Summary of Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

This book is all about how we can transform boring and meaningless lives into ones full of enjoyment through a concept called "Flow" and optimal experiences.

Here's a breakdown of the key points that I took from this book:-​

Why We're Unhappy

Most of us have no idea what things we should focus on in order to live a happy life.

1. We Strive after the Wrong Things

We tend to chase things that we think will make us happy, only to achieve these misguided goals and be left with the stark realization that we've been chasing the wrong thing all along.  

​For example:-

  • Acquiring new things - houses, cars, clothing, jewelry
  • Mindlessly chasing wealth
  • Endlessly climbing the corporate ladder

We achieve our goals, celebrate and feel good for a while.  But then that all too familiar empty feeling returns.

How do we respond to this?  We set new goals.  

"I thought I needed the car to be happy, but now I realize that it's the house that I really need.  Once I have the house and the car, what more could I want?  I'll definitely be happy then"​

We somehow manage to convince ourselves that, even though we've been chasing things to be happy and not managed it our entire lives, this time will be different.

So we forever strive for new levels of achievement in the hope that, once attained, we'll find the happiness we are desperately searching for.

This endless loop has been labeled the hedonic tredmill.  ​We're running and chasing as hard as we can, but we don't get anywhere, similar to a running tredmill in a gym.

On top of this, we are so intent on focusing on what we want to achieve that we are unable to derive pleasure from the present moment.​ 

2. We Have Inner Conflicts

The normal state of the mind is a state of chaos and disorder that is neither useful nor enjoyable.  Our attention jumps about all over the place, often on things that have little to no meaning, without any cohesion or strategy.

Often our attention comes across a new piece of information that we interpret in such a way that it is in conflict with an existing goal.  This puts us in a state of "psychic entropy" and is known as disorder in consciousness.

This can leave us stuck between a rock and a hard place, so to speak.  We have a goal of moving in one direction, but we have some kind of lower emotion such as pain, fear, rage, anxiety or jealousy that's pulling us in the opposite direction.​

Sometimes we can resolve these issues, in which case we emerge relatively unscathed. But in most instances the conflict persists for a prolonged duration, depleting our willpower, and leaving us unable to invest our attention on pursuing the original goal.

Here's a practical example of this phenomenon:

John decides to create a business because he's always wanted to be his own boss.  He has a grand vision of building an awesome company that will not only offer real value to the world but also help him provide a great life for his family.  He's excited by this prospect.

However, John hasn't had any experience running a business before and is anxious that this will be just another failure for him.  He's also unsure of his ability, because he's never really experienced any success in his life before.  These worries and anxieties are crippling him and urging him to quit and cut his losses.

​John's attention is now split between these two opposing and conflicting forces.  One force is encouraging him to push on and build the business, and the other is urging him to quit.

Because of this conflict, it's extremely hard for him to be productive because he's constantly procrastinating and finds it really difficult to focus on the stuff that he knows he should be doing to grow his business.  While John does get himself to do his work some of the time, and occasionally is very productive, he is really inconsistent. He'll often go through periods where he wants to quit, can't find a good reason to work and is battling negative thoughts.

Eventually, John gets tired. 

He is unable to invest his attention on his business anymore and quits.  He surrenders his grand vision of owning a business.  He simply couldn't get himself to take the prolific and relentless action needed to get the company going because of his inner conflict.

When he finally gives up, order in his consciousness is restored and he feels a sense of relief.  The conflict is resolved.

Many of us have many of these conflicts at the same time in our consciousness.  They drain us, leave us unhappy, jeopardize our goals and prevent us from ever reaching peak experiences, otherwise known as "Flow" (more about this later).

3. We Lack Meaning

​What are we doing what we're doing?  What's the point?  What's the bigger picture?

Most of us go to work because we need money to pay the bills​.  Despite spending a third of our waking lives at work, we feel no connection to what we do.  We do what is expected of us because we need the reward - our salary at the end of the month.  We don't care beyond the fact that we get paid.  Our work is simply a means to an end.

When we clock off, we can enjoy our free "leisure" time where we try to use our minds as little as possible.  For most of us, this means mindlessly watching television.  For others it might mean going out, getting drunk, doing chores or some other kinds of fun activity.

At some point, we inevitably wake up and ask ourselves - "where has my life gone?".  We look back realize that we have nothing worthwhile to show for it.  If we're lucky, this our mid-life crisis at 40.  Some of us, though, only realize when it's too late.

This realization leads us to "find ourselves".  We pack our lives into a suitcase and travel around the world, or do a road trip, or some kind of nondescript journey of discovery until we arrive at a beautiful discovery...

We need to contribute.  We need meaning.  We need purpose.​

So, to summarise - what are we unhappy?  Because we're stuck on the hedonic tredmill, we have inner conflicts and our lives lack meaning.

When We Feel the Most Happy

An experiment called the "Experience Sampling Method" was performed on hundreds of adults over a period of a week to answer the question - when are people happy?

  • ​Participants in the study wore a pager for an entire week
  • The pager beeped 8 times per day on a random schedule
  • Upon receipt of each random signal, participants respond to questions about their objective situation and their subjective state at that moment
  • The questions were designed to figure out their levels of contentment at that particular point in time.

The results of the study revealed the following:

We feel the most happy when we are able to direct our attention wholeheartedly on a goal. All our psychic energy is pointing in the same direction.  We don't have any conflicts, we don't have any distractions and we engage ourselves fully with the task in hand.

During this time, we are "in the zone".  We forget ourselves.  Our perception of time is lost and we often do these things at great cost just for the pleasure of the activity itself.  We are so engaged that nothing else matters.  

Lower level emotions such as fear, anxiety, worry, jealousy are all non existent.  ​We focus so heavily on the task in hand that we lose our perception of self.

In short: everything is in alignment and there are no conflicts.  This is the polar opposite to our default state of psychic entropy. ​ This is a peak experience state of consciousness that's called Flow.

People who frequently experience flow in their lives are happier.  The good news is that we can learn to get flow into our lives more often. 

How to Achieve Flow More Often in Our Lives

Flow is a state that can be encouraged through conscious effort both internally and externally.  

In other words, we can learn certain personality traits that are suited for flow (internal) and change the environment around us so that the conditions for flow are more readily met (external).

The Autotelic Personality - Our "Inner Game"

How we react to the things that happen to us is a crucial piece of the happiness jigsaw.

While we can't always control what happens to us, we can control our interpretations and response.  Interpretation is a skill that, if exercised and strengthened, can free ourselves from the everyday ups and downs of our environment.

"The ability to take misfortune and make something good come of it is a very rare gift. Those who 'possess' it are called survivors and are said to have resilience or courage."

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi

The key point is that two people can have the same thing happen to them yet react in completely opposite ways.  One person may derive engagement, happiness and liberation while the other may suffer intolerably.  The only difference between the two lies in how they interpret the event.

I'm sure you've met someone who has an amazing ability to take a positive event and somehow shine a negative light on it.  The type of person who receives a promotion at work but, rather than celebrating the success, complains about how long it took to happen.   This kind of person will often be wallowing self pity, anxiety and other negative emotions.  This person has developed the skill of interpreting events in such away that she is often unhappy.

Well, the opposite is also possible.  We can train ourselves to interpret even seemingly terrible events into positive flow experiences.  The type of people who are best at doing that have what's called an autotelic personality.  

Here are the main traits of someone with an autotelic personality:-

  1. Highly curious - autotelic people have many interests and often spend a lot of time thinking about and deconstructing them.  Things that most people take for granted puzzle them; and until they figure them out in an original yet perfectly appropriate way, they will not let them be.
  2. Low Self-Centeredness - autotelic people don't spend a lot of time focusing on themselves - They don't fix their attention on lower emotions such as anxiety, fear and jealousy, to name but a few.  Instead they are immersed in the world around them; other people, ideas, events, things.  
  3. Intrinsic motivation - people with an autotelic personality often do things for the sheer satisfaction of doing rather than for any kind of external reward.  They do these things because they derive enjoyment and external motivation like money and success isn't their key motivational drive.
  4. Autonomous and independent - autotelic people lead extremely grounded lives and are more resilient to the ups and downs of external forces.   They are self-driven and don't concern themselves with seeking validation from other people.
  5. Non materialistic - autotelic people tend not to care much about material possessions because they derive their satisfaction from their frequent periods of flow.  They are also less likely to chase superficial things like fame or fortune.
  6. Don't require much in the way of comfort - autotelic people have the ability of transforming regular, ordinary experiences into optimal experiences of flow without relying on comforts.  Even a situation that may seem uncomfortable to most of us can be transformed into a period of enjoyment for a highly skilled autotelic person.  

    Viktor Frankl is an extreme example of this: Despite being held captive he was able to transform an extremely uncomfortable situation into one of freedom and serenity.

    Here's a great quote to illustrate this:-

    "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

    Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

    When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves."

Autotelic people consciously turn their external world into flow experiences by making everything a bit like a game.  They turn things that might seem unenjoyable to most of us into a challenge that they can attack.  

For example, a worker on the production line of a factory who is one small cog in a large machine has to do the same repetitive movement hundreds of times per day.  Most of us would consider this job boring, tedious and unenjoyable and would spend the majority of our day wishing the time away. 

Yet, an autotelic person might approach this job in the same way that an olympic athlete approaches the 100 meter sprint.  He knows that it usually takes 43 seconds to prepare each unit but is hell-bent on trying to find more efficient and faster ways of working to set a new record.  While on the assembly line he is constantly analyzing every movement he takes to find new ways of optimizing his performance - he is constantly trying to push the barrier.

Let's break down what's happening here.  A seemingly mundane and repetitive task has been interpreted in such a way that it becomes enjoyable:-

  1. He sets goals - his goal is to try and beat his existing 43 second record for a unit
  2. He is immersed in the activity - he's pushing himself to operate at the edge of his ability by trying to work a bit faster which requires all of his concentration and focus. 
  3. He is paying attention to what is happening - he's questioning every movement to try and find ways of optimizing them.

His interpretation of events, something that is completely under his control, is transforming almost certain boredom into full engagement and flow.  These autotelic personality traits can bring us far greater periods of enjoyment in our life.

Here are some more examples of the difference between "normal" thinking and autotelic thinking:-

  1. ​Working in a noisy environment with screaming kids - our normal reaction might be one of anger, annoyance and disdain towards the noisy group of people.  We could, however, see this situation as an opportunity to practice our concentration and ability to focus.
  2. We've been waiting in line for 30 minutes - we might get distressed, focus on how much time we've wasted and start to get angry towards the company/organisation for not having an efficient system.  We could, however, consciously notice this feeling of anger emerge, question it and work through in our minds the usefulness of it.  
  3. Our job is to cold call people every day - we may start to get tired and bored of people hanging up, being rude and feel a lack of engagement with what we're doing.  We could, however, consciously create some kind of test to systematically change our sales pitch and the time of day we call people to gather data.  We can use this data to, over time, incrementally improve our performance and increase our conversion rate.  It becomes more like a game for us.

Of course there are an infinite number of ways to approach any of these scenarios.  What intrigues me, may not intrigue you, it's subjective.  The main point is that we can consciously look for deeper meaning in all that we do and transform everyday events into periods of mental engagement that we enjoy.

Changing our External Environment to Create Conditions of Flow

Aside from cultivating an autotelic personality, we can also purposely manipulate our environment such that they are optimised for engagement.

To increase the chance of reaching a state of flow, certain conditions need to be met:-

  1. ​We confront tasks that are at the right level for our ability - brushing our teeth, by itself, is not going to be conducive to getting into a state of flow.  This type of habitual activity is so easy for us that we have hardly any kind of mental engagement with it, it's automatic for us.

    The opposite is also true, though.  If we try to confront a task that is so far beyond the limits of our current ability that we feel that we have no chance of completing it, then we also tend to disengage.  For example, as someone has never really rock climbed before, I can't go and climb an overhanging treacherous cliff and expect to enjoy it and get into a state of flow.  

    However, if we can find tasks that allow us to operate just beyond the edge of our existing ability such that it requires all our mental focus, then that's more likely to produce periods of flow.  Rather than taking on a treacherous cliff, then, I should first attack a beginner level wall that's challenging for me and take on ever increasingly difficult challenges as my ability grows.

    Of course, as I get better at rock climbing, I should commit to taking on increasingly difficult climbs in order to keep the difference between my ability and the degree of difficulty in balance.
  2. We receive feedback - we need to have as "immediate as possible" feedback for our performance.  We need to understand how well we are doing, whether we are making progress to our goals and be left with a clear understanding of how we can improve.  

    Doing something without having any idea of how we are performing can make us feel like our work is meaningless and leave us with no sense of direction, like we're just floating along.  Not only this, but we'll also not be able to grow, which is a necessary prerequisite for long term engagement, something that's called becoming increasingly complex.
  3. We have clear and actionable goals - we must know what we are working towards.  This can come in the form of a larger end goal with realistic sub goals along the way.  The main point is that we have a target, something that we genuinely believe that we can achieve if we apply ourselves to it.

    One caveat about goals: they must be appropriately set.  If we are set a goal and we don't really believe that we can achieve it, then we're less inclined to apply ourselves to try and achieve it out of worry that all our effort will be for nothing.

The simplest way to remember how to design your environment for flow is to design it like a game. 

Let's say you're responsible for managing a team of customer support workers.  

This type of role, where you're continually replying to customers all day long, has the potential to really bore the team.  Imagine a setup where each member of the support team does some basic training to get them up to a certain level but then they're static. They don't really have any direction for growth and they're not really sure what their success is measured against.  They don't have any way of seeing how well they're doing and therefore don't have any goals to work towards.  They're simply replying to customers all day until it's time to go home.  Every day is the same.

However imagine if you could turn customer support into a game:  

  • Every time a customer closes a ticket they are sent a survey to feed back what they felt of their customer service experience.  This score is then sent back to the support team member, but added to reports that the whole team can see (to entice competition).
  • Each support member is given a target satisfaction rating for each month.  Each month there is a review on how well the team member has done and a new target for the following month.
  • The team are also set customer satisfaction, time to reply and speed of resolution goals that the whole team can clearly see.  If the team meets these goals, then they'll receive some kind of reward at the end of each month.
  • All these metrics are recorded over time so that everyone can see the progress and growth that's being made.
  • The customer support role is broken down into various individual skills such as communication, speed, customer empathy, technical knowledge and so on. Each month, the customer support agent should make their case to demonstrate how they've improved in each of these verticals and is given a rating that corresponds to how well they're doing.
  • Every week, one member of the team must give a presentation to the rest of the team showing them something new that they've learned.

By taking time to design a customer support "game", each member of the team will have much more chance of engagement in their work.

In short: we can optimize both our internal and external environments to experience flow more often in our lives.

Why Flow is so Important to Cultivate

At the fundamental level, cultivating this sense of flow is important because people who manage to achieve such peak experiences regularly are happier and more fulfilled.  But what does this translate to in more specific terms?  

People who experience regular bouts of flow:

  • lead more vigorous lives
  • continually learn new things
  • are hardly ever bored - can make jobs and tasks richer in their mind
  • can take in stride things that come their way
  • are in control of their emotions rather than being solely dependent on external stimulus
  • enjoy whatever they do, even if tedious or difficult
  • have order in consciousness (don't suffer from the psychic entropy problem described above)

The key point is that people who have the ability to get themselves into a state of flow can interpret pretty much any situation, even those that most of us would be unable to derive any satisfaction from, and interpret it in such a way that it's an enjoyable and engaging experience for them.

The Challenges of Flow

Most people are able to teach themselves the skill of achieving flow in everyday situations.  It's a skill that pretty much anyone can learn.

However some people experience difficulties fully engaging with the world around them.  

One way this can commonly manifest itself is if someone has excessive self consciousness such that they are "stuck in their heads".  For example, someone might be:-

  • constantly worried about how other people perceive her
  • afraid of creating the wrong impression or of doing something inappropriate

These type of people are so worried and anxious about how they are perceived that they can't turn their focus outwards onto the external environment.

Other people may find it difficult to get into a state of flow because of attention disorders. Perhaps they have chemical imbalances in the brain such that they're constantly in a state of psychic entropy so their mind is never fully in alignment.

Key Takeaways from this Book

There are a few key points that this book really drives home:-

  1. We are responsible for our happiness.  We can develop the ability to transform pretty much any experience into a positive one if we take the time to learn the skills of an autotelic personality
  2. Treat things like a game.  If we ever find ourselves bored or disengaged with our work or any kind of activity that we're doing then we should look for ways to turn it into a game either internally in our own head, or externally by manipulating the environment around us.
  3. Work has a bad brand.  Studies show that people tend to be happier at work when they are busy and engaged than in their so-called leisure time perched mindlessly in front of the TV.  
​Read More

Demonstrating the Importance of Practice: Popular YouTube Channels

Look at the videos below of famous YouTube channels.  On the top, you'll see their first video ever uploaded (or in some cases, the earliest that I can find), and on the right you'll see their latest one.

Why have I done this?

I want you to pay close attention to how bad their first video was relative to their latest one.​  

Just look at how far all of these people have come over the past few years.

They've all taken something that they weren't very good at, focused on it, practiced and improved over a long period of time to become the successes that they are today.

This is important:-​

If you believe that you aren't talented enough to achieve something then you have a false limiting belief that is holding you back.

You can become good at anything through hard work and deliberate practice.  

​Let these guys below serve as your inspiration.  

Decide what you want to master, and practice it.  Not for a few weeks, not for a month, but for an extended period of time.

​As time goes by, you'll start to notice that you're improving.  Soon people will start making rash judgments about how talented you are without realizing the full story.  

Most important of all, though, you'll start to realize that becoming great at things is just a matter of deliberate practice and persistence.

Infinite Waters

Now, with over 1 million subscribers on YouTube, look how Ralph Smart started out.

Here is his first video published January, 2008:

And here he is today, in August 2017:

Real Social Dynamics

Check out the improvement that Owen from RSD has made in his video presentations.  Bear in mind that in the "before" video, this was nowhere near his first video created.

Here is his first video published March, 2010:

And here he is today, in August 2017:

Check out the comments on the first video from people that are shocked to see how much he's improved over the years:-

Shane Melaugh

Shane is my friend and business partner for the last 6 years or so.  Notice the crazy improvement that he's managed to make with his own video skills:

This is from January, 2010:-

And here he is today, in August 2017:

I've personally witnessed this growth over the years.  He's also created a great post about this called The Grind.

Ramit Sethi

Ramit is a best-selling author and I've actually purchased not only his book but a number of his courses (Success Triggers, and Finisher's Formula).  

This is from January, 2010:-

And here he is today, in June 2016:

Elliott Hulse

The strongman and self development coach, Elliott Hulse, who currently has 1.7 million subscribers in 2017.

This is from November, 2008:-

And here he is today, in August 2017:

Leo Gura

Look how far Leo Gura, from actualized.org, has come in the past four years.

This is from April, 2013:-

And here he is today, in August 2017:

Omar Isuf

Omar has one of the most popular fitness channels on YouTube today, but his first videos were a far cry from his most recent!

This is from 2010:-

And here he is today, in August 2017:

Final Thoughts

​So here are just a few examples of people that didn't have raw talent, and started off pretty unskilled at creating videos, but ultimately practiced and got really good at it.

If you take the time to look for it, you'll find millions of pieces of evidence, just like these, to back up this notion that you have a lot more control over our ability than you think.

There are countless stories of sports stars, famous authors, inventors and even US presidents, who didn't believe in their ability to achieve.

One of my missions is to try and equip as many people who doubt themselves as possible with the growth mindset.  The best way of doing this, as far as I can tell, is to stack pieces of evidence in a pile in front of you so that, as the pile grows, shades of doubt are cast on your limiting beliefs.

At some point this stack will reach a tipping point, and you'll be convinced that with deliberate practice, deep work and good old-fashioned dogged determination, you'll be able to do things that you never previously thought possible.

And then you'll look back and won't even begin to fathom how you came to those old limiting conclusions that were weighing you down like a ball and chain.

So, to the tipping point we go.

More evidence coming shortly.

​Read More

Summary of Deep Work – Focused Success in a Distracted World

This book is all about how you can leverage the concept of deep work to become a more prolific creator, create value and be more successful.

What is Deep Work?

Distraction free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to the limit.

It's based on the following formula:-​

High quality work produced = time spent x intensity of focus

To engage in deep work requires full concentration and immersive thought.  You're captivated and completely focused on the thing that you're working on without disruption.

An example of deep work is locking yourself in a distraction free environment on a regular basis to produce a creative work that you're fully engaged in.

The opposite to deep work is shallow work. Such activities involve:-

  • Operating reactively rather than proactively
  • Chatting, answering phone calls, instant messaging
  • Browsing the web
  • Doing menial day-to-day tasks
  • Answering emails
  • Formatting documents

Shallow work has no real value, is easy to replicate, noncognitively demanding, often distracted and makes us look busy.  It's also an incredibly common default state for most people in the modern day world.

The Arguments for Deep Work

​There are 3 main arguments for Deep Work:

1. Learn Faster - If you can engage in deep work when learning new skills then you'll learn faster.  Deliberate practice is arguably the best known method for getting good at anything and Deep Work is a mandatory component of deliberate practice.  

That's to say, if you're practicing something and you're not in a state of Deep Work, then you're not practicing deliberately and thus not to maximum efficiency.

2. Be Successful - deep work is a hard skill to attain and pretty rare.  Most people don't regularly engage in a state of deep work in their day to day lives yet those that do will thrive.

To thrive in the modern era, you need to be able to master hard things and produce at an elite level, in terms of quality and speed.  Both of the aforementioned qualities are a byproduct of doing regular periods of deep work.

3. Lead A Rich Life - ​the road to a meaningful and purposeful life is paved with regular periods of deep work.  

Deep work will amplify your ability to create something of value and contribute to the world.

Furthermore, deep work is one of the most enjoyable periods of engagement (otherwise known as "Flow") that humans can engage in. Studies show that people who regularly experience flow are happier and live more fulfilled lives.​

So, in summary, by engaging in deep work, you'll be able to pick up new skills faster, thrive in the modern day economy and live a life rich with productivity and meaning.

What it Requires

A conscious and deliberate decision to integrate deep work into your life.  

Regularly practicing deep work is difficult and should be ingrained as a habit so that you're consistently able to get into this state.

Method / Approaches to Deep Work

Decide on your depth philosophy - there are a number of different ways to integrate a deep work practice into your life, and you should decide which method works best for you.

  1. Monastic - basically involves cutting yourself off from the rest of the world indefinitely.  A few proponents of this approach are Neal Stephenson (the science fiction author) and Donald Knuth (the computer scientist)​ who are both pretty much uncontactable, even through the likes of email.  

    Their philosophy is that they have a choice: they can either spend their time being distracted by the various forms of communication, or spend their time focused on creating.   They commit themselves to the latter.
  2. Bimodal - an oscillation between periods of being isolated in monastery like conditions and periods of shallow work.  

    One example cited in the book include Carl Jung, the psychiatrist, who spent part of the year doing deep work in the woods and other parts of the year running his psychotherapy practice in the bustling city of Zurich.  

    Another example is ex Microsoft CEO, Bill Gates, who would schedule two "think weeks" for deep thinking and strategising during his busy tenure.

    The key point about the modal philosophy is that both periods of deep and shallow work are long and uninterrupted.
  3. Rhythmic - this involves scheduling part of your daily routine for periods of deep work and is probably more apt for most of the population. 

    One example given in the book is the author Anthony Trollope who created a daily ritual of getting up at 0530, had a coffee, read his previous day's work and then engaged in 2.5 hours of writing during which he aimed to complete 2,500 words.

    Another example is the prolific writer Stephen King who tried to write 2,000 words in the morning and spend his afternoons doing other things that needed to be done.

    This particular approach lends itself well to creating a daily habit of engaging in deep work.  The goal, in other words, is to generate a rhythm for this work that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you're going to go deep.
  4. Journalistic - this is all about just grabbing every moment that you can in order to engage in deep work.

    The example given is Walter Isaacson who would retreated up to the bedroom when the rest of his friends and family were relaxing on the patio.  "He'd pound away on his typewriter for twenty minutes or an hour and then come back down relaxed like the rest of us."

    This is the least reliable and most difficult of methods to jump straight into.  The ability to switch your mind from shallow to deep work mode doesn't come naturally and requires practice.  Therefore, this is probably not the best philosophy for someone who is need to working deep.

The Chain Method - Jerry Seinfeld made this technique, that's used to maintain discipline, famous.   It's since become popular among writers and fitness enthusiasts.

He keeps a calendar on his wall.  Every day that he writes jokes he crossed out the date on the calendar with a big red X.  

"After a few days you will have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt.  your only job is to not break the chain".  (This technique is also a part of my habit system)

Create your Ritual - "Great creative minds think like artists but work like accountants" - David Brooks.

Build rituals to support your goal of going deep often.  Your ritual should address:-

  1. Where you'll work and for how long
  2. How you'll work once you start to work
  3. How you'll support your work (food, coffee, walking, organisation).  This needs to be systemized so that you don't waste mental energy figuring out what you need in the moment.

Finding a ritual that sticks might require experimentation, so be willing to work at it.

Make Grand Gestures - this technique leverages the psychology of serious committing to the task at hand and involves putting yourself in a new location, sometimes at great expense, for the sole purpose of deep work.  By doing this, you increase the perceived importance of the task, which will reduce your mind's instinct to procrastinate and delivers an injection of motivation and energy.

Some examples include:-​

  1.  JK Rowling, the famous author, checked into the five star Balmoral hotel near Edinburgh Castle​ when she struggled to finish "The Deathly Hallows".
  2. Bill Gates - famous for taking "Think Weeks" during his time as Microsoft CEO during which he would retire to a cabin for the sole purpose of reading papers and books
  3. Alan Lightman, MIT physician and novelist, retreats to a tiny island in Maine to think deeply and recharge for 2 and a half months each summer.  The island doesn't even have an internet connection or phone line.
  4. Peter Shankman, entrepreneur and social media pioneer, noticed that he was extremely productive while flying so booked a round trip business class flight to Tokyo and wrote during the whole voyage.

Don't work alone - for many types of work, collaborative deep work can yield better results - it can push your results to a new level.

The 4DX Framework - planning and big goals is one thing, but execution is another.  A framework called the 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) can help us execute efficiently.  The four principles are as follows:-

  1. ​Focus on the Wildly important - the implication is that you should identify a small number of ambitious outcomes to pursue with your deep work hours
  2. Act on the Lead Measures - focus on the points of high leverage that will cascade down into other areas.  

    Lag measures are those that are influenced by lead measures.  

    For example, if you're trying to improve customer service, a lead measure might be "the time it takes for a customer to receive a response" and a lag measure might be "customer satisfaction scores".
  3. Keep a Compelling Scorecard - people play different when keeping score. Example- scorecard of how many deep hours people do on a daily basis.
  4. Create a Cadence of Accountability - public meetings where team members must confront their scoreboard, commit to specific actions to help improve the score before the next meeting, and describe what happened with the commitments they made at the last meeting.

Embrace Boredom - Clifford Nass, Stanford communication professor, did some research that revealed that people who multitask all the time can't manage working memory, are chronically distracted and initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand...they're pretty much mental wrecks.

If every moment of potential boredom in your life is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where, like the "mental wrecks", it's not ready for deep work.

In short: when you have those moments where you don't have anything specific to be getting on with, embrace them and stop yourself from switching your focus onto the nearest distraction.

Quit Social Media ​- identify your personal and professional goals and determine if social media is giving a substantive positive impact on you reaching them.

Consider quitting social media for 30 days and asking yourself the following questions afterwards:-

  1. ​Would the last thirty days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service?
  2. Did people care that I wasn't using this service?

To master the art of deep work, you must take back control of your time and attention from the many diversions that attempt to steal them.

Drain the Shallows - ​treat shallow work with suspicion because its damage is often vastly underestimated and its importance vastly overestimated.

  1. ​Try scheduling every minute of every day to show that your estimates will prove wrong and to show how often you'll be interrupted with new obligations.  Will help you appreciate that a deep work habit requires you to treat your time with respect
  2. Ask your boss for a shallow work budget
  3. Finish your work by five thirty.  Adopt fixed schedule productivity.  
  4. Say yes less - "Yes" is the most dangerous word in one's productivity vocabulary.
  5. Become hard to reach - create a sender filter and set expectations of response low
  6. Do more work when replying to emails - limit the amount of back and forth required to get things done.
  7. Don't respond - don't feel bad about it.

Challenges

The main challenges of deep work are:-

  1. Fighting desires and distractions - especially if your brain has already been primed to engage in shallow work for many years
  2. Willpower fatigue - our willpower is like a muscle so pushing it to hard can lead to burnout.

My Concluding Thoughts

This book helps shine a light into the mindsets and approach of people that are prolific creators.  

We all know we should focus is important, but it's become a bit of a cliche in productivity circles.  "You should focus" is overused and doesn't really mean anything, but Deep Work brings a whole new level of clarity to the term.

I like how Deep Work is complementary to other extremely important concepts for high performance: habit building and deliberate practice.  Those three, together, seem to be the ultimate cocktail for high performance.

The book also inspired me to create a script for putting my computer into "deep work" mode.

My full set of notes can be found here.

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2 Questions to Ask Yourself if You’re Scared to Pull the Trigger

You've spent the best part of a few months building something that you think is going to be extremely valuable to people.  

You've invested hours and hours of blood, sweat and tears into this thing, it's been the focal point of your life for a long time and finally you're getting close to the finish line.

It's time to pull the trigger, to get it out there and launch your new creation into the wild!

But there's one problem...you can't get yourself to do it!

Why?

You're paralyzed with fear

  • What are other people going to think about me?
  • What if I realise it and it's a complete flop?
  • What if​ people expose me as an imposter?
  • What if I sell more than I can handle and can't keep up with demand?
  • What if I get a barrage of negative reviews?
  • What if people disagree with me?
  • What if they hate the product?

The mere thought of just releasing this thing sends you into a desperate downward spiral of blind panic.  

So what do you do about this?  

You work relentlessly on trivial and unimportant things while telling yourself that you'll launch as soon as it's done...

Only for the cycle to repeat itself over and over again.  

6 months later, realizing that you're never going to launch if this cycle continues, you turn to your favorite self development web site.

And here you are, reading this article.  ​

First Thing's First...It's Normal

​If it makes you feel any better, I've been stuck in this exact same situation.  On one particular occasion, I wasted literally 8 months of my time because I refused to face my fears.  

Over the years I've also worked with many people who have this problem.  Whether it be producing blog posts, video courses, creating software or even writing sales letters - this problem of delaying the launch comes up again and again.

What's more, I don't know a single creator who doesn't get caught up in these kind of lower level fears at one time or another.   

If you're cripplingly insecure (like I was) and have all sorts of insecurities to resolve then, sure, your fear might be stronger than someone that's ironed out these issues already. But they're still present to everyone.

What I'm saying is this:- The problem is not that you are afraid, but that you let your fear control and dictate your life. 

Seth Godin, best selling author, describes this beautifully:-

"In the moment before you do it in public, every fiber of your being is going to fight you because this is the moment that you might get laughed at​"

The fact is this: There is a cost to being a creator.  The cost is that sometimes you have to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Change Your Focus with these 2 Questions

These two questions below are going to change your focus from "external" stuff, like what other people might think about you, to you, your values and what you believe in.  

They are designed to help you take a step back from the situation and focus on the things that matter, rather than being paralyzed by your emotions.​

Question 1 - What Type of Person are You?

Are you the type of person who is controlled by fears and lower emotions?  Are you the type of person that is too scared to push your creation out there because you're worried about what other people think?  When you're on your death bed looking back at your life, are you going to be proud of your actions?

Alternatively, are you the type of person that acknowledges the emotions that you're having and pushes it out there anyway?  ​You feel the fear, you feel the worry, but you are strong enough to push forth regardless. 

This is a question about values and what really matters for you.  Which kind of person do you admire?​  What type of person would you be proud to be?

Personally, I'd much rather push something out and have it fail than be the type of person that just surrenders to worries, anxiety and fear and never release.  

I admire people that push through adversity and challenging times:

  • The out of shape person who's insecure about how they look but is down the gym working their ass off anyway
  • The shy person who doesn't like to talk to people on the phone, and sounds extremely nervous, but makes those sales calls every day
  • The guy who has never had a girlfriend in his life but pushes through the discomfort and builds up the courage to talk to girls

In my eyes, these people are winners, regardless of whether they succeed or not.  

To highlight this, here's a great quote from the book "Smarter, Faster, Better" by Charles Duhigg:-

"You'll never get reward for doing what's easy for you. If you're an athlete, I'll never compliment you on a good run. Only the small guy gets congratulated for running fast. Only the shy guy gets recognized for stepping into a leadership role. We praise people for doing things that are hard. That's how they learn to believe they can do them"

This quote relates to the marines and how they manage their recruits.  They don't reward natural talent, they reward courage and people that do things that are hard for them.

So, the first question is, what type of person are you?

Question 2 - Can You Justify to Yourself What You're Doing?

You're focused so much on how other people might judge you, but have you actually taken the time to value and respect your own justifications?

  • Are you happy with your reasons for creating?  
  • Are you happy with your intentions?
  • Are you happy with what you're trying to achieve and the work that you're creating?

High performers with high self esteem are completely focused on their own reasons and justifications for their creations.  They place more importance on making sure that they are acting true to themselves rather than focusing on the impossible task of trying to get validation from everyone else.

This becomes clearer with an example.

Let's take my video project. ​ Each time I create a new video I could quite easily fall into the trap of worry and anxiety:-

  • What if people don't like my video?
  • What if my friends laugh at me?
  • What if ​I am ridiculed behind my back for trying to create these videos?
  • .. etc

And, to be honest, I do sometimes find myself worrying about these things.  That is, until, I begin to focus on my own reasons and justifications for doing these videos:-

  1. I want to get better at making videos
  2. I want to improve my skillset in preparation for a future company that I will build in the next few years
  3. I want to contribute and, if possible, get to the point where I'm skilled enough to help people​

The great thing about these justifications is that they remain in tact no matter what.  You put out something that fails, doesn't matter.  You are ridiculed, doesn't matter.  

My takeaway point is this:- Be clear about your justifications and why you're doing what you're doing and focus on that.  

When you become a creator that's true to yourself, there is no such thing as failure.

It's Time

Listen, you know that you can't live your life being dictated by these fears that you have. That's not the type of person you are.

Here's what you need to do now:- 

  1. Commit to releasing your creation and see it through
  2. Leave me a comment below to publicly commit to it!

Good luck on your imminent launch!

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