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Love Is….

March 24, 2014

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“How do I stop loving a girl who doesn’t love me,” someone asked me.

I didn’t answer him correctly. I gave some bullshit answer. The correct answer is: there’s nothing you can do. You’re in pain. You’re wounded. Time heals all wounds.

For me, I fall in love very quickly so my only solution is to fall in love again, whatever that means – usually obsession and addiction and disappointment like someone sitting on your lungs and not letting you breathe until just a single breath is all you ask for.

In other words, I make every mistake possible.

But I did give some response a la Sting about setting them free and he replied and said, “but shouldn’t love REQUIRE that the person I love make me happy?”

What!?

Requirements are bad. I require that the world give me a lot of money, that the world make my kids put their phones away at dinner, that it’s not 4 degrees outside right now.

I require that people who have long ago stopped talking to me just relax and start talking to me again. I require that that one girl never had an abortion.

I require that I never lost so much money and went broke that one time. Or two times. Or three times.

Requirements are for people who want to be unhappy. Because it’s your rules or the universe’s rules. The universe is going to win. Every time.

And yet…

I’m sorry I’m about to do “the list”. I don’t really like it when people tell me the list of things they KNOW.

Because nobody really knows anything. The laws of physics change every few years. And now kale and juicing will supposedly rot your insides. Nobody knows anything about health, sex, love, atoms, and biology. Nobody knows anything about economics and finance.

We’re all monkeys that have been given typewriters by some extradimensional alien race and the joke is on us.

But some people post the list of things they know on Facebook. So I’m going to answer his question here. But with the qualifier that I am not a natural at love and had to figure this out in very difficult ways, in difficult situations, where everyone was miserable until a shred of learning could be pulled out.

If you want to add, please do so in the comments.

I say this because I need to learn. I want to learn. I want to be a loving person and know how to treat people right and that’s very hard to do.

I’ve often treated people wrong. You can’t love until you forgive yourself…but you have to remember.

Whenever you think you know something, leave an empty box open inside your head so other people can put new things in there.

Love is:

  • Love is when you have no demands on the other person. Not even to make you happy.
  • Love is when you care what they do, but don’t worry about what they are doing.
  • Love is when they say or do something insignificant and you feel, “SURPRISE!”
  • Love is when you miss them, but don’t require them.
  • Love is when they are right all the time, even when they are wrong. You might be wrong. Who knows?
  • Love is when you love the other people who love them.
  • Love is when you see who they are. Not when you see who you want them to be.
  • Love is when you’re afraid to lose them, but you don’t try and “keep” them.
  • When there’s drama, Love is when you both wrote the script together.
  • Love is when they are upset and tell you and you count to two before you respond, “You’re right”.
  • You love them when you keep yourself clean and you sleep well and eat well.
  • Love is when you forgot to tell them something… all the time.
  • Love is when you can’t sleep and are feeling sick and anxious and its 3am, but you reach out and touch them and now you are feeling a little better.
  • SURPRISE!
  • Love is when they are sick and there’s nothing you can do so you listen to them.
  • Love is when they want to do something and you don’t, so you don’t and everyone feels good about it.
  • Love is when you just think “laugh”, and they start to laugh.
  • You love them when you can still love yourself.

This isn’t a list of what you SHOULD do when you are in love. If you feel “should” then you might not be in love.

These are things I feel when I’m in love. Love comes and goes. And comes and goes. It’s ok to not be in love. And it’s okay to be in love forever.

I’m married just a few years. And I’m divorced before that. So I know nothing.

If you become unhappy, then maybe the love was just a passing love. Don’t fall into the trap of “love” when it is just “want”. You learned from each other and now can move on.

Thank god you met. And now thank god you can leave each other at the right moment.

That’s a love that lasts forever.

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The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Dealing With Excuses

March 11, 2014

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I didn’t have any money so couldn’t start a business. And even if I started one, I didn’t have an office, or clients, and I was too shy to cold-call clients. I didn’t have connections or rich parents or anything for that matter.

I didn’t have talent. I just got lucky. Nobody will hire me. I don’t have the right equipment. I couldn’t write a book because I had no publisher. I couldn’t do stand-up because I was afraid people would heckle me. I’m afraid to write a blog post often because what would people think?

All of my excuses turned out to be blessings in disguise. There’s always a gap between “what I have now” and “what I would like.”

The gap is all of your excuses. All it takes to close the gap is to be creative and work your way through the excuses. I repeat: this is ALL IT TAKES.

Your excuses are simply the roadmap that takes you from “here” to “there”. Good luck on your travels.

Below are some types of excuses that I’ve had in the past and still have. You should make your own list. Please put whatever common excuses I miss in the comments.

It’s very exciting to see because excuses are pointers to where the target is. There are no other pointers other than your list of excuses. The excuses are the map to success and fulfillment. It’s fun to take a blank piece of paper and draw out the map. Put roads, mountains, buildings, rivers, obstacles, and destinations in there.

I Don’t Have Money

When I started my first business, called Reset, I had no money in the bank at all. And I had a very low salary at HBO. Oh, and I had a full-time job.

It was brutal. I had to get very creative about finding computers to use and reaching out to friends and family to tell them what my skill set was and what sorts of clients would be great for me (Answer: anyone who needed anything, I would help for a fee).

So my solution was to make sure everyone knew what my skills were and why they were needed.

Then I carved out time (weekends, nights, days when I could hide) to do the work for clients until I was ready to jump to full-time entrepreneur (by that point there were almost 10 employees).

I Don’t Have Equipment

I met a friend of mine yesterday. We spoke about people doing YouTube videos who are making a living from all the views and advertising they generate.

“I’d do it but I don’t have the right camera.”

I said to him, “You want to borrow my phone? Because any phone in the world has a camera a thousand times better than what you need for YouTube.”

I asked him what else was getting in the way.

“There’s always a good reason and the real reason,” I told him. “You just gave me a bullshit good reason. What do you think the real reason is?”

And he thought about it and told me. “Laziness.” I get that. I’m lazy also.

“So take your phone camera. And practice executing. Pick an easy video to do. Go to the 42nd Street subway and videotape the guys playing underground there and upload it. Just get into the rhythm of making a video and uploading it. Then, write down ideas every day about more and more fun videos you can do. It’s a quantity game.”

Will he do it? I don’t know. We love our excuses. They are just as much our babies as our ideas are.

I Don’t Have Time

Let’s say you are a single mother with three kids and a full-time job. You might not have time to write “Harry Potter.”

It’s really harsh. But you find the time. You stop TV. Or skip a meal (nobody in America will ever starve by skipping a meal, I will put my medical seal of approval on that statement. Because although I do not have a medical degree, I play a doctor on Facebook).

The magic of excuses is that there is always a way to be creative around them. The excuses are the map to your success. We all have obstacles.

You can view the obstacle as an opportunity to grow or as an obstacle to stop.

The good news is you get to choose.

I’m Not Good Enough

I need one more year to get better, to learn how to code, to learn financial stuff, to learn…and the excuses go on. I can’t start a company until….

Everyone in every field in the history of the world has at one point said “I’m not good enough.”

It’s how you overcome that excuse that not only makes you good enough, but matures you into the person who knows how to get good enough. So you can do it again and again.

I Don’t Have A Degree

I get emails every day. “I’d like to work at Google but I don’t have degree.” Or, “I’d like to be a success but I don’t have an MBA.”

And it’s not just degrees. I get emails from people who think they need yoga teacher certification. Or a medical degree (you can be a healer without writing prescriptions). Or any flimsy piece of paper that ultimately is no indicator of value.

Google’s HR person even just announced that GPAs in school are a waste to look at. And that more and more of their hires have no college degrees at all!

The world is changing and you have to grasp it now.

It used to be that a stranger knew he could cooperate with you if you had that stupid piece of paper.

But now there are many ways you can show you can deliver value even without that paper.

Come up with 10 ideas how you can escape the trap of the degree and demonstrate you still have value. Ideas for the company you want to work for, or the person you want to work with. Or just go get a camera and start making movies without a film degree.

When Andy Samberg was starting at Saturday Night Live he didn’t just huddle in the writer’s room with everyone else and try to come up with jokes. Too much competition!

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He took a camera, with his buddies Jorm and Akiva, and went out and shot “Lazy Sunday,” which was the first YouTube video to get over 100,000,000 views and became his first SNL Digital Short.

He didn’t wait to rise through the ranks and hopefully get a joke or a sketch produced. He went out and produced it himself.

Before Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” rap song got a billion views on YouTube he turned down every record label. He realized he didn’t need them. Didn’t need the validation they have provided for over 60 years to generations of artists.

The distribution is here to reach the world no matter what your field is.

You validate yourself now through your work.

I’m Not In The Right Location

I moved from Pittsburgh to New York because I thought it would put me closer to the publishing industry. Some people move to Silicon Valley to get funding for their startup. I had one friend who felt she needed to live in Paris before she could paint.

I know many people who think they need to own a home before they could really have “roots” and start creating.

All of these are good reasons but not the real reasons.

The only thing that will get people to see your work is not where you live but if you actually do the work.

When I built Stockpickr.com I spent less than $5,000 and probably never left my basement, 80 miles north of NYC.

I was afraid all the time. It was the 10th website I was trying to launch and the previous nine failed.

I had no idea if it would be good or bad. But it took off and in the second month had almost a million visitors and then kept growing until I sold it to thestreet.com just five months later.

It kept breaking down (I couldn’t afford good programmers), one employee working on it quit (I couldn’t pay him), and I realized too late that it had three or four decent competitors.

That’s okay. I also loved doing it and I wanted to create what would be the ideal site for someone like me interested in finance. So it worked. No matter that I was in a dark basement the entire time with no money and nobody to make me laugh.

And guess what the fastest-growing city in the U.S. is. Williston, North Dakota.

I Don’t Have The Right Network 

I am a bad cold caller. With my first business, Reset, I cold-called a bank and asked them if I could do their website. My only “in”: I said I had a checking account there. They laughed and told me to call them back in a few years. A few years! I had payroll to make!

Lewis Howes described to me on my podcast how he would make all of these LinkedIn connections and then invite them all out to open-bar parties where they could network.

He created his network by introducing everyone else to each other. He was simply that guy in the middle. You want to be “that guy.”

You get a network by:

  • Introducing people to others who can provide value for them. Make sure it’s “permission networking” (you get permission from both sides first. Else you are a burden and not a help).
  • Introducing people to ideas without any expectation back. This means you have to get good at coming up with ideas.
  • Finding a connection in between you and the other person. A connection they might value. In Lewis’s case he contacted many former athletes. Sometimes people use their hometowns or schools. Sometimes people use mutual friends, etc.

Building a network from scratch requires three to four hours a day of work. What if you have a job?

Well, build your network at work. The way to do this: ask to lunch the secretaries of people in different divisions. Come up with ideas for the heads of different divisions. Do one thing a day to help someone in your work group that you didn’t have to reach out to.

Networks build exponentially and not linearly. Once one person is in your network, one single person, then everyone in their network is potentially in yours. Make use of that.

“I don’t have a network” is a beautiful excuse because it means that if you overcome this excuse you are going to meet many amazing friends who you will know and love throughout your career. I know this because my “network” has changed 100% in the past five years, starting from total scratch.

Every day I bow down to how powerful this one excuse was to motivate me into making such great and wonderful new friends.

It’s Too Crazy

Rodney Dangerfield was an aluminum siding salesman. But he wanted to return to his old career as a standup comedian. I think he was about 50 years old. Maybe older. It was crazy for him to think he could be a success. I don’t know what was going through his head.

But whatever it was, he did the smart thing. He opened up his own comedy club: Dangerfield’s. It became the most popular comedy club in NYC and many famous comedians got their starts there (e.g. Jim Carrey).

But who would deny him if he wanted to go on stage there? And it was there that he developed his craft more and more until he was basically the ugliest most obscene movie star ever.

As an aside: I once asked Dangerfield what was the craziest thing that ever happened to him at three in the morning. Without missing a beat he said, “her husband came home!”

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A.J. Jacobs wants to create the world’s largest family reunion. That’s crazy! Over 4,000 people. But every day he takes tiny steps closer. (For one thing, we found out through DNA testing that we are cousins, as is his wife!). He also found a venue. A publisher is going to publish a book about it. He’s getting sponsors. Every day, new answers to the “That’s Crazy!” excuse.

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer had a tenure-track position at a college. He was in his late 30s. He was set for life. Instead, he quit, loaded up the back of his car with a self-help book he wrote, and drove across the country leaving his books at every bookstore. Everyone he knew thought he was crazy. He sold over 100,000,000 copies of that book, Your Erroneous Zones.

Many things might be too crazy. But I’ve been in business now for 20 years. I have helped over 300 companies get financed. I’ve started and sold (and gone broke too many times) many companies. I have seen the craziest things happen. People rise from unbelievably bleak and desperate ashes to be the one flower in a graveyard to blossom. The sun is always there. But the flower has to be ready to blossom.

“It’s too Crazy” is a roadmap. Start with that phrase and circle it. Then draw all the roads that lead out from that spot. They don’t all have to end up at the place you expect. Have fun with it. Find different roads and see where they lead.

Some will end up in Oz. But some will end up in even more magical places than you could have expected.

I Don’t Have Talent

Neither did Mick Jagger. He had a weird voice and couldn’t play an instrument. But he loved the blues and wanted to put his spin on it with the help of Keith Richards and others. And he worked it. It turned out he had this weird sort of charisma that kept the fans coming back.

But he never would have found that out if he hadn’t played every night at the seedy underground clubs where he would bang out his horrible music.

That’s okay. He would’ve finished his degree at the London School of Economics and become a respectable accountant somewhere.

Instead, he’s MICK JAGGER.

It’s widely agreed that the best chess player ever, Bobby Fischer, didn’t have that much talent. He was above average but maybe not world-class. He had to figure out his own particular roadmap to success.

We each can draw our own unique roadmaps. How exciting it is to make an atlas to places you’ve never been and then try to travel across it.

Fischer did three things:

  1. He studied games from 100 years earlier and came up with improvements to each one. So when people played him and found themselves in positions similar, he would know the special tricks to use and they wouldn’t.
  2. He learned Russian so he could read the Russian chess magazines to learn the latest openings that none of his U.S. opponents knew.
  3. He played speed chess every day with his teacher, strong master Jack Collins.

Then he came out of nowhere (he had literally disappeared from the scene) and became the youngest U.S. champion ever. Then the strongest player ever.

I’m sure there are many excuses I’m missing. And many examples. Please, please put them in the comments (put your personal examples also) because I want my daughters to learn from this post.

Remember to always tune your inner ear so you can listen for (and separate from each other) both the GOOD reason and the REAL reason when anyone (including yourself) gives you an excuse.

Most people don’t tune that inner ear. They believe the excuses because it’s easy. Because it gives them permission not to do something they love. Fine. I understand that also. I give myself permission every day to miss out on some opportunities because I choose others.

That’s why on your roadmap of excuses, some excuses don’t have many roads coming out of them. They don’t need an extra traffic circle or bridge because their port is not in use much.

This article is for my children. I know they will have excuses as they climb each rung on the ladders of age, success, frustration, relationships, spirituality and health. I want them to know that the best things that ever happened to me were my excuses.

Each excuse let me learn about myself, and let me discover entire worlds of surprising possibilities. Each one led me to more and more love — love of people, love of passions, love of hidden subtleties in every day happenings, and even love of excuses.

But I want my kids to not go through some of the pains that I have gone through. It really sucks to be so sad you don’t know if you can last another day. To not have anything to grasp onto because the worst excuse is, “it’s all just luck” or “I’m just a fraud” and to then think you have no luck and you never will again.

We choose our excuses. They don’t choose us. But love comes when we kiss our excuses and, magically, they kiss back and feed the next stage of our lives.

May you have many, many excuses in your life.

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Dealing With Haters

March 4, 2014

It’s easy to get anonymous people to hate you. Have an opinion. Be creative. Be yourself.

But sometimes it gets worse. I’ve had death threats, legal threats, I’ve lost friends, even family, over things I’ve written. I’ve lost the respect of many I still respect. Articles get written then people hate me even more.

A hater can be anyone. A family member, a friend, a colleague, a teacher, a boss, or some random person you meet on the street or the Internet. People who were friends forever can suddenly be haters. You HAVE to have the tools to deal with it.

It always feels miserable. I am never cavalier about it.

I wanted to like these people in some cases. 20 year friendships. Friends I thought I would have forever. Now… gone.

Most haters are just invisible, anonymous, just trying to get in your head because that’s THEIR particular method of having a human connection.

Example: someone wrote a review of my audio book the other day:

“SIMPLY TERRIBLE… the author should NEVER EVER read his own books again. He has a lazy, mumbling speech that made it difficult to give him credibility right off the bat. He sounded a bit disinterested, like it was a bother to pass along these precious gems on knowledge to us, the poor miserable audience.”

I’m not fishing for compliments. Some people like my audio book, some people don’t. But it reminds me of 7th grade, when we had to take turns reading from a book in a class called Woodshop.

Who would’ve thought that in Woodshop I would learn all the basic skills that allowed me to build businesses and develop meaningful relationships later in life?

Well, not me, and I was right. I learned nothing there.

The only great moment that happened to me in woodshop was when the prettiest girl in school ran up to me and said, “Quick, quick, what psychiatrist talks all the time about sex?” And I said, “Freud” and then she ran away to have a deep conversation with the woodshop teacher twenty years older than her.

I definitely don’t remember what we were reading in the woodshop “book” that day but when it was my turn to speak, Christin Herholz said, “oh no, not HIS voice again.”

So maybe that reviewer is right. Maybe Christin is actually the reviewer! Synchronicity! (Jung).

No matter what we do in life, we get some people who hate us, who make fun of us, who gossip about us, who backstab us, who take money from us or do something to try and ruin our reputation, who threaten us, who tease us, who frighten us.

SO LISTEN TO ME: these are the rules how to deal with haters – the anonymous ones, the ones in your face, the ones at work, the ones you can’t avoid, family, and people you love.

It’s hard to do. Sometimes I can’t do them. But bit by bit I get better at these rules. And when I get better, I can see better results in my life. I hope you will also.

I) IT’S ABOUT THEM

This is a bit of a cliche but it’s true. Behind every Anger is a Fear.

Whoever hates, is also afraid of something. This doesn’t mean you say, “poor baby, he’s just afraid.” But it’s just worth noting.

For instance, in the above review, the reviewer said, “the poor miserable audience”. Maybe her fear is of being poor and miserable and so she hears someone saying that to her no matter who is talking. This is her problem in life right now.

Often people say, “oh, don’t worry, they are just jealous.” Maybe they are. Maybe they aren’t. We can never read their minds.

It’s none of my business why someone thinks something of me.

But something is going on in their lives that is bringing up a fear. And they indulge the fear by having an anger towards you. By projecting their own fear onto you. For a brief moment, you become the monster that has been hiding onside of them.

Anger is just fear indulged.

II) IT ALSO REALLY IS ABOUT YOU

Most people who hate me I never even think about. But some haters push buttons. Some accidentally know how to get under my skin.

Or not accidentally. Like when a family member hates you and knows EXACTLY what buttons to press (“you never bathe”, etc).

When someone pushes a button, I get angry and maybe even defensive. But it’s NOT because they said something horrible.

It’s because under the fleshy armor of rage, I’m afraid they might be right.

I might not even admit this to myself. They put the knife in, after all, so I can accuse them. But the reality is I might be twisting the knife in even further.

Take the above example again. I pulled it out from 100s I could’ve used. Not because it was particularly mean. But I just realized I then told you a story of what happened to me in seventh grade when a girl made fun of my voice.

So maybe I really am afraid I have some weird sort of voice. I don’t know. It’s just worth noting to myself.

When all you do is “note” something to yourself, it at least separates it out from the non-stop chatter in the head. It lets you identify it and put it in it’s own special cage. This makes it easier to identify and deal with and maybe even learn something about yourself.

III) THE 24 HOUR RULE

If someone attacks you in any way, you might get bad feelings. If it’s a public attack then others might get bad feelings. People will say, “Jane said this about James so he must be an idiot.”

Or it might an office politics attack. Or an attack in a relationship.

The 24 Hour Rule works in almost every case. If you never respond to the initial attack, it goes away in 24 hours. If you respond EVEN ONCE, then reset the clock. It’s another 24 hours as it spreads through the spider web of human interaction.

This is why some battles go on for years. Nobody stops responding. The attack continues until one person dies. And as the Onion states: World Mortality Rate Holds Steady At 100%.

IV) THE 30/30/30 RULE

I had a few posts where I stole the same image of a woman doing yoga poses on a beach. I got some criticism for always using images of a sexy woman. I also got criticism for taking the images and not giving credit.

Then the woman in the images actually wrote me. I told her I was getting this criticism.

She told me her whole beautiful story which I included in my last book. But one thing she said was that for every creative thing you do: 1/3 will love you, 1/3 will hate you, and 1/3 won’t care.

Which means you should do what you love. You should do the best you can. You should try to do the things that will help you improve every day. And when bad comments come, just put them in that 1/3 bucket where it belongs.

V) DELETE

I’m always happy when someone disagrees with me. I don’t mind that.

But often people are incapable of expressing disagreement and it comes out in a way that is obnoxious or hateful.

When I can, I delete them. I can put “delete” in quotes. Sometimes its not a blog commenter but someone in real life. I delete them also. I don’t speak to people who are bad for me.

What if it’s a boss or someone you have to speak to? Well, I don’t engage with them. I let them do their thing. I nod hello in the hallways. I don’t kiss anyone’s ass to get them to like me, not even my daughters. Everyone gets their time in the “time out” box. And eventually, they can come out again if they behave.

What if it’s someone screaming at you on the phone? Just do this: “I have to go”. That’s worked against me, particularly when I was younger and wanted to scream more. “Why are you DOING THIS TO ME!?” And it felt very painful.

But it made me behave better next time.

VI) HATE IS CONTAGIOUS

Someone tweeted awhile ago: “James Altucher = #humangarbage”. I don’t know why he tweeted it. I didn’t know who he was. But I got angry for a second. I didn’t follow any of the above commandments.

I looked him up. He works at AOL. I tried to figure out how to get him fired. He made his one tweet but then it gave me maybe 1000 thoughts.

The worst thing you can do to your body is stab it. Anger is an emotional stab at your emotional body. Some religions say you should show compassion to your enemies. I don’t know. This is really hard to do.

The best I can do is recognize that I don’t know this person, and that every additional thought is another way for me to stab myself. Then the infection spreads inside of me, consumes me.

I don’t like to stab myself.

VII) YOU’LL NEVER KNOW

I could’ve contacted the guy and said, “I just need to know: why do you think I am human garbage.”

But this is one of those death bed moments.

People have said, “I am really glad I found out why that random stranger called me human garbage” on their death bed exactly zero times in the history of the universe.

There’s no need to know. And even if you do finally know…it will always turn out there was no good reason.

VIII) RESISTANCE IS FUTILE

Let’s say someone does actually have a reason for hating you. And it’s easy to refute. Like they hate you because you are from Rhode Island but actually you are from Canada. You can say, “But I’m from Canada” and they will say, “Ugh, that’s even worse.”

Nobody ever changes their mind. Change is hard. Quitting cigarettes is very hard, almost impossible for many people.

Hating is even more addictive so imagine how hard it is to change someone’s mind. Facts don’t matter. Defending yourself makes it worse (see the 24 Hour Rule).

Even a history of friendship doesn’t matter. You can say, “We’ve been friends for 20 years. Are you really going to let this get in the way of that?”

And the answer is “Yes.” Because they can’t help themselves. Because it’s about some fear they have. Because it’s about some fear you have. And never the twain shall meet.

IX) THEY LOOK STUPID HAVING SEX

That’s all you ever really need to know about your haters. They all grunt and drool and look stupid.

If all you do is think of this rule about someone who hates you, then you can ignore all of the other rules.

X) TIME HEALS ALL WOUNDS

Hate can’t last forever. Often it turns into a dull simmer. The sun that was so bright at noon, becomes a haze of purples and deep orange by twilight.

This doesn’t mean that you and the hater are now friends. It just means that the wound that was opened will eventually close up, and leave a tiny scar, a reminder but nothing more. Whether it was a betrayal. An ex-partner. An ex-lover. A commenter on a blog.

The key is to practice shortening the time.

You do this with the other nine commandments above. You do this with the daily practice of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health I recommend in my book.

I say “the daily practice” not because I want you to buy my book. Don’t buy it. It’s so easy you don’t need to read anything other than the above paragraph.

Do all this and the hate passes right through you. It’s hard to avoid all the haters. They are in your face sometimes. But you can do these methods.

For some people hate and anger and bitterness and regret last for years. Sometimes the time it takes to heal a wound lasts longer than a lifetime.

This is a waste of a lifetime.That’s ok also. Nobody is requiring you to have a fulfilling life. It’s totally your choice to waste your life.

And since many people will hate you as you stick your head out of the sand again and again (as I hope you do), you will have many opportunities to ruin your life. Enjoy them.

Sometimes (not every time) the more people who hate you, the more it means you are getting out of the comfort zone. You are creating and growing.

But hopefully your woulds heal more and more quickly. I say “your” but I really mean “me”. I hope my wounds every day heal more quickly than the day before. I wrote this post for me.

When a hater takes his or her stab, I try to use the above techniques to maybe learn about myself. And if I can’t learn a lot then maybe I can learn a little.

And if I can’t learn a little, then at least I will try to avoid getting sick.

And if I don’t get sick, then I will try to be thankful. And I move onto the next thing I can do. The next place where I will try to find love, creativity, and fulfillment.

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Mastery

February 25, 2014
(Claudia mastering Flying)

(Claudia mastering Flying)

Are you satisfied with your life? Do you go to work knowing you could do better?

Knowing there are unique talents in you that could make you great, the best in the world?

This post is about achieving mastery. But also why it’s ok to not get mastery in the traditional sense. You can define it, not use the definitions provided by everyone else.

In other words, it’s fine to be a loser.

There are a lot of books written on this topic. If you want to read an entire book on it, read Robert Greene’s “Mastery” (or watch my podcast with him). There’s also “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell.

But it’s not that hard. It doesn’t take a book to describe what makes a master. For one thing, most of us, and I mean me, will not be masters at anything.

I try. I tried with chess. I hit the rank of “master” but that doesn’t mean anything. I’ll never be world class at it. I’ve tried with writing. I’ve been writing for twenty or so years.

But I’ve known a lot of people who are among the best in the world in their field. I’ve read all the books. I’ve talked to all the people and dissected what they thought led them to their mastery.

I’ve built and sold businesses to people who were masters of their fields in every industry. I’ve invested in people who were masters in their fields.

So I’ve at least recognized who were masters and what they did.

Take this then with a grain of salt but based on my experience and the experiences of all the people I’ve interacted with.

Here are the elements of mastery. I also have some good news and bad news.

A) TALENT.

I hate to say it, but talent is a factor.

There’s a myth that everyone is talented at at least one thing and you just have to find it.

This isn’t true.

Most people are not talented at anything. Most people can be pretty good at something. For instance, Tim Ferris shows in “The Four Hour Chef” how you can be a pretty good chef with four hours worth of work.

I’ve tried his techniques and in four hours I made some pretty good dishes. Thank you, Tim. But at the launch of Tim’s book he held a dinner where each course (I think there were eight of them) was cooked by a different chef.

One of the chefs was (approximately) eight years old and his dish might’ve been the best served. That kid will be a master one day if he isn’t already. That’s talent.

When my chess ranking was peaking back in 1997 I played in a tournament against a girl fittingly named Irina Krush.

She really did crush me in about 25 moves. After the game she told me, “May be your bishop to B4 move felt a little weak to me.” She was right.

She was 13 years old. I stopped playing chess in tournaments right that moment and now only play when I’m on the phone with people. She had talent. She’s now one of the youngest women grandmasters in the world.

B) HOW DO YOU FIND what you are talented at? I think there are roughly two methods.

i) Take out a pad.

List everything you enjoyed doing from the ages of six to eighteen, before your life was ruled by college, relationships, crappy jobs, mortgages, kids, responsibilities, self-loathing, etc.

I was talking to Lewis Howes on my podcast. He mentioned he always wanted to be an athlete since he was a little kid.

He also mentioned that he used networking skills to help himself out even at an early age in order to deal with what seemed like poor academic skills. He found his two talents and became masters at both.

Often, it’s a combination of sub-talents that make you uniquely a master in that one field.

For me, I don’t know if I will master anything, but since I was a kid I loved writing, games, and anything to do with business. Maybe one day.

ii) Go to the bookstore.

Find a topic you would be willing to read 500 books on. If you can’t wait to read all 500 books in the knitting section then you probably have a talent at knitting.

Note that it is really ok to not be talented at anything. We weren’t put on this Earth to be talented at knitting.

Do you know why we were put in this Earth? I hope you know, because then you could tell me. But chances are there really isn’t any reason.

We ultimately are a combination of all of our experiences, all of the things we are interested in, all of the things we flirt with. And that combination might look like garbage to everyone else.

So play with your garbage and be happy. If you can do that, you’re in the top 0.00001%.

C) FOUR HOURS A DAY.

It’s not mystery Tim Ferriss’s books all start with “The Four Hour…” I ask almost every master I encounter, in every field, how much time per day do they spend mastering their field.

They did not give the standard Silicon Valley BS Entrepreneur answer: “I work 20 hours a day and if I didn’t need to sleep I’d work 30 hours a day”.

You can’t get good at something if you are working 20 hours a day. In fact, something is very wrong in your life if that is how much you are working at ONE thing.

The typical answer is: “I study four hours a day”. Anatoly Karpov, former World Chess Chamption, said the maximum he would study chess is three hours a day. That’s a guy who was a world champion.

Then, when he wasn’t in tournaments, he’d spend the rest of the day exercising, studying languages, doing other things to balance out his life.

D) HISTORY.

In any area of life you want to succeed at, you have to study the history.

All art is created in context. If someone wrote Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony right now it would be laughed at. It wouldn’t fit the current context of music, even though it would be a work of genius.

Andy Warhol tried many different areas of art before he decided that painting Campbell’s Soup Cans were the right art for the right moment in time.

In any sport, studying the history of how previous world champions played and trained is critical towards figuring how you can improve on that training and playing.

In any business, studying the history of that industry, the biographies of the prior executives, the successes and failures of those who went before you, is critical for mastering that business.

For example, I had Greg Zuckerman on the podcast talking about the current resurgence in oil drilling in the US. Everyone thought the US was out of oil back in the 1970s.

Well, now the fastest growing city in the United States is Williston, North Dakota and the US will probably be a net energy exporter by 2020. This is not a political opinion on fracking. It’s just reality what is happening now.

If I were remotely interested in fracking I’d study where all the oil was drilled back in the 1920s, 1950s, 1970s. How the first wildcatters found their wells. What technologies were used. What’s the history of the technology. How were improvements made. What’s the history of the geopolitics around oil drilling. And so on. Somewhere in there there is a path to getting incredibly wealthy. Not for me, because I could care less about oil. But for someone. Or many.

E) STUDY YOUR FAILURES.

I was talking poker champ Ylon Schwartz. He’s won over $7mm in tournament winnings and untold millions in informal cash games. We grew up together playing chess until he made the switch first to backgammon and then poker.

I asked him why a lot of people play poker for 20 years but never get better. What’s the story?

He said, “everyone wants to blame someone. They want to blame bad luck. Or they had a fight with their wife. Or something. But the key is you have to study your failures. You have to take notes about your losing hands and even your winning hands. You have to think about everything.”

We spoke about another friend of ours who went from homeless to millionaire in six months once he found that he had a knack for backgammon.

His name was Falafel because at the time that was all he could afford to eat.

Ylon told me, “Falafel memorized every statistic about backgammon. Right now on the web you can see that his tournament games are ranked #1 in terms of how accurately they mimic a computer. Falafel also studied every single game he lost.”

I used to play Falafel every day in chess. He’d sleep on the ground in Washington Square Park and get up in the morning with dirt and leaves in his hair and we’d play chess for fifty cents a game. Now million dollar bankrolls from backgammon are normal for him.

F) EXPERIENCE.

At some point you have to cook 10,000 meals. Or play a million hands of poker. Or 1000s of games of chess. Or start 20 businesses.

Very few are successful right away. That would require too much luck and luck favors the prepared and the persistent.

In those 1000s of whatever you will encounter much failure. We all know that the best baseball players in the world are enormous successes if they strike out “only” 70% of the time.

When my dad died I went to his house and logged onto this chess account. I saw that he played about 30,000 games. He never got any better.

A lot of people can play the 10,000 hands of poker and never get better. Or bake 1000 cakes and never get better.

You have to remember your experiences, study your failures, try to note what you did right and what you did wrong, and remember them for future experiences.

Will future experiences be exactly like the old experiences? Almost never.

But you have to have the ability to say “Hmm, this is like the time four years ago when X, Y, and Z happened.”

G) PATTERN RECOGNITION

Being able to recognize when current circumstances are like an experience you had in the past or an experience SOMEONE ELSE you’ve studied had in the past is critical to mastery.

Pattern recognition and mastery is a combination of all of the above: study + history + experience + talent + a new thing…Love.

H) LOVE

Andre Agassi famously says he doesn’t love tennis. I believe this and I don’t believe it. We all know that there are all kinds of love. There’s unconditional love, which is very hard. The Dalai Lama can have unconditional love.

Then there’s lust. You look at someone and she is the Oomph to your Ugh. She is the BAM! to you BOOM! You dream and daydream and dream and daydream until the love is all worn out and six months or six years later it’s over and you move on.

Then there’s love that matures. There’s a set of things you like about a person, even love. Mix that in with some lust. Then this love mashup changes over time.

Or you learn to adapt because you know that a maturing love is not one where you settle or explore the subtleties inside the other person but you are finally able to explore the subtletites inside of yourself.

And sometimes you just fall out of love. There is no shame in this. Do what your heart tells you to do.

Some relationships are weird combinations of all of the above. They are tumultuous. There is much pain and much pleasure. Perhaps tennis was like that for Agassi. I can’t speak for him.

But to become a master at anything there will be much pain. And it can’t be avoided. Nobody has avoided it.

If something is too much pain, then it’s not the worst thing in the world to give up. I don’t like dental surgery. It’s too much pain for me. So my teeth are messed up a bit. I give up on having perfect teeth.

I) PSYCHOLOGY.

One reason most people in the world don’t get really good at anything is because they have no talent for anything that anyone cares about.

Another reason is they don’t want to put in the work. I understand this.

Often it’s better to be social and have friends and strong family relationships and love people.

Many people who have mastered something often have a hard time with their relationships with family members or spouses or friends. Van Gogh cut off his ear. Dostoevsky, Kafka, Bobby Fischer, Godel, were never known for their social skills and often were faced with depression, suicidal tendencies or borderline schizophrenia.

When you have a career, there’s this idea that you will go from success to success. You start in the cubicle, then you get an office, then a corner office, then you move horizontally into a CEO position at another company, and so on.

You might have some failures along the way but they won’t be big failures.

With mastery the one thing in common is that there are ALWAYS big failures.

With poker champ Ylon Schwartz, the day before he left for Las Vegas in 2008 where he won over $3 million I was with him, providing support for him in a court case. He had a court appointed attorney because he was dead broke and in debt.

He asked me that day, “I have to get on a plane for Las Vegas tomorrow and when I get back I could go to jail. How am I going to get through this?”

I didn’t have an answer for him other than the usual cliches. But he got on that plane. And every day he went higher and higher in chips. And he won $3.7 million in that tournament and hasn’t looked back.

A lot of people in the investing world don’t like Tim Sykes. He has a very arrogant marketing style. He’s a friend of mine and I can tell you he’s not that arrogant. He’s extremely humble. The reason he’s so humble is that he’s gone broke several times since his first success.

It’s no fun going broke. I’ve gone broke several times. You never go broke and think, “Well, it didn’t work this time, but it will work next time.”

You go broke and you think, “That was the worst experience in my life and I’d be better off dead. That was my last chance. It’s all over for me now. I’d rather be dead than go through this pain I’m feeling right now. And everyone around me would be better off if I were dead.”

That’s what you think.

And when Tim was making one of his comebacks, nobody would speak to him. I had him on some videos with the company I was working with but ultimately they banned him.

So he chose himself. He did all of the above. I’ve since looked at his audited track record and seen that he’s made millions from trading. I know 1000s of daytraders. 1000s. I know one successful daytrader and that’s Tim.

On the path to Mastery , everything will go wrong.

As Robert Greene points out in his book, “Mastery”, Napoleon got banished to Elba where he supposedly said his famous palindrome (somehow speaking English for the first and only time in his life) “Able was I ere I saw Elba”

Every master has his Elba. Banished to an island where the life you once knew no longer exists and it seems like there is no way to escape.

Napoleon escaped because he was the best in the world at what he does.

Because he had the psychology, or perhaps the blind spot, to not recognize that this was “it”, his final destination. Studying how he came back to power is a great example of psychology mixed with all of the above skills in becoming a master.

Tim went from millions to broke to trading out of his parent’s basement to millions again and this time he’s not going to fall back.

Bobby Fischer spent much of his life in borderline schizophrenic agony when he couldn’t deal with his losses. He’d disappear for years at a time but then come back stronger than ever.

How do you build that psychology? I don’t know. It’s a combination of many things:

– Ego. A real belief that you can be the best, against all possible rational evidence against this. Against everyone trashing you simultaneously.

– No way out. I asked Ylon, Lewis, and many others what were they thinking at rock bottom and the answer almost always was: “What else could I do with my life? I had to keep going!”

J) PERSISTENCE.

Add up all of the above and you get persistence. Persistence creates luck.

Persistence overcomes failure. Persistence gets you experience. Persistence is a sentence of failures punctuated by the briefest of successes, and eventually those successes will start to propel you towards mastery.

Not one success or two. But many many many.

How do you get persistent when life is filled with changing careers, relationships, responsibilities, economic crashes, historical upswings, and so many things that can get in your way.

There’s no answer at all. That’s why it’s called persistence. Because no matter where you are, there you are, doing what you always did. Not letting any of the above stop you. Using all of the above in your Mastery Arsenal to propel you to higher successes and deeper failures and then even higher successes.

It’s painful and brutal and no fun and nobody will ever understand why. And when you achieve success people will act as if it’s the most natural thing in the world to have happened to you.

And you try to explain, “No, there was this one time…” but they don’t want to hear it. They want to know what their next move should be so they can be where you are.

There’s no next move. There’s only your next move.

K) MYSTERY

Ultimately, Mastery = Mystery. You’re going to break the sound barrier on some field that nobody has ever gone that fast or that far. You’re going to find your own unique combination of passions that make you the best in the world at that combination.

What if nobody cares? That’s ok also. You care.

What if you never go for the mystery. What if you settle back into the known, the comfortable, the stree-free existence of your peers and colleagues and everyone you ever knew.

The world might not allow it. What you thought was comfortable might’ve been a myth also.

So you can only do this:

Ask: what can I do right now to move forward. Only this second. Having a goal in the distant future is almost a damnation of this moment in time. An insult.

We can’t predict the future. And the history of mastery shows that nobody was able to predict which goals would work and which wouldn’t.

Only this moment matters. Health-wise: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Can you move forward today in each?

Then you will attract the mastery and the mystery.

—-

THE GOOD NEWS:

You don’t have to be the master of the world. You don’t have to do any of the above.

Very few people do. And many of them experienced much hardship and pain along the way. And will continue to experience that hardship.

We live in a culture where it’s almost a damnation to be considered mediocre. But society has no clue about what real mastery is. Don’t listen to any of the “Top 10 things…” articles. Don’t listen to anyone. Not even me.

Freud has said that our two goals in life are human connection and achievement.

But often it’s a reasonable goal to overcome these evolutionary inclinations.

To be happy with your loved ones. To be satisfied for every gift in your life, for every moment, not rushing to the next moment of mastery. True mastery can be found right here, right now.

Choosing yourself right now in how you treat yourself, how you treat the people around you, how you treat your efforts and your loves.

Nothing is more important than this. Nothing compounds into greater happiness in life more than this.

Because when you rush to get to a mythical THERE, one day you will arrive and realize you missed all of the pleasures and mysteries along the way.

 

1000 Things That People Smarter Than Me Do Every Morning

February 20, 2014
(Richard Branson, doing his thing)

(Richard Branson, doing his thing)

Imagine for a second you are working for a well-known Internet media site and unless you wrote an article that went “viral” you would get fired.

You know very well what goes viral. “10 things done by famous people”,

“the 10 habits of rich people”,

“that ONE SPECIAL trick Richard Branson does with his mouth every morning!”

So you get to work. You work at a long table and people with laptops sit at both sides of the table.

You all work together but you are also all competing because it’s like that TV show “Survivor” and whoever gets the least pageviews that month will be fired and an intern will take his or her place.

You look across the table and there’s Sophia, the girl you think is cute. The girl you want to impress. The girl you daydream about when you are bored.

You start your article: “1000 things people who are smarter than me do every day”.

You have to chuckle. Who is smarter than you!? You look at the girl. She would like to be with someone as smart as you, you think.

You start your list (this is so going to be viral!):

1. Go to sleep early

2. Keep a notebook with you to write everything down

3. Use the 80/20 rule in every aspect of your life. What is the 20% you do that gets you 80% of value. Start to only care about doing that 20%.

4. Don’t eat carbs. You remember that doctor who had his medical degree taken away who says that carbs are like pouring syrup over your piano keys. You used to perform at piano competitions and know that would be very upsetting.

5. Don’t hold onto regrets.

6. Be grateful

You start to think these sounds like commandments. Like the ten commandments.

You can start a religion! If this goes viral you will be the high priest of this new religion! Then the cute girl across the table will love you.

Is it bad to exploit girls because you are the king of a religion? Well, there was Mary Magdalene right? So it must be ok a little.

7. Send one thank you note a day.

This is definitely going viral, you think. For one thing, it’s easy. I can send five thank you notes right now.

But there’s no way I am turning the other cheek. If someone were to hit me, I’d have to hit them back. Do I follow Jesus (turn the other cheek) or Hammurabi (an eye for an eye). They are both hard. You don’t really want to claw someone’s eye out. “Go for the eyes if you are attacked.” But what if you miss and then they go for your eyes.

Before the Internet, religions were hard. I can’t follow those commandments, you think.

No, you think, as you type. My viral religion is a lot easier than any other code of ethics or laws or humanism (belief in the special-ness of being human) that ever existed before.

You wonder what the cute girl is writing. Probably “10 Ways to Look Better Every Day”. She has a wide beautiful smile. You know you love her because you feel it in your chest when she smiles at you.

You wish you could reach across the table and she would reach back and you touch her and connect. Electricity, you would think. If that were to happen.

8. …..

Hmmm, what would someone smarter than me do? I can’t come up with #8.

You think of Albert Einstein. What would he do? Was he even smarter than you? Who cares about e = mc2? What was the big deal on that one? Was it that hard to come up with? Could he come up with this list? Did he send thank you notes every day?

Richard Branson comes into the room and everyone is in shock. He has a glow around him. You aren’t even sure if it’s Richard Branson or somehow a younger version of Richard Branson that has come to the future via Virgin Time Travel.

He comes up to the cute girl. She smiles and holds her arms up expectantly. She gives a little bounce in her chair because she’s happy and you wanted to make her that happy.

He reaches down and his lips touch hers. He does that one special trick with his mouth that he does every morning.

How to Write for a Living

February 18, 2014

When I first wrote a novel in 1991 I remember walking down the road and seeing a pretty girl and thinking, “She might like me now”.

I know that a lot of what I write seems to involve whether or not women like me.

But that’s what I think about. I want people to like me. And when I was younger, it was more important that women like me than that men like me.

I also wanted money. I didn’t want to work for a boss. That scary feeling of being called into the boss’s office after you know you did something that was “wrong”.

I put it in quotes because what does it matter now? What did it even matter then?

How could you, my sweet baby, ever do something wrong?

Note: the above sentence is what I would whisper to myself after being summoned to the boss’s office.

“Don’t you have any pride in your work?”
“Clean out your desk today”.
“Did you steal all of the paper?”
“Why did the office cleaning lady find 20 moldy sandwiches in your drawer?”
“Why didn’t you test the software before it went to the client.”

Whatever. It’s because I was busy and no I didn’t have pride in my work.

I was 22 years old and looking at women and trying to publish a novel on the side so I didn’t have to work anymore. And I have no comment about the sandwiches.

It took many years before I made any money as a writer. And what works then is different now. Right now it’s easier than ever.

But the rules changed every 3 or 4 years and they will change again. Just like they change with everything in life.

By the way, that first novel, and the four that came after it, and the 50 short stories that came after it, never got published.

I used to think I needed to publish something before I could feel good about myself, before I could call myself a “writer”, before I could have a girlfriend, before I could get a real job, before I could move to NYC.

What a pathetic weight on my shoulder to think I needed something controlled by just a handful of people. Those weights stayed on my back for years.

When you have weights on you, you can’t move. The weights are only mental. Go ahead. Move.

So…GO!

A) YOU ARE A WRITER.

If you sit down at a blank screen every day and simply do nothing then you are a writer. If you write one word, even better.

Some people will disagree. Maybe you will disagree. That’s fine.

We also can all disagree. Meanwhile, our DNA is telling us we are pretty much exactly the same. People argue and DNA laughs.

B) READ A TON OF STUFF.

I try to read pieces or chapters in 3-4 books a day or more. I read at least from one non-fiction, one or two quality fiction, and one inspirational.

I try to read at the level I want to write. I do this in the morning before I start writing. If you email me, you can see in the auto response some of the latest things I’ve been reading.

At night I relax and read things that are a little more like “junk food” – fun things that I want to read but don’t necessarily inspire my writing. If you don’t like reading, you won’t like writing.

Before I wrote this morning, I read parts of books from Teju Cole, Bukowski, Eckhart Tolle, and the blog Hyperbole and a Half.

Someone wrote in a comment to someone else’s post a few weeks ago: What if James Altucher had to take care of two kids in the morning?

Yes, it’s true. Kids suck. But sometimes I do have to do that. Plus I have other responsibilities. So I wake up at 4am and begin reading and writing. Or earlier. Whatever it takes.

C) GET RID OF PREJUDICE.

Agents, publishers, editors, at the traditional companies are mostly bullshit.

They have no clue what they are doing. For the most part they pick sucky writers whose books flash for a week or so and then disappear forever.

And they take a year to publish your book after they accept your book. This is not 100% true. But try to gauge the entrepreneurship of the people you are dealing with. You need people as creative as you. It needs to be a team and not a machine.

You can traditionally publish, but make sure you are doing it with creative entrepreneurs (cc Patricia Gift ) and not people stuck in the machine.

If you think you need a mainstream publisher for reasons of ego or prejudice then you are guaranteed to publish a worst-seller instead of a bestseller.

The second you start to think something, anything, is IMPORTANT, then your ego will suffer and your work will suffer.

If you are an artist, get your art in the hands of people. That’s your only job. Destroy every gatekeeper.

D) SELF-PUBLISHING IS NOT E-BOOKS.

If you self-publish, you can make an e-book, you can also make a print-on-demand book through Createspace, you can make an Audio book through Audible, you can make a hardcover, you can even make a t-shirt with your book on it.

I have over 20 t-shirts with the entire 67,000 words of “Choose Yourself!” printed on it. My kids have several shirts. Claudia does. Nobody is allowed to walk into this house without wearing that t-shirt.

Do what you want. Self-publishing simply means you write a book and you figure out how to get it into the hands of other people. It might just be you sell it on your email list. Congrats! You’re then a published author.

In my post, “How to Self Publish a Bestseller” I write about the details and the numbers.

E) BOOKSTORES ARE EVIL.

My kids are sad that Borders is dying and that Barnes & Noble is next. Keep your mouths shut, kids!

I get it. I love bookstores also. It’s like a work of art to see all of those covers, to thumb through the pages, to grab a pile of books and a coffee and start seeing what books you want to buy.

But don’t forget just 20 years ago everyone said Barnes & Noble was evil because they were killing the independent bookstore.

I have news for you: the indies were evil also. One guy picking out 500 of his favorite books and no others.

Now a B&N might have 10,000 books but Amazon has 20 million books. Why would you ever give someone the choice to limit you. I hope all bookstores die and that Amazon is the only one left standing. Because then every author has a chance and not just the ones the B&N gatekeeper decides on.

And I’ll tell you how I am doing my role: I pick out the books I might buy in a Barnes & Noble. I take them to the coffee shop in the store. I buy my coffee and start thumbing through the books.

Then I buy the books right there and then in the store.

On my Kindle.

Screw you, Barnes & Noble.

F) PLATFORM IS SHIT.

I agree it’s important to have some Internet presence. You need to sell your first 1000 books once you publish and the Internet is a good way to do it.

But your free audience is not the way to do it. They read your blog for free. They don’t even want to fork over 99 cents to buy your book.

I will give you an example: on my last book, “Choose Yourself!” I obviously encouraged my readers to buy it. But another group, Stansberry Research, recommended it to their paying subscribers.

In two weeks through them I sold tens of thousands of books. It took my free audience, which was millions bigger, three months to catch up in sales to an audience that had never even heard of me before.

Now my book has sold over 100,000 copies and I’m getting ready to send out another email bundle to another list. This will be infinitely more valuable than any blog, podcast, marketing, whatever I use to promote my book on the Internet.

I love the audience for my blog and these posts. I feel it’s one of the few times I’ve seen a community of genuine good people trying to improve. I don’t write here to sell books but to build community and make friends.

Most of the Internet is “outrage porn” and I’m glad we’ve avoided that.

That said, I am not an expert on marketing. +Ryan Holiday, who is an expert on book marketing (and also told me the term “outrage porn” yesterday), helped me with my book and was an invaluable resource and to this day still is. Ryan and Tucker Max and Nils Parker are building a company which will revolutionize this industry.

One rule I have is I am loyal for life to anyone who helps me make money and Ryan definitely helped me.

G) BLOG.

This seems opposite of what I said above. But blogging is not such a bad idea. How come? Because it makes you write every day. And it also is fun to build friends and community around your blog.

But if you want to blog, don’t just register a domain name and start blogging. You won’t get any traffic.

I encourage people to find online communities that they like and feel like participating in and start blogging there or guest posting there.

If you are unsure of where and how to blog, start by practicing on a site like Quora, which is a question and answer site that also hosts blogs.

Practice answering questions there. See what gets upvoted and what doesn’t. Improve your skills. See if you enjoy it. Then start taking some of your answers and making them into a blog. Then start guest posting on other sites.

You’re not trying to build an audience for your blog. You’re trying to build an audience for YOU, PERIOD. There’s no money in ads, blah.

You have to be more creative than ever how you build an audience. The best Internet marketing I did was when I did a reddit AMA (which Ryan, above, set up).

Look at someone like EL James, who wrote Fifty Shades of Grey. I don’t even think she had a blog. She was posting on fan fiction sites for Twilight.

And millionaire teenage bestseller, Amanda Hocking, was posting in the comments section of JA Konrath’s site and building community that way.

There’s a thousand ways to build community and practice writing on the Internet. Blog is one of them but there are many others. My #1 suggestion: first practice on Quora (cc Marc Bodnick) If you go there, follow me and say “Hi!”.

H) WRITE EVERY DAY.

I had a friend who wanted to be a painter. “When I move to Paris I’ll finally be able to paint,” she said. She never moved to Paris. Now she’s a programmer and hates her job.

I have another friend who has been working for 30 years on one novel. She keeps hating it and rewriting it. She can’t get a publisher interested. She only writes when she’s inspired. She needs writing groups to push her along.

I get it. I get writer’s block also. But writing is a muscle. I used to play in chess tournaments a lot. I was ranked a master. And then I got busy with other things. So my skill level has dropped. It would take me a good SIX MONTHS OF STUDYING three hours a day to just get back up to my old skill level.

If you don’t write every day, you won’t know what your potential skill level is. You will be producing sub-par work. And in a world where 15 million books will be published this year, your book will have little chance to shine.

It doesn’t matter if you write good stuff or bad stuff every day. Yesterday, for fun, I wrote about how much I enjoyed bowel movements. Will I publish that? I hope not! It was awful! But I wrote because that’s what I wrote yesterday. 1500 words about bowel movements. Mission accomplished.

Do the math, if you just write 1000 words a day that are publishable then you have a book every two months. 1000 words a day is not easy. But it’s not hard either. This post is 1800 words so far and I started 20 minutes ago. I’ll spend many more hours rewriting it than writing it but once you start exercising the writing muscle (start with 200 words a day, then 300, etc) you will get up to 1000.

There’s a blog about a woman who writes 10,000 words a day and she describes her method. She does detailed outlining first. That method works.

When Claudia Azula Altucher and I went away on a silent retreat to write “The Power of No”, which hasn’t come out yet, we were writing about 7,000 words a day.

Sometimes more words is not better. If I write a 1000 words, then by the time I’ve published I’ve usually rewritten and edited it down to 600 words.

I) REWRITE EVERY DAY. See above. I feel better about the words I take out then the words I write.

First you have a block of stone, then you make a sculpture, then you chisel and fine tune until you have a work of art. Art is born from the rewrite, not from the typewrite.

With “Choose Yourself!” I kept rewriting obsessively.

One time the book was all finished and sent to editors, designers, etc. Then I did the audio version. KABLAMO!

Any paragraph that made me feel like, “Ugh, I’m too bored to read this out loud,” I noted. Then I went back home and rewrote the whole book again. And the audio version veered so much from the book it was completely unabridged. Everyone hated me. But I liked the final result much beter. Read your work out loud and cut out anything that makes you lag.

J) CAN I MAKE MONEY WRITING ARTICLES?

No. You used to be able to make a living writing articles. Just a few years ago. In 2005 I made a good living writing about 3-4 articles a day for different publications while I was running my fund and before I started and sold Stockpickr.

But those days are over. People just don’t pay for content. And there are too many writers. It’s a supply and demand thing. If you expect to make a living from articles or blogs then figure out how to do one of three things:

  1. blog for free, but then lead people to a subscription information product. Like “stock picks” or “dating” or whatever you think you’re an expert at and nobody else is. (cc Ramit Sethi Lewis Howes Tim Sykes Derek Halpern Porter Stansberry etc)
  2. get speaking gigs. This is hard.
  3. do consulting or coaching. This is possible.

I’ve never been that great at any of the three above. Well, maybe #3 but only recently.

So this leaves us with only one thing. ONE THING works.

K) WRITE A LOT OF BOOKS.

If you can write one book and it’s a mega-bestseller like “50 Shades of Grey” then congratulations. There is exactly one of you and I know your name: EL James.

For everyone else, you have to write more than one book. And for most people, you have to write dozens of books.

I was at a dinner recently of a bunch of self-published Amazon authors who were making a living at it. Every single one of them had more than ten books written and published in the prior year or so.

+Theresa Ragan, as an example, has 13 or 14 books written (thriller and romance) in the past 2 or 3 years.

Hugh Howey, known for his Wool series, has written around 28 books in the past few years. I lost count while counting them. He never stops. I highly recommend his SAND series which just came out.

At the dinner there was one woman who had written over 100 books. If she averages $100 a book a month for the rest of her life it’s not so bad. “Choose Yourself!” was my 11th or 12th published book. I have four more books sitting here ready to go.

Throughout history the best books have often been written in a short amount of time. Bukowski’s “Post Office” and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” were both written in three weeks. I can find 1000 more examples.

Sean Platt has a good book that just came out about writing many books. I recommend it. “Write. Publish. Repeat.” I think Sean has published over 50 books. I don’t know because he uses pseudonyms as well.

Always remember the key rule: an overnight success takes at least five years of solid work (as defined in my prior post “The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Reinventing Yourself”).

I left out important things: how do you market books, how do you make art, how do you build discipline, what do you write about, and so on. There’s answers for all of those.

The most important thing for me: writing without fear. Writing without judgment. Writing without anger. Making writing fun. Writing right now.

Writing is about freedom and not money.

I want to write to you something fun and useful. And I want you to read it.

– – –

(p.s. Share with the people who have books hidden in their drawer.)

(p.p.s. don’t ever be afraid. Hit “publish”. Apologize later. )

Louis CK and the Hare Krishnas Used This ONE Trick for Success

February 10, 2014

cklouis

I once wanted to be a stand-up comedian but I was too afraid to even go on a stage. Then I wanted to do a TV show but kept getting rejected. So finally I switched industries and started an Internet business.

Louis CK is my favorite comedian. He is the high priest of understanding our culture. I watch him every day. I watch the same routine over and over. I can spend hours breaking down every line of his routines. I watch him before I give talks because I get to borrow his confidence. I used to watch him before dates. I even watch him before I hang out with my kids.

I first saw him perform live in 1995 or 1996 at the Aspen Comedy Festival. I went two years in a row. One time I bored Dave Chapelle to death. I kept talking and talking and finally he said, “Excuse me, I have to get out of here and find me a girl for tonight!”

Another time there I asked Al Franken if I could interview him. He looked me up and down and said, “No” and walked on. Fair enough. Now he’s a U.S. senator, and I just write random stuff on my Facebook wall.

They both said “no” and moved on. But I needed them to say “yes” and didn’t know how to get them to.

Louis CK did a bit in his last show that was sort of outrageous. It begins with killing kids and ends with justification for slavery. In it, to get laughs, he uses the exact same sales technique that has made the Hare Krishnas billions of dollars and should be used by everybody on a daily basis. He starts off saying “Children who have nut allergies need to be protected… of coursebut maybe…if touching a nut kills you…you’re supposed to die.”

Everyone laughs and claps.

He has funny delivery. He says “Of course not, Of course not, but maybe, but maybe,” and then he holds his hand over his eyes and says “if we all do this for a year we’d be done with nut allergies forever.”

Everyone laughs. It’s funny. He has some compassion in it (“of course notbut“), so he’s forgiven. I forgive him. He makes it funny and we clap.

He does a few more. Then he says, “Of course… slavery was bad.” And suddenly he hit a third rail. Everyone stops for a second. They don’t know whether to clap or not. It’s against the rules!

But then he hits the entire point of the joke. The reason the joke is so funny. The entire reason Louis CK is an artist and has risen to the top of his profession. He goes up against that awkward pause from the audience. He then goes past it and brings them with him.

Society (parents, schools, colleagues, government, etc.) builds up walls. Evolution builds up walls. The walls are in our brain. Art bangs against them and forces us to go “OUCH!” or have some other reaction (laughter, creation, innovation, excitement).

When people stop laughing for a second at the word “slavery,” Louis CK stops his joke and unveils the real joke:

“Listen, listen, you all clapped for dead kids and the nuts.” He then mimicked the clapping. In every way he reminds them of how funny they thought kids dying of nut allergies was. And how ludicrous it is but they still laughed.

Then he points out the whole audience: “So you’re in this with me now, do you understand? You don’t get to cherry pick. Those kids did nothing to you.”

And now the audience was laughing again. Even louder than before. Some people were cheering. He was ready now for his joke on slavery.

 Watch it here: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkjmzEEQUlE

This was what was funny. The reality is: they did have the right to cherry pick.

But he used a clever psychological technique to make them think they didn’t. And it’s the same trick Hare Krishnas have used to raise billions of dollars.

It’s a trick you need to be aware of if you want to succeed in life — to say “no” when you need to and to help others get to “yes” when you need them to.

When the Hare Krishnas first started preaching in airports they had nothing going for them. Nobody would listen to them.

They raised no money. They were failures. Who would give money to a strange-looking shaved guy dressed in robes with totally different beliefs who had his hand out?

Answer: Nobody.

Then everything changed and they became the fastest-growing religious movement in the United States in the 1970s. They raised billions of dollars.

What did they do? What changed?

Flowers.

daisy

The first thing they did when they met you was give you a 5-cent daisy. In fact, since so many people threw out the daisies, they often gave you a used daisy because they would fish them out of the garbage cans.

And yet, once you took that daisy, your brain flipped an evolutionary switch. You were on!

You would now have to listen and maybe even agree with the rest of their story and give them money.

There are two rules at work here:

1) The law of reciprocity. If someone does something for you, the brain feels obligated to return the favor. Evolution weeded out the people who would not do anything for you. People learned to cooperate like this so they would survive in the jungle.

Robert Cialdini covers this rule in his book “Influence.” That said, I do not believe this rule is applicable here but a slightly different and more critical rule.

The law of reciprocity is really just a subset of the rule that governs almost every transaction and conversation in our lives.

2) Commitment bias. If you say “yes” to something small, your brain has already decided, “this is someone I can trust and say ‘yes’ to.”

For instance, in a study, if someone asks you “Would you be interested in hearing about causes that can help the environment?” (almost everyone says “yes” because that’s an easy “yes”) then you are about 50 percent more likely to donate when a donation is asked for than if you hadn’t been asked that simple first question.

Commitment bias works because you had to know who was reliable in the jungle 100,000 years ago. You had to know if someone was on your side or not. If they demonstrated it once, then chances are they are on your side and were trustworthy.

Do you want to know what the most popular article ever on my blog is? It’s the one where I say nobody should ever own a home again. People hate this article. They hate it because there’s probably nothing else in life with higher commitment bias.

If you just put $100,000 (or $10,000) down on a home and more on maintenance, taxes, etc., you don’t want anyone telling you you made a mistake. You have huge commitment bias as opposed to the second before you put any money down.

Louis CK made use of the second law (the first law is implicit – he is putting on a show for them so he is giving them something) in this joke.

He got them to laugh to a milder version of the joke (peanut allergies, where even he says, “of course not. I have a nephew with peanut allergies and I would be devastated if something were to happen to him, so he shows his compassion. He’s one of us.)

But now they are in. They took the flower. Now they have to hear the more extreme version of the joke (“slavery”) and they even have to laugh (like people would have to donate billions to the Hare Krishnas).

He knew this (“You’re all in this with me now” even though they weren’t really) and their brains were sucked in and, when you listen to the video, they are actually laughing even harder now.

When dealing with people in business or even in relationships, get them to “yes” on something simple. Then they are in.

This is why learning the “Power of No” is so important. It fights our evolutionary tendencies that were important for 500,000 years but are no longer as important.

I love this joke. I laughed. Because he also makes subtle reference to history.

Each major language in the world — English, Spanish, Han Chinese, and Arabic — are the languages of genocidal empires that at one point or another conquered the entire world.

So as much as you like to speak English, and as much as you like our culture and art and everything, it’s the result of centuries of conquest and killing and slavery. And we live in it and order take-out and watch “American Idol” and participate in the culture.

So you’re all in on this now. You can’t cherry pick your history.

Which is what Louis CK’s joke is really about without him explicitly saying it. It turns history upside down. It uses clever psychological tactics that are used (and often abused) in marketing, and he gets people to laugh all at the same time.

That’s why Louis CK is the master. That’s why I love him.

I’ve also lately been really enjoying CK, Daniel Tosh, Marina Franklin, Jim Norton and Anthony Jeselnik. If you have other favorites, please put them in the comments. I need new people to watch.

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Meeting the Love of Your Life

February 3, 2014

backwhite

I had no furniture, I was 20 lbs overweight, no job, depleting bank account, owed the IRS, out of shape, I drank every night, I was separated but not divorced, two kids, depressed and maybe suicidal, and finally, I secretly wanted to be a standup comic.

I also didn’t like being alone. I am the sort of person who likes to be married.

In other words, I was gross, unqualified for anything, an alcoholic, and delusional.

Probably paranoid also since I was constantly getting fired from things at that point, despite saving the world economy in my spare time (sadly, I have to refer you to my book for that story, which is a true story).

I had a table and one chair and I had a sofa. I had no plates in my kitchen. I had a mattress on the floor. That was the extent of my furniture. I had some books.

I sat on that one chair and made it a full time job to find the woman of my dreams.

You may not want to meet the love of your life. You might want to meet the “love of the next six months”. Or…”the love of the next week”. That’s fine also. Nobody can predict the future. I know I am horrible at predicting the future.

This worked for me. Might not work for anyone else.

A) QUANTITY

I saw some article recently, “how to bang a lot of chicks”. That’s not what I mean by quantity. In fact, that’s the opposite of quantity. If anything, if you follow that strategy you will fail.

But for me, since I had been fired by thestreet.com, CNBC was no longer using me, The Financial Times fired me, two businesses I had started were failing, and there was nothing else for me to do: I had plenty of time to sign up for lots of dating sites and send at least 100 messages a day to women.

I would arrange dates for lunch, dinner, whenever. I’d travel 40 miles to go on a date. Some women wanted to talk on the phone. I’d set aside an hour or two a day to talk on the phone.

But nothing really mattered until I met the person.

If you meet ten people you think you are attracted to, you might actually be only attracted to one. The other thing is: given my situation most women didn’t even respond to my messages. So quantity was critical.

B ) ASK OUT EVERYONE

If I liked a girl in an elevator, I would ask her out (that actually worked).

If you worked in the phone-bill collection store, I asked you out (that worked also). If I bumped into you in the street five years earlier, I would see if you were still single and ask you out. If you served me an egg sandwich, I asked you out. If I liked you in sixth grade, I would find out if you lived in the Northeast US, was single, and I would ask you out.

Dating is like war. You have to consider every angle, you have to be flexible, you can’t rely on what worked for you in the past, and you have to be very open-minded.

I know this sounds pathetic. I don’t care what people think. This is why I deliberately made this a too-long-to-read post. Anyway, this is what I did.

C) MYSTIQUE

I don’t have a lot of masculine (or feminine) mystique. Which means I had to work with what I had.

Nothing.

I put up no picture on any dating site. Making use of my “nothing”.

Someone told me, or I read somewhere (I forget) that mystique is a key part of charisma. I have no idea if this is true.

Most women won’t consider clicking on a profile with no picture. If they did, though, then it meant I could start having a conversation with them and take it to the next level. They had already passed a significant hurdle in clicking on me (a profile with no picture) so they had something “invested” in me being interesting.

This is equivalent the Hare Krishnas giving out a flower before asking for money. You took the flower. YOU ARE IN!

Then, if they said, “why no picture” I had an easy answer which was true “I’M ON TV A LOT”.

BLAM!

Not that anyone is shallow, but they suddenly went from knowing nothing about me to knowing I am the type of guy who could be on TV a lot. And then I would send a picture right away.

D) SAY NO

My biggest rule: Saying NO when everything seemed great.

If I liked a girl, she was pretty, we went on a date, and it was all systems go, BUT I knew this was not going to be a long-term relationship for whatever reason… then I said “No” and would leave before anything would happen.

A spider can get stuck in it’s own web (uhh, is this true? I have no idea) and I didn’t want to spin anything I would have a hard time getting out of. This is really the most important rule.

Too many people go to bed too quickly. Two problems then:

– now you have a situation to deal with.

– if she goes to bed quickly with you, she might go to bed quickly with someone else. I don’t like feeling jealous on my nights off.

So I liked girls who said “No” also.

And, this is not in a manipulative way. None of this was manipulative. But finding someone who is a good person, who you legitimately like and want to go out with, is not magic. It’s not about destiny or fate.

It’s about hard work, psychology, and economics.

E) OUT-NO THE WOMAN.

Claudia said to me, after our first kiss, “I like to spend [she gave a time period] getting to know a guy.” I said, “Perfect, I like to spend [insert the time she said times two] getting to know the girl.”

I didn’t want to seem like I was in a rush or anything. But the reality was, I was shy and liked to take it slow. So it was easy for me to say that. And it threw her off a bit. Mission accomplished!

And I guess there is a little bit of gamesmanship in there. Not only would she not feel pressure but maybe she would feel nervous. Ok, I admit to a tiny bit of manipulation.

F) FAST FIRST DATE

Tea, no dinner.

I was such an idiot, always setting up dinners with women. To be honest, you know in a few seconds if you’re going to be attracted enough to consider spending the rest of your life with that person.

One time I took an hour long train out to Coney Island for a dinner with a woman who had been the Olympic swimming champion of some Eastern European country. Within two seconds I knew not for me. But there I was in a two hour dinner and then another hour long ride home on a train. No good.

When I met Claudia I pushed really hard for dinner. I knew I liked her. But she kept writing back, “No. Tea! No dinner.”

So we met for tea. And she had a specific timeline. She had a 5pm train to catch. So it had to stop at a certain point no matter what.

G) RESEARCH

I’ve already written this but when Claudia first wrote me that she was from Buenos Aires I wrote back, “Great! I’ve never been to Brazil.” Thankfully she jumped over another hurdle to meet me by ignoring my total stupidity.

Shows you either how useless 18 years of formal education is or how stupid I was. Maybe both.

Other situations: I went on a date with someone interested in Kaballah. I read everything I could about it in a 3 hour period and was able to drop all the right terms and sound impressive. Again, this sounds manipulative and it is but two things:

– I fully admit I was in a weaker position.

The myth of manipulation is that the manipulator is somehow “stronger” than the person being manipulated.

But no manipulation ever occurs unless the one doing the manipulating is weaker. That was me. Weak.

– I really wanted to see if I could be interested in the other person’s interests. Particularly since at the time I had almost no interests other than surviving, drinking, and meeting someone. Oh, and I wanted to be a standup comic.

H) SURPRISE!

I would surprise on every date. Sometimes I would buy offbeat gifts (again, the famous Hare Krishna technique).

I also had a list of carefully researched outlandish places all over the city where I could take people on dates. Hidden restaurants, all-dark restaurants, offbeat places that nobody would expect, etc.

Sometimes I would go to the restaurant the day before and pay and tip with all two dollar bills. So when I arrived there the next day with my date I would be treated differently than other customers. I know this is starting to sound more and more loser-ish but I can’t help it. This is what I did. And it worked!

Connecting with another person is very difficult. I had to use every law of psychology and economics to help me.

I) THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT LAWS OF ECONOMICS.

I could care less about the Federal Reserve and the economy of Greece, etc. But three things about economics are very useful in the dating world:

1) Opportunity Cost.

If you waste time with someone you ultimately won’t enjoy being with then that was time you could’ve spend finding the right person for you.

For all you know, that was THE time you would’ve found someone who would’ve changed your life. Opportunity cost in time is a huge factor in dating that 99.9% ignore.

Always remember in life: money you can always make back. Time, once spent, is gone forever.

2) Supply and Demand.

By using many dating sites and opportunities I kept the supply very high.

I couldn’t really control demand that much. I couldn’t really do anything to increase the size of the demographic that likes me.

But I did everything I could to increase supply so my ultimate “cost” (time, stress, loneliness) was as low as possible while my value increased.

3) Statistics.

I had no interest in going for someone who would probably not like me.

And, if someone was a lot younger then chances are I would find them boring anyway. So whether it was right or wrong, I used statistics to weed through opportunities.

J) HONESTY.

I was almost too honest on dates about the things that were both good and bad about me.

But I had given up on wearing masks to get people to like me so figured this would be an important part of not wasting time.

Claudia asked me immediately on our date if I could describe what was up with my separation. I had nothing to hide.

Like, in anything, the more honest you are the more of a trusted source you become. People gravitate towards trusted sources.

K) NO GAMES.

I didn’t like any games at all. If people played games, I was out. For instance, if someone thought it was weird if I called the next day but then was upset if I didn’t call the day after that I felt like some “rule” was being used. This was grounds for immediate disqualification.

If I didn’t understand the rules, then I wasn’t going to follow them.

Similarly, if I couldn’t tell if someone liked me by the third date then it was over. You don’t need to be a psychic to know if someone likes you in that way or not.

This is not to say it was all clinical and choreographed. On our second date I wanted to kiss Claudia. But I was really shy. I could tell she liked me. So we went on a walk. I had a spot in mind overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge from South Street Seaport. But I got scared.

Then we walked another mile or two and it was getting windy. Finally, we got to another spot and I did something embarrassing and stupid. I made fun of her teeth a little (she has tiny fangs on each side) so I could have an excuse to lean in and kiss. And she kissed back.

Later I called my friend, Dan, and told him, “Ok, the search is over.”

Today it’s dark and snowing, like the moon split into a million pieces and fell to the Earth. Claudia hates the cold so this past week we spent in Florida. Sometimes I’m desperate and scared. But sometimes I’m happy.

Why Do I Expose Myself So Much?

January 27, 2014

batman

 

I wrote one very embarrassing story a few years ago and it got popular and I got a lot of pageviews, a lot of emails, and even a death threat.

I made new friends. It had been a long time since I had made new friends. Maybe ten years.

So I wrote more. I wrote the most brutal, revealing stories I could think of. Really embarrassing and painful stuff.

I didn’t care if they put me in a good light or a bad light. Entertain, honesty, and help, are my guidelines.

Honesty is not good or bad. “Good” or “Bad” are man-made. Truth is truth. But then everyone gets polarized. “He is THIS!” and “THAT!”

People would say things: “this is like watching a train wreck while it’s happening”.

The same people would write me on the side and say: “the same thing happened to me. Don’t tell anyone.” Because none of us are perfect but people try to be.

It took too much energy to pretend. Why be fake? I wanted to help people. To show that the path to meaning is riddled with misery and failure, rejection and discovery. Discovery about who you are.

Many of us wake up scared, anxious, nervous. Me too. Every day. Am I good enough? Will I survive? Will I thrive? I’m scared. Yes, yes. Me too.

I’m afraid, though. I’m always afraid. I like to be liked. What would happen to me?

But then it got bigger. More people were starting to come to my blog. I started holding Q&A sessions on Twitter.

I was seeing the kind of worries people had. We live in a time where many people are scared. Where so much uncertainty looms over our future.

  • “I’m afraid I’m going to get fired, what should I do?”
  • “I’m depressed and suicidal all the time”
  • “How can I find my passion in life so I can start to love what I do?”
  • “My boss hates me, what should I do?”
  • “My boyfriend left me and I have to support a kid and I have no job, what should I do?”
  • “I’m anxious all the time. Help!?”
  • “Should I send my kid to college?”
  • “Is it ok yet to buy a home?”

I’ve gotten over 40,000 questions in almost 200 Q&A sessions.

I would never answer directly. Who am I to answer another living being’s questions?

This is the problem I have with most blogs. Everyone writes from “authority”. In a world of mice, there is no one mouse with authority.

I would find where INSIDE myself I related with a story. I would feel the pain in my own body and try to tease it out with words. Sometimes it would come out, like a snake being charmed.

Then I would write my story. When did the question apply to ME! What did I DO to help myself. Sometimes I did things that worked and sometimes they didn’t.

But overall I learned.

Our true stories often show the dark side of ourselves. Without the darkness, how can we find the light?

I simply told what happened to me. When I was depressed. When I was suicidal. When I was an addict of some form or other. When I blew shit up. When shit blew up on me.

When I failed at businesses or relationships. When I lost control. When I had too much control. When I ugh, argh, and blahhed.

And in each of those situations, I described what I did. Perhaps I reveal too much. Who cares?

I then wrote a book. People who didn’t read the book said, “he wrote it for money” but if they looked at the first page they would see that I offered all the money back OR I offered to donate the full price to “Women for Women International” a charity I strongly believe in.

I let that offer run for three months, losing money on every single person who took me up on that offer.

I don’t say this to brag. The number of people who took me up on this offer was less than 2%. But I didn’t know that in advance. Claudia was afraid it would be 40%.

But as I mentioned in the first page, I wanted the message to get out to as many people as possible. I didn’t want to write yet another bullshit self-help book that would lie useless on your bookshelf.

I wanted it to have MEANING for people. To help people. If it didn’t help people, they could get their money back.

And it worked. Just seven months later over 100,000 people now have bought the book so far and rights have been sold in about ten countries.

Some people ask me: why do I expose so much about my failures? Won’t it cost me opportunities?

Won’t people think less of me? Will it cost me money and jobs and friends and won’t that then ruin my life?

Yes. Yes it will. And it did. My life turned upside down in horrible and painful ways.

I couldn’t believe the people who stabbed me. Sometimes my own family and friends. Sometimes people who never met me.

Writing honestly has cost me many opportunities. I did not grow up with a privileged background. I have nothing to fall back on.

My opportunities and reputation are all I have and I put it all out there for people to use or mis-use.

But then a funny thing happened on the way here.

Suddenly really special and magical people started to appear in my life. More than I could’ve imagined. My idea muscle went on fire.

I’ve been broke and desperate so many times. I was sick of it. And when I started blogging, I was really going nowhere in life.

I’ve created more abundance than ever since I started focusing on what I considered “my art” (which is a bullshit phrase but there it is) and forgot all about money. Money is just a side effect of abundance. It’s not the same as abundance.

Have I made enemies?

Of course!

People get upset when they read things they can’t understand. People who wear the cover of politics or economics or “guru” or “perfect” or “smart”.

People who are still afraid to reveal what’s underneath. The real person who we are. Nobody is smart. We’re all here for a tiny speck and during that time we do the best we can do, that’s it and nothing more.

But some people don’t like to see themselves in the mirror. So they attack and unleash. Something happens to them that I bet they don’t even understand.

They get angry and terrified at the same time. Sometimes they react to me through emails. Sometimes blogs. Sometimes phone calls. Sometimes they indulge in the outrage porn so common on the Internet.

I’ve had death threats. I’ve lost friendships in very hurtful ways. I’ve had people take out of context things I’ve said to try and put me in a bad light for reasons I’ll never understand.

And I don’t try to understand. What’s the point?

The most precious thing we have is our life energy. To use and waste and destroy that energy on things that are “crappy” (people or situations) is the fastest way to lose our life force.

I can’t ever let a crappy person become important enough for me to deal with. I can’t ever let a crappy situation waste my energy.

Energy builds up all of the time. But only if you don’t waste it. And when it builds up, the things that happen are beyond belief.

I will tell you what I truly believe in. This is my personal religion:

I believe the universe is curious. The universe’s only goal is to learn through our eyes.

It’s not here to help us solve our problems. It could care less. It wants us to have problems so it can see how WE solve them.

It can lend a helping hand, but only if we don’t waste energy fighting the fuckness around us.

I like to solve my problems. And then write about how I did it in an entertaining way. I spend all day studying how other writers work. And then I try to write 1/10 as well as them in order to share my experiences.

I do this now completely selfishly. Because of you. Because I’ve met you, my new friends, on this exciting journey.

Thanks for reading me.

HOW TO GET AN MBA FROM EMINEM

January 20, 2014

Eminem-01-1024x768bIn 2002 I was driving to a hedge fund manager’s house to hopefully raise money from him. I was two hours late. This was pre-GPS and I had no cell phone. I was totally lost.

I kept playing over and over again “Lose Yourself” by Eminem.

I was afraid this was my one shot and I was blowing it. I was even crying in my car. I was going broke and I felt this was my one chance. What a loser.

Finally I got there. The hedge fund manager was dressed all in pink. His house was enormous. Maybe 20,000 square feet. His cook served us a great meal. I had made him wait two hours to eat. And he had cancer at the time. I felt really bad.

Then we played chess and it was fun and he gave me a tour of the house. One room was just for toys made in 1848. He had a squash court inside the house.

Another room had weird artifacts like the handwritten notes from when Lennon and McCartney were first writing down the lyrics for “Hey Jude.”

Another was the official signed statement by Ted Kennedy in the police station after he reported the Chappaquiddick accident that may have ultimately played a part in his decision to not run for president.

Eventually I did raise money from this manager and it started a new life for me.

But that’s not why I bring up Eminem at all.

The song “Lose Yourself” is from the movie “8 Mile.” Although I recommend it, you don’t have to see it to understand what I am about to write. I’ll give you everything you need to know.

Eminem is a genius at sales and competition and he shows it in one scene in the movie.

A scene I will break down for you line by line so you will know everything there is to know about sales, cognitive bias, and defeating your competition.

First, here’s all you need to know about the movie.

Eminem plays a poor, no-collar, self-proclaimed “white trash” guy living in a trailer park. He’s beaten on, works crappy jobs, gets betrayed, etc. But he lives to rap and break out somehow.

In the first scene he is having a “battle” against another rapper and he chokes. He gives up without saying a word. He’s known throughout the movie as someone who chokes under pressure and he seems doomed for failure.

Until he chooses himself.

The scene I will show you and then break down is the final battle in the movie. He’s the only white guy and the entire audience is black. He’s up against the reigning champion that the audience loves.

He wins the battle and I will show you how. With his techniques you can go up against any competition.

First off, watch the scene (with lyrics) before and after my explanation.

Here is the scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gatNLacOjC8

8 Mile Papa Doc

Watch it right now.

Ok, let’s break it down. How did Eminem win so easily?

Setting aside his talent for a moment (assume both sides are equally talented), Eminem used a series of cognitive biases to win the battle.

The human brain was developed over the past 400,000 years. In fact, arguably, when the brain was used more to survive in nomadic situations, humans had higher IQs then they had today.

But one very important thing is that the brain developed many biases as short-cuts to survival.

For instance, a very common one is that we have a bias towards noticing negative news over positive news.

The reason is simple: if you were in the jungle and you saw a lion to your right and an apple tree to your left, you would best ignore the apple tree and run as fast as possible away from the lion.

This is called “negativity bias” and it’s the entire reason newspapers still survive by very explicitly exploiting this bias in humans.

We no longer need those short-cuts as much. There aren’t that many lions in the street. But the brain took 400,000 years to evolve and it’s only in the past 50 years maybe that we are relatively safe from most of the dangers that threatened earlier humans.

Our technology and ideas have evolved but our brains can’t evolve fast enough to keep up with them. Consequently, these biases are used in almost every sales campaign, business, marketing campaign, movie, news, relationship, everything.

Almost all of your interactions are dominated by biases, and understanding them is helpful when calling BS on your thoughts or the actions of others.

You have to learn how to reach past the signals from the brain and develop intuition and mastery over these biases.

1) In-group Bias

Notice Eminem’s first line: “Now everybody from the 313, put your mother-f*cking hands up and follow me”.

The 313 is the area code for Detroit. And not just Detroit. It’s for blue-collar Detroit where the entire audience, and Eminem, is from.

So he wipes away the outgroup bias that might be associated with his race and he changes the conversation to “who is in 313 and who is NOT in 313”.

2) Herd Behavior

He said, “put your hands up and follow me.” Everyone starts putting their hands up without thinking. So their brain tells them that they are doing this for rational reasons.

For instance, they are now following Eminem.

313

3) Availability Cascade

The brain has a tendency to believe things if they are repeated, regardless of whether or not they are true. This is called Availability Cascade.

Notice Eminem repeats his first line. After he does that he no longer needs to say “follow me.” He says, “look, look.”

He is setting up the next cognitive bias.

4) Distinction Bias Or Outgroup Bias 

Brains have a tendency to view two things as very different if they are evaluated at the same time as opposed to if they were evaluated separately.

Eminem wants his opponent “Papa Doc” to be evaluated right then as someone different from the group, even though the reality is they are all in the same group of friends with similar interests, etc.

Eminem says: “Now while he stands tough, notice that this man did not have his hands up.”

In other words, even though Papa Doc is black, like everyone in the audience, he is no longer “in the group” that Eminem has defined and commanded: the 313 group.

He has completely changed the conversation from race to area code.

5) Ambiguity Bias

He doesn’t refer to Papa Doc by name. He says “this man.” In other words, there’s “the 313 group” which we are all a part of in the audience and now there is this ambiguous man who is attempting to invade us.

Watch presidential campaign debates. A candidate will rarely refer to another candidate by name. Instead, he might say, “All of my opponents might think X, but we here know that Y is better”.

When the brain starts to view a person with ambiguity it gets confused and CAN’T MAKE CHOICES involving that ambiguity. So the person without ambiguity wins.

6) Credential Bias

Because the brain wants to take short cuts, it will look for information more from people with credentials or lineage than from people who come out of nowhere.

So, for instance, if one person was from Harvard and told you it was going to rain today and another random person told you it was going to be sunny today you might be more inclined to believe the person from Harvard.

Eminem does this subtly two lines later. He says, “one, two, three, and to the four.”

This is a direct line from Snoop Doggy Dogg’s first song with Dr. Dre, “Ain’t Nothin But a G Thing.” It is the first line in the song and perhaps one of the most well-known rap lines ever.

Eminem directly associates himself with well-known successful rappers Dr. Dre and Snoop when he uses that line.

He then uses Availability Cascade again by saying, “one Pac, two Pac, three Pac, four.” First, he’s using that one, two, three, and to the four again but this time with Pac, which refers to the rapper Tupac. So now he’s associated himself in this little battle in Detroit with three of the greatest rappers ever.

7) Ingroup/Outgroup

Eminem points to random people in the audience and says “You’re Pac, He’s Pac,” including them with himself in associating their lineages with these great rappers.

But then he points to his opponent, Papa Doc, makes a gesture like his head is being sliced off and says, “You’re Pac, NONE”. Meaning that Papa Doc has no lineage, no credibility, unlike Eminem and the audience.

8) Basic Direct Marketing: List The Objections Up Front

Any direct marketer or salesperson knows the next technique Eminem uses.

When you are selling a product, or yourself, or even going on a debate or convincing your kids to clean up their room, the person or group you are selling to is going to have easy objections.

They know those objections and you know those objections. If you don’t bring them up and they don’t bring them up then they will not buy your product.

If they bring it up before you, then it looks like you were hiding something and you just wasted a little of their time by forcing them to bring it up. So a great sales technique is to address all of the objections in advance.

Eminem’s next set of lines does this brilliantly.

He says, “I know everything he’s got to say against me.”

And then he just lists them one by one:

“I am white”
“I am a fuckin bum”
“I do live in a trailer with my mom”
“My boy, Future, is an Uncle Tom”
“I do have a dumb friend named Cheddar Bob who shot himself with his own gun”.
“I did get jumped by all six of you chumps”

And so on. He lists several more.

But at the end of the list, there’s no more criticism you can make of him. He’s addressed everything and dismissed them. In a rap battle, (or a sales pitch), if you address everything your opponent can say, he’s left with nothing to say.

When he has nothing to say, the audience, or the sales prospect, your date, your kids, whoever, will buy from you or listen to what you have to say.

Look at direct marketing letters you get in email. They all spend pages and pages addressing your concerns. This is one of the most important techniques in direct marketing.

9) Humor Bias

Eminem saves his best for last. “But I know Something About You” he says while staring at Papa Doc.

He sings it playfully, making it stand out and almost humorous. There is something called Humor Bias. People remember things that are stated humorously more than they remember serious things.

10) Extreme Outgroup

“You went to Cranbook.” And then Eminem turns to his “313 group” for emphasis as he explains what Cranbook is. “That’s a private school.”

BAM!

There’s no way now the audience can be on Papa Doc’s side but Eminem makes the outgroup even larger. “His real name’s Clarence. And his parents have a real good marriage.”

BAM and BAM! Two more things that separate Papa Doc from the crowd. He’s a nerdy guy, who goes to a rich school, and his parents are together.

Unlike probably everyone in the audience, including Eminem. No wonder Papa Doc doesn’t live in the 313, which was originally stated somewhat humorously but is now proven without a doubt.

11) Credential bias (again)

Eminmen says, “There ain’t no such thing as”… and the audience chants with him because they know exactly what he is quoting from “Halfway Crooks!” a line from a song by Mobb Deep (I did their website back in 1998), another huge East Coast rap group. So now Eminem has established lineage between himself and both the West Coast and the East Coast.

And by using the audience to say “Halfway Crooks” we’re all in the same group again while “Clarence” goes back to his home with his parents at the end of the show.

12) Scarcity

The music stops, which means Eminem has to stop and let Papa Doc have his turn. But he doesn’t. He basically says “F*ck everybody”, “F*ck y’all if you doubt me.” “I don’t wanna win. I’m outtie.”

He makes himself scarce. After establishing total credibility with the audience he basically says he doesn’t want what they have to offer.

He reduces the supply of himself by saying he’s out of there. Maybe he will never come back. Reduce the supply of yourself while demand is going up and what happens? Basic economics. Value goes up.

He’s so thoroughly dominated the battle that now, in reversal to the beginning of the movie, Papa Doc chokes. He doesn’t quite choke, though. There’s nothing left to say. Eminem has said it all for him.

There’s no way Papa Doc can raise any “objections” because Eminem has already addressed them all. All he can do is defend himself, which will give him the appearance of being weak. And he’s so thoroughly not in the “313 Group” that there is no way to get back in there.

There’s simply nothing left to say. So Eminem wins the battle.

And what does Eminem do with his victory? He can do anything.

But he walks away from the entire subculture. He walks off at the end of the movie with no connection to what he fought for.

He’s going to Choose Himself to be successful and not rely on the small-time thinking in battles in Detroit.

He’s sold 220 million records worldwide. He discovered and produced 50 Cent who has sold hundreds of millions more (and is another example of “Choose Yourself” as Robert Greene so aptly describes in his book “The 50th Law”).

Doesn’t it seem silly to analyze a rap song for ideas how to be better at sales and communicating? I don’t know. You tell me. I’ve exposed myself so much in my blog posts. In fact, I don’t hit “Publish” on something unless I’m afraid of how people will react.

When you expose yourself there are many many ways for people to attack you. People will stab you and hurt you. But you can’t create art unless you show how unique you are while being inclusive with others who share your problems.

I’m still scared when I hit publish. But I love that final feeling of risk and fear. The rush. The carriage return. Click.

—-

Update: Received the following email from Tucker Max who made a couple of points I want to include:

“James, this piece is great. That scene is literally my favorite scene in any movie ever, I know it backwards and forwards. But you missed two big lessons you could have put in: 

1. Emotional vulnerability: The final objection he lists is that Wink fucked his girlfriend. That’s the most humiliating thing any man can EVER admit–to being sexually humiliated. And he admits it, in front of a crowd. That sort of vulnerability is incredibly powerful, and it is the real turning point of that list of objections. Dude, you do that sort of thing all the time in your writing; be incredibly vulnerable. Like you, Eminem is not listing small things. He’s telling the crowd his worst pain, admitting to what no man will ever admit to. That opens them to up to accepting him and his faults, because they know he’s not bullshitting them. Unconsciously whats going on is that they are able to see their own pain because his is much greater, and his admission is so much more public. This sort of vulnerability, done right, is incredibly powerful. You skipped over that too fast. And it also sets up #2:
 
2. Courage in the face of failure: At the end of his list of objections, he says, “And I’m still standing here screaming fuck the Free World!” 

 
Free World is Papa Docs group, and they’ve systematically punked Eminem all movie, and one of them fucked his girlfriend. And now, after all of that, after the worst humiliation he could possibly suffer, he STILL has the courage to face them on stage. That is what wins the crowd, the turning point of the battle and the culmination of the movie. That moves him from the pathetic white guy into the role of underdog hero of the crowd, the underdog with courage, with real gameness, with real fight in him. Everyone wants to be a hero, and by being first vulnerable about his pain, then courageous in the face of his pain, that is what makes Eminem a hero to those people in this scene and this movie. “