fact down our oesophagus.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“By fighting you never get enough, but by yielding you get more than you expected.”

Anon How to Win Friends and Influence People

“If you come at me with your fists doubled, I think I can promise you that mine will double as fast as yours; but if you come to me and say, ‘Let us sit down and take counsel together, and, if we differ from each other, understand why it is that we differ, just what the points at issue are’, we will presently find that we are not so far apart after all, that the points on which we differ are few and the points on which we agree are many, and that if we only have the patience and candour and the desire to get together, we will get together.”

Woodrow Wilson How to Win Friends and Influence People

“He who treads softly goes far.”

Chinese Proverb How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The reason why rivers and seas receive the homage of a hundred mountain streams is that they keep below them. Thus they are able to reign over all the mountain streams. So the sage, wishing to be above men, putteth himself below them; wishing to be before them, he putteth himself behind them. Thus, though his place be above men, they do not feel his weight; though his place be before them, they do not count it an injury.”

Lao-tse How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Stop a minute to contrast your keen interest in your own affairs with your mild concerns about anything else. Realise then, that everybody else in the world feels exactly the same way! Then, along with Lincoln and Roosevelt, you will have grasped the only solid foundation for interpersonal relationships; namely, that success in dealing with people depends on a sympathetic grasp of the other person’s viewpoint.”

Kenneth M. Goode How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Sympathy the human species universally craves. The child eagerly displays his injury; or even inflicts a cut or bruise in order to reap abundant sympathy. For the dame purpose adults… show their bruises, relate their accidents, illness, especially details of surgical operations. ‘Self-pity’ for misfortunes real or imaginary is, in some measure, practically a universal practice.”

Dr. Arthur I. Gates How to Win Friends and Influence People

“A person usually has two reasons for doing a thing: one that sounds good and a real one.”

J. Pierpont Morgan How to Win Friends and Influence People

“Nothing will work in all cases – and nothing will work with all people. If you are satisfied with the results you are now getting, why change? If you are not satisfied, why not experiment?”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The way to get things done is to stimulate competition. I do not mean in a sordid money-getting way, but in the desire to excel.”

Charles Schwab How to Win Friends and Influence People

“All men have fears, but the brave put down their fears and go forward, sometimes to death, but always to victory.”

Motto of the King’s Guard in ancient Greece How to Win Friends and Influence People

“That is what every successful person loves: the game. The chance for self-expression. The chance to prove his or her worth, to excel, to win.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“It isn’t nearly so difficult to listen to a recital of your faults if the person criticising begins by humbly admitting that he, too, is far from impeccable.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“I have no right to say or do anything that diminishes a man in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him, but what he thinks of himself. Hurting a man in his dignity is a crime.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry How to Win Friends and Influence People

“If you want to improve a person in a certain respect, act as though that particular trait were already one of his or her outstanding characteristics.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

“The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear to do and get a record of successful experiences behind you.”

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People

Book Crunch: “The Mysterious Stranger”, Mark Twain

The Mysterious Stranger, Mark Twain

The Mysterious Stranger, Mark Twain

“The Mysterious Stranger”, Mark Twain
Print length: 88 pages. Buy on Amazon.

Perfect for you if:

  • You’ve yet to read something by Mark Twain.
  • Your glass is half-empty and you’re seeking company.
  • You’re feeling on top of the world and need some perspective.

I’ve come across so many good Mark Twain quotes in great books that I wanted to crunch something by him. I decided on “The Mysterious Stranger” over something like “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer / Huckleberry Fin” because, based on quick research, it promised (and turned out) to be dark and philosophical.

“The Mysterious Stranger” is an unfinished novella that explores themes of morality, mortality and religion. Twain worked on many versions of the story during a “dark period” of grief, financial difficulty and depression towards the end of his life.

In 1916, after Twain’s death, Albert Paine – an author and biographer who kept sole, private control of Twain’s papers – published this version after what was later discovered to be extensive editing. Nevertheless, it’s a quick and excellent read. I’ll definitely be coming back for more Twain, including hunting down some of the other variations of this story.

This version is set in a quiet village in 16th century Austria at the height of a wave of early modern witch hunts. The plot revolves around a discussion between a young boy and an angel, Satan – the sinless nephew of his more well-known uncle – as events in the village unfold into nightmarish chaos.

Twain uses the story’s characters and the contrasting innocence of the boy and angel to make some blunt observations about humanity.

It’s hard to wrap up philosophy in bullet points but for me it went something like:

  • We can distinguish good from evil,
  • And yet, despite claiming many good qualities for ourselves,
  • We “nine times out of ten” choose evil:
    • Because we are cowards;
    • Because we are selfish; and
    • Because we are shortsighted.
      • Both wilfully and ignorantly.
      • Across time and space.
      • To our benefit and to the cost of others.

And yet:

  • Our entire life is just a subjective illusion.
  • And we have no real control over our fate anyway.

Oh, and by the way:

  • Religion is a lie,
  • There is no afterlife, and
  • Our existence is fleeting, inconsequential and purposeless.

As I mentioned, a “dark period”. And yet the story’s unfolding chaos is as inescapably compelling as an accident at the side of the road or a public celebrity meltdown.

It’s hard not to read Twain’s struggle with conflicting duality without confronting your own. “Not me”, you can’t help but think, “I wouldn’t act like that”. And yet you can’t deny seeing your own failings in some of Twain’s characters without feeling guilty of the hypocrisy of others.

All in all, “The Mysterious Stranger” is a book that surfaces more uncomfortable questions than it answers. You can feel Twain’s struggle to make sense of it all. To make one truth from many. To deal with the frustrating reality of multiple conflicting truths††.

It’s a book that I’ll need to come back to more than once to fully un-puzzle.

In the meantime, have a read and let me know what you think!


† For more on shortsightedness when it comes to consequences here’s a wonderful Chinese parable:

sàiwēng-shīmǎ, yān zhī fēi fú
When the old man from the frontier lost his horse, how could one have known that it would not be fortuitous?

It can be difficult to foresee the twists and turns which compel misfortune to beget fortune, and vice versa. There once was a (father), skilled in divination, who lived close to the frontier (with his son). One of his horses accidentally strayed into the lands of the Xiongnu, so everyone consoled him. (But) the father said, “Why should I hastily (conclude) that this is not fortunate?” After several months, the horse came back from the land of the Xiongnu, accompanied by another stallion, so everyone congratulated him. (But) the father said, “Why should I hastily (conclude) that this can not be unfortunate?” His family had a wealth of fine horses, and his son loved riding them. One day (the son) fell off a horse, and broke his leg, so everyone consoled (the father). (But) the father said, “Why should I hastily (conclude) that this is not fortunate?” One year later, the Xiongnu invaded the frontier, and all able-bodied men took up arms and went to war. Of the men from the frontier (who volunteered), nine out of ten men perished (from the fighting). It was only because of (the son’s) broken leg, that the father and son were spared (this tragedy). Therefore misfortune begets fortune, and fortune begets misfortune. This goes on without end, and its depths can not be measured. (Wiktionary translation)

Liu An The Huainanzi

†† For more on conflicting truths here’s a superb poetic version of an old Indian parable:

Based on the Indian parable:

It was six men of Indostan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear,
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approach’d the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” -quoth he- “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” -quoth he,-
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said- “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” -quoth he,- “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!


So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean;
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

John Godfrey Saxe

TANQ entries for “The Mysterious Stranger”

TANQ is WhyWhatHow’s growing central library of thoughts, anecdotes, notes, and quotes.

“A child’s first act knocks over the initial brick, and the rest will follow inexorably.”

Mark Twain The Mysterious Stranger

“For a million years [mankind] has gone on monotonously propagating itself and monotonously re-performing this dull nonsense-to what end? No wisdom can guess!”

Mark Twain The Mysterious Stranger

“Of all the things to bear, to be cut by your neighbours and left in contemptuous solitude is maybe the hardest.”

Mark Twain The Mysterious Stranger

“Every man is a suffering-machine and a happiness machine combined.”

Mark Twain The Mysterious Stranger

“[Mankind] is made up of sheep. It is governed by minorities, seldom or never by majorities. It suppresses its feelings and its beliefs and follows the handful that makes the most noise… The vast majority … are secretly kind-hearted and shrink from inflicting pain, but in the presence of the aggressive and pitiless minority they don’t dare to assert themselves.”

Mark Twain The Mysterious Stranger

“We do not know good fortune from bad, and are always mistaking the one for the other.”

Mark Twain The Mysterious Stranger

“Of the score of fine qualities which [mankind] imagined it had and was vain of, it really possessed hardly one.”

Mark Twain The Mysterious Stranger

“Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution – these can lift at a colossal humbug – push it a little – weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast.”

Mark Twain The Mysterious Stranger

“Knowledge was not good for the common people, and could make them discontented with the lot which God had appointed for them, and He would not endure discontentment with His plans.”

Mark Twain The Mysterious Stranger

“There is a sort of pathos about it when one remembers how few are your days, how childish you pomps, and what shadows you are!”

Mark Twain The Mysterious Stranger

“In five or six thousand years, five or six high civilisations have risen, flourished, commanded the wonder of the world, then faded and disappeared.”

Mark Twain The Mysterious Stranger

“In any community, big or little, there is always a fair proportion of people who are not malicious or unkind by nature, and who never do unkind things except when they are overmastered by fear, or when their self-interest is greatly in danger, or some such matter as that.”

Mark Twain The Mysterious Stranger

“Change of scenes shifts the mind’s burden to the other shoulder and banishes the old, shop-worn weariness from mind and body both.”

Mark Twain The Mysterious Stranger

10 Steps to Learn Any Skill (and Why They Will Change Your Life)

How to: Learn Any Skill

How to: Learn Any Skill

Perfect for you if:

  • You can’t remember the last time you read a book or picked up a new skill.
  • You struggle with boredom, depression, anxiety or a lack of purpose.
  • You’re looking for ways to supercharge your learning skills.

When was the last time you read a non-fiction book? Or made real tangible progress learning a new skill? Was it a week ago? A month? A year? At school?

This is a serious question. The fact is that the moment you stopped learning is the moment you stopped growing. Your development froze at the moment you decided to ask no more questions or read no more books.

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”
Albert Einstein

Non-learners generally fall in to two buckets.

  1. People who claim they have no free time.
  2. People that suffer from a lack of inspiration.

Of the first group, only a very small minority are in a genuinely difficult position. Even then, genuine difficulty is usually only temporary.

How many hours a week do you spend watching TV (for the average American it’s over 5 per day)? Or mindlessly browsing ‘news’ or social media? Or chatting with colleagues at work? You owe it to yourself to take this time back.

“Lack of time is actually lack of priorities.”
Timothy Ferriss

If someone gave you an alternative, could you get your work finished by 5 P.M. each day? How about 3 P.M.? Work expands to fill the time available to it. The truth is that many of us lack alternative uses for our time. We work because we have no alternatives except for work. How long have you been living to work rather than working to live?

The second group has even fewer excuses. “Only boring people get bored” my grandma used to tell me. She was right:

“Progressive automation will probably lead to an enormous increase in the leisure hours available to the average worker. The pity of it is that many of these will not know what to do with all their newly acquired free time.”
Viktor Frankl

There are so many skills to learn. So many lists and options readily at our finger tips. Never have we lived in a time where so much information is so accessible and affordable. Never have we had so much choice and freedom.

There is more free, high quality learning material available on the internet than a million people could process in a million life-times. There are free online resources to learn maths, languages, science, cooking, history or yoga. There are air-fares to surf beaches for less than the cost of a round of drinks. There are free parks, museums and libraries full of knowledge just waiting to be uncovered.

“We can discover the meaning of life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”
Viktor Frankl

But perhaps the most important reason to learn a new skill this year is meaning. Meaning in the active pursuit of some goal. Meaning in the added richness and complexity of the world around us that learning brings. Meaning in the people we meet and the communities we join along the way.

If you are bored, or anxious, or depressed or lonely or demotivated then I offer you this one simple solution: learn something new this year. It doesn’t matter much what it is. Pick something new and decide to learn it and learn it well.

Unfreezing yourself is as simple as reversing the decisions you’ve made.

And it will change your life in ways you cannot possibly imagine.

10 Steps to Learn Any Skill

  1. Week 0: Decide What to Learn.
  2. Week 1 – 4: Get Started Right Away.
  3. Week 2 – 4: Read the Manual. 
  4. Week 2 – 4: Make a List.
  5. Week 5: Commit to a Goal.
  6. Week 5: Make a Plan.
  7. Week 6 – 21: Practise.
  8. Week 6 – 21: Teach.
  9. As Needed: Take Breaks.
  10. Every Week: Be Persistent and Patient.

1. Decide What to Learn.

Suggested Timing: Week 0.

There are thousands of subjects, languages, sports, musical instruments, or skills to learn.

But, whether stuck for inspiration or paralysed by choice, it can be harder to pick something to learn than we think.

Make a list.

Nothing unlocks inspiration like a good list. These days most can be found with a quick online search.

Why not check out the Dewey Decimal system for ideas? Or the wikipedia page of Olympic sports? Or some lists of valuable career skills?

Think laterally and borrow liberally. What are your friends good at? Or your bosses? What were Einstein’s hobbies? What juicy ideas can you find in the exclusions list of your health insurance?

Prioritise the list.

Narrowing down the list once you’ve got it can be more problematic. When prioritising projects, think in terms of:

  1. Utility; and
  2. Excitement.

Skills with high utility are useful to you and/or other people, the more immediately practical the better. When a skill has high utility you’ll have more opportunities to enjoy and practice it every day. You might even be able to use it to boost your income.

Skills with high excitement are just that. Learning to do a backflip (ideally on a pair of skis) is not particularly useful. It is, however, awesome. If it gets you out of bed and exercising 6 hours a day, chalk it up as a win.

A big part of both utility and excitement is people. Learn to cook or dance with your partner because it will bring you closer together. Learn to run because it’s a great excuse to bond with friends. Learn languages because it increases the number and depth of connections you can make. Learn to teach or give first aid because it will help you to help others.

Whatever you choose, don’t forget that the vast majority of your happiness in life is accounted for by your relationships.

An ideal skill scores highly on both utility and excitement. If you have to choose, excitement always wins. Forcing yourself to learn because you feel you should is a tortuous path to self-improvement.

Go with your gut.

Don’t get caught up in other people’s ideas of what you should and shouldn’t learn.

The path to self-improvement is only wide enough for one. When the going gets tough, the only person’s determination you’ll have to fall back on is your own.

Both utility and excitement are personal and subjective. The important thing is that you feel personally motivated by your choice!

Also, don’t overthink it. You’re not making a life commitment. The best way to get learning is just to…

2. Get Started Right Away.

Suggested Timing: Week 1 – 4.

Narrow your list down. Write down the very next action you can take to get started. Do it right away.

Search for a nearby class and call to sign up. Pull on a pair of trainers plus the closest thing you have to exercise clothes and go for a run. Read an article, buy a book or watch an online lesson or lecture.

Don’t invest lots of money into equipment. Don’t sink lots of time into planning. Instead, get started. Test early. Build momentum. This valuable experiment will familiarise you with the realities of your choice.

How do you feel about the new skill after a couple of early pilot sessions?

Not what you were expecting? No worries! Celebrate ticking “Try XXX” off the bucket list. Now go back and pick something else.

Still excited and motivated? That’s awesome! Keep doing what you’re doing and in the meantime…

3. Read the Manual.

Suggested Timing: Week 2 – 4.

“All I have learned, I learned from books.”
Abraham Lincoln

Our ability to access, learn from and add to the knowledge of the collective is at the core of human progress.

This idea applies to all skills. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been eating, socialising, running or breathing your whole life. At least one person has done more of it, more thoughtfully than you.

As a result, they’ve worked out better ways of doing and of learning how to do it. If you’re lucky, they’ve written this knowledge down. If you’re even luckier, they’re still alive.

Resist the urge to dive in. Instead, spend a couple of weeks finding these people – be they friends, family, teachers or fellow learners.  Find their knowledge in books, speeches, poems, articles, guides, frameworks, films and podcasts.

There are no shortcuts in learning but there are many quick routes to failure. Drinking deeply from the experiences of others will save you years of future dead ends and frustrations.

Consider also researching at one or two levels of abstraction from the skill you’re trying to learn. For example, when learning “Russian”, also research “Language Learning” and “Learning” or “Memory”.

As your practical experiment and theoretical research continues…

4. Make a List. 

Suggested Timing: Week 2 – 4.

Make a list of everything and anything you come across that might be helpful for learning your skill.

Some of the things you write down might include:

  • Inspirational goals and milestones;
  • Different learning approaches;
  • Useful equipment and tools;
  • Great schools and/or teachers;
  • Clubs, societies and communities; and
  • Any extra reading or research.

Whatever it is, write it down. Don’t worry too much about organising or prioritising your list at this stage – you’re in collection mode.

Once you’ve gathered a mighty list it’s time to…

5. Commit to a Goal. 

Suggested Timing: Week 5.

By now you’ve probably learned enough to have a stab at setting a good first goal.

Write your goals down.

Even if you ignore all the other steps below, make sure you write down your goals.

The simple act of writing down a goal or resolution makes it up to 10x more likely that you will achieve it.

When you write your goals, make them positive, present and first person. Write them as if you have already achieved them.

Make your goals SMART.

The best goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time Bound.

An example of non-SMART goal might be “I learn to play the violin”.

An example of SMART goals might be “I pass my grade 1 violin exam with a Distinction by Y month” or “I play these X violin pieces to 5 friends on Y date. ”

Stick to a 3 – 4 month (12 – 16 week) timeline.

If you’ve ever set 12 month goals you’ll probably be familiar with how vague and uncertain these can feel.

The fact is that the future is highly unpredictable. We also tend to overestimate what we can achieve in a day but underestimate what we can achieve in a year.

To solve this, break down your goals into 3 – 4 month milestones and focus on the next milestone only. This will keep your plan tight, realistic, immediate and tangible.

Set multiple, tiered goals.

Setting multiple, tiered goals is a great way to stay on track in the face of unexpected set-backs.

Make the first goal wildly ambitious. The second goal should be challenging but realistic. The third should focus on completion over performance.

For example, for running you could set three goals:

  1. “I complete X marathon within the top 100 competitors on Z date”
  2. “I complete X marathon within Y time on Z date”
  3. “I complete X marathon on Z date”

These tiered goals make it much less likely that you’ll give up completely in the event of an unexpected injury or training setback.

Make a commitment.

The first commitment you make is to yourself. This is why writing down your goals is so important.

The most powerful commitments you make are to others:

  • Tell your partner, friends, family and colleagues.
  • Tell the members of your learning group or club.
  • Commit to and work towards the goal with someone else.
  • Raise money publicly for charity.

Nothing is more motivating than making a public commitment to others. They will pick you up when you are down and hold you accountable if you fail.

Once you’ve made a commitment to your first milestone…

6. Make a Plan.

Suggested Timing: Week 5.

Set aside a few hours to hammer out a good plan that covers What, How and When.

N.B., Each part of the plan will influence the others and even your original goals.

Don’t be afraid to go back, iterate and change things as you go through the process.

What are you going to do?

Start with your goal, and break it down into the components you will need to work on to get there.

What are the major components? What do you need to achieve? What are the big obstacles? Why aren’t you already there yet?

Use the ABCDE technique to prioritise the things that will have the greatest positive/negative impact on your goal.

Write A next to items you must do. B is for should dos. C is for dice to dos. D is for things you can delegate. E is for anything you can eliminate.

Now order your list by priority and sequence to give yourself a rough to-do list.

How are you going to do it?

During your research you’ll have uncovered many different ways to learn your skill.

Some will clearly be better than others. Some will come down to personal conditions, limitations or preferences.

In any case, go with your gut and focus on as few approaches as possible for the next 12 – 16 weeks.

When are you going to do it?

With the “What” and the “How” in place it’s time to decide on the “When”.

It can be helpful for many skills to borrow a training periodisation approach from athletics.

In the 16 weeks leading up to a goal a typical program might look like:

  • 8 weeks basic training;
  • 4 weeks specialising in key skills;
  • 3 weeks overtraining specifically for the goal; and
  • 1 week of tapering and recovery.

So, for a language exam taking place in 16 weeks you might spend:

  • 8 weeks learning vocabulary and grammar alone and with teachers;
  • 4 weeks working on specific reading, writing, listening and speaking exercises;
  • 3 weeks pushing yourself hard on past and example exam papers; and
  • 1 week of light speaking, reading and vocabulary flash cards.

This level of planning might seem like over kill but it will make a massive difference to your progress.

With your plan in place it’s time to double down on…

7. Practise. 

Suggested Timing: Week 6 – 21.

Practice every day.

Do something every day that moves you towards your goal.

If possible, schedule a regular time(s) each day to focus on your skill.

Earlier is always better. You are most well rested earlier in the day. There is also less opportunity for surprises to have deviated you from your best laid plans.

That said, everyone’s schedule is different. Make or find time in your day, every day, even if only in the unexpected moments of waiting.

Practice little and often.

Scientific research is very clear that the tortoise always beats the hare.

You have a maximum of 4 – 6 hours of really good, focussed work in you each day. No more. You might work for longer but you are no longer at your best.

For maximum productivity, consider breaking these hours up into ~2 hour segments with ~15 – 30 minute breaks in-between. During these breaks, go for a walk or do something totally different.

Disconnecting occasionally from your practice will allow your brain refresh itself. It will also disengage attention in a way that promotes creative insight.

Practise purposefully.

Avoid slipping into illusions of confidence. Identify your gaps and weaknesses honestly. Work always on the things that you find most difficult.

Test yourself by recalling the main points at the end of every page or chapter. Synthesise concepts in lectures as they’re explained instead of parroting.

Learning is a physiologically intensive process. It is not easy and effortless. If it feels that way – you’re probably not learning.

This is especially true when it comes to using teachers. Teachers are tools that have three purposes:

  1. To introduce and break down difficult concepts.
  2. To help you overcome obstacles in your learning.
  3. To keep pushing you forward into unchartered territory.

Teachers are not there to spoon information into your head whilst you listen passively. Nor can they.

Work and practice purposefully by yourself. Remember what teachers are there for and use them accordingly.

Defeat distraction.

Distraction is the first enemy of productive practice. Luckily, it is easy to defeat.

First, refuse to multitask. Physically clear everything away and turn anything off that might distract you during your practice.

Next, if you can, work at your new skill in a quiet, dedicated place where others cannot disturb you.

The ability to work single-mindedly on the task at hand is one of the most important productivity hacks there is.

Pounce on procrastination.

Procrastination is the second enemy of productive practice. It is caused most often by lack of will or lack of skill.

There are two easy ways to overcome a short-term lack of will and regain momentum:

  1. Break the current task down into smaller, easier steps. What is the very next thing you can do?
  2. Decide to work on the current task for e.g., 10, 15 or 20 minutes and then take a short break.

Overcoming a lack of skill is often as simple as making a mini-plan to learn whatever it is that is holding you back (see practise purposefully).

If these approaches don’t help or you suspect your problem might go deeper, it might be time to take a break (see step 9).

8. Teach.

Suggested Timing: Week 6 – 21.

Teaching forces you to break down, synthesise and internalise complex concepts (a.k.a., learning).

As you learn, bring to mind a specific person and ask yourself how you would go about teaching them this concept.

Run through the words and frameworks your would use in your head. Can you explain it clearly? Where are your gaps?

You can do this exercise no matter what stage you’re at, even if you don’t have an opportunity to teach the skill in real life.

9. Take breaks.

Suggested Timing: As Needed.

Taking planned and regular breaks at the end of each milestone is as important as it may feel counterintuitive.

Give yourself a fortnight or more of total time off after each milestone to celebrate and rest – you deserve it!

Here are several reasons why it is also one of the best ways to supercharge your long-term learning:

Time to recover.

Pushing yourself hard over a long period leads to a build up of physical and mental fatigue that is deadly to productivity.

At best, failing to take breaks will drastically reduce your future productivity. At worst, it could lead to burn out that lasts weeks, months or years.

If you’re worried about losing fitness, stamina or momentum why not try light work at a complementary skill?

If you run, try cycling or swimming. If you’re learning a language, try singing lessons. If you’re learning a musical instrument, try painting.

You may even learn valuable things that you can bring back to your primary skill (a.k.a., Medici effects).

Time to forget. 

Every gardener knows that pruning is an essential part of long-term growth.

The same is true of learning. Forgetting is actually an integral part of mastering any skill.

When we take a break our brain has time to spring clean and allow the suffocating dust of unimportant detail to settle.

Don’t fear forgetting, embrace it. Your brain is laying the foundations for you to come back stronger.

Time to reflect and reposition.

One of the most valuable habits you can develop in productivity is making time to actively step back and take stock.

Set aside at least half an hour to reflect on the last milestone. What went well? What would you have done differently?

Now set your targets on the next milestone. How can you make the next push 1% better?

Set some new goals, make a new plan and get ready for the next push.

10. Be  patient and persistent.

Suggested Timing: Every Week.

Learning is not quick and it is not easy. There are tricks to avoid common pitfalls but there are no shortcuts.

Learning is also an exciting roller coaster of starts, stops and set-backs that can, at times, make even the bravest passengers want to get off.

That is why the most important qualities to cultivate when it comes to learning are patience and persistence.

Failing = Learning.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Thomas Edison

It is impossible to learn without making mistakes and it is very difficult to make mistakes without learning.

This golden rule applies not only to “What” you’re learning but also “How” you’re learning it. No matter how much research you do there will always be a thousand things you wish you’d known when you just started.

In either case, don’t let fear of failure paralyse you. Instead learn to:

  • Expect the unexpected.
  • Embrace failure as an opportunity to learn.
  • Think of obstacles not only as opportunities but even as part of unconventional solutions.

Approach every skill learning adventure as a game, challenge and experiment.

Adopt a growth mindset and your mind will grow.


You’ve stuck to your plan. You’re practicing purposefully. Heck, you’ve even doubled down and yet you still just can’t seem to progress.

Sound familiar? There is nothing as frustrating in skill learning as hitting a plateau. There is also nothing more inevitable and natural.

If the block is sudden and measurable in minutes or hours, consider taking a short break. Go for a walk. Chat to a friend. Let your brain work its way out of whatever local optimum it’s stuck in.

A more stubborn plateau combined with persistent lethargy or demotivation is consistent with impending burn out. Get a good night of sleep. If that doesn’t work, consider taking a longer break and reassessing your plan and pace.

If you’re feeling good but still can’t seem to make progress no matter what you do then keep going. A little dose of patience and persistence will see you though.

Baking a cognitive leap means gathering all the ingredients together at the same time under just the right conditions.

Learning is rarely a linear function of effort. Keep gathering ingredients and the leap will come.


In every skill learning journey there come a few alarming points at which progress feels like it’s suddenly going backwards rather than forwards.

If you’re practicing purposefully and you’ve ruled out fatigue then the good news is that this phenomena is both temporary and natural.

As we learn new information, our brain automatically starts throwing up temporary structures and frameworks to store and link it together.

Every so often though we gather enough new information to realise that the current structures and frameworks are no longer fit for purpose.

As a result, our brains enter into a period of renovation and remodelling – shuffling furniture in and around itself in the process.

This can be a disarming experience when you try and find your favourite comfy chair. It is, however, only temporary.

Within a week or two you’ll have found most of your old belongings in their new places.

You’ll also have plenty of new space to run around in.


“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
Mahatma Gandhi

“Develop in to a lifelong self-learner through voracious reading, cultivate curiosity and strive to become a little wiser every day.
Charlie Munger

If there’s one thing I hope you take away from this article, it is this: That learning a new skill will be one of the most eye-opening and rewarding decisions you take. It will (re)connect you to the people around you. It will unlock new places and new experiences you never even knew existed. It will grow you through your triumphs and your setbacks.

Write down the first skill that comes to your head now. Perhaps it’s a life-long dream, perhaps it’s something that occurred to you as you were reading.

Now write down the very next action you need to take to get it started.

Now do it.

Congratulations. You are already on your way to a brighter, more meaningful future.

Book Crunch: “Eat That Frog!”, Brian Tracy

Eat That Frog, Brian Tracey

Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy

“Eat That Frog!”, Brian Tracy
Print length: 144 pages. Buy on Amazon.

Perfect for you if:

  • You wish you had more time to spend with your family and friends.
  • You’re procrastinating on something important and you know it.
  • You feel overwhelmed at work or stuck in your career.

I’m a huge fan of Brian Tracy. His advice on productivity goes deep on “What” and “How”. His writing is motivational and accessible. His messages are clear and consistent.

In fact, neither his message nor his wording have changed a great deal in the 10 years since I first read his book “Goals!”. But not much needs to. His empowering formulas for personal and professional productivity are simple, practical and effective.

That said, I’m not sure about the structure of this version of those tips. There’s a good deal of repetition. Many points seem to fit within a single theme or add detail to each other. The “21 Great Ways” ends up feeling more catchy than practical. As a result, I’ve restructured the content into a simple six-step plan below.

Nevertheless, Brian’s original does chant a powerfully motivational mantra of planning, prioritisation and action. I am indebted to him for giving me some solid advice on productivity and sales 10 years ago at a point in my life when I needed it most.

My advice: read the crunch below. If you like it, skip “Eat That Frog” and read the slightly meatier, “Goals!”.

It will definitely change the way you work.

It might just change your life.


Personal productivity is about taking back control of your time.

  • There will always be too much to do.
  • Lack of time is actually lack of priorities.
  • The key to reclaiming time is proper time management.

Taking control of your time lets you focus on what counts: your relationships with others.


  1. Decide on your Goals.
  2. Plan your Goals.
  3. Plan your Time.
  4. Set Yourself Up for Success
  5. Work Single-Mindedly on Your Most Important Task.
  6. Repeat the Process Regularly.


1. Decide on your Goals.

Visualise clearly what you would like each area of life to look like in 5, 10 and 15 years.

  • Business / Career
  • Family / Relationship
  • Financial
  • Health
  • Professional Development
  • Social / Community

Now, take 30 seconds for each area (+ Problems / Concerns) to write your top 3 current goals:

  • 30 seconds is as good as 3 hours.
  • Write as if you had already accomplished each goal.
    • On paper.
    • In the present tense.
    • With a positive voice.
    • In the first person.

Identify the goal in each area that will have the greatest positive impact on your life.

Tips for Professional Development.

  1. Identify the 5 – 7 results areas for which you are currently entirely responsible.
    Discuss and syndicate these with your boss, colleagues and direct reports.
  2. Grade yourself (1 – 10) in each of those areas.
  3. Make your weakest skill the focus of your professional development.
    This major cause of procrastination sets the height at which you can use all your other skills.

Example results areas:


  • Planning
  • Organising
  • Staffing
  • Delegating
  • Supervising
  • Measuring
  • Reporting


  • Prospecting
  • Building rapport and trust
  • Identifying needs
  • Presenting persuasively
  • Answering objections
  • Closing
  • Getting resales and referrals

2. Plan your Goals.

Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.

Write a list of everything you’ll need to achieve for each of your most impactful goals.

  • Next actions.
  • Barriers
  • Limiting factors.
  • Personal capabilities.
  • Resources.
  • Other people.

Now invert:

  • Ask yourself why the goal isn’t already complete.
  • Start with the end in mind and work backwards.

Prioritise with Pareto’s 80/20 principle.

  • What 20% of the tasks will contribute 80% of the results?
  • Solving which 20% of the barriers will unlock 80% of the progress?

Prioritise the list with the ABCDE technique.

  • A – Must: Major consequences for the goal if (not) completed.
    Prioritise among A tasks – A1, A2, A3 etc…
  • B – Should: Some consequences.
  • C – Nice: No consequences.
  • D – Delegate: Anything not “only you”.
  • E – Eliminate: Anything no longer important.

Organise the list into a plan.

  • By priority.
  • By sequence.

Set deadlines.

  • Set a main deadline.
  • Set sub-deadlines if necessary.
  • Make the deadlines aggressive. (What if you only had one day?)
    Creates urgency. Triggers eustress. Defuses Parkinson’s law.
  • Add +20% to your timeline when communicating your plan with others to account for unexpected delays/diversions.

Tips for Business / Career.

  1. Write a list of every activity you do in a week / month.
  2. Identify which one activity contributes the most value.
  3. Now work out the second and third most value contributing activities.
  4. These activities are your priority. Resolve to downsize, delegate or eliminate everything else.
  5. Syndicate this focus and plan with your boss, co-workers and direct reports.

3. Plan your Time.

Plan in advance and work from lists.

  • Write everything down.
  • Add every new thing to the list before acting.
  • Move items from a master list > monthly > weekly > daily lists.
  • Do this before the start of each period.

Prioritise your lists:

  • With the 80/20 principle.
  • With the ABCDE technique.

4. Set Yourself Up for Success.

Create the time, space, energy and capabilities to work on your most important tasks.

Eliminate anything that fails the test of “Zero Based Thinking”.
“If I were not doing this already, knowing what I now know, would I start doing it again today?”

Create large chunks of time.

  • Block out large chunks of you calendar for uninterrupted work.
  • Wake up early and work from home.

Prepare everything you need in advance.

  • Clear everything away not related to the task at hand.
  • Gather everything you need for the task within physical reach.
  • Set up your work area so it is conducive to working long periods. Make it:
    • Clean
    • Attractive
    • Organised
    • Comfortable (especially chair)

Eliminate distractions.
Work all the time you work.
Every wasted minute is one not spent with friends/family or on a more important task.

  • Eliminate / delegate 80% of email.
    • Prepare canned responses to FAQs.
    • Train and delegate your email triage.
    • Batch your emailing as infrequently as possible.
  • Turn off all electronics for at least:
    • One hour each AM and PM.
    • One full day per week.

Learn continuously.
Everyone who is good at something was once bad at it.
You can learn anything by simply learning to replicate what someone else has done.

  • Read for one hour every day in your field.
  • Listen to audiobooks whilst you drive / travel.
  • Attend as many seminars and trainings as you can.

Maximise your energy.

  • Eat as if you were a pro athlete.
    • Breakfast: High protein, low fat, low carbohydrate.
    • Lunch: Salad with white meat (chicken / fish).
    • Avoid sugar, white flour and salt.
    • Say no to pastries, deserts, soft drinks and candy bars.
  • Exercise regularly:
    • At least 200 mins per week (~30 mins per day).
    • Schedule sessions in like business meetings.
  • Get enough rest:
    • Working >8h a day provides diminishing returns.
    • Get to sleep by 10 P.M.
    • Take at least one full day off per week.
    • Take regular vacations.

Become an optimist:
It’s not what happens to you but the way you interpret them that determines how you feel.

  • Look for the good in every situation.
  • Seek the valuable lesson in every setback or difficulty.
  • Look for solutions to every problem (solution orientation).
  • Look forward rather than backwards (goal orientation).
  • Refuse to criticise, complain or condemn.

5. Work Single-Mindedly on your Most Important Task.

Eat that Frog! Each day, work on your hardest and most important task:

  • Before anything else.
  • Single-mindedly (no multi-tasking) until it is complete.
    Switching has a high cost of momentum and energy.

Overcome procrastination and generate momentum.

  • Lack of Planning: Break the goal down into smaller steps.
  • Lack of Skill: Expand your capabilities.
  • Lack of Will:
    • Do just one item on your list. Do anything!
    • Shift to a process goal (do just 10 minutes).
    • Practise discipline.

Don’t be afraid to fail.

  • “There is no such thing as failure only feedback”.
  • Test, experiment, make it a game, have fun!

6. Repeat the Process Regularly.

Develop the habit of success.
For more on habit formation see “The Power of Habit” book crunch.

  • Constantly review the activities you are engaged in.
  • Constantly identify whether these are the most important things you could be working on.
  • Develop a fast tempo and a sense of urgency.
  • Work all the time you work.

Practice asking yourself constantly how to maximise your effectiveness.

  • What can I start?
  • What can I stop?
  • What can I do more of?
  • What can I do less of?

Never forget that all of this is a means an end: spending more time with the people you love.

Further Reading:

“Goals!”, Brian Tracy – A superb book that covers “Eat That Frog!” and more in twice as many pages. I can’t recommend this book enough, especially if you’re at the start of your career. Provides the kind of solid, practical advice that it’s amazing we don’t all receive as part of a basic education.

“Getting Things Done”, David Allen – A classic on efficiency and effectiveness. I’ve been using some variation of David Allen’s system for as long as I can remember. It transformed me from an energetic, chaotic mess into the kind of person people trust to never drop the ball. If you’ve ever wished you could do 4 times as much and still feel at peace when you get home, this book is for you.

“The Four Hour Work Week”, Tim Ferriss – The textbook on simplification and automation. I’ve found Brian has a tendency to add more things than he takes away. Tim’s tips on automating the unimportant, time consuming components of life will close that gap.

“Think And Grow Rich”, Napoleon Hill – A wonderful and practical dose of philosophy. The “Rich” of this book is much broader than simple financial reward. A perfect complement of “Why” and “What” to Brian’s strong hand of “What” and “How”.

“Deep Work”, Cal Newport – Perhaps one of the best tips and goals of Brian’s writing is to create long periods of uninterrupted work. Cal paints a compelling case for “Deep Work” in this excellent book. A great read for anyone lost in the shallows.

TANQ entries for “Eat That Frog!”

TANQ is WhyWhatHow’s growing central library of thoughts, anecdotes, notes, and quotes.

“No matter how many personal productivity techniques you master, there will always be more to do than you can ever accomplish in the time you have available to you, no matter how much it is.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“I had fallen into the mental trap of assuming that people who were doing better than me were actually better than me. What I learned was that this was not necessarily true. They were just doing things differently, and what they had learned to do, within reason, I could learn as well.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“The ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, to do it well and to finish it completely, is the key to great success, achievement, respect, status, and happiness in life.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“The first rule of frog eating is this: If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.
The second rule of frog eating is this: If you have to eat a live frog at all, it doesn’t pay to sit and look at it for very long.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“Your success in life and work will be determined by the kinds of habits that you develop over time. The habit of setting priorities, overcoming procrastination, and getting on with your most important task is a mental and physical skill.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“All improvements in your outer life begin with improvements on the inside, in your mental pictures.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“There is one quality that one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants and a burning desire to achieve it.”

Napoleon Hill Eat That Frog!

“One of the very worst uses of time is to do something very well that need not be done at all.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“Before you begin scrambling up the ladder of success, make sure that it is leaning against the right building.”

Stephen Covey Eat That Frog!

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”

Alan Lakein Eat That Frog!

“We always have time enough, if we will but use it aright.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Eat That Frog!

“Every great man has become great, every successful man has succeeded, in proportion as he has confined his powers to one particular channel.”

Orison Sweet Marden Eat That Frog!

“Losers try to escape from their fears and drudgery with activities that are tension relieving. Winners are motivated by their desires toward activities that are goal-achieving.”

Denis Waitley Eat That Frog!

“Motivation requires motive.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“You can use three questions on a regular basis to keep yourself focussed on completing your most important tasks on schedule.
The first question is, ‘What are my highest value activities?’
The second question is, ‘What can I and only I do that if done well will make a real difference?’
The third question is, ‘What is the most valuable use of my time right now?'”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Eat That Frog!

“Only engage, and the mind grows heated. Begin it, and the work will be completed.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Eat That Frog!

“The first law of success is concentration – to bend all the energies to one point, and to go directly to that point, looking neither to the right nor to the left.”

William Matthews Eat That Frog!

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Theodore Roosevelt Eat That Frog!

“Fully 85 percent of your happiness in life will come from happy relationships with other people, especially those closest to you, as well as the members of your family. The critical determinant of the quality of your relationships is the amount of time that you spend face-to-face with the people you love, and who love you in return.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“It is the quality of time at work that counts and the quantity of time at home that matters.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“Get it 80 percent right and then correct it later. Run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes. Don’t expect perfection the first time or even the first few times. Be prepared to fail over and over before you get it right.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson Eat That Frog!

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Wayne Gretzky Eat That Frog!

“Persons with comparatively moderate powers will accomplish much, if they apply themselves wholly and indefatigably to one thing at a time.”

Samuel Smiles Eat That Frog!

“A journey of a thousand leagues begins with a single step.”

Lao-Tze Eat That Frog!

“Any time you stop striving to get better, you’re bound to get worse.”

Pat Riley Eat That Frog!

“Concentrate all your thoughts on the task at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”

Alexander Graham Bell Eat That Frog!

“The first requisite for success is the ability to apply your physical and mental energies to one problem incessantly without growing weary.”

Thomas Edison Eat That Frog!

“Feed yourself as you would feed a world-class athlete before a competition because, in many respects, that’s what you are before starting work each day.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“It is in the compelling zest of high adventure and of victory, and of creative action that man finds his supreme joys.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Eat That Frog!

“It is not what happens to you but the way that you interpret things that are happening to you that determines how you feel.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“It turns out that optimists have four special behaviors, all learned through practice and repetition.
First, optimists look for the good in every situation.
Second, optimists always seek the valuable lesson in every setback or difficulty.
Third, optimists always look for the solution to every problem.
Fourth, optimists think and talk continually about their goals.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“There is more to life than just increasing its speed.”

Mahatma Gandhi Eat That Frog!

“I have several friends who have become best-selling authors by simply resolving to write one page or even one paragraph per day until the book was completed.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“One of the best work habits of all if to get up early and work at home in the morning for several hours. You can get three times as much work done at home without interruptions as you ever could in a busy office where you are surrounded by people and bombarded by phone calls.”

Brian Tracy Eat That Frog!

“Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand and work with whatever tools you may have at our command, and better tools will be found as you go along.”

Napoleon Hill Eat That Frog!

“And herein lies the secret of true power. Learn, by constant practice, how to husband your resources, and concentrate them at any given moment, upon a given point.”

James Allen Eat That Frog!

Discipline is “the ability to make yourself do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.”

Elrbert Hubbard Eat That Frog!

Book Crunch: “Tiny Beautiful Things”, Cheryl Strayed

Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed

“Tiny Beautiful Things”, Cheryl Strayed
Print length: 370 pages. Buy on Amazon.

Perfect for you if:

  • You are suffering, however much and for whatever reason.
  • You are going through a period of tremendous change and upheaval.
  • You want to learn how to better be there for the people you love.

“Tiny Beautiful Things” is a powerful collection of letters and essays from author Cheryl Strayed’s two years as “Sugar”, the anonymous advice columnist for “The Rumpus”.

The first source of this book’s power are its letters. Carefully selected from thousands, each letter combines moving detail with clear framing of some universal aspect of human suffering. Some writers simply need courage to do what they know they should. Others are genuinely lost. The result is a cathartic cross section of loss, abuse, lust, confusion, betrayal and despair. Whatever the problem you face, however deep your suffering, it is hard not to find perspective or comradeship among their ranks.

Then there are the replies. Cheryl draws as unflinchingly from her own tragic story as she does from those of the many sufferers she has met and counselled. Her writing is open, conversational, honest, irreverent, intimate and vulnerable. It feels like there is nothing you could say that would shock “Sugar”. Nothing you could feel or do that would not make her love you. That her replies are so accepting, thoughtful and insightful is remarkable. That each one is so specific and yet feels like it could be addressed to you personally is what makes them unique.

The truth, though, as Cheryl acknowledges, is that nothing we feel is unique. Though its causes are many, suffering has two basic properties. First, it is universal. Second, it does not function on an absolute scale. Take a victim of abuse, a parent who has lost a child and an angstful teen. We might judge the relative gravity of their situations differently. And yet each may experience their suffering as acutely and strongly as the next. Each may see their path as impossible and insurmountable.

It is at the centre of this universal and general nature that suffering provides us with hope:

Acknowledge. Accept. Act.
Acknowledge. Accept. Act.
Acknowledge. Accept. Act.

These are the three themes that vibrate clearly throughout Cheryl’s letters. The promise of a single (if not easy) solution to a single problem.

Read “Tiny Beautiful Things”. Keep it close. Refer to it in times of trouble. Refer to it when you lose perspective. Share it with others.

It will make you stronger. It will make you happier. It will make you a better person.

In the meantime, here is a woefully inadequate book crunch.

Being there for yourself


Acknowledge your suffering.

  • Your suffering is real and natural.
  • Nothing you are thinking or feeling is wrong.
  • You are not alone.


Accept reality (You don’t choose the cards you’re dealt…).

  • Life isn’t fair.
    • Sometimes things that are not our responsibility become our problem.
    • Bad things happen:
      • to good people,
      • for no reason,
      • all the time.
  • Life isn’t black and white.
  • Being human is complicated.
    • People don’t do what they should / you want, they do what they can.
    • We are all savages inside: we all want to be loved and esteemed.
  • The past is fixed.
    • What happened, happened.
    • You can never change that.
  • The future is uncertain.
    • Things, relationships and people change.
    • Holding on to old truths doesn’t make them true.
  • And this moment too will pass away.

Accept responsibility (…but you choose how to play them.).

  • Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
  • Self-pity and emotion change nothing.
  • The only person you can change is you.
  • Change is not a nice thing we say…
  • Change is a hard thing we do.


Draw strength from others.

  • Find and take courage from others who have suffered like you.
  • Seek support and advice from people you love and who love you.
  • Use formal safety nets e.g., doctors, therapy.
  • Use informal safety nets e.g., Alcoholics / Narcotics Anonymous.

Communicate mindfully.

  • Let it out: find a place for it or it will rule you.
  • Ask questions: understand the bigger picture.
  • Explain your feelings without making someone else responsible for them.
  • Be honest with others in a way that allows them to make healthy decisions.

Think / understand.

  • Think things through on paper.
    • Journal.
    • Draw up lists.
    • Make diagrams.
  • Think from the perspective of others.
  • Map out the options.
  • Map out the consequences.
  • Identify your motivations, desires and fears.
  • Think from the perspective of your best self.
    (Generous, reasonable, forgiving, loving, big hearted, grateful).
  • Visualise what you wish you’d done a year from now.
  • Ask what there is to lose / gain from each option.

Have the courage to act.

  • You don’t always need a reason you can verbalise.
  • Trust yourself – live out what you already know to be true.
    • Be true to your truest self.
    • Don’t act inconsistently with your gut / inner core.
    • Don’t do the things you know are wrong.
  • Identify excuses / lies you use to avoid doing what you fear most.

Change what you can.

  • Distance yourself from sources of harm (this is not running away).
  • Set healthy boundaries.
    • They are not judgments punishments or betrayals.
    • They teach people how to treat you.
    • They teach you how to respect yourself.
  • Don’t prioritise the short term over the long term.
  • Reach hard even if it is difficult.
    • Pick and stay true to one most important thing…
    • Even if that means taking some risks.
    • Start with the smallest steps.
    • It’s going to be hard but you have to keep going.

Be patient and don’t give up.

  • You can’t always escape.
  • You can’t work everything out at once.
  • The process of recovery is non-linear; there will be circles and set-backs.
  • That’s why you will mess up; and that’s O.K.
    • Try to be the person you want to be…
    • But don’t kick yourself when you’re the person you are.
  • And remember, this moment too will pass away.


  • Understand that failing in one role (e.g., husband) does not mean failing as a whole (e.g., father).
  • Forgiveness means acknowledging and letting go of anger or pain.
  • It does not mean allowing the forgiven to stomp all over you once again.

Reframe internally.

  • Rewrite your narratives
    • Narratives define who we are.
    • We can change even the most ingrained ones.
    • But it takes time and effort.
  • Practise gratitude (for the tiny beautiful things).
    • Gratitude defeats jealousy, depression, anxiety.

Being there for someone else

You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him to find it within himself

Galileo Galilei

Your job is not to solve the problem.

Acknowledge and accept.

  • Over and over.
  • Even if it feels lame and insufficient.

Share stories to give strength and courage.

Soften with admission and vulnerability.

If someone asks for advice:

  • Know you can’t change them.
  • Be honest but don’t meddle.
  • Be compassionate but not judgemental.
  • Give them some tools to help.

Be there if / when things falls apart.

Further Reading

“The Art of Loving”, Erich Fromm – “A rich and detailed guide to love—an achievement reached through maturity, practice, concentration, and courage.”. The kind of book that will make you stop and reconsider your entire life in a new way. This book is a classic of personal development and a must-read.

“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trai”, Cheryl Strayed – A rich, raw autobiographical account of Cheryl’s three month journey down the Pacific Crest Trail and through her life. All of the power of Cheryl’s writing with a little insight into what it takes to become “Dear Sugar”.

“How to: Achieve Growth Through Pain”, Erin Young – A superb guest post from Erin on the topic of loss and growth written on this blog and deeply inspired by Cheryl’s work. More excellent reading recommendations to be found here.

TANQ entries for 'Tiny Beautiful Things'

TANQ is WhyWhatHow’s growing central library of thoughts, anecdotes, notes, and quotes.

The reality is we often become our kindest, most ethical selves only by seeing what it feels like to be a selfish jackass first.

Cheryl Strayed Tiny Beautiful Things

“The best thing you can do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of love.”

Cheryl Strayed Tiny Beautiful Things

“Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.”

Cheryl Strayed Tiny Beautiful Things

“Compassion isn’t about solutions. It’s about giving all the love you’ve got.”

Cheryl Strayed Tiny Beautiful Things

“The narratives we create in order to justify our actions and choices become in so many ways who we are. They are the things we say back to ourselves to explain our complicated lives.”

Cheryl Strayed Tiny Beautiful Things

“You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions don’t waste your time on anything else.”

Cheryl Strayed Tiny Beautiful Things