"Your brain is wired to stop you from doing things that are uncomfortable, or uncertain, or scary."
A must watch! Duration: 3:39
A must watch! Duration: 3:39
The Four Agreements – A Toltec Wisdom Book, by Don Miguel Ruiz
I find myself moved again by this modern classic. The author offers a compelling vision for humanity. His simple, logical rules, or agreements, carry depth, and wisdom. Yet when you try to live by the four agreements – there is an unexpected level of resistance. Take for instance the first agreement – “Be impeccable with your word!” Sounds straightforward enough, right? But what does it mean in practical terms? Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. OK. Even to examine one’s words in everyday situations can be challenging. And necessary. A much needed fitness for the soul.
The War of Art – Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield
Don’t be fooled by the title. The continuous success of Steven Pressfield’s manual for creative people comes from the universal power of the invisible force he dissects. Pressfield calls this force Resistance and its black magic works equally well against the writer and the artist, as well as against the entrepreneur and anyone else trying to move the needle in any area of their life. The War of Art is worth re-reading every a year.
Nonviolent Communication – A Language of Life, by Marshall B. Rosenberg
Programming code runs computers and transforms them into mostly useful hardware. Language runs our brains and has the power to make our lives heaven or nightmare. Dr Rosenberg offers a powerful professional insight into how our language shapes our interactions and introduces or removes conflict from our lives. Read this book, and you will look with new eyes at simple phrases like “You need to …”.
Presence – Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, by Amy Cuddy
Do yourself a favor and read this book. If you have – read it again. Of all the personal transformation books out there – this helped me the most. The key? The realization that our emotions affect our body language, just as much as our body language affects our emotions. So when I want to feel calm, powerful, and in control – I learned to act this way. I’ve seen a dramatic difference in my business and personal interactions. Thank you, Amy, for sharing all your great work.
Steal Like an Artist – 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, by Austin Kleon
The title says it all. While “steal” might convey a negative connotation at first – it is actually a positive attitude towards the art of learning as a creative person. Or as a business one.
Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury
There is no other book like Dandelion Wine. Like a favorite vacation spot, I like to go there at least once a year. It is a nice break and a reminder that while today titles may be ruled by the likes of “Unf*ck Yourself”, there are masterpieces that are just as good today, as when they first came out.
Wait, What? – And Life's Other Essential Questions, by James E. Ryan
This is on my to-read list. Wait, what? “You haven’t read it yet?” Yes. I’ve included it here because I believe in the power of asking good questions. We spend most of our time and energy in looking for the right answer. I believe we will be better off, when we learn to ask the right questions first.
Last week author and coach Michael Port had a webinar on writing a first book. At the beginning he asked everyone to type ‘Hi’, and share a bit about themselves. Using the webinar text-box I wrote: “My first book The Excellence Habit was named best motivational book of 2016”. “Great!“ - responded Michael. “By who?”
By the time I typed New Apple Literary, and Readers’ Choice … , Michael had moved on to interact with other guests. At that moment I realized my marketing skills could still use improvement.
A year ago The Excellence Habit hit Amazon. The experience felt like a roller-coaster. There were times when I would check for new reviews literally a hundred times a day. To get some traction and exchange reviews with other authors I worked the Facebook groups and Twitter. Amazon allowed me 5 free days, so I sent out paid press-releases to advertise those. The first 5-star review was from a friend. Then a few days later I had a couple of 5-star reviews from strangers. Readers said nice things about my book. It was an unusual feeling. A pride and happiness that I have made a stranger’s life better.
I was lucky to have more than forty 5-star reviews before the first 4-star one showed up. That was emotional too. The Excellence Habit was a success also in terms of velocity of sales. The book hit the # 1 best-seller status in at least 3 different weeks. My Facebook and Twitter following exploded. Fans started signing up for my really random blog posts.
In May, The Excellence Habit was named Best Motivational book for 2016 by Next Generation Indie Book Awards. The awards ceremony was in Chicago’s Newberry Library. It was on the local news. A Bulgarian TV channel, stationed in Chicago, broadcast the event, interviewed me, and then had an extensive live segment in my old country. The most surprising question I got was “Why”. Why did I write a book? Why did I choose to write about excellence? Why this, why that? My answer evolved. At one stage my answer was this:
Because doing the right thing is very important to me. I believe in it. I believe we all would be better off if we paid attention to doing the right thing. For me the “right thing” is not a “moral imperative”, or “moral superiority”. The right thing as in the most effective way to live my life, do my work, relate with my family, friends and co-workers. Something like an excellence habit.
Doing the right thing deeply satisfies me and fills my life with meaning. Ever since my high-school years I had this awareness. As a teen, I knew deep inside what the right thing was. Being honest. With myself and others. Taking care of others and of myself. Approaching life situations with calm, positivity, confidence, and love. Working to improve. Knowing that any problem can be solved when approached the right way. Controlling my emotions and my actions.
When I can be my at my best, then I can be of most value to those around me. And to humanity, and to the planet. Humanity and the planet, because I believe we are one. I believe the right thing is to understand, and accept that we are one. And to act accordingly. We own the responsibility for our intentions and our actions. In his book The Open Society and Its Enemies - Karl Popper said it beautifully:
“[Our second tendency] is based upon our fear of admitting to ourselves that the responsibility for our ethical decisions is entirely ours and cannot be shifted to anybody else; neither to God, nor to nature, nor to society, nor to history. All these ethical theories attempt to find somebody, or perhaps some argument, to take the burden from us. But we cannot shirk this responsibility. Whatever authority we may accept, it is we who accept it. We only deceive ourselves if we do not realize this simple point.”
Doing the right thing is also kind of binary: Every choice I make is either the best one, or a compromise. “The best one” not as in “perfect”. The best one as in - the one that “feels”, and “computes” most right for that given moment. Sometimes the best one is clear and sometimes it’s ambiguous. Sometimes I make a mistake. Then the right thing is - accept it, learn, and move on. Say sorry if I need to. Try to avoid repeating the mistake as it is embarrassing.
At the end of Michael Port’s webinar we can ask questions. I type: “How do you write your second book?” Michael laughs, then says: “This is the webinar on how to write the first one!”
You can watch this event and follow Michael on his Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/michaelport
17 Most Powerful Ideas From
The Excellence Habit
1. Most of us have two lives. The first one is the life we actually live; the second is the imagined life where we achieve all the success we dream about. Some build a bridge between these two lives.
2. We all face outside barriers, misfortunes, and obstacles. Most of us also struggle with internal resistance, procrastination, and distractions. To conquer these, often all we need is a small idea and the courage and tenacity to see it through.
3. One of the key sources of success is our ability to change. It is our ability to recognize when it matters and take active steps to adjust. This is how we succeed—no matter what we call success. We succeed by learning to use “uncomfortable” and live with it, not by avoiding it.
4. The Excellence Habit is biography of an idea, and the idea is simple. The main source of success is excellence, and excellence depends more on our internal circumstances. Grit, determination, and the discipline to put in the hard work as a matter of habit, and not a matter of need, are crucial.
5. As we’ve grown out of childhood we have automated our days and we have automated our ways. Our decision-making is guided, and, more often than not, misguided by habits, which are often based on biases. We build habits centered on irrational beliefs.
6. We have evolved to make our brains happy. Ironically, for a fulfilling life we should accept the opposite. A fulfilling life requires embracing rather than running from difficulty.
7. Success and excellence are often used as interchangeable synonyms, but they are not the same. There is an important distinction. Success is often defined and measured against a set of external goals. Excellence, on the other hand, is about our internal circumstances and how we use what we have to do our best.
8. The notion of excellence is essentially the fulfillment of purpose or function: the act of living up to our full potential. For those practicing it faithfully, excellence is its own biggest reward.
9. The Excellence Habit answers two simple, but important questions: Why do we so often need to compel ourselves to do the right thing, and find it hard to follow the path to a life we want? What can we do to deliberately start and build a fulfilling life?
10. We now officially live in the age of meritocracy. If you’ve got talent, energy, and skill, you will get to the top. If we truly believe in this, by implication the opposite must be true as well. Those who deserve to get to the bottom will get to the bottom and stay there. In other words, your position in life is merited and deserved. As a result, failure feels much more harsh, personal, and devastating. It is almost presumed to be deliberate.
11. We are in the driver’s seat of our lives, and, therefore, we own both success and failure. By accepting the idea that we could achieve anything, we have increased the pressure on ourselves to do so. Paradoxically, this makes it more difficult to reach our goals.
12. There is more than one way to achieve excellence.
13. The Iceberg Principle simply says that the majority of our efforts are invisible to the eye. An important aspect of this principle is that often the effort we make is meant to achieve other goals. We train for one field, and then it turns out this also prepares us for another.
14. When we discuss the power of context and its role in building our Excellence Habit, the assumption is that all context is external. However, there is another kind that really matters. This is our internal context. We tend to spend a lot of time thinking about and noticing our external circumstances, and pay little or no attention to our internal context. Our thoughts and our feelings often go on automatic.
15. Just as with our external circumstances, our internal state can have “broken windows.” From childhood trauma and bad experiences, to poor habits and wrong choices, we carry with us the luggage of our inner circumstances.
16. There is another class of inner context factors that are even more powerful in determining the kind of life we are going to have. These factors are our prevailing thoughts, beliefs, and values. This is what we tell ourselves on a daily basis, and what we tell ourselves in situations that matter.
17. The ability to accept ourselves for who we believe we are is one of those major mental context factors that have the power to shape our lives.
Back, when I was going to journalism school, we had a class called Creativity. The professor in Creativity once told us: “You have the responsibility to become good journalists, despite your comprehensive education in journalism!” It took us a moment to process what he was saying. “Despite", not “because of”. In his unusual way he was waking us to the fact that we were the ones who need to do the learning and the doing. All the best classes in all the best schools cannot compensate for the lack of effort. And vice-versa. All the lack of great classes and schooling cannot stop one from fulfilling their authentic goals. Yes - authentic. I used the word as a disclaimer.
Despite the power of our imagination, we need to let someone else be the fist man on Mars. Or the first woman to discover time-travel. Despite the vastness of the universe we need to focus. Have a singular vision. Despite the endless possibilities to dream up many and big scenarios for our life, we need to choose one. Why? I will use a quote from the introduction to The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury - “So as not to be dead!” And also because if we choose two or more - we will have to divide our time between these two or more. Despite maintaining a wide range of interests and hobbies, we need to choose a primary mission. An occupation, vocation, purpose, life’s goal. Call it what you will, but choose it. Then go after it. With all you’ve got. Despite how scary it may be.
How do we choose? By focusing on the one thing that makes us most alive. It is ok, to change it later. We will discover something else that makes us more alive. Our lives’ stories are going to evolve. Better be ready to evolve with them. Despite how we might feel today, someday we will be able to connect the dots. That’s why we need to keep going. We can’t leave dots behind if we stay in the same spot. There will be just one giant dot, and we will be in the middle of it. Nothing to connect to.
It is a common practice - when we receive our college diploma, we take it as a license not to learn anymore. We have completed our education. School is out forever. It is a very official document giving us permission not to study anymore. So many stop learning. Despite your diploma your education is not over. It can only be over when you say it is over. Despite your diploma, you have a responsibility to keep learning. Despite your achievement, you have a responsibility to become really good at something.
This is what I tell myself too. Next Generation Indie Book Awards, which is like a Sundance Film Festival for the independent book industry, named The Excellence Habit 2016 winner in the Motivational category. Despite this award, I need to become a good writer. May be my next book will be titled Despite. Would you read it? What would you expect to learn from a book like that?