ASK JAMES: OBESITY, SLEEP, REGRETS, CRAPPY BOSSES, AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

Every Thursday on Twitter I do a Q&A from 3:30-4:30 EST.  Some of the answers I take and expand further into a blog post over the weekend. Some answers I will expand even further, plus combine with some answers I’ve been doing via emails instead of Twitter and include in my future book: “FAQ U”

 

DIFFERENT SLEEP PATTERNS

mrcptrsn Marc Petersen Asks: You have written about sleeping two times 4 hours a day. Have you ever tried different sleep patterns,

ANSWER: I’ve written before that it’s important to get eight hours of sleep a day. You feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and your mind is ready to start pumping out ideas.

However, the eight hours doesn’t necessarily have to be in a row! Depending on your lifestyle I’ve tried at least these two other ideas:

A)    4-8am and 4-8pm. This way from 8pm-midnight you can hang out with friends and then from midnight to 4am you can work without any distractions. Great for any programmer or writer (I was both and neither during the time when I was trying this). Then you wake up at 8am and have a full day of work, eating, playing until 4pm.

I was insanely productive doing that sleep schedule. Not recommended if you have a 9-5 job and I don’t currently do it

B)    The 25 hour day. You sleep eight hours, but you go to sleep an hour later each day. So day 1: 8pm, day 2, 9pm, etc. You give yourself a full extra hour of being productive. The problem: there is a period in the 25 days when you’re asleep all day and up all night.

When I tried this it had a weird effect on both my social life and my hygiene. I don’t think I’ll ever repeat that experiment again unless I live in the woods. Which is not happening anytime soon.

The questioner pointed to an interesting wiki page about alternative sleep styles. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyphasic_sleep#Comparison_of_sleep_patterns

 

EXCESSIVE CEO COMPENSATION

@bdemyttenaere Bart Demyttenaer Asks:what’s your take on (excessive) CEO-compensation ? Is Blankfein really worth 20 mio/y ?

ANSWER:

A very wise man once told me “I won’t look in what is your pocket and you don’t look at what is in my pocket.”

He said this because a company he represented had made my company an offer in stock. And then there stock kept going up before the deal closed so I was worried they were going to back out. Their offer was getting more and more expensive to them every day.

The most stressful period in a business (for me) is that period after you get an offer to buy your company and the day you close the deal. IN this particular case it was almost six months. I would literally call my mom and dad up and cry on the phone when another week had gone by and the lawyers hadn’t closed the deal.

Can you imagine? A grown man crying on the phone to his mommy and daddy because his company hadn’t sold yet.

So finally I called up my friend in the middle and told him my stress. And with that single sentence, he wiped out my anxiety about the situation.

Ok, but that said, does that mean Lloyd Blankfein should make $20 million. Or anyone should? Particularly if they were bailed out by the government with taxpayer dollars? Of course not.

But, I’m still more worried about what’s in my wallet than what’s in Lloyd Blankfein’s and that’s where I’ll put my focus. Everyone else goes on and on about how great voting is and yet we elected guys who approved all of this CEO compensation. So not my problem. I’m more worried about whether or not the ipad 10 will be edible.

SELF-PUBLISHING VERSUS TRADITIONAL

@BenNesvig Ben Nesvig Asks:Is there any reason to look for a book publisher instead of self-publishing?

ANSWER:

Ahh, my favorite question of the moment. It’s almost like you were planted in the audience!

Let’s break this down for a second: the two most important parties that create the “value” of a book are: the writer, and then the reader.

In World 2.0 they become the only parties. Let’s look at everyone in the middle:

Agent, editors, book publisher, distribution channels, bookstores.

All of those are the walking dead. Bookstores are already gone. Notice that unlike American Airlines which gets to go bankrupt and then happily continues to do business without paying  it debts – Borders actually got liquidated. Their business was so bad that no banks would lend to them, no hedge funds would support them (anymore) and even book publishers refused to send them books. Barnes & Noble is next (their college stores keep them in business). I was surprised a few weeks ago when I was in San Francisco and realized there wasn’t a single Barnes & Noble in the city. I know people read there. They just read with their kindles.

So there’s two reasons to go for a book publisher: and both reasons are declining in value:

–          The advance. But advances are declining. I don’t have proof of this. Only what agents and publishers tell me (or maybe they are just telling me thatbecause they don’t want to pay ME an advance. Who knows. One quick story: I was at a dinner where perhaps the greatest literary agent in history was on one side and a well known magazine publisher who is setting up her own imprint of books was on the other side. Within a 30 second period the agent told me that advances are doing great: “more 7 figure advances in the past six months than ever before”. And the publisher on the other side told me: “the publishing business is dead. Don’t listen to her.”

Meanwhile, the high advances are only being given if you already are well known or have a huge “platform” as they call it. Meaning, a big email list, twitter following, etc. If you already have that list, then much better to self-publish anyway because you’ll get a 70% or higher royalty versus a 10% royalty. And 100% of foreign rights versus 30-50% of foreign rights.

–          Validation. Somehow, there’s a psychology at work. If a 23 year old editor at, let’s say, Little Brown, picks out your book and says it’s good enough to be published you feel validated.

Well, screw that! Validate yourself. I’ve now self-published two books. And because I wrote them for myself (and  not a publisher) and published without any lag  time (as opposed to a year lag time) and marketed them myself (so they are selling better than ANY of my prior books) I can safely say these are my two best books ever. And I have five more coming next year because I’m totally in charge of the process and production.

For more, “Why and How I Self-Published a book” And “Why “I Was Blind But Now I See” Is My Best Book Ever”

 

 

HOW TO BUILD AN AUDIENCE FOR YOUR BLOG?

@ScottEPowers Scott Powers Asks: what was the best way to build an audience for your blog?

ANSWER:

Several ways:

–          It helped that I had a built-in audience from 7 years of writing for more traditional media

–          I guest-posted and syndicated everywhere I could. I syndicate or guest post on about ten different websites right now. And every day I’m looking for new sites to guest post on.

–          I really enjoy engaging with the audience and I’ve met many new friends through the readers.

–          Most important, I bleed. I think there is a new genre of literature that is developing around the blog form and its different from articles, essays, stories, novels, etc. And it’s not just “top 10 ways to get better” or “here is what I did today”.

It’s real story-telling told in a strong voice that delivers value. Check those three boxes on every post you do. Tell a story, Strong Voice (see, “33 Unusual Methods to Becoming a Better Writer”) and deliver value. Make someone’s life better with every sentence if you can. Else, take the sentence out.

My personal goal is to be the first blogger to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. But also I’m mentally ill.

 

HOW TO STOP READING AND START DOING?

@malcolmpallen Malcolm Allen Asks: what’s the best way to stop reading about doing things and start doing things? i.e. starting a business

ANSWER: This gets back to “the idea muscle”.

If I were to lie in bed for two weeks I would need physical therapy to walk again. Muscles atrophy quickly. Same with the idea muscle.

“But,” you can say, “I come up with ideas all the time. How do I start ACTING on them.”

The problem is, the HAVING the idea and ACTING on the idea are intertwined. When you come up with the idea, also come up with the first step you need to do to act on it. Andmake sure you can do that step today.

For instance, let’s say I want to build a company crowdsourcing ads for big companies. Ok, interesting idea. Here’s what I can do today. I can pick a product (“Crest toothpaste”), I can use wordpress to make a site that says, “I am giving away $1000 to whoever makes the best Crest commercial over the next 30 days and uploads it to YouTube. I’m the judge!” And then I can tweet that I did that. Viola! I had an idea. I did it.

(my idea for crowdsourcing ads)

Don’t come up with ideas you can’t take the next step on. I probably can’t develop an airline that flies from Newburgh, NY to Bangalore, India for instance. I wouldn’t know what the next step is. So that idea is out!

If you have an idea, try these next steps:

  • -          Spec out the idea completely
  • -          Find a developer on elance.com or scriptlance.com
  • -          Call a few potential distribution partners to see if they will take equity in exchange for getting the word out about your idea.
  • -          Call a few potential customers before you start building to see if they will buy your idea/service/product

For the next 100 ideas you write down (I’m assuming you’re exercising the idea muscle by coming up with 10 ideas (good or bad) a day) make sure you have at least one next step. Pick one of the ten ideas. Do the next step TODAY. See how it feels. If it feels good, then your next ten ideas can be the NEXT steps, and so on.

WHAT HAPPENS IF EVERYONE IS CRAPPY?

Unpacktherat Shirley Trevor  Asks: When I eliminate crappy people there are so few people left? Where to find non-crappy people?

ANSWER:

Everyone is crappy. My parents. My siblings. My friends. My colleagues. My bosses. They stink. They are the worst. At any point in my life when I had to do “clean up” it was always the case. I’d have to hide in the bathroom to avoid the stink of having so many crappy people in my life.

(Remember: if you get in the mud with a pig, the pig gets happy and you get dirty)

Think about it: if the crappy person in your life was the neighbor down the street then that would be pretty easy, wouldn’t it? You wouldn’t even care. You would say, “Miss Henry down the street is crappy. Oh well, I guess I’ll avoid her today.” That would be too easy. Life doesn’t let you get away with that.

The crappy people are ALWAYS the people closest to you. They are like programmers and you’re a robot made with the only programming language they know. So they program you to do what they want you to do: be as unhappy as they are.

So you have to do two things; change the programming inside of you AND stay away from them as much as you possibly can.

Oh! But that leaves nobody left to program you. Where did all the people go? They were all pretty crappy it turns out.

The good thing is, they get replaced. Every day, a certain number of people randomly enter your life. You don’t evennotice  it because you are too used to being filled to the brim with all the people who upset you. When my coffee cup is filled to the brim, if anything new gets poured in it spills out and I get burned.

But now you have no problem, the coffee cup is empty. And you’re thirsty.

So it starts to naturally get filled without you even noticing. And because you’re now skilled at identifying the crappy people, you don’t let that junk get in the mug. You only let the stuff that tastes good get in the mug.

I know this from my experience. For every one crappy person I let go, a new good person takes his or her place. I’ve seen it happen again and again, most recently in just the past six months.

It’s like a magician sawing a beautiful lady in half when I was a kid. I gasp in delight. Magic in the world really exists. Who knows what the mechanics are underneath. Maybe it’s quantum mechanics. Maybe it was just a trick. Maybe it was real magic. All I know is, six months ago the room was crowded with the crappy people, then it was empty, now its filled again but only with good people.

Important during this process to keep all the muscles healthy: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. The four bodies being aligned attracts the right people. It’s magic.

(See also, “How to Deal with CrappyPeople”)

HAPPINESS OR REGRET?

akashkgarg Akash Garg  Asks: I believe that you can optimize for happiness or minimize for regret. Which do you prefer?

ANSWER:

This sounds too scientific. We’re in a laboratory of happiness. Ok, let’s go for it. I’m putting on my lab coat. I, once again, have my coffee in front of me. I can’t go anywhere without it. And nobody has yet to offer a decent explanation of why coffee smells so much better than it tastes. Once I actually taste it, then BLECH! I have to add sugar. Then I have to add half-and half. Its like I’m adding a milkshake to the coffee in order for it taste good. Why didn’t I just make a milkshake instead?

I had a similar question to your  last week and the answer is similar to the question: “how to have more money”. You can either make more or spend less. Correct? Either way you have the same result: more money. But what if you did both?

What if you did only things that make you happy. For instance, today: I’m going to write this post. I’m going to spend time with my kids. I’m going to go to a movie. And then in the evening I’ll probably write more or maybe draw  with my kids.

I’m also going to do things that minimize my regrets: I’m going to avoid the news (even though I have CNBC Monday morning at 5am I’m going to prepare by reading ZERO news). I’m going to avoid lying to people. I’m going to exercise (I put this on the minimizing regrets list because exercise doesn’t particularly make me happy but I do regret when I don’t do it), I’m going to try not to brew up the cauldron of anger I tend to brew up every morning, dropping like tiny spices all the people I’m angry at into it. That would make me regret later, like ate something bad in my brain that is now hard to digest.

So in my laboratory, I’m going to all day long try to do both: this makes me happy so I’ll do it, that causes me regret so I won’t do it, this thought makes me happy so I’ll continue with it, that thought could lead to regret so I’ll stop it.

(See also, “20 Ways to Deal With Regret”)

 

THE MEANING OF LIFE

valuewalk VALUEWALK LLC  Asks:What is the meaning of life?

ANSWER:

To answer this question requires some ego. Like I know what the meaning of life is. But I’ll answer it anyway.

The meaning of life is to avoid all quest for meaning.

Some people find meaning in making money. Some in meditation. Some in art. But all of these things entail much suffering also. Making money certainly does. Its hard to do it. It often involves much pain when money is lost or deals are rejected,or whatever. Even meditation – striving for some inner peace, often brings up frustration when you can’t get those lousy thoughts out of your head. Or making art, when you are either disappointed in your final result…or even worse…other people are. Ouch! When you pour your heart into something and the final result is brushed aside by the amateur critic…”this sucks”, is a crushing  feeling, devoid of meaning, of the meaning of life.

Most self-help guys, from Tony Robbins, to John Maxwell, to whoever, say “write down your goals.” This might be good advice for moving towards those goals. But it’s bad advice for the meaning of life. Almost all goals are man-made. Becoming CEO ofa company is a man-made goal. And involves a lot of unpleasantness. Writing a novel is a painful man-made goal.

So today, maybe for a moment or two, try to just find silence. Stop listening to everyone with goals. Stop talking to people about your goals. Stop striving for meaning. Stop watching mindless TV or even mindless books or looking at a sunset. It’s all meaningless. Just be quiet for a bit with no goals.

I wish I could do this. I wish I were strong enough to find the real meaning of life: A life without meaning.

HOW WOULD I CURE THE OBESITY CRISIS?

Unpacktherat Shirley Trevor Asks: How would you curb the obesity crisis?

ANSWER:

One time I did something that probably wasn’t good parenting. One of my daughters, years ago, told me she thought she was overweight. I said “that’s ridiculous” and I brought her over to the computer (because the computer had my solution to everything) and I googled “obesity” and then showed her the images that came up. Many of the images were of these enormous enormous naked women doing disgusting things. My daughter at the time was six. My goal was to show her the difference between herself and these women.

I think I permanently damaged her.

But whatever.

There’s really two answers to this question: macro and micro

Macro is easy: the obesity crisis, like Darwinistic self-selection, will naturally cure itself through evolution. Being obese is very unhealthy. Lots of science shows this. There’s also linkages between obesity and income,obesity and finding a mate, etc. So it seems reasonable to think that the “obesity gene” will die out eventually. Who knows?

Micro is tricky: there’s a multi-billion industry on dieting. Everyone has the solution. Everyone has a diet that works.

Here’s the trick: Allof the diets work. Every single one of them. All of them have one thing in common: discipline.

Any discipline at all will cause you to lose weight. You don’thave to eat 5 small paleo  style meals throughout the day. You don’t have to count calories. You don’t have to eat only two meals a day (the choice that I do). You just have to find some  discipline and stick with it.

The problem is that people want to break discipline. They want to punish themselves. You would never look at someone and say “you’re fat and ugly and I hate you” but people are perfectly happy to look in the mirror and say that. How come? Everyone has different reasons. So figuring out why discipline eludes you is the key.

Which gets me back to the same thing I always recommend. The Daily Practice will eliminate obesity. If it doesn’t, you can have your money back on this post.

 

THE BEST ADVICE I’VE NEVER BEEN GIVEN

vcarpentier Valery Carpentier Asks:  What’s the best advice you’ve never been given?

ANSWER:

I’m very lucky in that I ignored almost every piece of advice I had ever been given. HOWEVER,  I wish  when I first made some money someone sat me down and said exactly this:

“You are actually an idiot. Making money doesn’t mean you’re smart. So from now on you must do exactly what an idiot would do. Hide your money under the mattress, don’t do anything with it, don’t let anyone touch it. Don’t assume your smart enough to double it. Horde it as much as possible. Do you know why? Because you’re an idiot. Again, because you’re such an idiot I have to repeat it again and again, MAKING MONEY DOESN”T MEAN YOU’RE SMART!”

I wish someone had told me that. Instead, all of my suspicions had been confirmed by my bank account whispering to me late at night. I’d go onto the computer and log on and look at the number and the number would whisper soothingly to me, “it’s true, James, you’re a genius at anything you set your mind to. You might be the smartest person ever.” And with those soothing words I hand I went on a stampeding rampage destroying everything in sight – the people around me, the money in the bank, the ideas I kept vomiting onto the world, the people who kept trusting me with more money. What a big nasty vomitorium that was.

Well, now I know. I’m an idiot. And nobody can tell me differently ever again.

 

HOW TO BALANCE PASSION PROJECTS WITH FAMILY LIFE

perrocontodo David Catanho  Asks: How do I find the time for my projects while balancing family life? Can I clone myself?

ANSWER:

Take a pad today. Write down everything you do that doesn’t generate money. For instance, on the train did you spend one minute playing Angry Birds? Did you go to a meeting that was a waste of time? Did you read the newspaper (I have never read a single piece of news that either A . generated money for me. Or B. I had more pleasure reading than a good novel). Did you watch TV (most TV makes me anxious: people cheat, murder, steal, someone solves it, show over, everyone is stressed or dead). Did you have phone calls with people you don’t like that didn’t generate immediate money? If it didin’t generate immediate money then chances are it won’t generate money later. I’m just telling you the hard-core statistics on phone calls.

(you can't clone yourself)

But then go one step further. I woke up today thinking about how annoyed I am at my sisters, at my mother, at some friends, at some acquaintances, at people I barely know who have done me wrong, at people who I know well who should never have done me wrong but did. What a waste of time? I could’ve been up pursuing my projects.

How much time did you waste thinking useless angry thoughts. Write it down in your notebook today!

At the end of the day add it all up. How much time did you waste? I can tell you for me, yesterday, it was probably about two hours. That’s time I could’ve spent on personal projects.

 

WHAT BOOKS HAVE INSPIRED MY THINKING

BenNesvig Ben Nesvig Asks: What books have influenced your thinking?

ANSWER: I’m going to do a separate blog post on this. The list is very big. A few months ago I posted a mini-version of the list: “My Summer Reading List and Other Ways I’ve Ruined My Life”

 

WHAT’s THE ONE THING NOBODY IS TELLING YOU

JT_Beck Josh Beck Asks: about to start a career in finance..what’s the one thing nobody is telling me?

ANSWER: In finance there is one crucial thing you need to know that nobody tells you in business school:  EVERYONE is lying to you ALL the time.

There are really no exceptions to this. And the more successful someone is, the more they are lying to you.

SOON-TO-BE GRADUATE: HOW TO MAKE A DENT

pcsurgo Pierce Csurgo Asks: What advice would you give to a soon-to-be graduate on making a dent?

ANSWER:

Here’s the real problem: why do you want to make a dent? I have two issues with the question:

A)    You’re very young. You are probably 21 or 22 years old. I probably switched careers 15 times since then. I’ve made so many tiny dents (in my head) that whatever it is I dented is probably all ugly and smashed by now. If you worry too much about making a meaningful dent right now you might go down the completely wrong angle.

You’ve just four years doing basically the same thing you spent the prior 12 years doing. Taking classes with same demographic group, writing papers, reading books, listening to lectures, etc. Maybe the only difference is in these 4 years you probably had a lot more sex than the prior 12. That extra feature might not qualify you for any denting.

B)    Before you think about dents. Focus on how you can maybe do something completely different for a few years. If you’ve never traveled before, travel. If you’re not in shape, get in shape. If you haven’t written a novel, or painted a 100 paintings, then do that.

The way to make a dent is to do something that the other seven billion people on the planet aren’t thinking of doing. The  way to do that is become different from them. So your job the next four years is to just keep trying different things until you stand out. Until you shine.

 

YOUR BOSS JUST LIED TO YOU

StealthAviator SK Asks: Boss says I’m am asset, but gave me lowest raise in my career. He said I should be happy working in this economy. What’s UR take?

He’s lying to you:  10 reasons you need to quit your job RIGHT NOW: jamesaltucher.com/2011/05/10-mor…

This doesn’t mean, walk into his office and say “you stinking liar – I quit!” but it does mean you need to start setting the stage.

The job market is like any other market. You need to find out what your real value is. Your boss is a jerk. Apply for other jobs. Find out what the true value for your services are.

IDEAS

RobertJCollier Robert James Collier

@jaltucher how often to you review your lists of ideas? Or do you happen to “mate” them w/ new ideas by recollection of old?

ANSWER:

Good ideas mate with each other. If you don’t start writing your ideas down then you’ll never generate the best ideas, which will inevitably the child idea of two of your ideas mating. Sometimes I’ll look at an idea from September, combine it with an idea from November, and in December I might actually have a good idea.

Other ideas are like seeds. They take a season or two of care to bloom. But that means you must care for them, review them, keep watering them.

In either case, coming up with consistent ideas, and then persistently reviewing them, results finally in an idea that is different from the ideas of the other seven billion people on the planet.

HOW TO MANAGE YOUR BOSS:

houckamania houckamania ASKS: top tips for staff to manage their bosses?

ANSWER:

Best way for staff to manage their boss, read my post: “Exploit your Employer” jamesaltucher.com/2010/11/how-to…

 

 

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