Failing in the attempt

always sucks. It hurts.

It actually hurts less to fail a different way: fail to try. It's less public, it's understandable, and it's justifiable ten thousand different ways.

Of course, failing to try leads to a different type of pain. Less sharp, less likely to lash out and hurt you...but it's chronic, and self-perpetuating.

Because when you don't take the shot, you're less likely to next time.

Game design is the most other-oriented form of design

Game design is the most other-oriented form of design

Recently, I attended a small gaming group, and ran my game – The Cloud Dungeon. It's a paper craft, creative game with a storyline, and I've played through it so many times, you'd think I'd be sick of it.

And it's true – I don't want to play through my game. Honestly, if I put the game away and didn't touch it for a couple years, it would still be boring to me when I brought it out again.

Yet, when I run the game for other people, it's always a wonderful time for me.

Why? I think it's because game design is unique in the world of design.


Design is about making people's lives better, easier, and more enjoyable. The unique thing about game design when compared to other forms of design is this: while you might design a tool that is as useful to you as it is useful to your user – you might code an application that saves you time and headaches – games that you create will never be as fun for you as they are for the people who play them.

So, while the motivation to create a game might be "I want to play this type of game, and it doesn't exist", by the time you've created the game, you're most likely going to be sick of it. At the very least, it's going to be old hat long before it's actually a fun game to play.

Game design is unique, because the joy in game design comes from seeing other people experience joy, not directing experiencing it yourself. Maybe game design is a more empathetic form of design.

Update: Thinking about this more, game design might be a little more like an art form: creating music or filming a movie. You're making something that you inherently can't experience in the same way your audience will – you can't "discover" your film for the first time, just as you can't "discover" your game, fully formed, for the first time (unless you have amnesia). However, you do have a similar moment in game design where you "discover" the fun, and that's a, eye-opening, rewarding moment.


Removing willpower in habit change

Removing willpower in habit change

We've all been there. Maybe it's the beginning of the year, maybe you've just hit rock bottom, and are swearing to change some habits. You resolve to make changes. You're gonna get fit, have a better family life, get rich, and take care of yourself better.

It's easy, because you're so passionate about change. You have the willpower to do amazing things. You know what happens next.

+ + +

I've crashed and burned trying to change habits more times than I can count. I always make grand schemes to use my willpower to change my life, and yet when push comes to shove, I can't even muster the ability to drink an extra glass of water.

What I got wrong about habit change

I thought my willpower was the key.

I thought that if I wanted to read an improving book every day, I would just have to tough it out, and read the book, no matter how much I hated it.

If I wanted to get fit, I would just have to force myself to exercise.

This isn't the way to form a habit: it's the recipe for burn-out and despair. 

A better way:

Now, with any new habit, my goal is to remove willpower from the equation as much as possible. Willpower is finite, and as Scott Adams writes in his remarkable book, "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big":

"In the long run, any system that depends on your willpower will fail.'

So, what do we have, if not willpower?

• Remove temptation

Don't just use your willpower to resist social media – if you're not supposed to be using it, just turn the internet off. When it's not an option to do something, or if it's really difficult to access – think of credit cards frozen in ice, then it requires zero willpower to resist.

• Do just enough

Be active only as much as feels good. Read only as much as you enjoy. Write with low expectations. Do just enough that it feels good, and don't push it. You'll create a self-perpetuating cycle of doing the thing, feeling good about it, and doing more. Do five minutes. Write one sentence. Just start, don't set high expectations for yourself.

• Commitment devices

Commitment devices are how your present self can bully your future self. What this looks like: setting up consequences if you fail. In My Unemployment Job, I promised enough money to activate the pain receptors in my brain if I failed to make some pretty sweeping changes to my life. When there's pain coming, we tend to change habits pretty easily. No willpower required if it's more painful to not change!

That's it! Don't lean on your willpower to change, and you'll change.

Fear of others has been my protection.

I’ve smoked a cigarette exactly one time in my life.I didn’t do it because of social pressure – I was alone at the time, and to be honest social pressure to be stupid has rarely worked on me. I’m pretty good at telling friends when they’re being stupid, and not joining in. I don’t know if this is because I enjoy being a jerk, or if I see myself as so much of an outsider that standing on the outside doesn’t make me feel isolated – it just affirms what I already know about myself. It feeds my impression I’m pretty much the greatest person on earth, and the greatest person on earth isn’t going to get along with a lot of people, because they’re all going to be jealous. The greatest person on earth doesn’t smoke a cigarette because he’s afraid of being made fun of, or afraid of losing friends – he does it because he’s curious, and he makes a decision. Anyway, I pilfered the cigarette from the set of a play that I was helping with. I saw the pack of cigarettes on the prop table, grabbed one that looked like it hadn’t been chewed on by anyone, and stuck it in my pocket. Later I bought a lighter at Wal-Mart, and hid in a strand of trees in a park to light up. I extinguished the cigarette after puffing on it a few times – I didn’t get it. Why do people spend so much money and give themselves lung cancer for this? Because people are duller and stupider than I, clearly. I stuck the cigarette in a convent knothole, and walked away, never to smoke again. People are stupid, I thought.


I tend to think a lot about what other people are thinking. The reason I didn’t just go and buy a pack of cigarettes was because I had an image to keep up – the greatest person on earth wasn’t about to be seen buying cigarettes. I was afraid of what other people might think, even if I didn’t know them, so I didn’t buy any. I stole one, and I knew that I couldn’t start smoking (or drinking heavily, or getting bad grades) because I was simply too terrified of people’s thoughts. This gave me great comfort, because I knew for sure that I wouldn’t mess up too badly. My fear of other people’s thoughts and opinions was a protective device, keeping me comfortably in a state of fear, making sure that the bad didn’t get in. I didn’t have to actually be a good person: if I was scared enough, people would ensure that I acted right.

Of course, this system began to break down. It hindsight, it wasn’t a very good system, because different people believe different things about how I should live my life, and I didn’t even know what they thought – I was just making my best guess about how the cashier was judging my actions, and it’s hard to be accurate.

I started wearing headphones when I shopped, clearly conveying the message that I didn’t care too much about the people around me, so they really shouldn’t care about me.

I started ruthlessly analyzing everything in my cart, and shopping soon became very stressful, because what if someone sees the beef jerky I’m buying, and mistakes me for an ignorant beef-eating slob? I hide the beef jerky under the rice.

What if they see the Kombucha in my cart and think it’s actually soda? I’m not the type of person who drinks soda! I rotate the Kombucha bottle until the label is clearly visible.

What if someone sees the wine I have in my cart, and assumes that I’m going to go home and drink it all myself? I briefly consider stuffing the wine down my pants, but that would look even more suspicious.

Everything became stressful, because the imagined thoughts of all the people around me had turned on me: they had ceased to be a protector against my worst self, and had began attacking me.

Relying on other people to keep you in line is a bad long-term strategy, it turns out.

I haven’t solved this problem, although I fear other people’s thoughts much less than I have in the past. If you deal with this type of stuff, my only suggestion is this: start the process of becoming a better person, not just acting the part because people are watching.

In short: don’t steal the cigarettes, don’t buy the cigarettes.

Why reading people's minds is a bad idea

reading minds I sipped my eighteenth cup of instant coffee, and wondered how work was going. I was working at Starbucks at the time, and I had skipped work. A quick text to let them know I wasn’t going to be there, that was it. I would have gotten better coffee if I had gone into work, but I didn’t mind too much. I’m not the type of person who skips out on work. I get jobs and keep them as long as I want them, and almost everyone I’ve worked with has liked me. I’m reasonably responsible, and people rarely get angry at me. My shift supervisor was angry when she called, though. She chewed me out for not coming into work, and told me that the day was crazy busy, and everyone was having to stay late to cover for me. She wasn’t happy, but I hung up the phone and shrugged – just the night before my wife had our new baby, so to heck with work. I went back to sipping coffee and making funny noises.

But over the next few days, this phone call really started to gnaw on me. The truth was, I liked the shift who had chewed me out – she was generally really cool, and great to work with. I engaged my terrific mind reading skills, and defined from our phone conversation that I had done something wrong. The shift manager was so terribly angry, I was sort of sure that she might try to fire me, or even worse – not like me any more.

I had several days off after the phone call, and I fretted constantly. I was sure that the shift supervisor was really angry with me, and I decided that I had to do something to make it up to her. I talked with Sonia about it, and we decided to send her some flowers, as a thank you from us.

As I drove to work, the pit in my stomach grew to resemble the mariana trench. I was imagining all of the terrible, angry conflicts that might happen once I got there. It was terrible. I even imagined that she could be so angry that she would bring a gun to work, and then our baby would have to grow up in a fatherless household, which could mean that she would have higher risk of depression and engaging in bad relationships.

Once I got to work, I walked slowly towards the door, attempting stifle the urge to run. I opened the door, and tried to slink to the back room without anybody noticing –

“Hi! How’s the baby?"

It was the same shift supervisor who had called me, but now she was smiling. Cheerful. Happy. She just had been venting, and she apologized for the phone call. It wasn’t the flowers, she had just been stressed and venting – she was nowhere close to the homicidal maniac that I had conjured up in my imagination.

I had tried to read her mind, and I had done a terrible job.

+ + +

Do your best not to read other people’s minds. Seriously, it causes more problems than it’s worth:

When you read someone’s mind, of course it makes your life harder. It’s stressful and it fills you with anxiety, because you're trying to achieve the impossible – down that road is madness for sure, but that’s not the only reason you should read minds. When you read someone’s mind, you’re not trying to give them what they want - you’re trying to give them what you think they want. Big difference.

You’re almost always harsher on yourself than someone else would be, so in your mind, they’re a worse, more judgmental person than they are. Don’t expect everyone to be the jerk that your internal critic is – give them a chance to be kind and forgiving and apologetic, and they’ll tend to rise to that.

Optimization stress and stickers | Doubtful solutions


Here's one of my videos I thought you'd like. It's about more than stickers. It's about stress, and maximizing, and how making ourselves happy can make us miserable.


You can watch more of our vlog and the Doubtful Solutions Brothers here.

Disappointed customer

Ok, I just have to tell you about something that happened to me this week.I like coffee, quite a lot. In fact, I’m a big coffee nerd: I roast my own coffee with a home-brew contraption, I grind fresh and measure and weigh things, I’m not the most nerdy coffee brewer I know, but I’m pretty high on the nerdiness scale. Back in December, my wife bought me a french press for my birthday. This was a nice french press, really nice: stainless steel, double-walled, extra mesh filters – it also had an amazing spout. No one thinks that you need a good spout until you use a bad one, and the hot coffee dribbles down the side of your cup, the pot, and your fingers. The spout was the best part.   This was the perfect gift.   We used it for a few months, and it was fantastic. It kept the coffee hot for ages – like, once drank a cup of coffee before running out the door, and when I got back from the errand the coffee in the pot was still slightly too hot.   Luxury.   The rose began to wilt ever so slightly when we were brewing coffee last month – we poured the hot water in the pot, and immediately a whistling noise began, a thin, wailing sound that we had trouble placing at first. Then we noticed sputtering coming from one of the edges of the french press: on closer examination, there was a flaw, a tiny hole in the edge of the pot, and when the pot was heated it sputtered and whistled.   This was concerning. I wasn’t really sure if the flaw in the pot would be a problem in the future, or not – the worst-case scenario part of my brain was whizzing: I could see several bad endings, which included the metal deteriorating, massive gobs of mold forming in the space between the stainless steel walls, or me being driven out of my mind by the whistling and throwing the heavy metal pot full of hot liquid through our kitchen window.   I struggled with the idea of returning the pot, because I don’t do that sort of thing. My conflict-avoidence and midwestern make-do upbringing was prompting me to just let it go. But as I thought about it more, it wouldn’t do to just keep quiet about it – I should at least let the company know that the flaw happened, so they could keep it from happening again. Besides, I really wanted a new pot, because I didn’t like the fact that my beautiful new pot might have a flaw – unthinkable. My misgivings well justified, and the 30-day Amazon return policy well over – I contacted the company involved, and tried to ask for a new pot without asking for a new pot. What followed was a fantastic example of how to treat all people, and especially people who interact with your brand.   The fellow I e-mailed told me right away that they stand by their products 100%, and he thanked me for letting him know about the problem. He requested a picture so his manufacturers could ensure that the problem didn’t happen again, and he immediately put a new pot in the mail, without asking me to send the defective one back. His tone was warm, and friendly – not the cold compliance that you often get from companies when they’re agreeing to something that chips away at their bottom line. He told me that the pot would be there soon, and to let him know when I got it.  


I got the pot yesterday, and here’s the amazing thing – he included a (lengthy!) handwritten note in the package, thanking me again for letting them know about the flaw, with an assurance that he had hand-inspected this one to make sure that it was perfect. He then kindly asked for a review on Amazon, and signed his name at the bottom.  

Do you think I wrote him that review? Yup. It was only the second review I’ve ever written on Amazon –the first being an Apple laptop charger that turned out to be a knock-off – and I gushed about the company, exhorting anyone who read the review to buy, promising that they wouldn’t regret it for a second. The company had made me into a raving fan, not just because they replaced the defective part – anyone will do that – but by making the experience so pleasant, and human. I didn’t feel like I was doing something wrong, but that I was helping the company out, and they valued me for that.   What’s the opposite of this kind of experience? Not refusal to replace the product – almost anyone will send you a replacement if you complain – the opposite is indifference. Making you jump through hoops. Treating you with with hostility, forcing you to ship the product back to make sure that you aren’t lying, and trying to get you to pay the shipping. Grudgingly sending you the replacement, and including a printed slip of paper that says they hope you had a good experience and could you please rate them on Amazon and follow their Facebook page, please pretty please.   Treat people like humans, and how a little humanity yourself. Not only is this the right thing to do, it’s good business. Surprising how often those go together.

My relationship with self-help, or how a magician ruined my childhood.

I remember something that happened back when I was young. Young enough that the memory is hazy, and I’m not entirely sure what age I was. My family went to a magic show in a large, dark auditorium, and the magician must have been pretty uninteresting to an ambiguously aged boy like me, because I don’t remember any of the magic. The only reason I remember the magic show at all was because it was one of my first big public failures.
Not that anyone noticed that I was a failure, but I knew - and that was enough.



At the end of the show, the magician had the person in charge of the lights bring them up slightly, and the magician asked for child volunteers from the audience. I remember feeling simultaneously a strong desire to volunteer, and a throbbing terror at the very idea of being put on the spot in front of the large audience.


The terror won out and I didn’t raise my hand. A blonde boy in a striped shirt – undoubtedly one of those fearless types, who would grow up to be a president, or a car salesman – jumped onstage, and the magician did a trick where he pulled something out of somewhere or made doves appear or something.


The trick wasn’t the important part.


The important part was after the blonde confident über-success had finished being amazed, the magician handed him a big toy, packaged in that bubbled plastic –you know, that totally-not-frustration-free blister pack that is impossible to tear, cut, or cajole into opening – I couldn’t see exactly what it was, but I immediately assumed that it was some sort of magical Silly Putty mega pack, with Silly Putty that changed colors, and cleaned your room, magical Silly Putty that wasn’t sold in stores, and would be too expensive for people who weren’t highly famous magicians to buy anyway.


I felt incredibly embarrassed, and regretful. Why wasn’t I like that amazing, perky, confident blonde kid? Why didn’t I run up onstage and claim my Silly Putty Magical Mega Pack? It was the worst day of my life.


After this event, I did what I always did after having a terrible experience: I swore to change, to become a completely new person! I would be confident, and full of life, and I would never say “no” to any challenge, and my confidence would build more confidence, and soon I would be one of those towering figures who always know the right thing to do, and always are comfortable in their own skin.


Yeah, that never worked.


+ + +


I stumbled on non-fiction/self-help books by discovering my Dad’s library of relationship books. They were magical to me, because they seemed to be like secret manuals for life: they held amazing secrets about how life really worked. I ate them up. I didn’t want anyone to know I was reading them, so I stuffed them under my shirt and secretly smuggled them to the basement, one at a time.


They were great. They talked about sex, and how to get girls to like you. Or, at least, how to build a long-lasting marriage after you’ve already gotten the girl to like you. Reading through the books, I found practical advice: they told me what to do, instead of expecting me to figure it out for myself.


As I got older, I continued to read self-help, business, and other non-fiction books of all types. Some of them seriously changed the trajectory of my life. When I was 17, my Mom suggested that I (read: forced me to) go through Financial Peace University, a anti-debt financial course. I didn’t want to go, because I harbored the suspicion that going to the class might involve talking to people, or doing uncomfortable things, neither of which I liked very much. Besides, what teenager is excited about finances?


After the first class, I was totally won over. If self-help books were like instruction manuals, this class was like the secret owner's guide. It was incredible: I learned everything about staying out of debt, keeping expenses down, IRAs, mutual funds, credit card collection practices, the works: the class was in video format, but you also got CDs, and I ripped them, and put the Mp3s on my awesome Mp3 player. I would listen to the financial course over and over again, memorizing everything. I’ve always secretly wished that I was massively in debt with creditors calling me, just so I could blast an air horn into the phone when they violate federal law (as they do routinely).


The class I took really got under my skin: it seriously changed how I view the world. I chose a college that I didn’t have to get into debt to attend, I’ve never had a car payment, and – except for some medical bills and my wife’s student loans – never been in debt of any kind. Now, Sonia and I live really well while saving, paying off debt aggressively, and giving regularly. This all happened because of the impact that financial self-help has had on our lives.


+ + +


But most self-help is really embarrassingly bad.    

Everyone’s looking for the quick fix, They’ve had something bad happen to them, they’ve had a moment of awakening where they didn’t get the silly putty super pack, and they realize they aren’t who they want to be, and that without help they’ll never be the type of person who know famous magicians, who gets handed silly putty super packs on a regular basis, so they do what I did: they swear to change, and labor under the belief that – given the right material – they can fix themselves instantly.
There are so many people who think that the magic bullet exists, that they support a whole genre of terrible self-help literature.


All self-help self-proclaimed gurus are selling a product, and usually that product is themselves. I’ve heard certain “masters of success” claim that they hadn’t felt any stress for years. Another bombastic fellow claimed that we was perpetually in the moment, and experienced no suffering at all, and never thought about the past, or the future, because he was so, you know, present, dude. Many authors have propagated the common idea that if you simply think positive thoughts, money and happiness will land on your doorstep, without any other effort from you. Bosh. Malarky. Hogwash. These “masters of success” aren’t evidence that if you think about rainbows the universe will reward you: they’re prime examples of how far you can go just telling people what they want to hear while you grab at their wallets. Overstatement and grand, sweeping promises about your future are common; real, practical advice about living a real life that doesn’t involve becoming a best-selling super-salesman self-help guru extrovert is rare.


Don’t let the numerous agonizingly cheesy balls-of-charisma-and-not-much-else rob you of the benefits that can be had from reading the good stuff.


If you’ve never read non-fiction before, I suggest you start with these:


+ Dave Ramsey (financial)


Jon Acuff (career)



These guys are the real deal. Reading *good* self-help books is one of the most valuable activities that you can take part in. It won’t make your life perfect, it won’t allow you to attract a winning lottery ticket with the power of your mind, it won’t completely eliminate stress, allowing you to live in a blissful cloud of daisies and soft, warm puppies; it won’t turn you into a completely confident, blonde-headed kid who always gets the silly putty super pack. It will, however, make a measurable difference in your life, in time.


As it turns out, these books don’t function like an instruction manual, with the secrets to a life of success and perpetual happiness and wealth: they function for like a good friend, who pushes you to be a better person, and gives you some ideas on how to proceed from where you are.


We could all use another one of those, right?


Do you read self-help? Any examples of particularly good (or bad) books?

Failure report: Keeping me honest.

Every once in a while, I publish a failure report, outlining ways that I’ve failed (and what I’ve learned from them) since the last month, in my past, etc. These may be failures that I brought upon myself, or circumstantial, but the message is the same: we all experience failure and setbacks. What we do after the failure is what matters.+ + +

"You'll come to see that a man learns nothing from winning. The act of losing, however, can elicit great wisdom. Not least of which is, how much more enjoyable it is to win. It's inevitable to lose now and again. The trick is not to make a habit of it." –Henry Skinner

+ + + Late last year, I stumbled into an amazing bit of success. If you don’t know, I love board games, and have been learning all I can about being a board game designer by interviewing game designers at One of my favorite games is Pandemic, which is a tense co-operative board game by Matt Leacock. I make a mini parody version of Pandemic, and I requested the blessing of the publisher to release it as a fan project, even though I didn’t technically need their permission (parody being protected by law, etc.). The publisher wrote back to me with notes on the game by Matt Leacock himself.

So, that was pretty cool.


We worked back and forth for a while, the publisher talking about publishing my parody game, and Matt giving me notes and play testing for me. It was tremendously exciting. I hadn’t been actively seeking a publisher, but having one fall in my lap was totally OK with me. I knew that there would be too much money involved, but it was a privilege to work with Matt, and learn more about the publication process.

I also felt a high level of validation. It’s difficult to admit to myself that I’m still an insecure little kid inside sometimes, but when someone looks at my work and tells me that it’s good, I feel the warmth that only comes from a piece of my personality that I hold very dearly being validated. I had struggled so long on many different business ideas, that this just felt like the pieces were finally falling in place. I, like many people – especially male people – derive a good chunk of my self worth from my work, for better or worse, so I was feeling really good.

Look at me, I’ve been designing games for 6 months, and I already have a publisher. Boom.

I held off telling my family until Christmas, even though this was going down many months before: I wanted to wait until I was reasonably sure that this was really happening. I had to bite my tongue many times in the months before Christmas, because that little kid in my head was jumping up and down, so excited to impress his Mom and Dad, and his older brother. The kid still thinks that my successes will make me better loved by the people around me. Silly kid.

Anyway, I smugly let it slip that I was designing a game with an amazing game designer, and basked in the radiance of my success. I don’t believe that I’ve felt that good in a long time.

+ + +

Well, shortly after Christmas, there was a long silence from the publisher. I was nervous, but I kept sending notes and kept play testing.

Then it happened: “Sorry, this doesn’t fit our needs”, or some variation of the rejection slip. This wasn’t a life-rocking blow – the publishing deal had fallen into my lap, and fallen out again – but I still felt quite deflated.

I had no idea why it fell through.


- - -

There are a lot of lessons that people learn from failure, but many of them seem to be destructive, terrible messages. Here are a few destructive beliefs that I’ve taken away from failure at times:

+ I’m no good.

+ I shouldn’t try that hard again.

+ I am a failure.

+ The system is rigged against me.

Yeah, those are bad lessons to learn.

+ + +

I’ve failed so much that even though I still take an emotional hit when I do, I’ve learned a few things about myself, and about failure. Sooner or later, I have to pick myself up and remember these truths, constructive lessons from failure:

+ That project may not have been good enough, but I can try again.

+ I should try harder next time.

+ I failed in that situation, but I’m not a failure.

+ Something went wrong, maybe something outside my control. This has zero effect on my next effort.

Don’t get the impression that these are what was going through my head when I got that rejection e-mail. I was angry, hurt, insecure, and kind of low. But now that I'm a few months out from the rejection, and moving towards my next goal, I can look back and redefine the failure as a learning experience.

What have you failed at recently? How are you moving past it?

Four things I do to keep me in line [video]

Every week, my brother and I record vlogs to each other, under the name Doubtful Solutions Brothers. Our vimeo profile is here, our website is here. The videos don't always pertain to this blog, but when they do, I'll post them with added commentary.

In this video, I outline four things I do to make my habitual procrastination, laziness, and self-sabotage in line.

Instead of outlining every point that I made in this video, I'm going to give you two specific tasks that will help you be more productive. Choose one, and GO!


1. Head over to Beeminder and set up 1 commitment device for a future action. Make it something that you feel like you should do, but you have a low likelihood of follow through.


2. Decide on some temptation bundling you could do. Bind a tempting item or activity with a good habit, making sure that the temptation doesn't cancel out the good habit (Only smoke when you're at the gym? Really?). I would give you examples, but it's better if you figure them out for yourself. :-)


Screenshot 2015-03-19 07.02.27 I’m not one of those slick, greasy successes showing other successes how to be more successful. When I read the blogs and books of people like that, it’s easy to come up with an excuse not to do amazing stuff, because my circumstances are different. They’re perfect. Their life is perfect, or pretty close. How can I be expected to do what they did when I’m so flawed, and they seem to be the ideal human being who has never faced a setback in their life?

I want to make it very clear with every blog post that I’ve screwed up way more than I’ve succeeded, and will continue to fail, in many, many ways.

+ + +

The other thing that's annoying about many of these personalities: their advice is ridiculously impractical for people who have a life and a family. I remember when I was getting up at 4:30, working two jobs, and doing freelance graphic design on the side, all while trying to spend time with my wife and new daughter, oh, yeah – and in any spare scraps of time, trying to build a business.

I was done with cheerful success gurus telling me how getting eight hours of sleep every night was vital to my productivity, or lecturing me on not being on social media enough. Much of the advice that I was receiving seemed geared towards people who were single, didn't have jobs, and were independently wealthy. It was ridiculous, maddening, and frustrating.

This blog is for people who haven’t got all of the time and money in the world, people who don’t have the magic touch, people who fail all the time: all you need is a bit of stubbornness to keep on moving forward. That’s pretty much all I have.

Why should you listen to me?

Well, there's no particular reason that I'm qualified – I'm not making a full-time living on four hours a week, I'm not making $30,000/Month with passive income, I'm not running my business while sipping mojitos on a beach somewhere.

The only reason you might read my blog is because I'm slightly further down the road, and I can help you keep going. I've started and quit countless businesses, set up too many websites to remember, self-published books that sold two copies, written hit blog posts and tried to deal with my website melting down, interviewed awesome people for products and blog posts, and screwed up so many times that I've actually learned some stuff. If what I've learned is useful to you, I'm glad to share.

I want to use this blog to talk about these things:

+ Art and business, and the combination of the two.

+ How to get important things done when you’ve got no time.

+ What the important things are.

+ The steady diet of failure that faces people who try stuff.

+ The anxiety, laziness, and self-sabitogue that we all experience.

This blog isn’t the magic bullet, I’m not an über-successful dude with big hair and a sparkling smile. I’ve just done a lot of stuff, and I want to help you out, if I can.

My inbox is always open.



How to create your own personal college class

It's common for many people to come out of college and stop learning. When no one is forcing you to learn and improve yourself, it's easy to do nothing. Sonia and I recently realized that we've really slacked off in the learning category since college - we still read good books, but the focused, intentional learning has gone out the window. We decided to change things by reorganizing our lives to look more like college - focused, limited, intentional blocks of learning.

0. Define your semester + assemble your course catalogue

What would you like to learn?

We started by assembling a massive list of subjects that would work for these focused "classes". Basically, we wrote down every subject that we could think of that sounded appealing. When you assemble your list, don't worry too much about picking the "right" subjects. Just dump anything that sounds interesting to you on paper.

What if I'm not interested in anything?

Just ask yourself a few questions: What did you want to learn when you were younger? What subjects really get your mind racing? What projects make you say "that's really cool"? Anything is up for grabs, ignore your mental filters and write it down, even if it seems ridiculous.

How long is your semester? 

I set mine for three months, but you're free to set it for as long as you'd like. Just be sure to set a time, so you can define when you need to finish the "class". If you don't have a time limit, it won't get done.

1. Assemble your curriculum

 Look for classes

There are so many places to go to get free classes. Just check out this list, or Google "Free (subject) classes". It's amazing how varied the free resources available are. I assembled my first course, a Game Design class, and I found a great class with twenty lessons, and assigned reading. I scheduled when each class and reading assignment would be due, spreading the class out through the three months. But that's not all I did - I was just taking one class, so just a single college class wouldn't be enough for me - so I went to the blogs.

 Finding lots of useful blog posts

You can create your entire education from blogs, if you know how to find the good blog posts. I selected one blog post on my subject per day for the entire "semester". How do you select the blog posts?

a. Select good blogs

This is an inexact science, but I suggest googling "(subject) blogs". You might also e-mail or Tweet some experts in the field, and ask for their recommendations.

b. Snarf up any top ten lists

Once you've found the blogs, check the about page and the sidebar. Oftentimes blog authors will post top ten lists, or lists about your specific subject. Don't bother looking at the blog posts, just grab all of the links and paste them into a spreadsheet. (right click>copy link)

I also used Buzz Sumo to select blog posts according to amount of shares. It's not precise, but it helps you select posts that have a high likelihood of being useful.

c. Check out tags/categories

In the case of a blogger that writes about a variety of subjects, check to see if they place the posts in a certain category - look at the top and bottom of a post for categories and tags, which will allow you to filter the posts by subject. Grab everything in that category. Usually you can find all of the posts in a wordpress blog by entering this URL, where "candy" is the category you're searching for:

Assigning tasks

Figure out what small projects and tasks that you could do do better learn about your subject. This could be short papers, projects, exercises, etc. Assign these throughout the semester, so you're actually applying what you learn. At the very least, assign yourself to blog every day (or few days) about the subject you're learning. You learn by teaching, so teach (even if you're not an expert)!


I just created a speadsheet with all the dates until the end of the semester, with a different column for each assignment type.

2. Reading and reviewing

While you're reading the blog posts, I suggest installing the Diigo app, which allows you to highlight and markup posts on the internet, and it saves everything. Highlight key points, words you want to remember, and Diigo will save the highlighted text in your Diigo library.


Here's how to set up a semi-automated review e-mail. In the Diigo library, click "my groups" and create a new group just for your class.

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 12.33.02 PM

At the end of each day of study, select all of your new highlighted items in your Diigo Library, and send them to your group:

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 1.16.10 PM



Adding the notes to the group will trigger an e-mail, sending all of the newly added highlighted sections and notes to your e-mail. Boom! Review sheet! The next time you're studying, review what you highlighted in the last session, and that will aid retention.

b. Catchup dates

Set days during the week where all of the previous assignments/readings are due, instead of making daily due dates. This will allow you to miss days and still be able to catch up before "class". Your life is unpredictable: don't assume that you'll be able to work on your class every day. Have catch-up days so you can be more flexible.

Getting it done

Ok, so you've compiled a great course. Now what's gonna make you do it? Your superhuman discipline? Yeah, right. We need some psychological tricks to force your lazy mammal brain into doing the painful, hard work of learning.

Treat it like a class

If you were studious in school, this could work - just imagine that this is a real college class, with a grade and everything - and treat it as such. You worked your butt off to get a good grade in college? Treat your own due dates with the same respect.

 Imagine THAT teacher

I know you had one. THAT teacher who scared you to death, who you wouldn't ever turn in anything less than fantastic, precisely on time. Mine was "the dragon", who was terrifying, and who I would work hard and stress endlessly about the assignments "the dragon" assigned. I did a good job, and I learned a lot. When I'm feeling unmotivated, I pretend that I'm doing an assignment for "the dragon", and somehow I feel like getting down to work.


 Get outside consequences

If all else fails, pick one of your mean - I mean strict - friends to enforce your class. Give your friend a check for a painful amount of money, and get your friend to agree to cash the check - no matter what - if you fail to turn in an assignment. It might be scary, but it's really effective.

Sometimes your brain just has to be bullied, you know?

Have a good time running your own micro college. Continued learning is one of the best ways to improve yourself as a person, and improve your financial prospects. Plus, learning about things that you're actually interested in is a blast. Do it.

Fear is two-faced

Fear tells you stories. Fear of action (procrastination), fear of failure (anxiety), fear of success (self-sabotage), they all speak countless lies into your ear, but they have problems keeping their stories straight. Fear will often tell you two lies at once - one vary convincing lie, and another lie, also very convincing, but the exact opposite of what it told you just a minute before. Examples:

"I don't know enough to succeed." / "I don't need to study, I need more natural talent."

"You'll never have enough time to write a book." / "You've got so much time, you can afford to put it off."

"They would be a huge help, but you're not good enough to meet with them." / "You don't need them."

"People with natural talent succeed, not me." / "I can succeed on talent alone, no need to practice."

"If it was really your passion, it wouldn't feel like hard work." / "You only succeed if you suffer a lot."

"They succeeded because they knew someone." / "I know someone, but I can't ask them for help, because _____________."

Yeah, fear will play ping-pong with your mind until you call it out - take note of the false, contradicting messages that you're feeding yourself all the time, and work hard not to give in to the lies.



Embrace distraction, beat anxiety


"Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and do the work" – Chuck Close ...yeah, but buckling down and focusing on something for hours is tough, isn't it? Often when I'm working on something that I really care about, I feel a deep anxiety that scares me away from the work. My solution has been to take the road of distraction - if my brain is slightly distracted by a movie or a radio show, I can usually work in peace, without the fear rising up and crushing out my attempt to create. I've been reading "Daily Rituals" by Mason Currey, which details the daily rituals of artists: all of the rituals are different, and a majority of them border on the insane. I felt better about my distraction routine when I read this quote, again by Chuck Close, speaking about his habit of watching television while he painted: "I like a certain amount of distraction. It keeps me from being anxious. It keeps things at a little bit more of an arm's length." Is distraction an optimal solution for every occupation/every artist? Of course not. Distraction doesn't work for me when I'm writing. But if a routine or technique works for you, do it. Do whatever it takes to do your work.

Moving all of my piles of junk

Yup, I'm moving. When you move, you realize how much junk you have - it's incredible how much is accumulates.  I just talked to a guy a while ago who moved halfway across the country using the biggest u-haul available, and he still had to rent storage area in California to store a bunch of his crap.

This was seven years ago. He still hasn't gone back for the rest of his stuff.

Having stuff is expensive, time-consuming, and at some level, your stuff starts to run your life.

So, think about it - how much of your life is spent organizing, dusting, moving, and maintaining your crap?

Are you OK with that?

You don't need more time... need to choose what to do and act. You don't need more money, you need more creativity and flexibility.

You don't need advertisement, you need hustling.

You don't need a better tool, you need to be a better artist.

You don't need better circumstances, you need to have a better attitude about the circumstances.

Whatever's holding you back probably isn't.

The thing that you think is keeping you from your goal isn't - but you think that it is. It's the placebo effect: your belief that you're helpless makes you helpless.

When was the last time you were excited?

...really excited? Like can't-contain-it-heart-beating-stomach-fluttering excited?

If you can't remember when it was that you were excited about something, it's time to try something new. It's time to push yourself a little and see what you can do. Try something that seems risky.

Here's an assignment: e-mail someone you really admire, just to tell them how awesome they are. Even better: ask them a small favor, see how/if they respond.

Ask for something for free that isn't for free.

Start something exciting, and share it with someone.

Step out, take the risk, and make art that connects with people.

It's the best way I know to get excited about life again.