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16 things I know are true but haven’t quite learned yet

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There’s a difference between knowing something and living as if it were true. These truths are all lingering on that awkward threshold, for me anyway.

1) The sooner you do something, the more of your life you get to spend with that thing done — even though it takes less effort (or at least no more) than it will later. It’s the ultimate sure-thing investment and I pass it up all the time.

2) I never regret working out. I can’t count the number of times I’ve negotiated with myself to work out the next day instead of today because I’m worried it will be a “bad workout.” I seldom have a bad day on a day that I work out.

3) Whenever I’m playing with my phone I am only shortening my life. A smartphone is useful if you have a specific thing you want to do, but ninety per cent of the time the thing I want to do is avoid doing something harder than surfing Reddit. During those minutes or hours, all I’m doing is dying.

4) Nothing makes me more productive and in-the-moment than a clean house. There is mind-clearing magic in cleanliness. Waking up in a house where everything is put away is a glorious feeling. There seem to be more possibilities in the air, and all my things seem more useful.

5) Minute-for-minute, nothing I do is more rewarding than meditation. Even after just a very short session, it reliably makes me better at everything, especially making decisions. It lets me do my best. Yet I still do it only intermittently.

6) Creative work is something that can be done at any time. It’s no different than any other kind of work. Inspiration is nice but completely optional. I’ve almost completely come around on this one in 2013. But sometimes the Four Horsemen still trick me.

7) Acting the way you want to feel usually works. When I feel crappy just before I have to go do something, if I decide to act as if I am happy for a while (even though I’m not) I usually end up feeling happy after not too long, or at least much less crappy. This is straight out of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and it’s an extremely powerful thing to experiment with. [More on this in an upcoming post.]

8) Ninety-five per cent of my happiness comes from having a home, a functioning body and something to eat. I live in utter luxury, by any sensible standard of what “luxury” is. If I am unhappy it’s because I’ve lost perspective about the other five per cent. 

9) Our minds are geared to manage much less than we typically end up managing. Modern people have so many options they conflict with each other in almost every area. The fewer things I have, the more I enjoy my things. The fewer goals I have, the better I do them. The smaller the portion size, the better food tastes.

10) The quickest and most reliable path to personal improvement is to do the things on my list that I resist most. Internal resistance should be taken as a big red sign guaranteeing rapid growth and new capabilities. Given my experience with the ecstasy that comes with overcoming resistance, logically I should be attracted to it by now.

11) All you need to do to finish things is keep starting them until they’re done. The idea of doing something in its entirety always seems hard. But it’s easy to commit to simply starting on something, and then you’re past most of the resistance. Continuing is just as easy. (Thanks to Leo Babauta for this one.)

12) Whenever I think I’m mad at a person, I’m really just mad at a situation. I’m mad because suddenly life requires something new of me, and it’s easy to implicate a person who contributed to that situation. I want the situation to be responsible for fixing itself, so I attribute it to someone else’s moral failing, and then I don’t have to feel responsible for this new problem of mine.

13) Ultimately, to get something done you have to forget about everything else while you do it. The mind is always telling you that 85 things are on fire and you need to do everything now. However you respond emotionally to it, to move things along you have to pick one to deal with, and let the rest continue burning while you do.

14) The most consistently joyful activities for me are visiting with other people and reading books. Aside from earning a living and a bit of travel there isn’t much else I need in my life. Somehow these two things are still not clear priorities. What are yours?

15) If I find myself in an argument, I’ve made a mistake. It doesn’t matter whose position makes more sense, because by the time it’s an argument any real communication has ended. Marshall Rosenberg’s brilliant method of Nonviolent Communication is a far more useful default response than argument, but I often forget it completely.

16) Few things matter long-term other than relationships, health, personal finance and personal growth. Crises in almost every other area turn over so quickly there’s not much reason to get upset at them. Interestingly, those four are the areas that probably contribute most to happiness in the short term too.

What fits this category for you?


Photo by David Cain

Tobi December 30, 2013 at 1:06 am

This makes me think of that feeling I get when I can’t do something I know I want to start. When I say can’t, I mean I’m at work or somewhere like that, and I feel like it’s going to be so easy and I feel good knowing I’m going to do it then I get home and it doesn’t end up getting done and the next day I wake up and wonder what happened. It always feels like it’s going to be so effortless when you physically can’t do the thing you know you need/want to do, that’s the moment you want to do it the most!

David Cain December 30, 2013 at 7:36 am

“Our best ideas happen in the shower.”

Jean December 31, 2013 at 11:37 pm

This is true. I’ve had musicians and song writers tell me they write on the walls in their shower as ideas pop into their heads.
Also, best ideas pop up in the morning, before we begin focusing on the day’s tasks or challenges. Coming straight from sleep, where our sub-conscious is still imprinting ideas on our mind.

Paul January 13, 2014 at 1:19 am

Yes. Our best ideas happen in the shower. Because we are (most often) naked in the shower. Nothing artificial interferes with our creativity. If your mind has accompanied your body into the shower rather than being stuck elsewhere else, you cannot help but be creative.

Jason Davis February 4, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Whenever I think I’m mad at a person, I am actually mad at ‘myself’.

What actually happens is, I get mad at my expectation of something being fullfilled, I.e. what my ego imagines to happen, not actually being fullfilled. That expectation is a fiction of the ego-based reality we have been taught. The ego is also the source of the rage.

So the expectation AND my reaction are fake.

The ego and the sensible wiseman in me, in all of us in fact, share the same space in the psychology. The ego can smother any of the base instincts we have, but over time if this is constantly knocked by life, psychosis can emerge. In fact, we traverse the face of the earth in a mild trance with psychosis bubbling in the background. As long as the most aware part of man can concentrate harder, they are kept at bay. This is the danger of an ego-based society, and this is the source of psychitrists fear of the mentalhealth of society in the very near future.

Especially when we find out all we needed was a simple lesson in using my mind to observe myself in stages, just by recognising there are layers to awareness most of us are ignorant to.

The ego must be paid-off with petty satisfaction and dazzeled with media and news. Even the outlet of such information becomes an ego trip, as one see’s on the possibility to ‘Like’ a page. And yet we all fail to recognise why this is ‘created’ in us, by the levels we are ‘held’ at, and the training programs we ‘have’ to attend to put roofs over our heads and food in our bellies. This is an absolute outrage against the freedom of every single individual on this planet who has ever done a days work.

Jason Davis February 4, 2014 at 3:32 pm

The freedom to know the difference between doing things mindlessly, and being in real control that is!

MIchael Saychu April 28, 2014 at 11:44 am

This is an absolute outrage against the freedom of every single individual on this planet who has ever done a days work.

Astride Costa May 20, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Ive been reading more and in about a year, i’ve changed into someone completely different. I never as a child could have comprehended all the energy within life. I loved reading your comment.

“The kingdom of heaven lies with whom find it.”

George December 30, 2013 at 2:06 am

I’d like to add something from my personal experience, regarding #2 (making excuses for not working out):

Even on the occasion that I *do* have a bad workout, I seldom regret it. If the “bad” thing was my performance, than a bad workout is still a better achievement than doing nothing. And if the “bad” thing was me feeling crappy during the workout – I won’t care about that a month from now, anyway.

As for the other items on your list, #10 is a real challenge for me. Doing the thing you fear the most… Well, logically, of-course, I get it and accept it. And on those rare occasions where I’ve actually mustered the courage to follow it through, I was greatly rewarded. But somehow, this doesn’t make it any easier for me. I’m still chickening out way too often.

David Cain December 30, 2013 at 7:39 am

Same here. I have noticed that when you do go ahead with something intimidating, the fear part disappears *very* quickly. For example, if it’s a phone call, the resistance is usually 90% gone once it’s ringing. Fear has this amazing ability to look like a big thick wall when often it’s a thin little shell.

Joseph December 30, 2013 at 8:28 am

That’s a great point about fear… you can’t see through it easily, so the density appears much greater from our perception of it. Best advice I ever got, “Lean into fear, use it as your compass” right before I left on an indefinitely long motorcycle adventure.

Jason Davis February 5, 2014 at 11:27 am

Learn to observe fear without words. In fact observe your emotions rising without thinking in words or sentences, and watch them vanish again just as quickly.

All accept one though. One feeling rises above the rest as undeniable, and non-ego related. Love. Not the ‘what can I get out of it’ love, but the love without words or thought.

Kylie December 30, 2013 at 3:29 am

This is all so true – I might need to print this list out and stick it up somewhere. Now I have this overwhelming urge to do something, your list has made me feel very guilty.

And I think that you would make a lot of money if you made a smartphone case with number 3 on it :-)

David Cain December 30, 2013 at 7:39 am

Heh…. good idea

Maia December 30, 2013 at 4:01 am

Yes it’s true David. I’ve been thinking along the same lines recently too.
I know lots of things in theory – like I know I shouldn’t worry, but often I worry and it’s totally draining. I’m guessing it’s a skill and hoping to master not worrying from now on.
Happy 2014 to you!

David Cain December 30, 2013 at 7:41 am

I guess that’s true — they are skills, rather than just facts to acknowledge.

geoffrey james January 8, 2014 at 9:35 am

Maia – think about this – most things you worry about never happen. Do they? It gives you a reason to not worry, or at least to decide if the evidence is good enough, to worry.


Randall Pitts December 30, 2013 at 4:58 am

Very nice collection of things to think about. Numbers 9 and 10 fit together quite nicely. When we think about what we “need” to do we generally have a monster list instead of a small “big things” list. Our monster list is so intimidating that we don’t know where to start and just put everything off until later. When I make a very small “big things” list I won’t be overwhelmed with my list and I can concentrate on fewer of the most important to-dos. Concentrating completely on just one “big thing” at a time takes away the pressure of worrying about the other things and when you are done you have the pleasure of knowing that you did something of value without wasting time and energy. I used to make weekly to-do lists with 20 to 30 tasks and I was always stressed out and seldom accomplished all the important things that needed to be done. Now I make a very small weekly “big things” list and I always get them done. Strangely enough there is always time left over for a lot of other things too, but no stress.

David Cain December 30, 2013 at 7:44 am

I guess it’s a matter of finding a workflow system that works for us as individuals. I’m finally getting the hang of one I adapted from GTD. I have a big list, and each day I look at it and choose 3 or 4 items to do for the day, and I forget everything else. If I notice I’m thinking about other stuff, I give myself permission to ignore it and trust that I will actually get to it.

Randall Pitts December 30, 2013 at 10:43 am

Your system sounds very similar to mine. Concentrating on the most important things first while freeing your mind of worrying about the other less important things for the day or week. It is simply concentrating on your priorities. Sounds simple but it requires practice, just like meditation.

Adrian December 30, 2013 at 5:05 am

Really good, congrats! Happy 2014!

David Cain December 30, 2013 at 7:44 am

Happy 2014!

Sam Edge December 30, 2013 at 5:14 am

Nice list. I’ll have to think about a couple of them. Some I don’t want to be true (like 12) – it’s all relative. It’s funny we could all come up with our own list and have a grand variety and all be right. The big one for me lately is “just because I’m right doesn’t mean you’re wrong.”

David Cain December 30, 2013 at 7:46 am

Yes. I’m finding that sometimes both people are right, and it’s almost always harmful to try to make someone else wrong. By that point it’s just an ego trip.

Meg December 30, 2013 at 6:59 am

Very good list, and also agree that being able to make changes to it at the end of the year is an indication of growth.

#12 and #15 would be blended on my own list, or have a shared corollary: if I’m feeling that someone is being difficult, then I need to step back from them emotionally, the same as I would a colleague in an office-type job. That’s the time to put a lid on any desire to explode, be sarcastic, etc., and think in terms of the larger goal, which in my case is a minimum of wasted time, wasted energy, and bad vibes. It doesn’t always work, but it works often enough and I’ve found it easy to make it a habit. Then again, I might have something different to say about it at the end of next year ;)

David Cain December 30, 2013 at 7:49 am

Yes, that “stepping back” reflex is something I’m learning to do to. The key seems to be to train certain feelings (like indignation) to act as triggers to do that.

BrownVagabonder December 30, 2013 at 7:05 am

I like all the items on the list, but one particularly spoke to me. #12. Whenever I’m mad at someone, I usually realize it is because I have lost balance in my life and feeling stressed about something or the other. It isn’t that person’s fault at all. It is my own. The sooner I do something about it, the better it is all around. Thanks for the list! Have a great new year!

David Cain December 30, 2013 at 7:51 am

Number 12 is something I recognized a long time ago, but I am still only beginning to learn. Almost all the moral arguments people make and the hatred they feel for a person are actually reactions to the situation they think someone has created. The world would be an extremely different place if it was normal to realize that in the moment.

kabamba December 30, 2013 at 8:15 am

#16 stood out. Two days ago, I decided to conduct a year long “experiment” in personal finance. Its something I have never done in the last 10 years I have been in employment. It is something simple, I know it to be good but somehow I have never gotten to do it. I want to save at least 10% of my daily, weekly and monthly income. I want to put away this money and live on 90% of my income. Living on 90% of my income seems easy on paper, but given that I have lived on roughly 150% of my income in my last 10 years, you understand what I am up against. I am excited about 2014.

kabamba December 30, 2013 at 8:36 am

btw, I was reflecting on 2013 this past weekend and the lessons of life in it when it hit me that as human beings we “know” so much and yet we do so little. If only we can get to really KNOW the things we think we know, then perhaps we can start doing them.
Thanks David for yet another wonderful post. Happy New Year!!

Karen J December 31, 2013 at 1:15 am

@kabamba ~ Best Wishes on your $$ experiment!

I read this recently: “Thinking or saying “I know I (fill-in-the-blank)” is putting up or reinforcing a block or a resistance to being, doing or changing that thing”.
I haven’t found a good work around yet – I think those mostly have to come up spontaneously…

Happy New Year, y’all!

Kabamba December 31, 2013 at 3:41 am

Thanks Karen.

John D December 30, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I just finished doing this and the results were good. I started a year ago by downloading the entire previous year’s debit card transactions and categorizing them like you would for a budget. Then I did the same thing this year as I went along.

Having the numbers staring you in the face will be shocking but at the same time it makes the next steps to take very clear. If you haven’t already, check out Mr. Money Mustache for some advice on ways to save.

Kabamba December 31, 2013 at 3:43 am

Thank you very John.

Tom D January 6, 2014 at 4:56 am

I started doing this about 3 years ago. It is amazing how easy it is to start saving / living on less when it is staring you in the face on a regular basis. Even something as basic as tracking the amount of money you take out of the ATM on a regular basis (and therefore have no idea where it really goes) can help. Good luck.

Oh and David great piece – thanks for the link to the ‘Nonviolent Communication’ book. I’ve ordered it already.

Rachel J. Hill December 30, 2013 at 8:31 am

Very nice list! So many ideas bounce around in my head for so long til they graduate into an impetus for daily action. Thanks for all you do, and Happy New Year!

Jacki Maynard December 30, 2013 at 8:45 am

Louis CK has a great bit about clicking away on phones being like dying. Almost impossible for me to stop this obnoxious habit too. Thinking about starting a tech-free day, maybe Sunday. Maybe that’s a resolution for 2014. Thanks for being honest about all these things that are just so damned hard for whatever reason!

David Cain December 31, 2013 at 7:38 am

I’ll look for that bit. I love Louis CK

Jamie December 30, 2013 at 8:55 am

You are so good at putting my jumbled thoughts in writing. This list is exactly what I know I need to do, deep down, but somehow you manage to make it so simple. Thank you for a year of wonderfully written articles. Have a great 2014!

Nick Hilden December 30, 2013 at 9:33 am

We have very similar lists. I actually ended up reading this right now because I was looking for distractions from my workout. The one about books being important is also a big one. I end up putting off some of the larger reading undertakings because I think it will take up too much of my time, but once I actually crack the cover, I end up immersed and extremely happy (see Bolano’s 2666–a fantastic read).

I just posted something about how to make resolutions for the New Year stick (http://lifedonewrite.com/2013/12/24/makes-good-new-years-resolution-make-stick/). By addressing a number of things on your list, 2013 was one of the best years of my life. And by continuing along a similar path, I foresee 2014 being a similarly wonderful year. You know you’re living well if each passing year strikes you as the best you’ve had yet.

David Cain December 31, 2013 at 7:42 am

You know you’re living well if each passing year strikes you as the best you’ve had yet.

That is absolutely the truth. I’ve strung together five in a row now, the first of which is the year I started this blog.

Glynis Jolly December 30, 2013 at 9:59 am

This list is great, David. I want to take #3 and attach it to my daughter’s forehead.

David Cain December 31, 2013 at 7:42 am

Haha. Maybe there’s an app for that?

John December 30, 2013 at 10:03 am

#15 was pretty relevant for me this year. I had taken issue with a close friend without fully discussing the situation. This led to further decisions that hurt my close friend. I wasn’t willing to compromise/communicate because it’s simply easier to put up my false mask of “of course I’M right and YOU’RE wrong!” I’ve realized that we all have flaws and similar struggles. If we are taking issue with someone, it’s often because we have the same issue with ourselves.

Karen J December 31, 2013 at 1:19 am

“If we are taking issue with someone, it’s often because we have the same issue with ourselves.”
So true, John!

Bright Blessings and Happy New Year!

John January 2, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Thanks Karen! I’ve found this to be strikingly true no matter how I don’t want to admit it. Best wishes for you in the new year as well!

Cherry Odelberg December 30, 2013 at 10:24 am

The title says it all – just insert your own truths and customize. Thanks.

Katherine December 30, 2013 at 12:42 pm

1-4, 7, 9-11, 13, & 16 all apply to me too. Thank you for this fantastic list!!

Ted A. Moreno December 30, 2013 at 1:56 pm

What a great post. Even better due to the fact that you humbly admitted that you know them as truths yet have not learned them yet. I think many can relate to that. I would add for myself “Trust that everything is working out the way it should.”

David Cain December 31, 2013 at 7:44 am

“Trust that everything is working out the way it should.”

I am learning how to do this too. It always seems to work although I can’t explain why.

Bodie December 30, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Awesome list David!
#5 is the most important one for me… days that I meditate in the morning are without fail better than days that I don’t meditate.

Liz Alexander December 30, 2013 at 3:30 pm

#4. I’m TOTALLY on-board with you! But, I tend to be very, very lazy with housework. Which makes me feel bad. And then things get worse, and I feel worse…it’s a never-ending cycle. So when things are actually neat and straight, I feel TONS better!

#7. I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but this is supremely difficult to do if you have serious emotional (clinical depression, etc.) or hormonal issues (a. k. a., PMS). This tactic *can* help to determine if one is having a pity party, or if one really is feeling crappy, though.

David Cain December 31, 2013 at 7:47 am

#4 is a lot easier when you have less stuff. It’s almost impossible when you own things that don’t have a proper place to be put away.

Hormonal issues really unbalance things, but I don’t believe there’s anyone who can’t benefit from experimenting with it.

kiwano December 30, 2013 at 3:41 pm

I don’t have a problem with #3, but my method for dealing with it is sadly inapplicable. I just have a deep-seated aversion to mobile technology that I developed as an on-call worker with a pager in the late ’90s. I often wish I could develop a similar aversion to wasting time on the internet at a more traditional computer (but then I almost certainly wouldn’t be writing this comment) :P

Hamlet December 30, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Regarding meditation (#5), is your practice a formal postural kind; or is it Douglas Harding’s idea of meditation (see his quotation, about 1/3 of the way down in this article http://headless.org/experiments/spinning-the-world.htm); or do you do both?

David Cain December 31, 2013 at 7:52 am

I do both. I practice vipassana intermittently, and several times a day I’ll informally practice “two-way attention”, like this experiment but without using my hands: http://headless.org/experiments/2-way-pointing.htm

Charli | Wanderlusters December 30, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Thanks for providing me with some tools to achieve my 2014 goals. Great post.

petra December 31, 2013 at 4:43 am

a great list. it’s strange how you can know things to be true but still not live them.

Tawni December 31, 2013 at 10:40 am

This is a very good list. I’ve been studying Buddhism & this relates quite closely to the dharma. I really enjoyed reading it. I like how u pointed out the ecstasy that its felt when overcoming ur resistance to act on something meaningful. I also feel that when I resist my temptations to do things that are harmful to my body and my growth as a human.

I would also like to answer the question in number 14. The things I enjoy doing most is teaching my kids even though in often lose my patience but I am also learning to do better with that. Also reading is my sanctuary I love to learn new things. And I really like painting but since I’ve become an adult I don’t manage my time well enough to have time to do it. So for 2014 I’m going to try harder to be better organized, more awake, and to stick to my commitments.

__ December 31, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Brilliant read, something I disagreed with:

“6) Creative work is something that can be done at any time. It’s no different than any other kind of work. Inspiration is nice but completely optional. I’ve almost completely come around on this one in 2013. But sometimes the Four Horsemen still trick me.”

This is not completely true. Inspiration is an essential part of for example making music, if I don’t compose/write the song that’s playing in my head at the moment it is, I usually lose the inspiration altogether. So with making music and writing I’ve learned to “grasp the moment” whenever I feel inspired because unless I do the moment is lost forever. Usually this has meant sacrificing hours of sleep, which to me has been worth it

Happy new year! Although I fear 2014 is going to be tragic…

Harlin December 31, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Amen to this-> “Acting the way you want to feel usually works.” I have a job sometimes I can’t stand. Yet I can now at anytime convince myself that I love it and it’s the most important job there is. This really works when you make it a habit. You can learn to be enthusiastic about anything (just about — enjoying having one’s toes pulled out one at a time is still tough to pull off). Happy New Year All!!!

Zara January 7, 2014 at 2:37 am

This is a really interesting interpretation. I took it to mean acting upon your heart’s true desires, so in your example, I might have acted upon “not being able to stand my job” by just up and quitting and not perpetuating the cycle of “working unhappily to live just so I can live to work unhappily.” But your view is equally valid.

Peter Smafield aka Godfather067 December 31, 2013 at 11:07 pm

I don’t know the age of the person who wrote this article, but I do know my age 67 and I have yet to learn consistency in any of these characteristics. Of course I spend many year under the influence so it may not be such a wonder that I have many things yet to learn able living a spiritual life. I believe I need to at least be in the process of applying these concepts to my life if I want to achieve quality spirituality. By the way while being spiritual does not preclude religion it does not require religion either. The guns are going off, so Happy New year! and duck! Shooting guns is a foolish practice because what goes up must come down.

Brittany January 1, 2014 at 5:41 pm

It is so nice to know that I am not the only one that feels the same things you have mentioned in this post. I too am a lover of the human experience and have been on my own personal journey to being a better human. It is amazing that year after year that we can continue to learn the same lessons, receive the same messages and yet it takes us so long to put these things into practice. When we realize our own truths, understand what really works for us and put it all into practice, life truly becomes magical! Great post! Happy New Year!

Andrew January 1, 2014 at 7:00 pm

I can second you on the workout part. I had that same argument with myself today. Despite a stuffed head and an all around bleh feeling, I did some yoga and calisthenics and have felt a good bit better ever since. I think the resistance is not only the natural resistance to discomfort, but the built in tendency to conserve rather than expend energy. After all, our ancestors in the wild didn’t need to exercise to stay in shape. Mere survival took care of that for them pretty quickly.

Another thing I know: things take time. I might want it right now, but the world doesnt’ tend to work on my timeline. I’m working on a big project (a site, and books to go with it no less!) that I’m both excited and nervous about, and there have been plenty of times when the impatience/anxiety have gotten to the point where I was ready to quit. Which is silly of course because I like what I’m doing when I’m not making it harder than it needs to be. I just have to let it grow, and in its own time it will take the shape it will.

earlyretirementsg January 1, 2014 at 8:14 pm

Thanks for these!
Totally relate to
1) The sooner you do something, the more of your life you get to spend with that thing done.
16) Few things matter long-term other than relationships, health, personal finance and personal growth.

The others are good as well. But as in personally, I feel these 2 strike me the strongest. Also to add. If I combine those 2.

The sooner you build relationships, health, personal finance and personal growth, the more of your life you get to spend with those things achieved.

Which really means to put the important things first. Always.

Thank you for your blog, they provide some very interesting insights.

Annie January 1, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Great information. I am going a different direction this year and except for some very specific projects, am not going to make lists. The lists were white rabbits and kept reproducing and taking over my life. I am trying to simplify my life and this is my first step.

Pandionna January 1, 2014 at 9:43 pm

This entry inspired me to go through my closets and donate that which can be donated and lay to rest that which is beyond repair. It took four and a half hours, four trips to the dumpster, six garbage bags, two boxes, and one boombox with leaky batteries, but my hall closet is done. Puzzles, books, gloves, and purses packed, old thermals in the washer. Next up, the linen closet and the bedroom closet, which no doubt contain shoes and more clothes for Goodwill.

I did keep my kindergarten report cards, though. ;-)

Also, love your site. I’ve been reading it on The Old Reader for months.

David Cain January 3, 2014 at 9:08 am

Good! How does it feel?

theFIREstarter January 2, 2014 at 2:24 am

Great list. I have always had issues with 13. I often find myself trying to multitask and no doubt end up taking longer and doing a worse job on each item than if I’d just picked something and then worked through the list. I’ve been making to do lists for the last few years and it’s been really helpful, but I can still be caught out.

Matt January 2, 2014 at 6:02 am

Another thing that people know is true but haven’t learned yet: Did you know that theoretically, since we can’t say where it comes from, where it goes to or even any way to place it in any physical ‘space’ that what we refer to as ‘the self’ is actually just a concept – an illusion.
Wow! We can put all of our lists down now because we actually don’t exist and there’s nothing to worry about!
It was all an Illusion! It was just evolutions’ way of ensuring that we would all try hard to succeed and be the best we can be to further our selves, families and other groups that are important to us because they define who we are. Phew, what a relief.

Zara January 7, 2014 at 2:28 am


Science Dude January 2, 2014 at 10:27 am

Great tips. I’d really like if you could explain how I could manage priorities better. I want to do a lot of computer stuff i.e learn programming languageS, graphics designing, blogging, 3D modelling, gaming among other things (I’m great at sketching as well).
The thing is, I’m not in TOO deep into these things (besides programming) but I’m moderately good at all these things.
But when I have free time, I can’t decide what I should do first, and this makes me more depressed than I’d like to admit.

David Cain January 3, 2014 at 9:04 am

Pick one or two of those things to develop per year. If you try to do them all you won’t really do any of them. Check out this article:


Mercsanch January 2, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Mi padre me dijo:”. . . saber no es hacer!”(knowing is not doing!)

Kunal January 2, 2014 at 6:00 pm

I really enjoyed this list. However, there is one I do have a tough time with and thats house cleaning. It seems every time I clean my room, I always tend to bring more stuff than before. I find it hard to get unattached with “stuff” that I collect. How does one try to get unattached from things and have less clutter? Any advice on that?

David Cain January 3, 2014 at 9:02 am

It gets WAY easier when you reduce the amount of stuff you have. To get over your attachment to stuff you have to recognize that not everything you own adds value to your life, and in fact, beyond what you actually use, every extra thing takes away from quality of life. When you have fewer things, it’s like the whole world slows down. It might feel like tearing off a bandaid the first time you send off excess stuff to be donated, but it’s unlikely you will regret it.

Carlo January 3, 2014 at 12:26 am

None of this applies when you have kids. Try cleaning your house with a toddler around. Impossible

David Cain January 3, 2014 at 8:53 am

Your toddler forces you to stare at your phone all day?

Janet January 9, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Your toddler takes you away from number 3. Vice versa, your toddler makes number 4 damn near impossible and adds to a sense of clutter, both mental and physical. I don’t know how toddlers do it, but a vaccuumed floor only looks that way for five minutes MAX when there’s a toddler around.

Three things: toddlers, sanity and a clean house. You can only pick a maximum of two of these in any lifetime.

Babies and toddlers really force you to have balance over your years, not your days.

Janet January 9, 2014 at 5:18 pm

D’oh! *at any one time* not *in any lifetime*

deacon January 3, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Haha! Greater challenges require even more disciplined and thoughtful solutions! Kids can be tough but it is entirely possible to have a clean house with them. Not all the time, of course, but during down time it can be very easy to clean up after them. I limit the number of possessions my child ‘owns’ and have a place reserved for each and every item. And when my child is asleep, I’m working hard to de-clutter my own life both for myself and as an example to her. So far, it is a very liberating process and has promoted my own self-discipline. After all, the child will be a reflection of the parent.

Jessie January 3, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Great post, David. Appreciated your insights, especially the very concept itself – the difference between “knowing” something and actually internalising and implementing it. I’m with you on putting meditation (did a 10-day vipassana retreat) and reading books into this category. I have a solid practice during semester at university, but it falls apart when I get home during the break and ironically have more time than ever but no routine whatsoever. The latter gets completely neglected at uni (apart from compulsory readings) but indulged in during the break. So, how do we move from the knowing to the living? It probably comes down to establishing solid routines that then become habits. But what about the more subtle things, like mindsets and interactions with people? e.g. for me, I “know” that it’s important to be kind and humble when interacting with others, but can this be systematically improved?

Mary Contrary January 4, 2014 at 4:15 am

I’m on board with everything – except the ‘2013 was great’ bit. I’m going to work on that, but right now I’m still in ‘kill it with fire’ mood.

David Cain January 5, 2014 at 11:01 am

It’s already dead!

Daiv January 4, 2014 at 9:12 am

Thank you for providing a blog which I can visit to enjoy and re-focus from time to time. The vagaries of living have a power of their own which can pull us from our own best planned goals – your blog is a handy road map for more focused living.
Best wishes for a fantastic 2014 for all of us!

Graeme January 5, 2014 at 10:24 am

i find this very contradictory the fact that you have a picture of Buddha where he is doing absolutely nothing and then you say “the thing I want to do is avoid doing something harder than surfing Reddit. During those minutes or hours, all I’m doing is dying.” so just sitting there, doing nothing must be a waste of time to you?

David Cain January 5, 2014 at 10:53 am

I find meditation harder than surfing reddit, and a lot more rewarding.

Zara January 7, 2014 at 2:25 am


Universal Spirituality January 6, 2014 at 7:22 am

Steps to Inner Knowledge takes the individual on a journey that develops their self Knowledge. Knowledge/Holy Spirit is the most powerful force in the Universe. It is within you and you can do a self study format to strengthen this greater inherent power within. Knowledge can not be manipulated, corrupted, controlled or overtaken. You experience it in times of intuitive, instinctive and in your gut feelings. Steps to Knowledge reclaims to you this greater Inner Guidance system that you have within. Knowledge/Holy Spirit servers all worlds, all races, all religions and all Beings in all dimensions.

Andrew Beebe January 6, 2014 at 6:40 pm

I consider personal finance a form of growth as it is a form of income, therefore the growth, health, and relationships matter more than monetization.

Gao January 7, 2014 at 12:27 am

By far my favorite post!!! Not that all the other ones do not shine light on your character, but the humility is greatly appreciated!


Paul January 7, 2014 at 2:10 am

I enjoyed your post, #8 was especially relevant . I too feel so blessed in my life, and I sometimes feel guilty for wanting more. I wonder , Do wealthy people ever feel guilty for having so much ? Or is my guilt what holds me back from having it all .

Zara January 7, 2014 at 2:24 am

I don’t like the spirit of this. Meditation is not done for the rewards after you finish. Happiness transcends having a home and a functioning body (though, yes, being hungry makes me grumpy). 6, 10, 12, and 15 are all wrong. “I never regret working out” is the mark of someone who has not been experimenting with exercise; it’s the easiest thing in the world to overdo. The only thing I really agree with is 7. This person seems to me like he is fighting within himself, and so no wonder he has this feeling of knowing something but not having learned it (i.e., not knowing it–the two are mutually exclusive!). If the Buddha in the picture could read this, he’d laugh.

J January 7, 2014 at 4:12 pm

the title should be “16 things I FEEL are true but haven’t quite learned yet”

David Cain January 10, 2014 at 10:11 am


Akhil Kumar January 8, 2014 at 7:56 am

Great post, David. I am going a different direction this year and except for some very specific projects, am not going to make lists. The lists were white rabbits and kept reproducing and taking over my life. I am trying to simplify my life and this is my first step and i’m working on http://www.21entrepreneurs.com/ which provides valuable resources for young entrepreneurs to start up.

MIchael Saychu January 10, 2014 at 9:37 am

greGreat post, David. I am going a different direction this year and except for some very specific projects, am not going to make lists. The lists were white rabbits and kept reproducing and taking over my life. I am trying to simplify my life and this is my first step and i’m working on

Kevin January 11, 2014 at 1:46 pm

The workout thing is so true. For me, the key to days I don’t want to workout is to just get myself in the door. I often trick myself into doing this by telling myself I just have to do one easy thing and then I can go home. It should be something worth doing but short and not that difficult, like run a mile or do three sets of bench press (the key is that it seems easy to you but not a total waste of time). I generally find that, once I’m there and working out, I almost always do more than whatever I told myself was all I had to do. And even if I only do the minimum, I still avoid the psychological blow that comes from skipping a day and feel far less guilty. In a week or so I won’t even remember that one of my workouts was really short. I’ll just remember that I went every day I said I was going to. Maintaining a streak can be a huge motivator. When you skip one day, yes, it’s only one day, but it kills the streak and can destroy your motivation.

Lydia January 12, 2014 at 7:22 pm

Great list! Given that I am in the process of studying for my PhD comps numbers 1, 3, and 15 especially resonate with me. Thank you for the post!

Kayla Garnet Rose January 13, 2014 at 9:22 am

I view my personal inertia as a part of the law of physics – a body at rest tends to stay at rest, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. The trick is to overcome that initial resistance, or else i can be quite happy just sitting on the couch rather than doing something productive and enjoyable like gardening. Great list!

Faith Watson January 13, 2014 at 10:13 am

Loved this, David–personal, yet gets a universal conversation going. Thank you from your new fan. On #4: I surely know that feeling… then again, though I was raised by a long line of Polish cleaning women, I believe perspective is everything and I learned cleaning (or any domestic project) is relative to whatever time/activity you’re trading it for. I heart this poem:

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
To paint a picture or write a letter,
Bake a cake or plant a seed,
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to swim and mountains to climb,
Music to hear, and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there,
With the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair,
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain.
This day will not come round again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go – and go you must –
You, yourself, will make more dust.

~ Rose Milligan

Dwayne Kerr January 14, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Haha, yea there true… I know them, but it’s sometimes good to be reminded about them. Right now number 2 “working out” is standing out for me.

Tom Southern January 15, 2014 at 6:51 am

All so true – well, except maybe when I’m mad, it’s seldom, but is usually because of a person not a situation. The rest is pretty much there. The fact for me is that it’s the effort to get out of doing those things that create these after effects that takes up most of my energies. If I ever do do something, it’s because I want the end result more than anything else.

I just don’t want very much in the first place.

Jordan Phoenix January 21, 2014 at 1:57 am

“If I find myself in an argument, I’ve made a mistake.”

Love this! Excellent points, but everyone can learn from that one in particular.

Wan January 21, 2014 at 9:23 am

For me, meditation is the hardest thing to do.

When I meditate, that’s the time when the world hits you with memories of the past and promises of the future.

David Cain January 22, 2014 at 8:51 am

Yes, when you sit down to look at your thoughts it’s unsettling how ferocious they can be. You might appreciate my account of my experience at a meditation retreat, where I suffered that feeling in the extreme. It does break after a while.


Mitch Russo January 29, 2014 at 8:29 pm

Lets add one more:
17: Next time I find myself in conflict with another, I will look for a 3rd party. There’s always someone in the background whispering in the ear of one of the two who are conflicted. It’s usually the case, just take a look, you’ll find the 3rd party.

Tanya February 5, 2014 at 12:31 pm

That’s a great list! Although it was created for 2013 I’m going to show up fashionably late and apply to 2014!

Thanks for creating this.

ziad k abdelnour February 12, 2014 at 6:35 am

that is right,

“Trust is earned, respect is given, and loyalty is demonstrated. Betrayal of any one of those is to lose all three.”

Thank you

Pam February 12, 2014 at 11:42 pm

I love your blog and how your English accent (I’m assuming comes through)! #9 and 10 resonated with me the most at this moment in time. #9 — I just recently said to a friend that I realized in order to live a more peaceful life I need to put my focus on fewer things. I don’t know if it’s age or expanded awareness, but I know that it keeps me sane. #10 — Spock once said “resistance is futile”, and oh how this is true. Once we surrender and shut off the incessant talk in our head, things tend to work out much better! Easier said than done, right? :-) Looking forward to reading more of your posts! Love and peace…

David Cain February 13, 2014 at 9:05 am

I wish I had an English accent. I’m Canadian :)

I am self. February 17, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Thankyou for this post and u r right, in-fact when i was in a world of empathy, my whole life became “insane”, no matter how much care we take, still worries always reflected me back, seems no one can enter other minds, and one can enter in their self minds only, otherwise anybody can rule anyone. But i always thanked my-self 1st who finally came out of empathy and bounded my-self to my truth. Now i am much much better than before. Thoughts really matter. Even Buddha made time to understand self and everybody must start giving time for self 1st, if possible must be inspiration of self and they are only became the truth. One can message to world, through self within, simply by understanding selves and be influence of selves. Life is gift for me, so i never think about future, even though if it passes cause everybody must go from past to future and if time concept is false then we are actually lived only in presence. It is a real place of peace and i deserved it.

Free to Pursue February 18, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Just had to come back and read this post again. It hits the mark and then some!


All the points you make are related to being present and aware of what works for us, including choosing to do the hard things because they pay greater personal dividends in the long run.

Our increased focus as a society one the short term, on convenience, on interruptions “squirrel!”, on others’ demands on our time (The Man), on consumption meant to address something we have been told we lack, makes it difficult for us to get back to what is essential. That is, seeking and experiencing:

1. Human connection
2. Intrinsic not extrinsic rewards
3. Simplicity
4. Focus (thought, passion, flow)
5. Understanding
6. Personal Growth

All these aspects of a fulfilling life are abstract, but yet we can each relate to them in some way because we know they “feel” good when we experience them. Why, then, do we have to regularly remind ourselves of that fact?

My guess is that I will be coming back to this list monthly throughout 2014!

Thanks for posting.

Vickie Fowler March 17, 2014 at 3:34 pm

A clean house works wonders! While I’m blogging, I’m looking around at the distractions. I’ve learned that taking short breaks and picking up/cleaning up from one end of the house to the other = having a nice, clean environment to work in! Thanks, nice article.

derrek wester March 17, 2014 at 9:33 pm

very astute truths

games for my mobile March 25, 2014 at 7:51 am

Wow! This blog looks exactly like my old one! It’s on
a entirely different subject but it has pretty much the same page layout and design.
Great choice of colors!

Gaye @CalmHealthySexy June 14, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Thank you. This is very helpful to me. Especially – “The quickest and most reliable path to personal improvement is to do the things on my list that I resist most.” I am struggling mightily with internal resistance to something I need to do. I know it, but I haven’t been able to move forward. I think it is fear of failing, but a friend suggested this week that it is fear of succeeding. Thanks for the encouragement to push ahead.

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