God knows it’s popular to snark about the very idea of New Year’s resolutions. And the snark is aaaaaall true. Those new sneakers aren’t going to exercise themselves.
But there’s still something magical about transitions. They put things in perspective, at least temporarily. 11:59 pm on New Year’s Eve can be like a graduation, or a little death; like the line where the ocean meets the land.
Or where the tip of the unicorn’s horn hits the air and sparkles.
(Phew. There it is. I thought I was going to suffocate, with all the Chariots of Fire, Serious Business-isssht up in here.)
So: Graduation. Death. Waves lapping the sand. Sparkles. These are the traditional harbingers of Time To Do Something New Cuz What You’re Doing Now Isn’t Getting You What You Want.
The sparkles and the tassels and the little bubbles are all asking you:
What are you waiting for?
No, really. What?
Everybody feels that urge. Everybody wants to answer that question.
But, most people don’t know how to do anything with it. Not really. Not something that’ll stick, that’ll last. There’s no shame in that — as you’ll see below.
If you want to change what you get by changing what you do in 2014 — especially if what you want to do is to start creating financial freedom — I’m here to help.
Don’t favorite this post
Use this post. Don’t save it, fave it, store it, read it later. Do it now. Devote the power of your attention to doing.
My advice to you would be: Take this week, and every day, really tackle one of the larger sections.
Is that asking a lot…for a blog post? Maybe it is, but you know what? That’s how you get a lot.
Here’s what you need to do to get what you want in the New Year:
- Find your “Fuck This” moment.
- Fix your mental model of success.
- Learn how to start — and keep going.
- Start small. Instructions follow.
1. Find your “Fuck This” moment
First off, come to grips with reality:
The biggest ingredient of change is actually wanting to change — really being ready for it.
You can have all the skills & knowledge you need and yet live another 365 days that were a carbon copy of the 365 days before them.
No, thinking that you should lose weight, or should spend more time on your hobbies, or should start marketing, or should launch a product in 2014 is not enough. “Shoulds” are a type of forced incentive, and you’ll rebel against that vaporous “authority” when the going gets tough.
One of the most striking things from my 4 years’ experience helping my students create & launch products is this:
All of our best students had a “Fuck THIS” moment about their current reality before they really doubled down and made change happen. Every last one of them. That is the one thing they all have in common.
It’s that “Fuck THIS” moment (FTM!) that proves to yourself that you are ready. It’s striking a match to the kindling of your life.
If you haven’t had your FTM, it’s time to cultivate one. You can, you know. You don’t have to wait til life gets worse (although that’s a popular choice.)
As Yeats wrote, “Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”
You can cultivate your own FTM it by sitting down and thinking really hard about your life, as it is today, and what sucks about it… that you can change…and how that suckitude affects you every day.
Yeah, that’s the exact opposite of gratitude. Yeah, I’m actually encouraging you to have a bitchfest. This is really happening.
Most of us go along to get along, and we downplay the problems we experience and we move on — that’s how we cope. That’s how we manage to avoid feeling like whiny bitches. But, being dishonest about problems is being dishonest about reality. Dishonesty sucks.
Being honest about your life is the only way to trigger your “Fuck This” moment. It’s the only way to generate the raw fuel for change.
That’s why “Fuck This” moments usually come after a huge, horrible shitfest:
There’s not enough energy in the world to repress that shit, to deny what’s going on, so you finally face it, and blammo! Life-changing.
But you don’t have to wait til you have a huge crisis to change. You can cultivate an FTM on purpose.
Example: I want to be tidier. But “wanting to be tidier” is such a milquetoast feeling. So when I want to get fired up, I think about all the little moments when I look at a mess, and feel bad, and stuff that feeling down so I can get along, and holy crap how much time am I wasting feeling bad? How much energy does that repression take? Less than cleaning up, I can assure you.
And it’s not that I “want to be tidier” but that I want to feel the satisfaction & power of seeing a problem and fixing it…or avoiding it altogether.
So I’ve been cultivating that FTM repeatedly…and using it to fuel the motions of picking things up when I see them.
The real secret is…that iron of suckitude is already hot. All due credit to Mr. Yeats, you don’t have to strike it. You just can’t feel it through the layers of self-protective bullshit it’s swaddled in.
Better unwrap it now, or some day those blankets are going to catch on fire.
Need some guidance on where to start? Read this post, and see how much of yourself you recognize in it…and how badly those attitudes are serving you:
Important Note: If you struggle with depression, I would advise against doing this exercise right now. Instead, my very best advice is to get and use this audiobook — specifically the audiobook — because it’s the best thing I’ve ever found to help you build up a tolerance to bad feelings when you feel like they’re going to spiral out of control. It totally changed my life, and many of the folks I’ve given it to have said it did the same for them.
2: Fix your mental model of success.
So: You can’t have your motivating FTM without embracing reality — and the slings & arrows thereof.
You also can’t create success without understanding what success really looks like. Which means more layers of BS to unwrap & discard, cuz…
How can you hit a target you don’t even see?
Our industry does not have good models for success. Very few of us have had the opportunity to watch somebody start from nothing and end up with something.
That’s why we rely on trite success myths churned out by hacks: All hail the overnight social startup success! All hail the mighty passion! All hail the pitch deck!
If all you know about success is what you read on Hacker News and Business Insider, that’s what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to model your very real life on a hack movie script.
Once you learn about this dark pattern — in your life, in your community, in the media — you’ll see it everywhere. Because it is everywhere. It has the two ingredients necessary to propagate itself: It’s sexy, and it doesn’t work. At all.
But this will:
In 2014, make this your mantra:
There is no such thing as an overnight success.
There is no such thing as an overnight success.
There is no such thing as an overnight success.
There is only stacking the bricks.
Watch this video:
(Yes, it’s a bit wonky. Yes, I could re-record it. But it’s been watched & used by thousands of people. It’s “good enough” to get the results I, and they, want. That’s how I run my business.)
Then read these 3 posts:
- 5 Years of SaaS Growth: Every Month, Exact Numbers
- Why you should do a tiny product first
- Be Your Own Angel (BYOA)
Every day, bit by bit — that’s how you build a success.
And that leads us right into the question of “OK then, how do I make it happen?”
3: Learn how to start — and keep going.
I know I’m asking you to read and watch and think a lot before you do anything. I know that’s not the most exciting thing ever. And you know, and I know, that consuming is not the way skills are built.
But to tackle the next two steps which are all about doing, it’s important to be able to visualize what it is you’re trying to do.
How do you make success happen?
Tiny wins, made regularly.
One tiny win won’t do it. Neither will five. No, success is made up of the accumulation of hundreds of tiny wins — and to get that many, you need to work at it over & over & over again.
Tiny wins don’t look like much at first:
- shipping a single blog post
- …and another, and another
- adding 5 subscribers to your newsletter
- writing one page
- fixing one bug
- recording one short video
- making your very first sale
- receiving a single happy email from a reader or customer
These bullet points don’t look like much. But that’s the way that 37signals built their empire. That’s the way I built — and continue to build — mine.
It’s the power of compound interest on action.
These boring little bullet points tell the story of so many truly successful people — but it’s not a story that gets told often because the people doing it are usually too busy stacking the bricks to yak… and the people who would tell it for them, don’t, because it’s just so damn unsexy.
As Thomas Edison once wrote, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
So tug your overalls on and prepare to get dirty — in tiny patches.
There are four techniques that I teach my students that truly work:
- Create good habits… and build on them.
- Motivate yourself with measurable progress, and nothing else.
- Learn to love the action and not the results.
- Work backwards.
I’ve written and spoken a bunch about this — and actually, it’s also the topic of Alex’s & my next product which we’re tentatively calling Just Fucking Ship. It’s so unsexy, and it’s so important, and when we added this to the 30×500 curriculum, our 30×500 students dramatically increased their actionability rate.
But, since JFS isn’t out yet, here’s how you can get started right now:
The core is habits, habits, habits
Watch these two videos that I made for 30×500, and am now releasing to the wild, to you, gratis:
BTW: As we talked about ages ago in the beginning of this guide…don’t “watch” passively. Passive won’t get you anywhere. I strongly, highly encourage you to actually do the exercises. And to buy, and read, The Power of Habit, because it’s awesome.
And if you want to learn more — and to get habits practice — and get detailed help on how to set up habits specifically to create & ship a product:
One, sign up for Tiny Habits. It’s free, and it will help you get much-needed practice.
Two, sign up for my newsletter (all the way at the bottom…when you get there).
Motivate yourself properly.
Just about everything you’ve heard, read, and thought about motivation is wrong. Read this to find out why, and what to do about it:
Just like the apprentices I wrote about in the blacksmiths essay, we are almost all slaves to our emotions. Our feelings say Jump!, we ask:
“How high, and how bad should I feel about myself afterwards?”
And if our feelings say “Gee, I don’t feel successful…why am I doing this again?” — we tend to stop bothering, because the reward we were angling for wasn’t the joy of doing or even the objective outcome but our feelings about it. Like a junkie searching for his next high.
That’s just way the world shapes us, so there’s nothing to be ashamed about. But it is something to change…and this servile relationship with our feelings is as much as habit as anything else.
Time to go to rehab.
Learn to love action, not results.
Remember my example about “be tidier”?
Well, the joy of being tidier isn’t so much about the house looking pretty. It’s not even so much about eliminating the bad feelings.
No, it’s really, deep down, about the joy of being a person of action: of seeing a problem, taking the initiative to fix it, and making a change in the world. Even if it’s just from making the bed.
Research has shown repeatedly that
- People who create a foundation habit, like making the bed, do better in all other areas of self-control. (REALLY.)
- Leaving things undone is hell on your psyche. The same is true about your lil baby business… or the intention to have one, left undone.
To put the emotional cart behind the action horse — and start loving reality — use the habit loop:
Spot the triggers for your emotional self-manipulation, and the rewards of that pattern, and use that to de-chunk and break it down. Replace it with something more effective.
The next time you have a good feeling — “YES, I’M GONNA DO THIS!!” — or a bad one — “I’ve been working on this for weeks and now somebody else did something just like it? This is hopeless!”…
Teach yourself to ask, “Hmm. Is there truth to this? Where’s the evidence? What should I do about it?”
Then you look at:
- Where you are now.
- Where you want to be.
- How you can get there…and what you can do about it right now.
And that’s how you motivate yourself properly.
(Speaking of emotions — how about that whole “fear” thing? Same shit, different chemical compound.)
How do you build that map?
Where you are now — where you want to be — how you can get there, starting right this very second?
Check out this little ebook I wrote on that exact topic: Backwards Planning (PDF).
(It’s an excerpt from the “old” 30×500 — which was too much theory, and not enough action. The new 30×500 doesn’t have this as a lesson — instead, the entire class is constructed in this format.)
4: Start Small.
So, here we are at the end. Finally. Congrats on making it this far…if you did more than just skim and feel good about what you read. (If that’s how you got here, ask yourself: Is that going to help you achieve your goals?)
Let’s review. You’ve learned — or gotten the material you need to learn…
- What an FTM is, why you need it, and how to have one.
- That the way to success isn’t a dramatic 4-part act — it’s the daily stacking the bricks.
- How you can use the habit loop to change, well, everything…in tiny increments.
- How your motivational model is wrong, and how you can put your feelings in their proper place.
- How to short-circuit project failure by planning backwards.
Get yourself a beer, my friend. You deserve it.
And that brings us to your final mandate: Start small.
I almost don’t have to put anything in here, do I? That lesson is scattered throughout every single part of this guide. From understanding success, to stacking the bricks, to tiny habits, to backwards planning… every single part focuses on small, achievable, actions.
But if you’d like some specific advice on what you can do right now…I’m prepared to give it to you.
Here’s how to start:
- Grab yourself a free WordPress.com blog, if you don’t have a blog already.
- Look at the audiences you belong to: Are you a Ruby developer? an advertising copywriter? A UX tester? A designer who works for startups?
- Identify several questions people in your audience often have — these can be technical, philosophical, financial, specific, general, whatever.
- Write a blog post answering one of them.
- Tweet about it. Email it to your friends (but don’t spam them).
- Do it again next week.
It’s really that simple. This is how empires are started: through empathy, and service. By identifying pains people like you have, and helping them kill those pains. That’s the 30×500 process in its simplest form.
Want more detail?
Read, study & apply:
- How do you create a product people want to buy?
- How I increased conversion 2.4x with better copywriting
That’s just a small sample, but believe me, these two posts have enough in ’em to occupy you for days.
Want live practice & support?
Everything I’ve written about in this post — and all the ones I linked to — are the core concepts behind our workshop.
30×500 is live, online — which we’ve found is a great way to “make” yourself show up and actually do the work. The class itself is tuned such that you spend fully half the class time working on exercises with our guidance.
Action is our philosophy.
The next 30×500 is January 25/26, 10 am to 5 pm eastern. We’re opening applications in the next few days.
And, if you want to apply, be sure to get on the list — because seats are first-come, first-serve and they go to my mailing list (of > 3,000 people) first:
Don’t miss out…get on my list!
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