Switch Strategies

Derek Sivers:

Life is like any journey. You need to change directions a few times to get where you want to go.

Early in your career, the best strategy is to say yes to everything. The more things you try, and the more people you meet, the better. Each one might lead to your lucky break.

Then when something is extra-rewarding, it’s time to switch strategies. Focus all of your energy on this one thing. Don’t be leisurely. Strike while it’s hot. Be a freak. Give it everything you’ve got.

If by chance it was a dead-end road, then switch your strategy back to trying everything.

Eventually your focus on something will pay off. Because you’re successful, you’ll be overwhelmed with opportunities and offers. You’ll want to do them all. But this is when you need to switch strategies again. This is when you learn to say “hell yeah or no” to avoid drowning.

Now you admit you’ve arrived at your first destination. This is where you stop following old directions, and decide where you’re going next. The new plan means you need to switch strategies again.

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What do you hate *not* doing?

Derek Sivers:

When we wonder what’s worth doing, we’ve all asked ourselves, “What do I really love?” or “What makes me happy?”

That question never really goes well, does it?


So try this question instead:

What do you hate not doing?

What makes you feel depressed, annoyed, or that your life has gone astray if you don’t do it enough?

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One Thing

Derek Sivers:

I’m doing just one thing, and nothing else.

I’m finishing my unfinished book. It’s the only work that matters to me now.

I’m writing about 16 hours a day. I wake around 5am and write every hour I’m awake, only stopping for 20 minutes a few times a day to eat, and an hour to hit the gym. Then I keep writing until I fall asleep around 11pm, and do it again.

This is my favorite way to live.

A good reminder about how just doing one thing, and nothing else, can fulfill you.

What is your one thing?

What one thing would you like to complete?

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Time Is Personal

Derek Sivers:

Time is personal. Your year changes when your life changes.

A new day begins when I wake up, not at midnight. Midnight means nothing to me. It’s not a turning point. Nothing changes at that moment.

A new year begins when there’s a memorable change in my life. Not January 1st. Nothing changes on January 1st.

I can understand using moments like midnight and January 1st as coordinators, so cultures and computers can agree on how to reference time. But shouldn’t our personal markers and celebrations happen at personally meaningful times?

Your year really begins when you move to a new home, start school, quit a job, have a big breakup, have a baby, quit a bad habit, start a new project, or whatever else. Those are the real memorable turning points — where one day is very different than the day before. Those are the meaningful markers of time. Those are your real new years.


The fourth Thursday in November is not when I feel most thankful. The 14th of February is not when I celebrate my romantic relationship. To force these celebrations on universal dates disconnects them from the meaning they’re supposed to celebrate. It’s thoughtless.

Celebrate personally meaningful markers. Ignore arbitrary calendar dates.

When did this year really begin for you?

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Saying no to everything else

Derek Sivers:

Steven Pressfield called himself an author for years, but he’d never actually finished a book. Eventually, the psychological pain of not finishing kept building until he couldn’t stand it anymore. He decided to finally beat the devil he calls “The Resistance”.

He created a situation with no escape. He rented a cabin, brought his typewriter, and shut off all other options.

He said,

“I didn’t talk to anybody during that year… I didn’t hang out. I just worked. I had a book in mind and I had decided I would finish it or kill myself. I could not run away again, or let people down again, or let myself down again. This was it, do or die.”
After a difficult year of wrestling with those inner demons and avoiding all temptations, he did it. He finished his first book. It wasn’t a success, but it didn’t matter. He had finally beat The Resistance. He went on to write many successful novels.

He told this story in the great book Turning Pro, the third in his series of little books about the creative struggle, including The War of Art and Do the Work. Read all three.

Hell yeah or no” is a filter you can use to decide what’s worth doing. But this is simpler and more serious. This is a decision to stop deciding. It’s one decision, in advance, that the answer to all future distractions is “no” until you finish what you started. It’s saying yes to one thing, and no to absolutely everything else.

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Your Heroes

Derek Sivers:

People with many interests often ask my advice on which industry or career path they should follow.

Years ago, I felt I was just a programmer and entrepreneur. Yes sometimes I write a tiny blog post sharing what I’ve learned, but that’s just something on the side.

But something never felt quite right about this. I spend most of my time writing, very little time programming, and hadn’t started a business in years. Still, I kept saying I was a programmer and entrepreneur, and felt I should really spend more time doing it.

But everything changed when I asked myself a question:

“Who are my heroes?”

I thought, wrote them down, then realized they were all authors! Basically, look at my list of favorite books, and there are my heroes.

The people I look up to the most… The people I’d most like to meet… The people I’d most like to emulate are not entrepreneurs, and not programmers — just writers.

So, that day, I realized I actually want to be a writer.

I re-arranged my hierarchy of interests. Yes I enjoy programming, and yes I’ll probably start another business. But really my main love and top priority is writing.

How about you? Who are your heroes? Does that help you see which way you’re actually facing?

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Success & Service

Derek Sivers, on the James Altucher podcast:

When I look back at my life, and what was successful and what wasn’t, it seems that whenever I was focused on me, me, me, me… All my years making music. It’s me up on stage, singing my thoughts into a microphone. Spotlight’s on me. I’m out there promoting me. It’s all about me. I did that for 15 years, and it was hard. It just felt like always an uphill battle. I had some success, but for the most part, it was hard.

On the other hand, as soon as I turned my attention 100% to others, I said, “Okay. Forget me. How can I help you?” That was like the big idea behind CD Baby. When it was just completely putting myself into the service of others and just completely forgetting myself, I ceased to exist, “I am here solely for your service” — then boom! That’s where all the successes seems to happen repeatedly in my life.

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One Fun Step

Derek Sivers:

If we hate doing something, we imagine it as hard. We think of it as broken into many pain-in-the-ass steps.

If we love something, it seems easy. We imagine it as one fun step.

If you ask someone who hates running how to do it, they’ll say, “Ugh… First you have to stretch. Then you put on running clothes. Then you get the right shoes. Then you have to tie your laces. Then you have to go outside. Then you get all sweaty. Then you have to cool down. Then you have to shower. Then you have to change. Who has the time?”

If you ask someone who loves running how to do it, they’ll say, “It’s easy! You just put on your shoes and go!”

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Read Read Read

James Altucher:

I dive into a book and it breathes life into me. I’m a vampire who sucks the words out of the author until I have absorbed his or her life.

Now I have lived my life and the author’s life.

I live more and more lives. I absorb them and become them, even for a moment, but that moment turns into a memory, turns into knowledge, turns into tools I can use to make my life better.


Here are reasons I read:

To be inspired. Sometimes I forget that the key to life is to revolve your days and moments around MEANING. That meaning is the fuel of myth and story. Meaning creates The Hero. Meaning is the call to action that drives the hero from a normal person to one who surpasses all his prior abilities and achieves immortality.

To learn facts. I never argue with people. Most people learn their opinions from their culture, from their parents or friends, from the location they grew up in. I like to learn facts from books. If I want to understand the effect of tariffs on the economy, I read the history of economies. If I want to understand how my favorite comedians succeeded against all odds, I read their biographies. If I want to learn about the effect sugar has on the body I read books about sugar. If I want to learn what radiation leaves a black hole when even gravity can’t leave a black hole I read books about physics.

To get better at something I love. If I love chess, I read books about chess. If I love investing, I read books about the best investors and the best investment strategies. If I love psychology I read books by the best psychologists.

To get smarter. After EVERY single book I read in the below list, I felt as if my intelligence was higher, if even for a day.

To be a better person. What is the role of habits in success? What are the common qualities of people who are happier than others? How have my favorite authors dealt with sorrow and loss and fear?

I want to close a book at the end and immediately want to re-read it. I want to close a book at the end and say, “I am a better person because I have read this book.”

Not “better” than anyone else. Better than the person I was yesterday.

This post makes me want to go out and read every book on the planet.

I also loved this bit between James Altucher and Derek Sivers:

Derek: In one of your books, you said something like, “Pick a subject that you would read a hundred books on that subject.”

James: Yeah. So I say, “Go into the bookstore, which section will you read the entire section of? And then that’s what your — that can help you find out what you’re interested in.”

Derek: So have you actually read a hundred books on a single subject?

James: Oh, yeah.

Derek: Really?

James: I’ve read like a thousand books on a single subject.

Derek: Come on, no exaggeration? Really, a thousand books?

James: Yeah. Like for instance, I love games. So I’ll read – I’ve read at least a thousand books on chess, for instance.

Derek: Really?

James: Yeah.

Derek: A thousand? You’re not exaggerating? You’re not going to look back, ‘Okay. Well, it’s actually 180, but it felt like a thousand?’ It was really a thousand?

James: No, no, no. Ever since I was 18; I’m 48 now. I read you know, a hundred books a year on chess, maybe more.

Derek: Wow! All right. Well, I will just leave my jaw over there on the ground and I’ll try to keep talking.

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Surprise Me

Derek Sivers:

A few times people have asked my advice on giving TED talks. And here it is, here is my advice in five seconds: cut out everything that isn’t suprising.

People watch TED talks in order to learn something. And if they’re not surprised, they’re not learning. If you’re just telling them, “Well, this, and I did this, and I grew up here…” You haven’t surprised them. You haven’t made their eyebrows go up. So they haven’t really learned anything.

Instead, look at whatever message you want to give, whatever story you want to tell, and then just erase every single line of it that isn’t surprising. And what you’re left with is a short, succint, surprising thing that someone can actually learn from.

That’s why my book is only 88 pages. It’s cause at every paragraph, I cut out everything that I felt other people say, that’s been heard before, that isn’t surprising… and I just focused only on the sentences, the paragraphs that were actually surprising.

Teller (Penn & Teller):

Here’s a compositional secret.

It’s so obvious and simple, you’ll say to yourself, “This man is bullshitting me.” I am not. This is one of the most fundamental things in all theatrical movie composition and yet magicians know nothing of it. Ready?

Surprise me.

Steve Pavlina:

If you do what people expect of you, you’re reinforcing the patterns they’ve already learned, so they won’t remember you. If people don’t remember you, they can’t refer anyone to you.

Expectations are always changing. Some of the things I did that violated expectations in the past would now be considered more commonplace. So you have to keep looking at what others are doing today — and then DON’T do what they’re doing! Do what others are unwilling or unable to do. If you wish to create work that stands out, you cannot attempt to fit in.

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