There is a group of individuals I'll label as "wake up early individuals" (WUEIs). People that get an early start in order to tackle goals before the day begins.
For some it's waking up early and exercising. Jocko Willink consistently posts photos starting his day at 4:30 AM. The book "How Children Succeed" gives an example of a middle school chess prodigy who woke up early to practice chess. Joe Satriani, electric guitar extraordinaire practiced in the mornings before school:
When I was a kid, I’d get up and practice guitar for an hour before school, and during that hour I’d do all the boring stuff just to get it over with. That way I could come home, do my homework and then jam with my friends.
How are they able to do it? In a world of distractions (mobile phones, YouTube, etc.) WUEIs find a way to go to sleep early and pull themselves out of bed to get after it. Jocko in his book "Disciple Equals Freedom" argues that discipline is the enabler:
Discipline: The root of all good qualities. The driver of daily execution. The core principle that overcomes laziness and lethargy and excuses.
And that waking up early is the starting point:
Discipline starts with waking up early. It really does. But that is just the beginning; you absolutely have to apply it to things beyond waking up early.
Discipline is one common trait WUEIs share. Fuse the desire to achieve a goal with discipline and you get an individual that will wake up at 4:30 AM. Someone that will do whatever it takes.
Yet discipline is only an enabler. It's a starting point. Showing up isn't enough.
Before discipline you set a goal(s). I want to be a: entrepreneur, author, musician, fit individual, etc. This broad goal (musician) may start to become a bit more specific: 80s shred guitar player.
And thus with your goal you channel discipline to show up and put in time towards reaching your goal. This alone will not be enough. For you can show up everyday at 6 AM and practice guitar, but if the practice isn't focused and the goal is open-ended, one year later you may have not made the progress you imagined.
You must set yourself up for success. So when you do show up you take full advantage.
Break down your goal by setting mini-goals with deadlines. This month I'll learn three 80s metal guitar riffs and will write three original ones. I'll also learn to play one full song. Even more specific: by the end of this week I'll learn one riff and the first 2 sections of the song. With clear goals you now have a roadmap towards where you want to be.
To fulfill the roadmap you'll need a system. The system may even impact how you define the roadmap (the path to reaching your goal(s)). Once you define the path your system is how you divide your time. If I have 90 minutes in the morning, my system may be 20 minutes guitar exercises, 30 minutes learning the song, and 40 minutes composing.
Your focus and attention must be deliberate. It's easy to fall into a habit of repeating the same system everyday. But you're showing up so it must be enough right? Just put in the time and results will follow. This is dangerous and you'll likely stagnate. Today you may need to spend 45 minutes learning the song and 45 minutes composing. Tomorrow it may need to shift again.
With deliberate focus you are constantly aware of the goal, your system, and the progress you are making. You make adjustments as necessary so you don't fall into a mindset that just showing up is enough.
If you combine discipline, goals, deadlines, systems, and deliberate focus, you will significantly increase the likelihood of achieving your goals.
Jeff Bezos concludes all of his shareholder letters with this sentence:
It remains Day 1.
This sentence encompasses the mindset that drives his strategy and leadership of Amazon. Although the company will be 24 years old this year, Bezos believes that Amazon must remain perpetually in Day 1.
In his 2016 Letter to Shareholders Bezos answered the natural follow up question: "What does Day 2 look like?":
Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.
Day 2 doesn't sound good for a company with over 500,000 employees and a fiduciary duty to shareholders who own a stock that is up 11% YTD (as of Feb 9, 2018).
So how does Amazon maintain a Day 1 mindset?
Here’s a starter pack of essentials for Day 1 defense: customer obsession, a skeptical view of proxies, the eager adoption of external trends, and high-velocity decision making.
This defense forms the strategic value pillars for Amazon. These pillars are the foundation for how the company operates. Reference points for team members on how to make decisions and approach their jobs.
The Day 1 mindset has a powerful application beyond Amazon.
How would your life be different if you viewed it from a Day 1 versus Day 2 mindset?
Day 2 is the tropical beach scenario. You made it, cold beverage in hand you've cashed out and no longer have responsibilities or worries. You don't need to learn or do anything. Just be until your internal clock hits 0. As Bezos writes:
Day 2 is stasis.
Day 2 is an illusion. A fictitious place to visit when Day 1 is hard or doesn't align with expectations. You imagine it will be better in Day 2 because then you wont need to work any more. You wont need to learn anything new or channel your discipline and put in the hard work to achieve your goals. Day 2 is when you've achieved all your goals and there is nothing left for you to do.
But I agree with Jeff, today remains Day 1. And Day 1 is much more interesting than Day 2. There is so much to discover, to explore, to learn. People to meet, experiences to be had. Hobbies to try. Skills to learn. New places to go. Goals to strive for.
The Day 1 mindset is one of curiosity. The will to try something. It's about having experiences. The experience of a new job, maintaining an existing relationship, having a beginners mind in a new class you've picked up.
Day 1 is embracing everything that comes with it. The hard work, the reward of perseverance, the process. It's not about chasing Day 2, or getting through Day 1 so that it's finally Day 2.
Kobe Bryant in his Muse documentary film talked about his immediate thoughts after winning his first elusive championship in 2000 against the Indiana Pacers:
...I remember winning the championship and kind of being like, well ok, now what, what happens now, what happens now...?
Kobe reached the pinnacle for any NBA player, the Day 2 of winning a championship. And yet his immediate question brought him back to Day 1. He may have spent 30 minutes in Day 2 basking in the champagne and celebrating with the team. But he was quick to return to Day 1. For Day 2 doesn't have the allure of Day 1. You don't get better in Day 2. You don't learn. You don't get to experience life.
And so for me also, it remains Day 1.
In his essay "How to Get Startup Ideas" Paul Graham writes:
The verb you want to be using with respect to startup ideas is not "think up" but "notice." Since what you need to do here is loosen up your own mind, it may be best not to make too much of a direct frontal attack on the problem—i.e. to sit down and try to think of ideas. The best plan may be just to keep a background process running, looking for things that seem to be missing.
Awareness, the ability to notice is a fundamental life skill that can release you to pursue greater things. For Paul Graham it's a strategy to unlock startup ideas. For those that practice mindfulness it's the foundation of the practice.
Thich Nhat Hanh in his seminal book on meditation "The Miracle of Mindfulness" introduces the reader to meditation through awareness. Having a process running where you are constantly aware of what you are doing presently. Even when putting a book back on the shelf:
While placing a book on the shelf, look at the book, be aware of what book it is, know that you are in the process of placing it on the shelf, intending to put it in that specific place.
What is awareness? How do you channel it? Tara Brach in "Radical Acceptance" writes:
When thoughts arise, where do they come from, where do they go to? As you explore looking into the space between thoughts, through the holes in the net, you are looking into awareness itself. You might sit quietly and simply listen for a few moments. Notice how sounds arise and dissolve back into formless awareness. Can you notice the beginnings of sounds, the ends of sounds? The spaces between? It is all happening in awareness, known by awareness.
As you begin practicing awareness you'll notice a transformation in your outlook to the world. Signs you may have missed previously become clearer. Feelings you've suppressed may become nurtured. Your relationships with others, with food, with experiences may become more significant.
Starting small and finding awareness in moments everyday can lead to more awareness throughout your experiences. It's a habit that can easily be dismissed or neglected. And yet finding ways to remind yourself, to continue to notice, can establish a habit that can have a profound impact on how you live life.
On the topic of life skills Michele Borba's book "UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World" is one of my favorites. It presents a case for why empathy is a critical skill and how it can be fostered in children.
Professionally as a Product Manager empathy is something I'm continually honing and practicing. My responsibility is to determine the stakeholder's (e.g. user's, team member's) need. Out of all the things we can build given a constrained set of time and resources, which ones will have the greatest value? I must put myself into the position of the stakeholder in order to understand their need. I must empathize.
Unknowing I began to foster my ability to empathize at a young age. One of my favorite games was setting up and acting out movie like scenes with my G. I. Joe action figures. I'd imagine elaborate worlds and scenes where my hero would fall under duress and battle his way through to redemption. I imagined what he was feeling, what his allies were feeling, what the villains were feeling. I'd act out the scenes, conversations, and of course the action. I'd stretch out the scenes imagining my hero experiencing a range of emotions. It was exciting to create these scenes in my mind. And as I let my imagination flow I was honing my ability to empathize.
Imagination is a pre-requisite for empathy. You cannot empathize with someone if you can't imagine what they feel or need. I believe if we want a child to develop empathy, we must encourage them to use their imagination. The how they do it is not important. It could be playing a video game where they have a connection to emotional state of the characters in the game. It could be watching a film, reading a book, or creating a fictitious world with G.I. Joes. Put them in a situation where the mind starts imagining and they'll begin to empathize with their environment.
In my 2016 post I set a few goals for 2017. Travel more (visited Sweden and Denmark). Launch a project (Bechant). Read (see below). Refine my diet (tried Keto, low-carb, learned a ton about nutrition) and exercise regiment (hello Kettle bells). And explore the great city of New York (done and done!).
Beyond the goals one experience stands out from 2017. The weekend long retreat I took in January with meditation teacher and author Tara Brach. I learned a lot about myself and met a lot of great people during the weekend. It coincided with the release of a new album by my all time favorite musician Mike Oldfield (first link in Albums section). Now every time I listen to the album the wave of emotions from the weekend envelop me. It was during this weekend that I wrote the post "A moment with my future self".
In the last quarter of 2017 I made a big change professionally by switching to part-time work. I spent my free hours diving deep into several industries (school nutrition, social emotional learning) seeking out potential entrepreneurial pursuits. Although I didn't find a concrete problem to solve, I learned a lot about the industries and also about my process for researching and refining a problem. My biggest takeaway? Remain disciplined. Make progress everyday. Read something, brainstorm, do something everyday. And eventually one idea can spark something bigger.
And so in 2018 my priority is discipline (borrowing from the first book in the Books list below). Setting up processes and habits I will follow everyday to make progress in relationships, music, career, personal projects, health and fitness. Did I mention music? I'm excited to say that I'm working on original music again! The last time I put out music was in 2012, so I'm already excited for what's to come in 2018.
And so here is to a disciplined 2018, here are some of my favorites from 2017...
- Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual by Jocko Willink
- A Confession by Leo Tolstoy
- Modern Romance: An Investigation by Aziz Ansari
- The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough
- I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- The War Against Boys
- Good and Bad Procrastination
- What You'll Wish You'd Known
- Things You Should Never Do, Part 1
- 100 Blocks a Day
- Devin Townsend's top 5 tips for guitarists
- Return to Ommadawn by Mike Oldfield
- Blade Runner 2049 Soundtrack by Hans Zimmer
- Letters to Myself by Cyhra
- Into the Great Unknown by H.E.A.T
- To The Bone by Steven Wilson
- Under Your Spell by The Birthday Massacre
- The Optimist by Anathema
- The Big Dream by Lonely Robot
- Blackfield V by Blackfield
NYC Places to eat/go
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