Post image for The Four Horsemen of Writer’s Block (and how to defeat them)

Getting myself writing used to feel something like trying to start an old lawn mower. Occasionally I’d get it running right away, but most of the time it would take at least a few rips at the cord, and I was always aware that I might not get it to turn over at all that day.

This made it feel like there were days I could write and couldn’t write, and I could never do much more than hope it was the right kind of day. Some time in the last year I lost most of my fear of writing, or at least by now I’ve experienced enough of that fear that I can see it has a rather simple and predictable structure.

I’m not saying I’ve defeated it, only that I understand it enough that I can always get myself to the point where I actually write something. I still encounter creative fear every day, but it arrives in only a few predictable forms and I know what to do for each one.

There are four forms, and almost every day they ride out to confront me in the same order. I call them the Four Horsemen of Writer’s Block, but they are undoubtedly the same evil forces that stifle creators of all types.

Initially they come in disguise, seducing travelers away from the creative path. Often they defeat you without your even knowing it. Once you know their names and their strategies, you begin to see your encounters with them as an everyday part of your job that need cause you little trouble. But be careful. Even if you’ve defeated them a hundred times they will still be capable of tricking you — in fact, my overconfidence allowed the first one to outsmart me yesterday on the piece you’re reading.

Know which you’re dealing with and what to do for each.  Read More

Post image for Accept it whether you can change it or not

The most valuable part of my post-secondary education happened during the ten hours a week I spent riding the bus between the campus and my suburban home. For a shy, high-strung, claustrophobic young man, these crowded bus rides served as an intensive hands-on program in acceptance.

The older buses were unpleasantly warm in the summer, but much worse in the winter. The driver sits next to the front door, which must open every other block to let in a few more people. Even though it was often thirty below zero, he would always be wearing only a company-issue fleece — his parka would take up too much of his limited workspace. With each opening of the door comes a blast of arctic air, and so in order to stay halfway comfortable the driver keeps the heat dialed up all the way.

This creates, for the passengers in the back of the bus, a microcosm of runaway climate change. As the bus creeps across town, it fills up with Gortexed students until they are bulging against the yellow line at the front, and the temperature inside each parka rises to tropical levels. Nobody dares open a window because it would it would mean the person sitting nearest to it would have his face frozen even as the rest of his body sweltered.

Faring the worst is the person who lets himself get angry at this arrangement, because this sends him down an even steeper spiral — he fumes into his parka and long underwear, cooking his body faster and bringing his mind to a full boil. Then he is defenseless against everything, inside his mind and out. He is physically trapped, and the context of this powerless feeling expands to the rest of his life. Academic worries descend on him. His relationship suddenly seems unsatisfactory. He begins to hate the institutions which torture him like this every day: the transit service, the college, the commercial sector for which he is going to school to please, and all of their unsympathetic expectations.

He may, at this moment, remember a familiar prayer along these lines:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

But he finds this does not help him accept his physical state, or the chaotic life situation swirling around it. Acceptance of this sort is not something he tries to do often, because it doesn’t occur to him except in moments where he feels powerless. He has been trained that acceptance is difficult, and is always an act of great willpower.

He may learn, after a few years of crosstown winter bus rides, that acceptance is more of a learned reflex than anything, and shouldn’t be reserved for things that cannot be changed.  Read More

Post image for What would you like to see?

Dear Reader,

By the time you read this I should be somewhere in Colorado, taking photos and helping Mr. Money Mustache build things.

I had just gotten back from a bucket-list-related trip to Minneapolis, and hit the road again three days later. When I get back from Colorado I’ll begin stockpiling tea and used books, settling in to brace for the harsh Canadian winter, given that my next trip is a whole six months away. So for the first time in my life I’ll have ample time to write, which allows me to tackle topics that I had never had the space to address thoroughly.

There are a lot of directions to take, and so to reduce option-paralysis it would help if you’d tell me what topics you’re most interested in reading about. It could be something I’ve written about before, or something new. Different readers can be interested in totally different things, from Buddhism to capitalism to antidisestablishmentarianism, and I want to know what -isms, -alities and -nesses I’m neglecting in the eyes of the general audience. If I wrote, say, a 3000-word piece on floccinaucinihilipilification, and most of you have been dying for me to comment on the process involved in overcoming asseocarnisanguineoviscericartilaginonervomedullarial issues, then that is a missed opportunity for all of us. Or perhaps many of you suffer from hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia and I’ve been inadvertently terrorizing you with my choices. Such perfidiousness on my part! So the more responses, the better for everyone.

So far there have been a lot of requests for more on procrastination, Douglas Harding, non-religious spirituality, lifestyle design and overcoming shyness, but I want to lengthen the list. That way I can queue up topics and keep going with another article as soon as I’m finished one.

Please tell me in the comments what you would like to see more of here. Even if you never comment, I would love to know what I’ve written about that you’ve especially liked, or what I haven’t written about that you wish I would. A one-liner is fine.

Thank you for your contributions, you make this place what it is.


Photo by David Cain
Post image for Use your privilege

One amusing part of blogging is that people are constantly reacting to things you said years ago. The medium requires you to leave a trail of opinions that don’t change as you change. Visitors stumble across different spots on this trail and react in their own way. Some people like what they find and they follow the trail back to its source, which in this case is a 33 year old white man sitting on a rock eating a banana. Others don’t like what they find and move on, but many people tell you what they think of you first.

There are two interesting consequences of leaving several years’ worth of opinions pointing to your name and face. One, you end up having misgivings about almost everything you’ve ever written — because no one thing you say quite represents you — and two, people expect you to defend every point you’ve ever made, as if you are delivering it live.

As it does on a fairly regular basis, my “Designed Lifestyle” article caught fire last week, when it appeared on a big blog. Many of you are probably reading this post only because you followed the trail from that particular three-year-old breadcrumb. Welcome.

I have misgivings about 95% of my articles and the Designed Lifestyle piece is one of them. It’s a bit glib in places , and it implies a simpler and more conspiratorial relationship between workweek culture and big business than is probably there. The gist is true, though: consumer-product companies certainly want you to be unambitious outside of work, accustomed to paying for convenience, gratification, and other unnecessaries — and that the forty-plus-hour workweek is the greatest perpetuator of this unhealthy norm. Very-high-level marketing does exist, and it works.

I do understand the criticisms, and agree with many of them. But if you skim through the 500 opinions in the comment section, there’s one recurring criticism that I think is out to lunch: that the whole thing is the limited perspective of a privileged white boy, who is complaining about the evils of being employed when he should shut up and be happy that he has a job at all.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m privileged and always have been. Having a supportive family and a fully-able body are immeasurable blessings I did nothing to deserve. Being born in Canada alone is a tremendous privilege.

Having a job at a time when others don’t could also be viewed as a discrete privilege on its own, but I think that’s a little shortsighted. The incredible rights and personal freedoms that allowed me to work at my then-new job (or not work there) are far greater privileges, which afford a person far greater possibilities than any particular job could provide. By becoming a complacent collaborator in a system that limits the growth of both my species and myself, I am taking my greatest privileges for granted.

In other words, I’ve always felt that achieving a “decent life” by everyday consumer standards is a pitiful use of the incredible privileges available to a healthy, self-directed person living in the incredible age we live in. Staying employed by a big company whose aims are irrelevant (or just as often, completely perpendicular) to your own values for forty years and retiring to a house on the coast is the epitome of taking one’s Western privilege for granted. I don’t begrudge anyone’s choice to do that, but they are almost certainly leaving most of their gifts on the table.  Read More

Post image for The elegant secret to self-discipline

Despite my lofty ethical and financial aspirations, I developed a tragic ice cream habit during the summer. There are all kinds of long- and short-term problems with this: it’s bad for my health, morally dubious to say the least, and totally anti-frugal — a big no-no for my new career as a tightfisted writer.

My justification was always pretty lame. I would explain to myself that I’m about to stop doing this, therefore it doesn’t matter if I do it right now. The Devil on my shoulder would only have to say, “But it’s just for now. Enjoy!” and I would already be on an unstoppable march to Safeway.

If I had given the angel on the other shoulder a chance to rebut, she would have explained the foolish tradeoff I was making. I gain twenty minutes or so of low-brow pleasure. All the benefit of this choice is gone after that. I lose, in a more lasting way, some of my money, my dignity, my sense of self-control, and my health.

Only a fool would choose the first option, but when faced with certain frozen desserts, or other present-moment incentives I often become a fool, and maybe you do too. The hallmark of the fool is that he borrows fleeting pleasures, at interest, from himself.

Self-discipline is time travel

I have a beautiful banana sitting beside my laptop right now. No black spots, no green tinge. It’s truly the perfect banana and I know it will fulfill my expectations when I do eat it.

It’s sitting about six inches from the edge of my desk and a foot from the front. I could move it to the other side of the desk, to the back of the desk or the front, and it would be the same promising banana. I could also move it in a third dimension by putting it on top of my bookcase, or move it across all three dimensions by walking it back to the fruit bowl at the center of my dining room table, and nothing of value will be lost.

I really want to eat this banana, and that desire distracts me from realizing that I could move my banana in a fourth dimension, by eating it in an hour, or four hours, and it would still provide pretty much the same levels of pleasure and dietary potassium. I forget that if I eat it now, Future David will have no banana to eat at all. So I am rewarding Right Now David at the expense of Future David.

Depending on the circumstances, Future David might even benefit more from that banana than Right Now David would. If it wasn’t quite ripe right now, there would be more enjoyment to be gained from it tomorrow.

Still, Right Now David has a considerable preference for himself, and in fact he is already eating the banana. As I mature, I notice Right Now David getting better at sharing with his Future-based colleague, and I hope one day he is able to treat all other Davids as he treats himself.  Read More

Post image for Whatever becomes normal becomes invisible

I spent Friday cleaning out my desk and leaving instructions for my successors.

Having worked as a field surveyor for eight years I had never spent so much of my workday in the office. On a normal day we prepare our field work in the office for the first hour, then head off to a job site. Surveyors are dirt-and-sky people, and tend to get stircrazy if it takes them too long to get out of the office in the morning. They’re allergic to cubicles and photocopiers, and will start to suffocate if they don’t get fresh air. On the rare occasions I’d be in the office in the afternoon, aside from that slow suffocation, it felt unnatural and slightly inappropriate, something like when your friend leaves you alone in his house for twenty minutes while he whips out to the store.

On this final Friday those feeling never arrived, even though I was in the office all the way to 4:30 pm. It felt like I could have been anywhere and it wouldn’t have mattered, like it probably feels in the first few hours after you successfully fake your death.

That feeling, I guess, was the sensation of being released from authority, a weight that had been resting on my mind for long enough for me to forget that it was possible to remove it. For the first time in a long time I didn’t have to answer to anyone. I knew my company-issue Blackberry wasn’t going to ring, I knew nobody was going to ask anything of me. It was like walking up to a glass barrier that had always been there and realizing it was only air.

The rest of the day was full of similarly weird sensations. When I parked my car outside my building, I mentally prepared myself to perform the getting-home ritual I’ve done hundreds of times: heave my laptop bag out of the backseat, collect my equipment from the trunk and farmer’s walk to the door, pin my GPS case against the wall while I fish out my keys, then open two stubborn glass doors, careful not to bang the case against the panes, then unlock my suite and shoulder the door closed before setting everything down in the permanent temporary pile of equipment beside the door.

I had all but done the whole thing in my mind when I realized I no longer have a GPS or a gigantic laptop, and I could just get out of the car and go into the building like a normal person. When I got inside I reached to my side for my Blackberry, to check email one last time (a ritual that sometimes prevented unwelcome surprises in the morning) and found that there was nothing there.  Read More

Post image for 6 helpful reminders for the overwhelmed person

One maddening tendency of any small electronic device is that whenever the battery is low, it wastes most of its remaining power beeping and flashing to tell you that battery is low.

Similarly, the human body comes with many self-defeating features. For example, whenever you’re low on oxygen, say while trying to recover your electronic device from the bottom of a public pool, the body goes into panic mode, raises the heart rate and burns away what little oxygen you have to work with.

The mind exhibits this kind of foolishness too. In has a cruel habit of misplacing its wisdom whenever you need it most. There are certain truths I really need to remember when I’m in a panicky state, which is exactly the time they are hardest to remember. So you may want to bookmark these gentle reminders, because the next time you’re overwhelmed you will never remember them.

1. The sky has fallen a thousand times already

I can’t count the number of times my world has ended. At least several dozen times in my life I’ve found myself in a situation so tangled and hopeless that I could not believe I would ever be happy again. Somehow, during each of those personal apocalypses, I forget that each of the previous ones somehow worked themselves out and are no longer relevant. Yet in real-time, the current catastrophe always seems to promise the death or at least permanent disfigurement of my entire life, and I crumple into despair and indignation. If only I could remember that almost all of the problems I’ve ever had are currently solved except the two or three most recent developments. This is just the way life moves along. It is my problems that are always marching to the gallows, not me.

I’m sure your sky has fallen many times before too. The overwhelmed mind underestimates the scale of a human life and therefore over-calculates the ultimate importance of any particular problem. Don’t be fooled.

2. Your problems are the same problems human beings have always had

You will never end up finding a way to suffer that hasn’t been fully explored yet. Heartbreak, death of loved ones, sickness and old age, chronic pain, shame, addiction, failure, poverty, and introspective nightmares are all realms that have been braved by people consistently and exhaustively for thousands of years, and to degrees much worse than yours. There are ultimately only a few basic kinds of human trouble, and they’ve all been suffered and confronted before.

Humankind’s vast experience with suffering is an asset to every one of us, because for every classic human problem there is a world of literature about the best ways to deal with it that other humans have found, and it’s never been easier to get access to this wisdom. 
Read More

Post image for A tweet in time saves nineteen thousand dollars

The other day in the office I prepared an email for an outspoken co-worker who sits a few cubicles over. I knew that he’d have follow-up questions for me immediately, and that he wouldn’t bother emailing them — he’d just summon me by calling my name over the cubicles.

I knew he would do this the moment I clicked the send button, because he would see the subject line pop up in a little box on his screen. This sequence was so predictable, so inevitable, that it struck me that the button I was about to push on my mouse might as well have been a button on his brain. Our minds respond so immediately to signals from electronic devices that we’re almost cyborgs already. In the 1980s William Gibson wrote nightmarish books speculating about a future rife with these alarming powers, and now they’re so normal they’re boring.

This hyperconnectedness excites me at least as much as it scares me, though, because it can create amazing turns of fortune. In a similar miracle of brain-to-brain electricity, a single tweet in January caused my whole life to pivot overnight and leave me on a much more empowered course.

Somewhere out in the vast folds of the internet, a blogger I had never heard of discovered a blog I had heard of (because it was my own) and said so on Twitter. This led me to his blog, which proceeded to make my life explode with possibilities and optimism.

The blogger was Mr Money Mustache, who I mention often, and his tweet sparked a neurological renaissance inside me as my brain made new connections between the causes and effects of happiness, money and work. Those landscapes all look very different now because of that tweet. I learned money has more power to create happiness than I suspected, but only if you use it in a completely different way than the typical consumer does.

After that night, instead of buying more needless objects, I put my money in a big, unspent pile, and will now use some of that pile to buy time with which to earn a living outside the jurisdiction of The Man. I gave my notice last week, and as of October 11th I will be working for myself full time.

This means I’ll be making much less for a little while, but I don’t mind that at all, because I become immediately freed from paying the dozens of insidious costs of a steady corporate paycheck — the anti-creative cubicular environment, the dark and fearful mood that descends every Sunday evening, the treadmill of forgettable tasks that have nothing to do with my values, and the attitude of total subordination that’s required to stay employed, to name only a few.

And although they’re not strictly forbidden by living as a fifty-hour-a-week employee, certain pursuits had become a lot more difficult. Since I’m already using my evenings and weekends to run a blog, maintain a few friendships, and keep my home and clothing clean, “electives” like exercising, reading, and conducting creative experiments never find a consistent space to flourish as habits.

With only two weeks of these kinds of constraints left, I’m already feeling some of the fresh breeze from outside the tunnel, and I’m eager to air out some long-suppressed interests. In the spirit of effort-multiplying efficiency advocated by MMM and his frugal cohorts, my first order of business is to use my new-found autonomy to read a hell of a lot more books.

During my years of being an overworked spendthrift, I acquired books at a much higher rate than I actually read them. So I have a surplus of books I’ve been meaning to get around to, and I’m actually making a point of getting around to them.

As much as I loved reading when I found myself doing it, I’ve allowed long stretches of my life to go by without finishing a book. If I’m now going to be answering the question, “What do you do?” with “Writer,” then I ought to be immersing myself in examples of the craft.

For a writer, reading pays triple-time, serving simultaneously as entertainment, self-education, and the refinement of writerly sensibilities, so reading an hour or two a day is now both doable and justifiable. A book a week seems like a good benchmark. It’s ambitious given my track record, but totally achievable — even George W. Bush claimed in his memoir to have read 95 books in a year. So according to my math, if I’m half as smart as the second worst president of all time then I’m almost there.  Read More

Post image for This Will Never Happen Again (but it happened)

Sometime between the day I first photographed Manhattan and the day I wrote about my first uptown naked party, a New York based website called Thought Catalog approached me about reposting some of my articles.

I said yes, and I’ve been contributing material occasionally ever since. TC has a much bigger audience — most of the Eastern Seaboard’s twenty-somethings, I think — and I know many of you found Raptitude by reading Thought Catalog. Some of my pieces hit it bigger there than they ever did here — How to Make Trillions of Dollars made the front page of Reddit, which would have crashed my site if it had linked directly here.

Thought Catalog has an ebook division, and over the last few months I’ve worked with them to assemble a collection of Raptitude articles into a book, called This Will Never Happen Again.

Since very early in this blog’s life, fans have been bugging me to both release a Best-Of compilation and give them a way to read Raptitude articles on their Kindle. The time has come. The book is available now, through both Amazon and Apple iTunes.

This Will Never Happen Again contains revised and repolished versions of classic Raptitude articles, including A Day in the Future, Die on Purpose, and What Love is Not, along with an opening essay and a previously unreleased article called The Bedtime Ritual.

I want to clarify that you do not need a Kindle or e-reader to read it. You can download Amazon’s free Kindle app for your computer or mobile device here. It takes two seconds.

Also, if you like it, please leave a favorable review on Amazon or iTunes.

Thank you, I love you people.

Get the book now. Be reading in less than a minute.


Photo by David Cain


Post image for When did goods get so bad?

The city was behaving very strangely while I was out walking Saturday morning. Cars went by too slowly, as if they were stalking me, or someone. Every pedestrian but me seemed to be have a backpack or a large shopping bag, and I knew most of them didn’t live in my neighborhood.

A young woman walked by pushing an empty stroller and the paranoia really started to creep into my muscles. I suddenly became convinced that I was being filmed. A passing Cavalier came to a stop in the middle of the street and sat there for a moment. Whatever was going to happen was about to happen now. Two Middle Eastern men got out, leaving the doors open and the engine running. They trotted into a back alley, and emerged carrying a coffee table.

I had forgotten that it’s Winnipeg’s giveaway weekend, where citizens are encouraged to leave their unwanted home furnishings on the boulevard in front of their houses, for others to pick up if they like. Thrift-minded Winnipeggers hit the streets early Saturday, usually in pairs, to skulk through other people’s neighborhoods at creepy-slow speeds, hoping to find anything that may possibly be useful: worn-out golf bags, folding chairs, tarpaulins, drawerless dressers, dresserless drawers, sander belts, axe handles, maybe even a pair of Shake-Weights or a Jolly Jumper.

I’d intended to put out my items before the foragers left home: a tiny computer desk, a box of low-quality paintball gear, and a particle-board bookshelf. I forgot but knew it would be no problem finding a taker later on. The most important thing not to forget on giveaway weekend is to keep everything you do wish to keep as far as possible from the front boulevard. It’s even dangerous to leave something anywhere in the front yard. Every year careless people lose bikes, lawnmowers and garden gnomes, because anybody could haul it off and, if stopped in the act, make a case that they thought it was free.

Quirks aside, I love that we have giveaway weekends. There’s something beautiful about how it allows an object to regain its lost worthiness, by gaining a new owner. When I did put my items out later in the morning, they were gone before I could return to my desk with my coffee — I had hoped to see their new owners through the window.

The value of everyday household stuff has dwindled noticeably in my lifetime. I remember accompanying my dad, one Summer weekday when I was ten, to a little shop to get the family VCR repaired. Repaired! Can you imagine that? There were people running a profitable business fixing small appliances — toasters, coffee makers and Video Cassette Recorders — because even a few decades ago there was an expectation of lasting value in these things. Today we typically bury malfunctioning electronic devices in the ground and buy new ones. It’s possible that there will be a time when children are surprised to hear their parents used to have their cars fixed too.  Read More

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