Jamie's Notebook

Writing for the sake of writing.

30 posts in 30 days

Today marks the final day of my challenge to publish on every day of June.

Here are a few things I've learned from this experiment:

  • Publishing an idea made me more likely to practice it. I've had passing thoughts about many of the ideas I wrote about, like not buying things on sale or misattributing anxiety, but I noticed I was much more likely to act on these ideas after publishing them. I respected them more.
  • It was extremely tempting to provide disclaimers, to lessen expectations. Publishing daily forces you to make unfinished work public. As a recovering perfectionist, this was uncomfortable. Knowing that people only remember your good work is logically soothing, but perfectionism isn't logical.
  • I found my groove by starting a first draft in the morning. I'd limit myself to adding words to the page, no editing or backspacing. Then I'd go about my day, returning to the draft at the end of the day. At that point I'd trim the fat (usually cutting the word count in half, or more) and refine my thoughts before hitting publish. Once published, I'd read the post once more and fix typos.
  • All of my ideas came from text messages I sent myself anytime an interesting thought entered my mind. The criteria is simple: the moment I caught myself feeling curious about an idea, I'd text myself a one sentence summary. Each morning I'd scroll through the collection of sentences and write about whatever sparked the most interest.
  • Publishing daily gave me an inside look at what kinds of ideas are most attractive to me. My inputs definitely bias this, but it was cool to see which topics continually resurfaced.

What's next?

I like the idea of taking my favorite posts and building on them, transforming them into a more complete account. But first I'm going to enjoy a break from scheduled publishing.

You always answer to someone

The single most important factor in the quality of your job is your boss. - Eric Jorgenson, Career Advice for Uniquely Ambitious People

You always answer to someone, no matter how independent you think you are. It's therefore in your best interest to service people whose interests align with yours, with as much overlap as possible.

If don't have a boss to answer to, you answer to your clients, or to your customers. In this sense, you are rarely ever in a position where you are completely working for yourself. Artists and the mega-rich are exceptions. Everybody else must accommodate the needs of others.

Maybe, instead of desperately chasing the idea of working for ourselves, we should be looking to find maximum overlap with the people we answer to, whomever that may be.


The life cycle of a cliche is strange.

Cliches start out as ideas that resonate deeply. Growing wildly popular is an essential step in the formation of a cliche, as popularity is the oven responsible for baking cliches to completion. If the oven doesn't get hot enough, the cliche is never formed.

The next stage is when early adopters start getting mildly annoyed. Live, laugh, love felt like a motto worth living by when it was my MSN Messenger status, but now that it's in Tumblr's source code, the feeling of personal connection and resonation decays each time its reposted.

Cliches reach their final form once they leak into the mainstream. The quote that once stopped you in your tracks is now the bestselling poster at Walmart. It's your Mom's phone wallpaper. Your Grandma just shared a shitty remake with Comic Sans font on Facebook.

Just like that, something we once treasured as an important discovery we were proud to share to the world has broken down into an eye roll worthy cliche. The same exact words that sparked inspiration now barely register as we scroll by.

This entire process of devaluation happens irrespective to how true we find the cliche to be. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree and this, too, shall pass remain pretty damn accurate, but, because we discount the familiar in favor of the novel, these expressions no longer hold the same power over us they once did.

Sticky ideas

Ideas worth remembering are difficult to ignore. These sticky ideas will haunt you until you pay them sufficient attention.

Reading is a popular means of discovering new ideas. We read books hoping to be stopped in our tracks by ideas with potential to change the way we think.

Certainly these 'aha' moments are an exciting part of reading, but I've grown to favor sticky ideas over moments of epiphany.

Sticky ideas aren't immediately identified as valuable. It's never love at first sight with sticky ideas. It's more of a slow burn. Days will pass from your initial encounter before you realize a sticky idea has been pacing in the back of your mind, gently pulling on your sleeve for recognition.

A book may not invoke any 'aha' moments, but usually, if you're reading a decent book, there should be a sticky idea to chew on. If your mind doesn't wander to an idea surfaced by the book you're reading, it's probably not the right book for you.

You don't need to chase sticky ideas. They will come to you.

Internal files

There is an ongoing list of desirable skills and attractive character traits being kept in your subconscious. For varying reasons, some real and some imagined, your current priorities do not align with this list.

Life is too messy, unorganized, and unpredictable for our priorities to align perfectly with this list. But every once in a while it's worth revisiting this list to make sure outdated beliefs aren't steering you in the wrong direction.

It's helpful to imagine this list as a dusty file cabinet of goals that squeaks each time you open its single metal drawer. Within the drawer are all your thoughts that begin with "I wish I could" and "I wish I knew that", each in their own beige colored file folder.

A new file is added to the filing cabinet anytime we witness something that inspires us in a very specific way. The exact conditions are difficult to put into words because of the many flavors of inspiration we experience.

There is a distinct difference between inspiration sparked by reading a weight loss transformation story and inspiration excited by watching a magician impress cute girls with a cool trick.

The same fleeting thought may enter your mind in both situations—"I want to learn how to do that!"—but only because English doesn't have a simple 8-word sentence for "This is moderately interesting and I like the idea of potentially accomplishing this feat, but I do not foresee myself dedicating a sufficient portion of time to this task in the near future. And magic isn't real."

As you thumb over the file folders containing false desires you will encounter your true desires, the tasks, actions, or accomplishments that would cause you to be genuinely proud of yourself if completed.

At first glance, some of these wishes will appear to be unattainable for you. Long, heavy goals, like learning a language or leaving everything to create a new life elsewhere, meet this criteria. Any temptation to write these wishes off as unrealistic is a sign they should more deeply considered.

We don't have enough time to pursue everything we want to be. Skills not only require an upfront time investment, but they also need to be maintained. If we are limited in quantity of skills we are able to retain, maybe we should be focusing on quality instead.

The real challenge of stomaching scary goals is coming to terms with cliche: our only obstacle in the way of achieving fulfilling goals is ourselves, because we often confuse long goals with difficult goals and convince ourselves that "I" am uniquely unqualified to accomplish anything meaningful.

  • I can't learn a language become I'm not smart enough.
  • I can't transform my body because I'm bad at physical activity.
  • I can't make friends because I'm not social.

A fixed mindset holds us back by convincing us that our identity is incompatible with what we want to do, or who we want to be. This invisible barrier keeps us from taking big steps towards big goals because we don't see ourselves as big enough people to accomplish them.

Instinctively shying away from the goals that would bring us the greatest satisfaction can be overridden with intention and patience. Intentionally challenge yourself with meaningful goals. Don't settle for what you think you should accomplish, chase something that would make you truly proud of yourself. Pick a heavy file from your dusty filing cabinet of wishes.

Bad conversation

Networking sucks.

Networking is what happens when two parties agree to communicate in a way that both will benefit from the exchange on an individual level. A mutual agreement is made that allows both parties to use each other to advance their work goals.

Conversation is a means to an end for networking. It's used as a tool with an explicit purpose of fishing out answers to the question "what can you do for me?".

But the best conversations aren't an exchange. The best conversations happen when two people are curious enough to create a new story together.

The best conversations involve a curious listener interacting with a passionate speaker. Both parties in a good conversation trade roles over and over again. It's not about being fair and sharing equal conversation time, though that is inevitably in the back of both's mind, it's about feeding the energy before it fizzles out.

Networking is admittedly a loaded term that's become hard to stomach due to poor networkers and fake business people. Until networking gets rebranded into a more palatable buzzword, it will remain nothing but uninteresting conversation to me.

Attraction is attractive

Be the person your dog thinks you are.

The sentiment expressed here is more real than it leads on. The way we see ourselves reflected in the eyes of others speaks volumes about our relationship.

It starts with the relationship we hold with ourselves. This relationship is judged harshly. Every minor imperfection is cataloged, in detail, as we study the reflection staring back at us in the mirror.

The harsh relationship we hold with ourselves makes us even more vulnerable to the intoxicating gaze of admiration we find in the eyes of our romantic interests. In their eyes we see a different image of ourselves being reflected back: a better version of ourselves.

The consequences of this effect are not to be underestimated. We may catch ourselves feeling an entirely different way about a person once they confess they are into us. The improved reflection of ourselves we find in their stare seemingly sparks attraction that didn't exist before.

In their presence, we feel as though we're a better person, living up to the less flawed image of us they believe to be the 'real' us.

We savor the disconnect between the version of us we see, where flaws are highlighted, and the version of us they see, where flaws are ignored, if not invisible. The truth, as always, is likely somewhere in the middle. But the truth doesn't feel this good. Attraction is a powerful thing.

The 'potential' bias

Potential is seductive.

Potential represents future opportunity that could perhaps bloom into something beautiful. It's exciting to fantasize about what could be, if only certain conditions are first met.

An enjoyable dream is an imagined reality where your most desired potential scenarios are realized. All the 'what ifs' equate the way you want them to, for once. Spending time thinking about potential feels a lot like dreaming.

We run potential simulations through our minds constantly. It's a necessary part of taking action: the potential upside of our next action must outweigh the potential downside, else we won't move.

The truly seductive potential exercises are the ones where we edit the past or future to accommodate our desires. We remodel our decision tree to fit the reality we wish we had and bask in the improbable glory of that unlikely situation.

No matter how unlikely the situation, we still derive crumbs of authentic joy by thinking about how things could have played out.

If I took my earbuds out 10 seconds earlier and noticed her phone slipping from her hands, I could have lunged forward and caught it. I could have been a hero...

The shower is a popular place to cycle through different realities that could have taken place earlier on in your day, if only you had said X, done Y, or considered Z.

This kind of reflection is healthy. Reviewing our decisions is a sign of productive introspection. However, there is a bias influencing this process we should be aware of such that we don't become overly critical of ourselves.

When we daydream about unrealized outcomes that could have happened if only, we tend to look at things we could have done better. We rarely think about all the good actions we've taken that could have been gone worse.

It's much more natural for us to imagine how we could have done better than it is to imagine how we could have done worse. That doesn't seem fair, to ourselves.

Stay feeding your imagination but also be mindful of your bias to only imagine what could be better. The scenarios you routine handle in a 'good enough' manner don't show up in day dreams.

Your "business" is a job

There are advantages to being self-employed but it's nowhere near as advantageous as running a business capable of earning money while you sleep.

It seems that most people who claim to own their own businesses actually own their own jobs. Freelancing is a clear example: your income is dependent on how much time you're able to spend working. That's not a lever you want to pull.

The moment you hire someone to do your job for you, you have a business. You've built an asset capable of generating income without you. There will be necessary optimization and maintenance, but you're free to work on the business instead of in the business.

Working on the business unlocks compound growth. Hours are sold when you're working in a business but hours are invested when you're working on a business. Picking fruit for a farmer is a job, planting your own seeds is a business. Fruit must be picked daily but seeds will grow while you sleep.

Some jobs can be more business-like than others. The more shortcuts you can take advantage of, the more business-like your job is. There are no shortcuts in doing hard labor, but a computer repair specialist can write automated scripts to fix the most common problems his clients encounter.

Business-like jobs are limited to those able to leverage technology. Chances are your current job can be made easier by gaining a deeper understanding your existing tech stack.

Make your job as business-like as possible then use your newfound spare time to start a business.

On habits

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. - James Clear

Every action you take is a threat to become a habit. There are no repetitions that don't count. Every vote is counted.

I've learned through experience that announcing "I deserve this" or "just this once", no matter how loud, doesn't actually prevent your next action from counting. There are always consequences.

We should be careful to note any action we take mindlessly, ignorant to the cumulative effect these actions could result to.

How your practice is how you perform. If you put little effort into being emotionally resilient when faced with small, inconsequential shocks (your food is late), you're going to be unprepared to manage when hit with something meaningful (you get fired from your job).

Perfection is never the goal. Not only is it unattainable, but it's also boring. Habits will lead you to victory, but there's benefit to be found from running off and breaking the rules every so often. Habits are a good way to spend your time waiting for serendipity to appear.

Every streak breaks. Good streaks, bad streaks, doesn't matter. Impermanence doesn't discriminate and it's patient enough to out wait you. For this reason there may be more skill in rebuilding consecutive 60 day streaks than in maintain a single 120 day streak.

Understand that every action is a vote for the type of person you will become. There are no exceptions.

The outsiders

We label people who go against the grain as 'wrongdoers' when we're young. If a kid in our science class has blue hair and reads strange books, she doesn't fit in. She's not like us.

As we mature, we begin to realize that these 'wrongdoers' are the most interesting people we know, and that walking outside the lines of what's 'typical' can make someone especially admirable. We now understand the blue-haired girl who reads strange books is special because she's not like us.

As we get old, many of us will revert back. Unable to keep up with change, we'll once again be confused or made uncomfortable by those with blue hair, strange jobs, or obscure interests. We've been around for a long time and seen a lot of things, so if we can't make sense of something, it must not make sense to anyone.

We confused acts of nonconformity as mistakes, in our youth.

We learned to appreciate 'personal weirdness' as a feature, as we entered adulthood.

We'll need to fight the urge to exchange our curiosity for security, in the form of a fixed belief system, once we become old.

You might be dangerously close to being 'old' already if you neglect your curiosity. I know old people in their twenties.

Guilty by association

Unsolved problems drive humans crazy.

It's difficult for us to understand that some things happen to us for no reason at all. We're desperate to identify cause and effect. If we can't find one, we'll make one up.

We try to trace our emotions back to a root cause. What (or who) is causing us to feel this way? Given that this is a subconscious process—we're rarely putting deep thought into fleeting feelings—the cause we assign can be automatically attributed to suspects that are top of mind.

This results in misattribution... A LOT of misattribution. Known problems undeservingly collect blame for unknown problems.

Here's the scenario:

You've been struggling to stomach a recent change in your life. This is a touchy subject you haven't yet fully come to terms with yet, but you've made some progress. You're beginning to accept the change. (Good job!)

Then, on an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning, you realize you're in a bad mood. Naturally, your mind starts hunting for a plausible culprit to blame for your seemingly random bad mood. It doesn't take long before a familiar, top of mind problem is deemed guilty. Your mind is an impatient detective who sometimes incriminates the first suspects its finds.

Your Sunday blues could have been a result of anything—or nothing at all. Maybe what you perceived as a bad mood was only a brief period of boredom or hunger. Doesn't matter. Your mind quickly decides the story adds up: an existing problem bothered you before, therefore it is plausibly responsible for your Sunday blues.

Your existing problem, the wound that had begun to heal, gets re-opened. All for the sake of (incorrectly) assigning a cause to your feelings. And now you're going to need even more time to heal back to normal.

I don't have a solution for this.

I suspect that by noticing our emotions, without associating with them (I'm noticing that... instead of I'm feeling that...), we might be able to reduce how often we search for cause and effect.

Understand that currentlifeproblem probably carries more blame in your head than it deserves because your known problems are collecting blame for your unknown problems.

Long goals

There is a difference between difficult goals and goals that take a long time to complete.

Learning a language is considered a difficult goal, but really it's just time intensive. There is nothing especially difficult or complex about building vocabulary and learning the most important grammar rules, it just takes dedication in the form of time and many repetitions.

Goals with intimidating time horizons are often the most rewarding. There are cool things you can learn in a day, a week, or a month, but they tend to be less valuable than achievements that require hundreds of hours.

There is an element of skill involved with achieving long goals. Choosing the right resources to guide you, chunking projects into actionable milestones, and adopting a patient mindset are all key parts of ensuring success.

If two people are pursuing the same goal, at the same speed, whoever has chosen the best resource to guide them will come ahead... unless they lose interest (bad goal selection) or run out of steam (usually a result of an unsustainable pace).

You become better at achieving long goals by learning how to learn. Expert learners are comfortable with befuddlement and practice good habit hygiene. Once you understand long goals aren't especially difficult, all that's left is to put in the work.

Long goals can take you places that short goals can't. Every hour you deposit into a long goal is a small bet on yourself. If you stick with your long goal to the end the payout is massive, far greater than your investment.

Plant seeds before you're hungry

A farmer who doesn't have the foresight to plant his seeds before he's hungry will starve. Farmers must be proactive about their hunger given how long it takes for seeds to develop into edible crops.

Hunger isn't an issue for most of us. We experience hunger at a high frequency, so we've become pretty good at ensuring we don't starve. We're proactive about hunger when we stock up on groceries for a week or two, but we can also afford to be reactionary (at a greater financial cost) thanks to local food delivery apps.

It's not the frequency of a feeling that matters, it's the impact each feeling has on us that's important.

We might experience hunger multiple times per day but only feel something like loneliness once a week. Feeling lonely is infinitely more painful than mild hunger because of the way we self-identify with emotions. "I feel lonely" quickly becomes "I am a lonely person", but "I feel hungry" never becomes "I am a hungry person".

There are reactionary ways to deal with processing emotions, but what if we took a proactive approach?

Take a proactive approach to negative emotions by planting seeds everyday. Seeds represent potential, a future that may or may not develop into something of value. We plant seeds knowing that few will sprout, but the ones that do may grow into something significant that lasts years.

Planting seeds to be proactive about loneliness might involve arranging a weekly dinner with close friends, reaching out to a new person every week, or learning a new skill in a class-based environment where you're likely to meet new people with shared interests.

Being proactive is about taking action before you're faced with a problem. The more proactive you are about the things you don't want to experience, the higher your quality of life will become.

Start planting seeds before you're hungry.

Forever decisions

We form personal preferences quickly and rarely revisit whether we still believe them to be true. As a result, choices made in our past slowly become part of our identity.

The first time you make coffee for a friend, you ask how they like it. The second time you might ask again. By the third or fourth time, you're just going to make their coffee in accordance to the preferences they've previously expressed.

This is because we decide our preferences based on a brief period of experimentation. When we're asked how we like our coffee, we almost always defer to our default answer, rather than pause to reflect on what level of sweetness we'd enjoy in that exact moment.

Drinking sub-optimal coffee may not be a big deal (for you), but other forever decisions we make about ourselves can severely limit our growth and range of experiences.

When we use labels, like "I'm introverted" or "I'm bad at math", the process of brainwashing begins: the perception we hold of ourselves shifts from a nuanced truth (I like meeting like-minded people but I'm uncomfortable at bars) to a fixed fiction (I hate meeting new people) that's easier for us to digest.

The more we repeat these half-truths to ourselves the harder we commit to self-identifying with labels that aren't quite right. Introverts commit to identifying as introverted, bad students commit to being bad at math, and unhealthy people commit to being unhealthy. All because they've made forever decisions about themselves based on a tiny sample size of self-experimentation.

Forgetting how malleable we are, both physically and mentally, limits our potential to change for the better.

Answer anxiety

How many thoughts do you think in a day?

The answer is a lot. We are addicted to thinking and re-thinking and re-re-thinking until we tire ourselves out. At that point we go to sleep, wake up, and restart the process again.

I'm not zen enough to give you an antidote to re-thinking. I struggle with overthinking just like everybody else. Logically, I understand you can't out-think some problems, yet the very nature of this truth prevents me from turning thinking 'off'. I could tell you something like, "thinking robs us from the present moment", but that's no more actionable than a fortune cookie.

A tactic I've found to be effective in reducing re-re-thinking is closing open loops.

Open loops are thoughts you know to require eventual action but haven't yet committed action to. Calm these thoughts by giving them direction: they need a job to look forward to, else they misbehave and demand your precious attention.

Open loops can be found hiding within general anxiety because anxiety is often a side effect of uncertainty. "What am I going to do?!" is often the open loop found at the root of anxiety. Close the loop by answering the question. Calmly explain to the loop how you intend to handle the situation, whether it be nerves before a date or a big meeting with your boss, or when you promise to give it the attention it deserves.

I sleep best when I close my open loops before bed. I scribble down the thoughts asking for my attention, moving them from mental RAM to removable storage in the form of a sticky note. This transfer of thoughts from my head to another medium is usually enough on its own. The open loops in my mind just want to be noticed. They take comfort in knowing the issue they represent hasn't been forgotten.

Answer your anxiety by closing open loops.