Find your cohort. The generous ones.

Seth shares a great story about an author called Robert Caro in “The Practice.” Caro had quit his job as a reporter and begun writing his first major biography – “The Power Broker.”

He took a modest advance and moved his family to a tiny apartment. But, years later, the end didn’t seem in sight. In 1975, he wrote a poignant story for The New York Times describing his despair.

Then, he was given a key to a back room at the New York Public Library. Only eleven writers had keys, and each was given a desk to write.

One day, he looked up and found James Flexner – one of his idols – ask a question he’d come to dread – “How long have you been working on it?”

“Five years”

“Oh, that’s not so long. I’ve been working on my Washington for nine years.”

The next day, another of his idols said quietly – “Eleanor and Franklin took me seven.”

He could have jumped up and kissed them. In a couple of sentences, both men – his idols – had wiped away five years of doubt.

The lesson “Find your cohort. The generous ones.” resonated deeply.

Turn it off and then back on

It is amazing how often a technology problem is solved by turning off the device and turning it on.

I think it works similarly in our lives. When we aren’t feeling our best or behaving as we’d expect, the best thing we can do is to turn off. Take a break and get some rest.

We’ll work better on the other side.

Privacy rights notice friction

I received a “privacy rights” notice from a financial service provider who collects payments on a loan. They notified me that I had the right to tell them to not share my data with other financial services companies. However –

(a) If I didn’t explicitly say no, they’d assume I am supportive.
(b) If I did want to say no, I can’t just do it via my account online. No, I’d need to mail in a response.
(c) They graciously added an envelope. However, I wouldn’t just be able to drop it in the post box. I’d need to get a stamp.

I marveled at the thoughtfulness that went into adding just enough friction for me to discard the mailer and thus give them what they want.

Imagine if we all applied the same amount of thought to adding or removing friction to drive better habits/behavior.

Missing commitments to recommit

Once I make a commitment, I hate missing it. But, every once a while, I find it helpful to miss a commitment to recommit to a better process. Here’s an example.

I used to host this blog myself. A few years in, I started experiencing a spate of phishing attacks from some Russian bots/. This led to a predictable pattern – I would realize something is wrong (included the blog going down/an inability to post), go back and forth with my hosting provider requesting for help to clean up the Russian files, and then call one of my trusted developer friends for help to save the day.

Eventually, we’d get it back up and I’d sneak in my post for the day and not miss my commitment.

After this had happened a few times too many, I decided it had to stop. So, I missed a day.

Instead of the usual short-term fix, I used the day to stop hosting the blog myself and handed over the reins to Safety/security came with the package. And, for $40 or so per year back then, I bought myself peace of mind.

I thought of this incident recently as I found myself contemplating yet another last-minute sprint for a project. But, instead of doing so, I decided to miss my commitment (it hurt!) and, instead, commit to a better process.

Here’s to that.

Mistaking agreement for truth

“In fact, it’s Douggie’s growing conviction that the greatest flaw of the species is its overwhelming tendency to mistake agreement for truth. Single biggest influence on what a body will or won’t believe is what nearby bodies broadcast over the public band. Get three people in the room and they’ll decide that the law of gravity is evil and should be rescinded because one of their uncles got shit-faced and fell off the roof.” | Richard Powers in “The Overstory”

That line about our overwhelming tendency as humans to mistake agreement for truth hit me hard.

It is the best description I’ve heard of our fallibility.

Optimistic about ourselves, pessimistic about others

Gallup has been asking Americans for more than four decades, “Are you satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. right now?”

The average percent of Americans answering “no” since 1969 is 63%.

What’s interesting is that Gallup asks a follow-up question: “Are you satisfied with the way things are going in your own life right now?”

There, the average “no” response is just 15.8%.

People tend to be optimistic about themselves but pessimistic about others. Social media probably supercharges that. Benedict Evans says, “The more the Internet exposes people to new points of view, the angrier people get that different views exist.”

Such a great factoid. It puts a lot of what we see on social media in perspective.

(H/T: Morgan Housel’s blog and his seemingly never ending reservoir of great stories)

The metronome

A metronome provides a steady pulse for musicians to play on time.

It is unerringly consistent and predictable. Boring even.

It is what our self-care systems should aspire to be. Whether it is rest, exercise, good food, or something else, the best systems should just work every day. No fuss. No drama.

Just like the metronome.