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Managing Agreements, Learning on the Go, The Beauty of Solitude, Quitting Something You Love, Charisma Versus Power, & The Power of Grit

Resource: Getting Things Done by David Allen


When you use your brain as your in-tray, it mistakenly assumes that you always need to be working on everything you need to do. It will nag you constantly until you capture that data and assign it to its proper place.

Anxiety is not the result of having too much to do. There’s always more that needs to be done than what we can do at any given moment. Anxiety is created by unbroken agreements. When you fail to track and maintain the internal/external agreements you have with yourself, your self-respect and self-confidence erodes.

There are three ways to deal with broken agreements: 1) Don’t make the agreement (lower standards, say no). 2) Keep the agreement (capture it, clarify it, organize it, review and execute on it. Just get it done). 3) Renegotiate the agreement.

Most of the power to take control of your life comes in the form of making less agreements and renegotiating agreements.

It’s simply not possible to effectively say “no” or renegotiate agreements if you don’t have a clear inventory of internal/external agreements.

There’s a big difference between holding an intention in your head about cleaning the basement versus putting that intention on a someday/maybe list and reviewing it every week. When you put things off non-systemically, the stress doesn’t leave and your brain still nags you about it. When you put things off by deferring them to a specific later time or by adding them to a regularly reviewed incubator folder, your brain relaxes about it because you’ve made a concrete decision. It’s okay not to decide about things as long as you have a system for not deciding.


Self-management makes everything better:

“Demonstrating integrity in managing internal and external agreements optimizes all of your relationships. ”

Self-management improves trust and self-confidence:

“When people with whom you interact notice that without fail you receive, process, and organize in an airtight manner the exchanges and agreements they have with you, they begin to trust you in a unique way. More significantly, you incorporate a level of self-confidence in your engagement with your world that money cannot buy. Such is the power of capturing placeholders for anything that is incomplete or unprocessed in your life. It noticeably enhances your mental well-being and improves the quality of your communications and relationships, both personally and professionally. ”

Anxiety comes from the relationship you have with your agreements:

“The sense of anxiety and guilt doesn’t come from having too much to do; it’s the automatic result of breaking agreements with yourself. ”

When you break agreements with yourself, your confidence and control of life gradually unravels:

“Where do the not-so-good feelings come from? Too much to do? No, there’s always too much to do. If you felt bad simply because there was more to do than you could do, you’d never get rid of that feeling. Having too much to do is not the source of the negative feeling. It comes from a different place. How have you felt when someone broke an agreement with you, told you they would meet you Thursday at four p.m. and never showed or called? How did that feel? Frustrating, I imagine. The price people pay when they break an agreement in the world is the disintegration of trust in the relationship—an automatic negative consequence. But what are all those things in your in-tray? Agreements you’ve made or at least implicitly accepted with yourself—things you somehow have told yourself you should deal with in some way. Your negative feelings are simply the result of breaking those agreements—they’re the symptoms of disintegrated self-trust. If you tell yourself to draft a strategic plan, when you don’t do it, you feel bad. Tell yourself to get organized, and if you fail to, welcome to guilt and frustration. Resolve to spend more time with your kids and then don’t—voila! anxious and overwhelmed. ”

When you know what the consequences of your “yes” looks like, it makes it much easier to say “no.”

“Maintaining an objective and complete inventory of your work, regularly reviewed, makes it much easier to say no with integrity. ..One of the best things about this whole method is that when you really take on the responsibility to capture and track what’s on your mind, you’ll think twice about making commitments internally that you don’t really need or want to make. ”

On how capturing your commitments makes it easier to renegotiate them:

“Do you understand yet why getting all your stuff out of your head and in front of you makes you feel better? Because you automatically renegotiate your agreements with yourself when you look at them, think about them, and either act on them that very moment or say, “No, not now.” Here’s the problem: it’s impossible to renegotiate agreements with yourself that you can’t remember you made! ”

On how the failure to account for an agreement tricks your brain into thinking you need to be doing it all the time:

“The fact that you can’t remember an agreement you made with yourself doesn’t mean that you’re not holding yourself liable for it. Ask any psychologist how much of a sense of past and future that part of your psyche has, the part that was storing the list you dumped: zero. It’s all present tense in there. That means that as soon as you tell yourself that you should do something, if you file it only in your short-term memory, that part of you thinks you should be doing it all the time. And that means that as soon as you’ve given yourself two things to do, and filed them only in your head, you’ve created instant and automatic stress and failure, because you can’t do them both at once, and that (apparently significant) part of your psyche will continue to hold you accountable. ”

On how holding things in our head creates a never ending sense of breaking your agreements:

“It seems that there’s a part of our consciousness that doesn’t know the difference between an agreement about cleaning the basement and an agreement about buying a company or improving our personal finances. In there, they’re all just agreements—kept or broken. If you’re holding something only internally, it will be a broken agreement if you’re not moving on it in the moment. ”

Resource: You’re doing it Wrong by Seth Godin


Good begins with “Go.” You can’t get good at something if you don’t start moving. Analysis paralysis is much worse than trying something that doesn’t work.


“But at least you’re doing it. Once you’re doing it, you have a chance to do it better. Waiting for perfect means not starting.”

Resource: Iconic Painter Agnes Martin on Art, Solitude, and the Secret of Happiness


The only think you need to know is what you want. Everything else is a detail or a distraction.

Once you know what you want, do it or pursue it. That’s the best way to be happy.

Be alone with yourself. The best things happen in the space of solitude.

Forget about yourself. As an artist, focus on the creative process and don’t let self-consciousness get in the way of your work.


On knowing what you wants and going after it as the key to happiness:

“There are so many people who don’t know what they want. And I think that, in this world, that’s the only thing you have to know — exactly what you want. … Doing what you were born to do … That’s the way to be happy.”

On losing self-consciousness and fully engaging your work:

“The worst thing you can think about when you’re working is yourself.”

On the goodness of solitude:

“The best things in life happen to you when you’re alone.”

Resource: Quitting something you love by Derek Sivers

Activities and affinities aren’t bad. Addictions are bad. Quit anything that you feel addicted to.

Don’t feel bound or enslaved to the things you love if your taking up too much space and preventing you from making room for things you would love even more. Give yourself permission to change.

Derek Sivers made a name for himself by answering questions via email. Now that he’s quitting that, he’ll lose the right to be talked about as a guy who does that. For him, the freedom of focusing on other stuff is what’s important. Value freedom over an outdated brand that no longer serves you.


On the dependency of change upon personal space:

“Personal change needs some space to happen. To bring something new into your life, you need somewhere to put it. If your current habits are filling your day, where are these new habits supposed to go?”

Sivers on why he’s quitting something he loves:

“Today I’m quitting something I’ve loved doing part-time since 1994, and basically full-time since 2008. I’m no longer answering email questions. In the last eight years, I’ve answered over 192,000 emails from 78,000 people. Most of them had giant life-sized questions that took me hours a day to answer. I’ll continue to reply to emails, but just not questions. It was definitely an addiction. I still love it, so it’s hard to quit. But it’s time to make room for change.”

Sivers on how he strives to avoid addiction:

“We know about quitting something that’s bad for you, or something you hate. But what about quitting something you love? I rebel against anything that feels like addiction. When I hear myself saying “I need this”, I want to challenge that dependency and prove my independence.”

Resource: Charisma/Power by Paul Graham


People tend to support, help, and root for people they like. That’s the power of charisma. People tend to envy and criticize those with great influence. That’s the curse of power. When you have power without charisma, it can be an uphill battle since you don’t have the charm to win people on your side.

The difference between people’s responsiveness to charm and their responsiveness to power isn’t something we can change. We can perhas use it to our advantage or simply be aware of it.

Instead of assuming that criticism and hatred is a bad sign, it might be an indicator of competence. Sometimes the best leaders are the least charming.


On the pros and cons of possessing power and lacking charm:

“People who are powerful but uncharismatic will tend to be disliked. Their power makes them a target for criticism that they don’t have the charisma to disarm. That was Hillary Clinton’s problem. It also tends to be a problem for any CEO who is more of a builder than a schmoozer. And yet the builder-type CEO is (like Hillary) probably the best person for the job.”

Sometimes a bad sign is a good sign for something else:

“I don’t think there is any solution to this problem. It’s human nature. The best we can do is to recognize that it’s happening, and to understand that being a magnet for criticism is sometimes a sign not that someone is the wrong person for a job, but that they’re the right one.”

Resource: Grit and the Secret of Success


The biggest factor in success is resilience and perseverance (grit), not I.Q. or economic background.

The people who are most likely to succeed are the ones who can defer immediate gratification and focus on the long-game.

Growth versus Fixed mindset — The growth mindset is the attitude of one who believes in his or her ability to learn. In the growth mindset, your brain’s effectiveness is determined by effort. The fixed mindset is the attitude on one who believes that intellectual aptitude is set in stone and doesn’t respond very much to effort. It’s the difference between “I can learn French or Math if I take my time and keep working at it” versus “I’m not the type of person who can learn French or Math. I’m just not good at it.” Cultivating a growth mindset helps develop grit. The fixed mindset works against grit.


Inspiration isn’t mystical, Self-respect knows no excuses, The Muse follows you:

“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work,” -Chuck Close

“A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood,” -Tchaikovsky

“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too,” -Isabel Allende

On the essence of grit:

“Grit is the disposition to pursue very long-term goals with passion and perseverance. And I want to emphasize the stamina quality of grit. Grit is sticking with things over the long term and then working very hard at it. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

On grit as the key predictor of success:

“A few years ago, I started studying grit in the Chicago public schools. I asked thousands of high school juniors to take grit questionnaires, and then waited around more than a year to see who would graduate. Half of the questions on the grit questionnaire are about perseverance, right. “I am a hard worker.” “I finish whatever I begin.” The scale is five points. It goes from “very much like me” to “not at all like me.” “Setbacks don’t discourage me.” “I don’t give up after disappointment.” And “I’m diligent.” The more you say, that’s very much like me, then the higher your grit score. Turns out that grittier kids were significantly more likely to graduate even when I matched them on every characteristic I could measure. Things like family income, standardized achievement test scores, even how safe kids felt when they were at school.”

How cultivating a growth mindset develops grit:

“So far, the best idea I’ve heard about building grit in kids is something called growth mindset. This is an idea developed at Stanford University by Carol Dweck, and it is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed. That it can change with your effort. Dr. Dweck has shown that when kids read and learn about the brain and how it changes and grows in response to challenge, they’re much more likely to persevere when they fail because they don’t believe that failure is a permanent condition.”

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