Tips Not Answers

From Lewis Menand’s review of Smart, Faster, Better, I learned that all self help books have the same goal — to get us to be the people we know we should be. These books don’t have have any new solutions — they just reiterate common sense through the current cultural or businesses lenses. Menand points out that Dale Carnegie’s famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People (which I love) could be summed up in the sentence “If you are nice to people, they will like you.” But, he continues, the purpose of these books is not “What would Jesus do? but How, exactly, would He do it?” Carnegie’s book has some great tips on how to be nice to people like, “Be a good listener and focus on what the other person is interested in.” To me, it’s a fundamental point that none of these books, as much as they try, have the answer — we already know the answer. But they do have some good tips and tricks on how help us anyway.

Stop The Things That We Own From Owning Us

Reduce Stress

According to Robert Sapolsky, research says that the following things lower our stress and make us happy. As a side fact, you get a lot more benefits if you enjoy doing these things and aren’t forced to do them:

  • Exercise: Do 20-30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise. It’ll make your heart and brain work better as well as reduce your stress levels.
  • Meditate: Meditation lowers your blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels. It also lets you put stressors in perspective.
  • Friends and Family: Having friends and family you love and trust helps keep us calm.
  • Sleep: The human body needs 7-9 hours of sleep. Less than this causes significant stress on the body.

Wishing Others Well is a Quick Happiness Fix

I’ve always heard that the best way to make yourself happy is to focus on making other people happy — but I’ve found it hard to put into practice. Then I found the meditation app Buddify. It has a “Walking in the City” meditation they call “Zap” where you wish everyone well that you pass on the street. Give it a try because it’s amazing. It’s hard for me to find a quicker happiness fix.

Trigger Yourself to Stay on Track

Marshall Goldsmith wrote a great book called Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts — Becoming the Person You Want to Be. He talks about how we react to our environment more frequently and powerfully than we’d like to admit. So Goldsmith places triggers in the environment each day to help drive progress on key goals. I’ve been doing this for about a year and it’s really life changing. If you’d like to try it yourself you can take his basic survey at Ask Me Every.

Be Vulnerable to Build Stronger Connections with Friends

Brene Brown has a great recording of her seminar The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage. It’s a great follow up to her other work that I love. First you might want to check out her animated shorts on Empathy and Blame that are taken from her presentation at the Royal Society of the Arts. She also gave some great TED talks on The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame.

Asking vs. Guessing

Asking vs Guessing. I never realized that there are two different types of people and they ask for things in two very different ways. If you don’t realize these two different frames, you could end up misunderstanding what’s expected of you. The Guardian had a nice overview of this idea that was first described on a Metafilter post that then went viral. In short:

  • In Ask culture, people grow up believing they can ask for anything – a favor, a pay raise – fully realizing the answer may be no.
  • In Guess culture, by contrast, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes.


I’ve been trying to journal at least once a week and preferably once a day for the last year. I got started with this very small book (128 pages) How to Make a Journal of Your Life which is quite inspiring. In terms of materials, I really like Moleskin notebooks. They have a lot of special edition notebooks which make me feel like I’m holding something meaningful in my hands. They come in large (which is actually kind of small) and small (which is tiny). They have lined and not lined. I like it without lines as I feel more free, especially when I paste in photos. Right now I’m using Alice in Wonderland, Large, Plain (no lines). For pens I use Liquid Expresso (extra fine) and Liquid Flair 8 pack for colors. My strategy for journaling is to write about:

  • The Positives (preferable): What are the things I want to hold on to. What things have happened in the past or are coming up on the future that I want to take a snapshot of?
  • The Negatives: But if I’m anxious about something, I’ll put that on paper as well and get it out of my mind.