give fewer f*cks

#55 – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

dear kafka,

this is one of those books i wish i read when i was younger, which is perfect for you – the toughest 15 year old boy in the world.

some great words here:

“This book will not teach you how to gain or achieve, but rather how to lose and let go. It will teach you to take inventory of your life and scrub out all but the most important items. It will teach you to close your eyes and trust that you can fall backwards and still be okay. It will teach you to give fewer fucks. It will teach you to not try.” give fewer f*cks

this is an important book that must be read (part 4)

#54 – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

500 million humans in 1500 vs. 7 billion now.

“But the single most remarkable and defining moment of the past 500 years came at 05:29:45 on 16 July 1945. At that precise second, American scientists detonated the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico. From that point onward, humankind had the capability not only to change the course of history, but to end it.”

“modern science differs from all previous traditions of knowledge in three critical ways:

a. The willingness to admit ignorance. Modern science is based on the Latin injunction ignoramus – ‘we do not know’. It assumes that we don’t know everything. Even more critically, it accepts that the things that we think we know could be proven wrong as we gain more knowledge. No concept, idea or theory is sacred and beyond challenge.”

b. The centrality of observation and mathematics. Having admitted ignorance, modern science aims to obtain new knowledge. It does so by gathering observations and then using mathematical tools to connect these observations into comprehensive theories.”

c. The acquisition of new powers. Modern science is not content with creating theories. It uses these theories in order to acquire new powers, and in particular to develop new technologies.” this is an important book that must be read (part 4)

this is an important book that must be read (part 3)

#53 – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

i love how culture is described as “artificial instincts” – “Myths and fictions accustomed people, nearly from the moment of birth, to think in certain ways, to behave in accordance with certain standards, to want certain things, and to observe certain rules. They thereby created artificial instincts that enabled millions of strangers to cooperate effectively. This network of artificial instincts is called culture’.”

culture is not permanent. it changes.

“Unlike the laws of physics, which are free of inconsistencies, every man-made order is packed with internal contradictions. Cultures are constantly trying to reconcile these contradictions, and this process fuels change.”

example of this contradiction – equality and individual freedom as fundamental values. if a society wants to guarantee equality, it will have to take away the freedoms of the rich.

“Such contradictions are an inseparable part of every human culture. In fact, they are culture’s engines, responsible for the creativity and dynamism of our species.” this is an important book that must be read (part 3)

this is an important book that must be read (part 2)

#52 – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Part 2 – The Agricultural Revolution

The Agricultural Revolution started about 10,000 years ago when humans focused on planting crops and rearing animals instead of foraging for food.

“more than 90 per cent of the calories that feed humanity come from the handful of plants that our ancestors domesticated between 9500 and 3500 BC – wheat, rice, maize (called ‘corn’ in the US), potatoes, millet and barley.

No noteworthy plant or animal has been domesticated in the last 2,000 years.

this is an important book that must be read (part 2)

this is an important book that must be read

#51 – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

dear kafka,

stunning, thought-provoking and educational.

this is an important book that must be read.

bill gates (“in the weeks since we’ve been back from our holiday, we still talk about Sapiens”), obama (“It’s a sweeping history of the human race, from 40,000 feet. It talks about some core things that have allowed us to build this extraordinary civilization, that we take for granted”) and mark zuckerberg think the same. this is an important book that must be read

making much ado about nothing and suffering from it tremendously

#50 – Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves From Old Habits and Fears by Pema Chödrön

dear kafka,

i’m not a buddhist but there’s a lot to learn from buddhist philosophy and practice.

let’s start with some great sentences:

“I remember explaining to myself that the whole world consisted of people just like me who were making much ado about nothing and suffering from it tremendously.”

“There’s a whole other way to look at one another—and that is to try dropping our fixed ideas and get curious about the possibility that nothing and no one remains always the same.”

“It is moving in the direction of seeing our life as a teacher rather than as a burden. This involves, fundamentally, learning to stay present, but learning to stay with a sense of humor, learning to stay with loving-kindness toward ourselves and with the outer situation, learning to take joy in the magic ingredient of honest self-reflection.”

Feeding the right wolf

“There was a story that was widely circulated a few days after the attacks of September 11, 2001… A Native American grandfather was speaking to his grandson about violence and cruelty in the world and how it comes about. He said it was as if two wolves were fighting in his heart. One wolf was vengeful and angry, and the other wolf was understanding and kind. The young man asked his grandfather which wolf would win the fight in his heart. And the grandfather answered, “The one that wins will be the one I choose to feed.”

Taking the leap

it’s a challenge to be understanding and kind in a cruel and selfish world.

i hate the idea of being taken advantage of. what is normal for me is to be careful, skeptical and reciprocal (“an eye for an eye”).

the author chooses another way to live and invites us to take the leap.

“Taking the leap involves making a commitment to ourselves.. to let go of old grudges, to not avoid people and situations and emotions that make us feel uneasy, to not cling to our fears, our closedmindedness, our hard-heartedness, our hesitation.”

What must we do to take the leap

1. Pause

in a difficult or emotional situation, “stop, breathe deeply, and slow the process down… Chögyam Trungpa used to refer to this as the gap. You pause and allow there to be a gap in whatever you’re doing.”

“You can just be here. Instead of being not here, instead of being caught up, absorbed in thinking, planning, worrying—caught in the cocoon where you’re cut off from your sense perceptions, cut off from the sounds and the sights, cut off from the power and magic of the moment—instead of that you could choose to pause. When you go out for a walk in the country, in the city, anywhere at all, just stop now and then. Punctuate your life with these moments.”

2. Be open by staying present

the idea that we’re always rushing to something more important resonates with me. thich nhat hanh refers to this as “abandoning the present moment”.

very often, we rush through the present (e.g. lash out at someone when we are criticised instead of pausing to reflect) because we want to feel safe.

“One of the metaphors for ego is a cocoon. We stay in our cocoon because we’re afraid—we’re afraid of our feelings and the reactions that life is going to trigger in us. We’re afraid of what might come at us. ”

We’re terrified of uncertainty.

“The Buddhist explanation is that we feel this uneasiness because we’re always trying to get ground under our feet and it never quite works. We’re always looking for a permanent reference point, and it doesn’t exist. Everything is impermanent. Everything is always changing—fluid, unfixed, and open. Nothing is pin-down-able the way we’d like it to be. This is not actually bad news, but we all seem to be programmed for denial. We have absolutely no tolerance for uncertainty.”

How do we stay present?

“One way to practice staying present is to pause, look out, and take three deep breaths. Another way is to simply sit still for a while and listen. Simply listen to the sounds in the room. For one minute, listen to the sounds close to you. For one minute, listen to the sounds at a distance. Just listen attentively. The sound isn’t good or bad. It’s just sound.”

What is the reward?

“What I’ve noticed about the people whom I consider to be awake is this: They’re fully conscious of whatever is happening. Their minds don’t go off anywhere. They just stay right here with chaos, with silence, with a carnival, in an emergency room, on a mountainside: they’re completely receptive and open to what’s happening.”

3. Embrace our discomfort

“The message here is that the only way to ease our pain is to experience it fully. Learn to stay. Learn to stay with uneasiness, learn to stay with the tightening, learn to stay with the itch and urge of shenpa (the urge to react in a negative way).”

“In the Buddhist teachings we’re encouraged to work with the wildness of our minds and emotions as the absolute best way to dissolve our confusion and pain.”

“we can acknowledge the powerful energy of our fear, of our rage—the energy of anything at all that we may feel—as the natural movement of life, and become intimate with it, abide with it, without repressing, without acting out, without letting it destroy us or anyone else.”

We often tell stories to ourselves to feel better.

“In Jill Bolte Taylor’s book My Stroke of Insight, she points to scientific evidence showing that the life span of any particular emotion is only one and a half minutes. After that we have to revive the emotion and get it going again. Our usual process is that we automatically do revive it by feeding it with an internal conversation about how another person is the source of our discomfort.”

“Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or on our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience, not rejecting it, not grasping it, not buying the stories that we relentlessly tell ourselves. This is priceless advice that addresses the true cause of suffering—yours, mine, and that of all living beings.”

When we’re scared and uncomfortable, we go inward.

“We have the habit of automatically going inward. Taking a moment to look at the sky or taking a few seconds to abide with the fluid energy of life, can give us a bigger perspective—that the universe is vast, that we are a tiny dot in space, that endless, beginningless space is always available to us. Then we might understand that our predicament is just a moment in time, and that we have a choice to strengthen old habitual responses or to be free. Being open and receptive to whatever is happening is always more important than getting worked up and adding further aggression to the planet, adding further pollution to the atmosphere.”

join me. let’s practise together.

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here:

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a list, a mountain and this is really great

#49 – make good art by neil gaiman

dear kafka,

3 things.

#1 – a list

“The nearest thing I had was a list I made when I was fifteen of everything I wanted to do: to write an adult novel, a children’s book, a comic, a movie; record an audiobook; write an episode of Doctor Who . . . and so on. I didn’t have a career. I just did the next thing on the list.”

i think it’s perfectly to live without making a list of what you want in life.

at the same time, i think this is the perfect time for me to have a new list.

i had items on a list. a dog, fly business class… not too many. these items, money can buy.

i have picked 2 items for my new list:

write a non-fiction book, to be flown First Class or Suites without paying for it or using miles.

these, money can’t buy.

i will act on the first and let the second marinate.

do you have a list? share it with me.

#2 – a mountain

“Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be—an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words—was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.”

it’s the perfect time for a mountain.

either: be an inspiring author or a kickass trainer.

more marinate needed.

do you have a mountain? share it with me.

#3 – “This is really great. You should enjoy it.”

Gaiman described this as the best advice given to him over the years.

Advice he did not take because he was worried about the future and things going wrong.

As next month’s Guest Editor of Wired Magazine, Barack Hussein Obama, wrote to introduce the issue:

Now Is the Greatest Time to Be Alive.

let that marinate sit for five minutes before we go to bed and every time we wake up.

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here:

Subscribe to my newsletter.

you don’t have to be the greatest singer in the world. what you need to be is…

#48 – Esquire What I’ve Learned: The Meaning of Life According to 65 Artists, Athletes, Leaders & Legends

dear kafka,

for nineteen years and counting, esquire magazine has a feature called “what i’ve learned” that tries to extract wisdom from famous people.

last year, they put a book together made up of these interviews.

i don’t know if you know this – i collect wisdom and try to live wisely, despite myself.

Selected quotes

Woody Allen: It’s just an accident that we happen to be on earth, enjoying our silly little moments, distracting ourselves as often as possible so we don’t have to really face up to the fact that, you know, we’re just temporary people with a very short time in a universe that will eventually be completely gone. And everything that you value, whether it’s Shakespeare, Beethoven, da Vinci, or whatever, will be gone. The earth will be gone. The sun will be gone. There’ll be nothing. The best you can do to get through life is distraction. Love works as a distraction. And work works as a distraction. You can distract yourself a billion different ways. But the key is to distract yourself.

André 3000: Sometimes when you’re trying too hard to follow a rule, you’re doing yourself more harm.

André 3000: I don’t like to get old. But the cool thing about aging is that the older you get, the harder it is to lie to yourself.

Tony Bennett: When I was starting out, I used to stay onstage too long. Instead of criticizing me, Fred Astaire told me, “What I’ve learned is when you get a set together that’s absolutely perfect, go in and pull out fifteen minutes of it.” That was his way of telling me that less is more.

Joe Biden: I know it sounds corny, but my definition of power is the ability to help people.

Joe Biden: Nobody owes you a living. But everyone’s entitled to dignity.

Albert Brooks: In the beginning of any career, in every job, people are always forcing you you to the middle.

Albert Brooks: I don’t know that I can define fear. But one of the sources of fear is holding up some sort of model life that doesn’t exist and feeling like you’re far away from it.

Jim Brown: Ultimately, the soil replenishes.

Michael Caine: Fatigue doesn’t happen until you suddenly go, “I’m bored.”

Francis Ford Coppola: You have to view things in the context of your life expectancy.

Art Garfunkel: To relax is to unpeel your layers of bullshit, of personality, of protectiveness. It’s hard work.

Jake LaMotta: Most people aren’t good or bad. They’re naive.

Ricky Gervais: I’d never tried my hardest at anything before The Office. I put everything into it and I never compromised — and I learned what an amazing feeling not compromising is.

Jim Harrison: It’s just like when I was twenty and my father and sister got killed in a car accident. I thought, If this can happen to people, you might as well do what you want—which is to be a writer. Don’t compromise at all, because there’s no point in it.

Joan Jett: When I watch these cop shows, I think of how many things boil down to: Someone’s pride was affected. Somebody was disrespected.

Quincy Jones: Not one drop of my self-worth depends on your acceptance of me. That’s the way Ray Charles and I lived every day. We had to make up our own rules.

Padma Lakshmi: Canadian bacon is best left to the Canadians.

Yoko Ono: I still feel that I’m an outsider. About two days ago I was thinking, It’s wrong to think I’m an outsider. I’m just part of the world.

Mary-Louise Parker: Avocado is the perfect food. It’s so substantial. So rich. There’s something sensual about an avocado. You peel it and then you have to scoop out the rest and kind of lick it. Avocado makes everything better. A burger. A sandwich. It’s support. It just backs everything up.

Aaron Sorkin: Everybody does lists of the hundred greatest movie lines of all time. “You can’t handle the truth!” always seems to be in there, which is very nice to see. But for me, the best line will always be: “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”

Aaron Sorkin: The rules are all in a sixty-four-page pamphlet by Aristotle called Poetics. It was written almost three thousand years ago, but I promise you, if something is wrong with what you’re writing, you’ve probably broken one of Aristotle’s rules.

Sting: You don’t have to be the greatest singer in the world. What you need to be is unique. Whenever you open your mouth, people should know: “Oh, that’s Van Morrison.” Or “That’s Bob Dylan.” Or “That’s Bono.” You want to get to that point where you have a unique vocal fingerprint. Then it’s about refining that sound and making it more and more you.

Christopher Walken: Morning is the best time to see movies.

Sigourney Weaver: I go on these panels and hear people crying because the public can watch movies on an iPod. Hey, who’s to say that taking your iPod into the forest and watching a little bit of Lawrence of Arabia is not a fabulous experience?

Ruth Westheimer: The biggest concern among men is still penis size. I tell them the vagina accommodates penises of all sizes. Then I tell them to go home, and, in the privacy of their own room, stand in front of a full-length mirror, bring themselves to full erection, and admire. You will never worry about penis size again because you won’t be looking down upon it. You’ll be looking at it from straight ahead.

Ruth Westheimer: The principal concern for women is not having an orgasm. But a woman has to take responsibility for her own orgasms.

Thom Yorke: Build gaps in your life. Pauses. Proper pauses.

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here:

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where i reveal my true nature

#47 – Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire: 101 Luminaries Ponder Love, Death, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life 

dear kafka,

The Proust Questionnaire, according to Vanity Fair magazine, “has its origins in a parlor game popularized (though not devised) by Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature.”

If that is true, I like to share my true nature with you by answering the questionnaire myself.

Some of these questions are really worth thinking about.

This is an idea: Do the Proust Questionnaire every year and compare the answers.

1.What is your idea of perfect happiness?
An early breakfast, followed by a long walk in Tokyo accompanied by my Fuji camera, cool weather and solitude.


I’m the last person on earth with unlimited supply of food and water and access to electricity.

2.What is your greatest fear?
Torture or being buried alive – don’t know which is worse.

3.What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
My great impatience.

4.What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Our great selfishness.

5.Which living person do you most admire?

6.What is your greatest extravagance?
Business class travel.

7.What is your current state of mind?

8.What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

9.On what occasion do you lie?
Very often, to myself.

10.What do you most dislike about your appearance?

11.Which living person do you most despise?

12.What is the quality you most like in a man?

13.What is the quality you most like in a woman?

14.Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Fuck; cool; really; you know.

15.What or who is the greatest love of your life?

16.When and where were you happiest?
When I was in love and not working.

17.Which talent would you most like to have?
To write simple, beautiful sentences.

18.If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would like to sweat less.

19.What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Taking care of my dad when he was dying and making sure my mom has a comfortable life.

20.If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
No one. I don’t wish to come back. But if I don’t have a choice, I like to come back as a panda in a protected area with enough bamboo.

21.Where would you most like to live?
Where there’s air-conditioning, cool weather, internet connection, books and good street food.

22.What is your most treasured possession?
My mind.

23.What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
To marry a noisy, no good person.

24.What is your favorite occupation?

25.What is your most marked characteristic?

26.What do you most value in your friends?
They don’t take themselves too seriously.

27.Who are your favorite writers?
Haruki Murakami; Raymond Carver; Nick Hornby; Cheryl Strayed; Malcolm Gladwell.

28.Who is your hero of fiction?
Stevens the butler from The Remains of the Day.

29.Which historical figure do you most identify with?
No one.

30.Who are your heroes in real life?
Nelson Mandela; Cheryl Strayed.

31.What are your favorite names?

32.What is it that you most dislike?
People abusing power.

33.What is your greatest regret?
Not investing when I was younger.

34.How would you like to die?

35.What is your motto?
Did not have one until now – “live the moments of my daily life deeply”.

Readers, I love your feedback! Do you think this is me?

Selected responses from the book

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
David Bowie: Talent.

How would you like to die?
George Carlin: To just explode spontaneously in someone’s living room.

On what occasion do you lie?
Deepak Chopra: Only when I’m speaking to God.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Ellen DeGeneres: I don’t know how happiness could get any more perfect, but I think it would involve more puppies.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Andrew Weil: Having no desires.

If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
Quincy Jones: One of my daughters’ dogs.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Fran Lebowitz: French.

What is your motto?
Conan O’Brien: “Ape must not kill ape.”

What is your greatest fear?
Arnold Schwarzenegger: I am petrified of bikini waxing. I had a very bad experience in 1978.

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here:

Subscribe to my newsletter.

how to become impossible to ignore

#46 – Impossible to ignore by Carmen Simon

dear kafka,

when we meet people and try to persuade them, we work hard on the words we use, what we show them and how we dress. let’s call that meeting Point A.

Point B, however is the other person’s decision-making moment. that could be days, weeks, months after the initial meeting.

In our persuasion efforts, we need to work on Point B and not just Point A.

We need our audience to remember what we say and act on it.

“People act on what they remember, not on what they forget.”

“Forgetting hurts business.”

Our role, as persuaders, is to influence our audience’s memories.

“Getting people to act on what they remember always starts with an intention—an intention they already have or one you wish to place in their minds.”

“The sooner we identify people’s existing intentions or clarify a new intention they would benefit from having, the better we can plan on how to be part of their memories.”

When people act on what they remember, they follow 3 steps:

1. “Notice cues that are linked to their intention”

2. “Search their memory for something related to those cues and intentions”

3.  “And if something is rewarding enough … execute.”

An example of how it works:

1. Cue – I have been thinking about losing weight (intention) when I discovered an old favourite shirt that is now too tight for me.

2. Memory – I remember when I used to go dancing in the shirt and how good I look and feel.

3. Rewarding – I want to feel good again so I execute my plan to lose weight.

Kafka, obviously this is not me as I don’t dance. At least not in public.

The book has made me think a lot about cues.

“When analyzing your own content, ask this: When you are no longer in the room with your listeners, what type of cues will be available in their lives to trigger the appropriate memory and entice them to act?”

For a workshop I conducted, I told the audience that it was their job to make their presentation come alive for our clients by telling stories and using strong case studies. To help them remember and act on my message, I gave them wind-up toys and instructed them to put in on their tables and to look at it when they are preparing their pitches.

Looking back, I could have done more by improving the toy’s linkage to a presentation with good stories and case studies. This way, I could help them retrieve the memory of a good presentation and strengthen the feeling of the reward.

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert recommended this book. He has a Persuasion Reading List.

Tips to strengthen your persuasion efforts

Use cues that are linked to existing habits – if you’re a doctor trying to persuade your patient to take their pills regularly, you can ask them to put their pills by their coffee machine. Since the patients drink coffee every day, they will see the pills and this will increase the chance of them taking the medicine.

“Tie your message to a current but unfulfilled goal. People tend to pay greater attention to and remember more of what is not finished because the brain seeks closure.”

“Link cues to social desirability because impression management is a strong motivation driver. People tend to pay attention to what makes them look good in front of others.”

Save your most important messages for early in the day where people’s willpower is  stronger.

Use what is familiar to the audience – “Our audiences form expectations so that they can predict the next moment. When you give them something they expect, you satisfy a human need for accurate predictions, which generates pleasure.”

“Use the word “imagine” to create anticipation and invite action. People don’t just think about the future; they feel the future, and emotion influences decision-making.”

Strong opening, then delay gratification – “Give people a valuable tool in the first five minutes of a presentation and announce five more for later on.”

The challenge is to create repeatable messages – “we tend to repeat what we hear or see frequently (“I’m lovin’ it”), what carries strong emotions (“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”), what is short (“I’ll be back”), what easily rolls off the tongue (“Wax on. Wax off”), or what rhymes (“I feel the need … the need for speed”).”

Use disfluency strategically and sparingly – you could make an important word in your presentation especially hard to read, this forces your audience to put in more effort to read it.

Create a distinctive message that emphasise rewards – “The brain is constantly looking for rewards. In business, when many messages are the same, we can create distinctiveness, and therefore improve recall, by being specific about these rewards, which we can frame as tangible results.” E.g. – “Using our predictive analytic tools, we helped our shipping customer save 39 million gallons of fuel and avoid driving 364 million miles.”

Invite your audience to be active, not passive by asking questions – E.g. ask: how do these 3 words on the slide describe your business?

Your content should balance the abstract with the specific. E.g. The Burton Company’s vision statement:

“We stand sideways.
We sleep on floors in cramped hotel rooms.
We get up early and go to sleep late.
We’ve been mocked.
We’ve been turned away from resorts that won’t have us.
We are relentless.
We dream it, we make it, we break it, we fix it.
We create.
We destroy.
We wreck ourselves day in and day out and yet we stomp that one trick or find that one line that keeps us coming back.
We progress.”

Use gain messages – We can frame messages to emphasize gains or losses. Research in the health industry, for example, looks at gain-framed versus loss-framed messages and concludes that for prevention medicine where the risk is low, gain-framed messages are more likely to lead to behavior change. For instance, “Join us to find out how an increase in your walking regimen helps to prevent heart disease” works well because there is little risk in walking.

Understand what the audience is thinking about the future: “If our audiences’ brains are constantly on fast-forward, then to be on people’s minds, we have to be part of their future.”

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here:

Subscribe to my newsletter.