My Personal Bible: 2017 additions including The War of Art and The 4 Agreements

Personal Bible is a collection of your favorite wisdom, notes, and passages that you can – like the Bible – read and re-read and absorb and memorize and integrate wholly into your life. Over the years my own collection has grown to include poems, book notes, article excerpts, and even a Bible passage. I formalized the document last year and try to update it monthly and read from it nightly. It’s one of my daily habits but not one that I actively track.

Below are additions I’ve made in 2017. You can download my latest version here. Feel free to read or edit or fork your own!

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War of Art by Steven Pressfield [Kindle]

  • Resistance will unfailingly point to true North — meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing. We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others. Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.
  • The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.
  • The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it. Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance.
  • The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation.
  • The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.
  • The ancient Spartans schooled themselves to regard the enemy, any enemy, as nameless and faceless. In other words, they believed that if they did their work, no force on earth could stand against them.
  • When Arnold Schwarzenegger hits the gym, he’s on his own turf. But what made it his own are the hours and years of sweat he put in to claim it. A territory doesn’t give, it gives back.

The 4 Agreements by Miguel Ruiz [Kindle]

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don’t take anything personally
  3. Don’t make assumptions
  4. Always do your best

Tim Ferriss [source]

  • What’s the least crowded channel?
  • What if I could only subtract to solve problems?
  • Am I hunting antelope or field mice?
  • What would this look like if it were easy?
  • One former Navy SEAL friend recently texted me a principle used in their training: “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.”

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

The butt clench

I call it the butt clench. Tldr: a few months ago, I realized that I clench my butt pretty much all the time. Like all day, for no reason. So I’m learning, slowly and rep by rep, how to relax my butt muscles…yup.

Oh and it’s not my outer butt muscles, the glutes. It’s actually the inside, the sphincter muscles. What you use when you gotta poop. But I feel more comfortable just calling it the butt clench :)

It’s partly amusing, kinda frustrating, and mostly weird. I don’t know when I started to do this. I might not be alone in this habit but it feels that way. The behavior can’t be healthy or helpful. It’s simply a bad and stuck habit.

Singing lessons helped me spot the clench. In everyday life, when you exhale, your body likes to squeeze your breathing muscles to get that last bit of oxygen goodness. When you sing, this squeezing and contracting is bad. It wastes air. One way to fight this tendency is to push outward, slightly, as you breathe out. Fight the contracting muscles. This is known as support. Some people say when you’re doing it right, it should feel like taking a poop. Others suggest expanding your stomach like a balloon – in a full circle, and then to maintain that expansion.

The more I practiced support, the more I noticed that my inner butt muscle, my sphincters, would relax. It’s like a tight knot that would unravel when I focused on it. And when the muscles relaxed, it felt good. Like noticeable good – relaxed, less tension, a kinda looseness around my pelvis.

I began to try and spot check throughout the day. I’d think about that inner spot and invariably I’d notice it was clenched. So I’d make a conscious effort to relax and release. But only moments after doing so, if I spot checked again, I’d notice that it tightened up again, like a slinky returning to its default form.

Through practice, it got easier to unclench. Less concentration was required. Occasionally – rarely – I’d do a mental check and notice that the muscle was naturally relaxed. But 98% of the time, it’d be tight and balled up.

How did this start? Why? No clue. Certainly doesn’t feel like a healthy habit, not in the least bit. Imagine flexing your bicep and walking around all day. Your bicep would get exhausted, and you put a lot of strain on your body, and over time your arm might forget what it felt like to really relax.

In addition to the conscious unclenching practice, I should probably do more relaxing stretches and physical activities – like yoga and massage and sauna.

Why am I writing about this? Also no clue. Just wanted to. This experience made me appreciate anew the enormous cumulative effect of tiny habits. If you walk up two flights of stairs every day, 300 days a year, that’s 5-10K steps you’ll take in a year. That’s meaningful exercise. If you write a page of your novel every morning, no matter how bad, you’ll have 300 pages – a full book! – in a year.

But life has a balance to it, and whatever applies to good habits also applies to the harmful ones. Sleep one hour less than you need every night, and your body will crave hundreds of hours of rest and recovery by year’s end. Daily damage to a body that is already fighting an unbeatable battle against father time. When we sleep 10 hours a day over the holidays, it’s because we badly need it. Hibernation isn’t just for bears.

In my case this butt clench. Bit by bit, day by day, it felt better or safer to tighten up, and now I do it all day every day and can’t even feel it! I began to wonder: What other muscles do I unnecessarily tighten? What effort am I exerting that is unhelpful and stressful? How can I relax more? What are the figurative and literal butt clenches in my life?

It all sounds a bit funny and I share it in part because it’s amusing, in a smh kinda way. For years now – maybe for most of my life – I’ve walked around with a clenched butt. Such is life.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

Law 28: Enter Action With Boldness

If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid. – Robert Greene

I am reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power [Kindle] for the second time. A selection of his 48 rules are in my personal bible. I’m a strong believer in re-reading and reviewing your favorite content. You always learn something new. Not unlike the way your experience evolves as you appreciate a favorite song or movie.

This time Law 28 really spoke to me. The power of audacity and boldness. Whatever your politics, Trump has it in spades. Softbank founder Masayoshi Son. Of course Elon Musk.

Here’s an excerpt from Law 28: Enter Action With Boldness:

Most of us are timid. We want to avoid tension and conflict and we want to be liked by all. We may contemplate a bold action but we rarely bring it to life. We are terrified of the consequences, of what others might think of us, of the hostility we will stir up if we dare go beyond our usual place.

Although we may disguise our timidity as a concern for others, a desire not to hurt or offend them, in fact it is the opposite – we are really self-absorbed, worried about ourselves and how others perceive us. Boldness, on the other hand, is outer-directed, and often makes people feel more at ease, since it is less self-conscious and less repressed.

[…]

Few are born bold. Even Napoleon had to cultivate the habit on the battlefield, where he knew it was a matter of life and death. In social settings he was awkward and timid, but he overcame this and practiced boldness in every part of his life because he saw its tremendous power, how it could literally enlarge a man (even one who, like Napoleon, was in fact conspicuously small). We also see this change in Ivan the Terrible: A harmless boy suddenly transforms himself into a powerful young man who commands authority, simply by pointing a finger and taking bold action.

You must practice and develop your boldness. You will often find uses for it. The best place to begin is often the delicate world of negotiation, particularly those discussions in which you are asked to set your own price. How often we put ourselves down by asking for too little. When Christopher Columbus proposed that the Spanish court finance his voyage to the Americas, he also made the insanely bold demand that he be called “Grand Admiral of the Ocean.” The court agreed. The price he set was the price he received – he demanded to be treated with respect, and so he was. Henry Kissinger too knew that in negotiation, bold demands work better than starting off with piecemeal concessions and trying to meet the other person halfway. Set your value high, and then, as Count Lustig did, set it higher.

Understand: If boldness is not natural, neither is timidity. It is an acquired habit, picked up out of a desire to avoid conflict. If timidity has taken hold of you, then, root it out. Your fears of the consequences of a bold action are way out of proportion to reality, and in fact the consequences of timidity are worse. Your value is lowered and you create a self-fulfilling cycle of doubt and disaster.

Remember: The problems created by an audacious move can be disguised, even remedied, by more and greater audacity.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

The superhuman habits of John D. Rockefeller, the wealthiest man in American history

Do you know of John D. Rockefeller? The richest guy in American history. Founder of the University of Chicago and Rockefeller University. Adjusted for inflation, his net worth today would surpass $300B. That’s equal to the combined net worth of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett…times two.

Rockefeller led a remarkable habit driven life. The below excerpt describes Rockefeller’s daily schedule. Keep in mind – this is the schedule Rockefeller followed after he retired!

Rising at 6AM, he read the newspaper for an hour, then strolled through house and garden from 7 to 8, giving a dime to each new employee and a nickel to each veteran. He then breakfasted at 8, followed at 8:45 by a game of numerica (a puzzle game), which gave him time to digest his food properly (he was strict about relaxing after eating to let his food digest). From 9:15 to 10:15 he worked on his correspondence, mostly devoted to his philanthropy and investments. (As many as 2,000 letters arrived daily at his home, most of them solicitations for money.) From 10:15 to 12 he golfed, from 12:15 to 1PM he bathed and then rested. Then came lunch and another round of numerica from 1 to 2:30. From 2:30 to 3 he reclined on the sofa and had mail read to him; from 3:15 to 5:15 he motored, from 5:30 to 6:30 he again rested, while 7 to 9 was given over to a formal dinner, followed by more rounds of numerica. From 9 to 10 he listened to music and chatted with guests, then slept from 10:30 PM to 6 AM -and then the whole merry-go-round started up again. He did not deviate from this routine by one iota, regardless of the weather. One friend who observed this rhythm at close range found “something bordering on the superhuman, perhaps the inhuman – in this unbroken, mathematically perfect schedule. It was uncanny.” – Dane Maxwell

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

It’s not about willpower. It’s about habit

Forget about willpower. Stop worrying and wishing you had more of it.

Focus on habit instead.

We think willpower is a kind of mental money, a powerful yet limited resource that can be spent to aide us in starting and finishing difficult tasks. Tasks like a high intensity workout, an uncharted research project, a tough conversation with a work colleague.

I believe anything that can be done through sheer willpower, can be done more consistently and reliably through the formation of the right habits.

If willpower is like building a new house through sweat and tears and aches, then habit is like hiring and overseeing a contractor who specializes in home construction.

Habit, in other words, takes our same machinery – mental and physical – and applies it with less energy and more efficiency to achieve the same outcome. Or better.

But that’s not to say habit is a panacea. It doesn’t cure-all. To build the right routines, you need time and patience.

Willpower, on the other hand, offers immediate gratification. Spend some willpower and you can – right now – finish reading that tough academic paper. But what about tomorrow? And the next day?

That’s why habit beats willpower. Develop the right habit, and you can digest academic papers day after day, week after week. Over time, you might even come to enjoy them :)

Habit simplifies the movements required to achieve a given result, makes them more accurate and diminishes fatigue. – William James

Let’s look at former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink [Wikipedia]. He’s the current rage in early adopter circles.

We think Jocko is gritty as hell. We believe he has a giant vault of willpower. That he can accomplish whatever he sets his mind to, never wimps on any challenge.

I totally agree.

But instead of wishing you had Jocko’s willpower and grit and discipline, you should want his HABITS.

Put simply, Jocko has incredible habits. For decades, he built habits of hard work, consistency, and order. Each repetition and routine. Every trial. They were small rocks that steadily accumulated into a mountain of self-control. That’s the willpower we think we see today. What it really is, however, is a habit driven life.

Young Jocko probably didn’t start like this. But day by day, experience by experience, he forged those habits. And they are what makes him capable of the accomplishments we find so awesomely gritty: his decades of elite US military service, the black-belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, his leadership qualities and communication style.

When you’re faced with a challenge, stop wanting more willpower. Instead, focus on the task before you. Ask yourself, What’s the action that’s required of me? How do I break that action into small chunks? Then how can I turn those chunks into habit that can be repeated over and over?

We’ll cover how to build habits in future chapters. For now, just remember:

Willpower is vague. Habit is specific.

Willpower is art, and habit is a science.

Habit beats willpower, every time.

*This is a selection from a book I’m writing on how to build habits and lead a habit driven life.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.