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Post image for Let’s Talk Like We Used To

A few weeks ago someone commented on my new post, saying they had just stumbled across my blog, and that it was “very old school.”

I took that as a compliment, and got to reminiscing about what old school blogging really felt like, compared to today. Something’s definitely gone missing—some quality that made it vivid and exciting, and I want it back.

When I started in 2009, and for years afterward, I just wrote stuff, having absolutely no idea if anyone would relate. I wrote as well as I could, but there was a wonderful off-the-cuff feel to the process. If it was interesting to me, it might be to someone else. So I would write something about it. The incomparable joy of campfires. The rich history of a particular dent in my car.

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Post image for Two Ways To Get Better At Something

For whatever reason, whenever I resolve to get good at something, I habitually take a “boot camp” sort of approach. I draw up a challenging regimen, to be followed by hell or high water—for 30 days or so.

The regimen is always way too much to sustain forever, and I know that. The hope is that an intense period of focused striving will catapult me to new, higher realms of prowess and confidence, so that when I return to baseline, that baseline will be higher.   

It works, sort of, sometimes. You can look at my experiment logs to get a sense of the mixed outcomes. Some have been abject failures, almost comically so. Write at least a thousand words a day! (Result: “Outright failure.”) Read a book a week for a year! (Result: “Catastrophe.”)

And those are only the immediate outcomes. Longer term, the results are probably weaker. On many occasions, I soared through the boot camp period, declared myself permanently improved, and then quietly slid back to the baseline, which apparently had not moved.

For a long time I assumed that this pattern was due purely to my own personal bumbling, and not a problem with the method. After all, a boot camp style approach can be found for anything you want to get good at. There are programs that identify as “boot camps” for novel writing, personal budgeting, dating, poker, building a YouTube channel, reading the Russian masters, and of course hundreds of fitness programs.

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Post image for Smartphones Are Toys First, Tools Second

If you time-traveled to the 1960s, or even the 1980s, and tried to describe smartphones to the people you met, they wouldn’t believe you.

It would simply seem too good to be true—an affordable, pocket-sized device that provides:

instant telegrams or phone calls, from anywhere to anywhere, usually free maps of virtually every city or rural area, even showing current traffic conditions searchable encyclopedias up-to-the-minute news about anything in the world step-by-step instructions for doing virtually anything quick translations between dozens of languages endless articles, courses, movies and TV shows a camera that takes stills and video, and can transmit them to anyone instantly the means for anyone to create their own regular column or newsletter, or audio or video broadcasts the ability to adopt new functions at any time, usually for free

These are just a few basic smartphone functions, but to your new friends, they would all sound like life-changing superpowers. Their imaginations would run wild at how much easier such powers could make their lives.

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Post image for Work Like the Client Is You in Two Years

When I had a job, it was easy to know how much work to do in a day: somewhere between as much as I could, and as little as I could without someone calling me out on it.

Now I’m my own employer, and that clear standard for “a respectable day’s work” is gone. I’m constantly negotiating with myself over how hard to work, when to tackle the trickiest tasks, and when to take time off.

I realize that many people, both employees and self-employees, don’t have this problem. They work as hard as they reasonably can every day. These people get a lot done, and face problems of burnout and obsession, rather than lack of productivity.

This article is not for them. It’s for those of you who perpetually struggle to get the important things done, especially when there’s flexibility in what and how much you do on a given day: entrepreneurs, novelists, inventors, or really anybody aspiring towards something that may or may not happen.

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Post image for The Life-Changing Magic of Unfollowing Almost Everybody

In a last-ditch effort to enjoy my social media experience again, I unfollowed 90% of my Twitter feed—and I think it worked.

When I check in now, in just a few minutes I catch up on everything said by the ninety or so people I follow. I have time to consider what they say. I don’t leave upset.

It’s similar to how Twitter felt when I joined. In 2009, it really seemed to connect you to the pulse of the online world. That sounds like satire now but it really felt like that. The original concept was very modest—a tweet was only supposed to be the answer to the question “What are you doing?”

The banality of it was part of the fun. Ah, you’re working on a fantasy novel at Starbucks. Neat. I just read a blog post about stain removal methods, which you might enjoy. Here it is.

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Post image for 10 Most Popular Posts in Ten Years of Raptitude

I can’t believe this, but I did double-check the math: Raptitude first appeared on the internet ten years ago today.

That day it had one reader: my mom. But soon there was a little gang of eight or nine regulars. Then there were enough to fill a schoolbus. Then a plane, a concert hall, an arena, and a stadium.

There’s so much I want to say about this last decade—reflections, lessons learned, plans for the future—but I’ll do all that later. Today I just want to take a little tour of where we’ve been together.

Here are the biggest articles from each of Raptitude’s first ten years, in terms of reach and popularity. One of them is probably the first one you ever read.

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Post image for Patience is Something You Do, Not Something You Are

At the height of Summer, I try to go for a short run after I’ve done some writing but before it gets too hot, which is usually about 11am.

The most uncomfortable part of the run comes at its very end, just after I step inside my front door, into the small, poorly ventilated foyer between the door and the stairs to my second-floor unit. Nothing happens in that space except the putting on and taking off of shoes.

As soon as I step into this hot, stagnant space, the intensity of the whole run seems to congeal in my body, kicking on all the recovery systems. The heart is still thumping, breathing still heavy, and the sweat glands open up like faucets.

It’s gross and unpleasant. At that moment, there’s nothing I want more than to kick off my shoes, strip off my running clothes, and go sit in front of a fan with a glass of ice water. (I’m a reluctant athlete, descended from cold-climate people.)

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Post image for A Simple Trick For Becoming A Calmer Person

In his one of his many excellent columns, Oliver Burkeman offers a counter-intuitive strategy for those who have trouble sleeping: tell yourself it’s not a big deal. You’ll fall asleep when you fall asleep.

The point is that telling ourselves we must get to sleep right away—and that grave problems will arise if we don’t—is probably the number one reason we can’t sleep. That doesn’t mean sleep isn’t important, or that sleep problems are never serious, only that the more vehemently we insist we must already be sleeping, the less sleep we will ultimately get.

This strategy acknowledges a subtle but important reality about the problem: we can’t directly control when we fall asleep. We really want that control, however, and we can make the problem much worse by grasping too stridently at it. And whether we do that is something we can control.

With practice, anyway.

We can make use of a similarly counter-intuitive approach for becoming generally calmer people in waking life.

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Post image for With Lifelong Struggles, Effort Isn’t What’s Missing

A friend told me a touching story about his high-school classmate—a story that I now believe happens, in some form, to almost everybody. It happened to me, and probably to you.

The classmate was known as a gifted athlete and a bad student, and acknowledged it himself. He played wide receiver on the football team, but he had a maddening habit of lining up on the wrong side, and cutting right when he was supposed to cut left. The coach kept him on the team because he was fast and played hard, and his route-running mistakes could be corrected.

But the mistakes continued, and the coach quickly surmised that something else was going on. He eventually had the student visit a psychologist, and it turned out he was inverting the pass patterns because he was dyslexic.

This explained his trouble in the classroom too. He wasn’t a bad student, he just had no idea he was experiencing schoolwork so differently than everyone else. Once he was assessed, he (and his teachers) could finally make sure he had the extra time he needed to do his assignments.

You can find countless similar stories of kids who were told for years that they weren’t paying attention or weren’t applying themselves, when they actually just needed glasses and couldn’t read the blackboard. What a world-shifting discovery that must be for each of those kids, as well as for their parents and teachers.

I now wonder if most of us are, in some respect, the kid who needs glasses but doesn’t know it. It’s a phenomenon common to so many life stories: struggling desperately with something because you’re unaware that you’re experiencing it differently than everyone around you.

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Post image for Why the Depth Year Was My Best Year

Towards the end of last year I proposed an idea that unexpectedly caught fire: what if, for a whole year, you stopped acquiring new things or taking on new pursuits. Instead, you return to abandoned projects, stalled hobbies, unread books and other neglected intentions, and go deeper with them than you ever have before.

The “Depth Year” was supposed to be hypothetical—a reflection on how our consumer reflexes tend to spread our aspirations too thin. Because it’s so easy to acquire new pursuits, we tend to begin what are actually enormous, lifelong projects (such as drawing, or language-learning) too often, and abandon them too easily.

This chronic lack of follow-through makes us feel bad, but worse than that, we never actually reach the level of fulfillment we believed we would when we first bought the guitar or the drawing pencils. Instead we end up on a kind of novelty treadmill—before things click, we’ve moved on to the exciting beginning stages of something new.

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