Monthly Archives: November 2012

Deep Springs

I was briefly reminded today about the importance of hard work, of facing The Resistance.  I was riding my bike to the gym when I saw an older woman wearing a sky blue Deep Springs College shirt. Most people have never heard of this school, but trying to get in all but consumed me for about six months in 2008. I found out about the college when I met a few alumni in Wisconsin in the summer of 2008. I learned that it was an all-boys school that revolves around three pillars: academics, labor, and self-governance. The school’s 26 students are assigned an intense academic workload, manage a farm in the middle of the desert in Nevada, and are in charge of the admissions and the hiring and firing of faculty. After two years, most students go on to prestigious schools around the country. Many years ago, just getting into the school meant a guaranteed a full ride to Cornell. The Deep Springers I met seemed superhuman to me.  I was infatuated with the idea of getting into Deep Springs and being transformed by the experience.

Getting into Deep Springs is not easy.  The first round demands applicants write three very opened-ended essays about who the applicant is, what their intellectual pursuits include,  what books they’ve read, and what problems they want to solve in the world. If they pass the first round, they go on to another round with something like seven essays, and finally an interview with the whole student body on the campus. I didn’t make it past the first round. I’ve never had a mental breakdown, but I basically did applying to this school.

I haven’t thought about Deep Springs in a long time, but seeing that shirt for a split second as a I zoomed passed on my bike brought that very intense period of my life back to me. I realize today that I was far from getting accepted. At that point in my life, I was wishing a lot of good things would happen to me, and thinking that if i just kept wishing, they would come true. I didn’t acknowledge, or really even understand, that you need to work really hard to make good things happen to you. I didn’t work hard enough for Deep Springs. Ask anyone who I was around during that time if I wanted it enough, they’ll tell you yes. It’s the only thing I talked about. But I didn’t work hard enough for it, and I wasn’t even aware of how far behind I was.


“People whose networks span structural holes have early access to diverse, often contradictory information and interpretations which gives them a good competitive advantage in delivering goods ideas.  People connected to groups beyond their own can expect to find themselves delivering valuable ideas, seeming to be gifted with creativity. This is not creativity born of deep intellectual ability. It is creativity as an import-export business. An idea mundane in one group can be a valuable insight in another.”

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody

What I’ve been reading

The 50th Law by 50 Cent and Robert Greene – All about being honest with yourself and reality, confronting your fears, and some cool street stories from 50.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – TIm Ferriss mentioned in a youtube video that this was a really good book. It really wasn’t that great. It’s about a kid raised by ghosts in a graveyard.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini – Basic human psychology, how people exploit us, and how to protect ourselves from being exploited. Funny Hari Krishna case study.

All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin – Awesome book. It’s short and Godin style and all about how people care less about facts and more about the stories and making decisions that make them feel good, pretty, smart, rich, or better. Perfect where the business is

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande – Gawande is a surgeon who takes a look at how checklists improve the success rate and efficiency of human decisions from construction to finance to medicine. Really fast and interesting read

Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky – A must for anyone trying to understand how people behave on the internet and why they behave the way do.

The Simplest Way to Form a New Habit

1. One thing at a time, make it easy, and be specific. No matter how many things you want to change, you can only change one thing at a time. Period. One thing. I’ll say it again. One thing. No matter how special you think you are, how smart you are, how mentally tough you are, your success rate will be zero percent if you try to do two things at a time. Momentum is a big factor in this, so your first habit must be easy, so easy you can’t fail. Whatever you think is easy, make it twice as easy. If you want to run more, tell yourself that you’ll run for 5 minutes a day. Sounds painfully easy, but you have to start small for this to work. The alternative to adopting a small, simple habit is no habit at all.

2. Identify a trigger action. This is something you already do everyday. It’s the tripwire for your new habit. When you carry out your trigger action, you then perform your new habit. Example: I wanted to write more. I know that every day, when I get back from work, I walk into my room and set my bag on my desk chair in my room, get a glass of water and generally do very little work for the rest of the day. I’ll surf or to the gym, and when I get back from, I eat dinner, read, and go to bed. So my trigger was pouring a glass of water. I told myself, “When I come home from work and pour myself a glass of water, I’ll write at least 200 words in a WordPress draft.” All it was was 200 words of whatever came out. Very little was special, but at least I was sitting down and writing. Identify your trigger action that will guide you into the new habit you want to form.

3. Buy a big calendar. I got this part from Jerry Seinfeld. When you complete your habit, make a big X over the that day’s date. The motto is “don’t break the chain.” After a few days, those Xs will feel as good as reaching the top of mountain or finishing a book. My calendar is above.

4. Every three weeks, choose a new habit  Since I put this this calendar in my room in August, this system has worked better than anything I have ever tried. It keeps you honest and you can clearly track your results as you progress.  Instead of moping about the things I haven’t changed, I now wake up with no snooze every weekday, write at least 200 words everyday, smile more, and regularly go to the gym.

If you slip up and miss a day, just keep going. Finish the three weeks and start a new habit. If one habit was too hard, be honest with yourself about it. Don’t make excuses about why you didn’t do it. You failed and that’s fine. Just pick an easier habit the following session and keep your momentum up. After you’ve adopted a few habits, you’ll become confident in the process.

The hardest thing here is not starting a new habit, it’s making it normal, easy part of your life. It’s common to watch some TED talk or a youtube video and get inspired and excited to change your lifestyle. The idea of changing habits is awesome,  but it’s psychologically draining when you make lots of changes at once. You will stall and relapse into old habits and not even know why. Take this smart, slow approach, and start building real habits, one at a time.