Someone’s general impression of you will be drawn from three data points:

  1. The mean interaction they have with you.
  2. The most intense interaction with you (positive or negative) that they can remember.
  3. The most recent interaction they’ve had with you.

In their mind, they’ll “average” those data points together and that will largely determine what they think of you.

(This assumes that there’s no major tribal pressure to like/dislike you – if all of my peer group loathes you, then I’m very likely to also dislike you no matter what happens in the three data points above. But let’s assume no major societal pressures right now.)

To improve #1, make sure that you have frequent meetings. The average meeting will probably be fine, but there will definitely be negative ones. The negative ones tend to happen whether you want them to or not, so the way to reduce their impact is just to have more interactions with someone. They’ll forgive you for spilling a drink on them one time if you have pleasant lunches every week. But if the only time they had lunch with you in the past year is when you spilled a drink on them, that will weigh heavier.

To improve #2, make sure to reframe any majorly negative interactions. Look for the silver lining, and talk about it at subsequent interactions. Don’t let the time you botched the presentation remain a negative memory forever. Next meeting, say “I’m really glad that you were there for me and I was able to learn from you. You’re an awesome partner!” Now that memory shifts away from “they dropped the ball” to a more pleasant “I saved the day.”

To improve #3, make sure you focus on the end of an interaction. Even if a meeting was an hour long and 58 minutes of negative news, make sure the last few minutes consist of “This was a really productive meeting, lots of great notes, looking forward to next week! Thanks!” It really matters – this is why you never hang up on someone and “don’t go to bed angry” is good advice.

Take all these together, and the people you interact with will generally find you more favorable than if you don’t do this stuff. The effort and attention matter; use them.

Writer’s Shock

Ever since I started consciously blogging every day, I find myself far less likely to write anything on random other parts of the internet. That’s probably a very good thing. This blog has given me the habit of always reading what I write as I write it, instead of as I imagine it sounds in my head. I read it as I ponder the question of impact. Of tone. Of contribution.

Mostly, I then delete.

Plant your trees where they’ll get a lot of sunshine, is what I’m saying.

Practice Makes Progress

When you first start a new endeavor, those early successes can seem frequent and large. That’s natural, as the early days will be filled with plucking the low-hanging fruit, and it’s easy to double your skill level when you’re starting with almost none. Then, as you reach the intermediate levels, the progress can seem to slow down. You might be learning just as quickly – maybe quicker! – but in comparison to what you already know, it doesn’t seem as rapid. That can be demoralizing.

Some people hit that plateau and then quit because of it. They don’t feel as excited because they don’t perceive the learning as really happening in the same way.

If you want to avoid that and reinvigorate your desire, here’s a way to do so: for just a little bit, stop tracking your progress at all.

Keep practicing, keep doing. But if you used to have weekly evaluations, skip them for 3 months. Keep up your work, but don’t observe the outcome directly for a while.

When you come back in three months, the changes will seem huge. As you improve, you simply need longer stretches between evaluations to really capture the growth. By extending them, you can keep up their intensity.

When my daughter first started karate, I used to go to every single practice as well as every test. As she improved (and got older), going to the practices became less vital – and she needed to grow, do more things without the watchful eye of her father. So now I only go to the tests. And wow! I get to be blown away every time as her skill level jumps. Then I tell her so, and she gets reminded that while her progress can seem slow to her, comparing each lesson to the last one only a few days prior, she’s actually improving considerably each time.

So take a step back from evaluations (with a commitment on a day in the future to do the next one), and let yourself amaze yourself all over.

Planned Panic

Sometimes you have an emotional response to something, and you might describe this as “less than ideal.” During periods of strong, negative emotional response we’re not at our most efficient, not very productive. This can mean we wish we didn’t have these periods at all, and we work hard to avoid or repress them – and we feel bad when we inevitably fail.

You aren’t going to ever be able to totally eliminate your emotional responses. They’re as much a part of you as pooping. Only a fool would try to just stop pooping because it’s smelly and inconvenient. Smart people invented the toilet instead.

Take some inventory about what those responses are like for you. When the emotion takes over, what do you do? Cry on your bed? Hit a pillow? Scream in the shower? Don’t judge yourself, but just write it down. Whatever you do, obviously you don’t do it forever – eventually, you come out the other side and do something to recover. What is that thing? Do you eat comfort food? Listen to a certain playlist? Reset with a workout, or accomplish a chore?

Okay, so now you have a map. You’ve charted the course of your panic attacks. That lets you plan for them, adapt your schedule to them, equip yourself for them.

For instance: imagine that every time you get a piece of really bad news, you cry for an hour on your bed, then take a shower and don’t really feel better until you treat yourself to a chocolate chip cookie. No matter how you try to avoid this, it happens. If you don’t cry for an hour in your bed, you’ll cry for three hours somewhere else. If you don’t shower after, the crying will re-start. If you don’t have the cookie, you’ll feel bad for days after. You can’t change any of this.

You also can’t completely control when you get bad news, so to a certain extent, you are simply “vulnerable” to this happening. You can waste a lot of time trying to block this from happening; making yourself more frustrated and reducing your ability to emotionally cope. Don’t. Instead, effectively give it its own space so that you can allow it to be the emotional repair you need while also getting your life back effectively.

How? Well, in the above example, I’d do a few things. First, I’d pre-program an alarm set into my alarm app – “45 Minutes: Crying. 15 Minutes: Shower. 10 Minutes: Cookie. 20 Minutes: Get changed and back on task.” That 90-minute set becomes my “panic plan,” and if I get bad news, I’m immediately going to hit a single button to start that off. That will help herd me through a tough patch when I may need a gentle nudge – even from myself.

I’ll also make sure that I have ready-planned “away messages” for work or other obligations in case this happens when I otherwise have responsibilities I’d be tending to. And lastly, I’d make sure there were always chocolate chip cookies in the house.

What does this do? For one, it makes it very likely that I can resolve this panic attack in a scheduled amount of time. It also means that during that time, I’m not as worried about guilt on top of everything else – this is what I’m doing now, that’s all. It allows me to focus on the emotion I need to feel.

You can’t avoid being human. And part of being human is unpleasant-seeming waste. But that serves a very crucial purpose; it needs to happen. Don’t avoid it; just be aware of what the process looks like in reality, and invent the appropriate toilet.


Imagine you are an architect. You build a magnificent bridge that will enrich the lives of many and beautify the neighborhood; a true wonder. But there’s a special clause in your contract, requiring you to choose exactly one of the following rewards. Whichever one you pick, the other two will be forever removed from you. The choices are:

  1. A million-dollar bonus payout. (If you don’t choose this option, you don’t get a dime for your work.)
  2. The bridge gets named after you, with a large life-like statue of you in front, so that you’ll always be famous as the creator of something everyone loves. (If you don’t choose this option, no one will ever know you built the bridge; its builder will forever be “anonymous.”)
  3. You get to see the bridge every single day, and hear the cheers of the people as they use it, shortening their commutes, walking its pedestrian walkways, watching the sun set over the water, and being enriched. (If you don’t choose this, you’ll never be allowed to use the bridge yourself or even go near it, so you’ll never see the people enjoying it.)

Which would you pick?

We all seek rewards for our tasks – often some combination of those three fundamentals. The ideal is to get paid for something, get recognition for it, and enjoy the satisfaction of the impact of our work. But the ideal won’t always be present! Though it probably won’t be this extreme, sometimes you’ll need to make hard choices between potential rewards. You should be comfortable making those choices because otherwise, someone will make them for you.

Don’t Be Insulted

I’ve found that people with the greatest sense of entitlement also tend to be the people most likely to take personal offense at the innocuous actions of others. Certainly, on occasion, someone may actually intend to offend you. But it’s pretty rare – far more often you’ve simply taken the information you didn’t like and decided it was an attack.

There are lots of reasons to train yourself out of this habit if you have it. Besides the obvious one – that you’re probably wrong – there are plenty of reasons not to react this way even if you’re right!

Whenever anyone does, well, anything, they’re offering you information. Information is helpful. If someone gives you a job offer that you perceive as “insultingly” low, storming off in a huff and slamming the door isn’t doing you any favors. Did this person intend to insult you? Probably not – so why not discuss and discover why your visions are so misaligned? You don’t have to even consider accepting the offer, but talking through it might get you some valuable tips about how to better position yourself for the next one. Or it might help them see that they’ve misjudged the labor market and adjust their offer!

Heck, even if they did intend to insult you, they can’t hurt you. So stick around, find out why they’re such a jerk. Maybe it can help you avoid more jerks in the future.

The Special

I am very easy to go to dinner with. First, I will go anywhere; I have never in my life turned down the suggestion of a restaurant. Second, I order the same thing at every new eatery I try. I say “what’s the special tonight?” Then I sort of listen, and then I order it.

I do this for a few reasons. One is because I like to minimize my decision fatigue as a general rule. But the other is because I have a decision-influencing question that I like to ask: “what can I get here that I can’t get anywhere else?

I’ve noticed that lots and lots of people are presented with a situation and ask themselves “what can I do here?” They look at their existing inventory of things they know how to do, victories they know how to achieve, and try to apply them to where they are. But that means you just do the same things over and over in different contexts. Think about the little kid that tries to get chicken fingers at every restaurant ever.

But each situation you find yourself in will have unique aspects that provide unique opportunities. Things you can do or learn or eat in that situation, and that situation only. What a waste to ignore that!

I went to the aquarium with my children yesterday, and one thing that surprised me was how little interest my kids had in any of the informational text accompanying every animal. I was surprised because my kids devour that stuff at home – they can’t get enough books and documentaries about the animals they’re into. But I realized – they can read that same information anywhere. But they could only see the actual, live animals here. It made perfect sense to maximize the unique opportunities and leave the reading for home!

Reading text was “chicken fingers.” Seeing the animals was “the special.” In every situation, ask yourself what The Special is – and order that!

Never Stop Swimming

Today, I took my kids to the aquarium. Lately, they’ve been really into sharks, endlessly requesting books, documentaries, and other information about them. So I decided to surprise them with a trip – we’re fortunate enough to live only a few minutes away from a really great one.

I’m really glad they learned a bunch about sharks and other cool ocean life. But that wasn’t the central lesson I wanted to impart with today’s trip. The central lesson, one I want to teach over and over, is that if you’re into something there is an endless supply of information about it just outside your door.

Don’t let idle interest be idle! If you think something is cool, dive in. It doesn’t even take much effort! Take advantage of the age you live in – information is everywhere. That’s what I want my kids to know: not just that the world is full of wonder, but that wonder is right there, and it will never run out as long as you never stop reaching for it.

Echoes & Snowballs

Sometimes, as the wheel of time turns, things that repeat lose intensity. They repeat, but weaker each time, fading. Echoes.

Sometimes though, they gather steam. Pulled by a greater gravity, they snowball; growing with each revolution.

We have a little control over that. Sometimes you can’t break a bad cycle in one go, but you can plant the seeds of its sundering. Diminish a little where you can.

Other things, good things, you can amplify with just a little push. You can repeat something good, but also tell the story of the previous time, adding momentum. Turning action into tradition.

Nudge where you can, and nudge wisely.

If You Do Something, Something Will Happen

When I was a kid, I used to love a certain kind of pointless mental test, because it was fun to do. These kinds of tests would frequently appear on worksheets handed out to kids at various milestones, and involved a two-dimensional, segmented image and several renditions of a three-dimensional image (obviously rendered in two dimensions, but you get it), with a little quiz: “Which of the following 3D images can unfold into the 2D image presented?” Like this:

Now, you can solve this in a couple different ways. My way was always to just lift the 2D image into the air in front of me and fold it into three dimensions with my mind and then hold the resulting image and look at it. (Yes, really.) But you don’t need any particular ability to visualize things in three dimensions to solve this – simple logic will get you through it. (Based on the 2D image, the single dot and the triple-dot cannot be adjacent to each other, so B and C are eliminated. The single square and double square likewise can’t be adjacent, eliminating A. Only D is possible.)

But either way you do it, you have to think through it. You have to think through it, because the information you have can’t be meddled with. There are no objects to examine, just representations.

In real life, outside of worksheets, that is almost never the case. In real life, if you can’t figure something out – kick it.

My oldest daughter was trying to arrange some furniture in her art studio, and after examining the furniture for a few minutes she wasn’t sure if it was going to work how she wanted it. So she kicked one of the objects (not destructively, just enough to move it around). I laughed and asked if she expected it to fit better now, and she said “No, that was just to look at it differently. I don’t know how it’s going to work yet, but if you do something, then something will happen.”

How true! A change of angle brings new information, information you didn’t have before. Real life isn’t a worksheet. You don’t have to solve everything with theory – you’re allowed to just kick stuff and gather more information. Change your perspective with brute force if you have to. Understanding the theory, the reasoning – these things are great mental exercise, wonderful to sharpen your mind. But when you’re actually trying to get something done, you need not be beholden to the pure methods.

Sometimes it’s even effective to trade one problem for another. Even if the second problem is objectively “worse,” it can be better if you know how to solve it. One time a snake got under our house, and my father just reached his hand in to grab it and pull it out. Later, I asked him “isn’t it much worse to be bitten by a snake than to have a snake living under the house?” He said: “Maybe, but I know how to fix a snake bite. I don’t know any other way to get a snake out from under the house.”

If you do something, something will happen. If you’re stuck on this problem, move to the next one. And if there isn’t a next one – make one.