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How to Change When Change Is Hard: Lessons from a Timid Mouse

496852946_4c9e3f6824_zI was coming back from a run up and down Mount Tabor in Southeast Portland. I know the route well. It’s about a 5-6 mile loop from my house, depending on which path I take. More often than not, when I’m home for a while I run it at least once a week.

As I neared my neighborhood toward the end of the run, I noticed a cat in a driveway. Being a cat person, I often say hi to felines when I see them out and about on my run. Cats being cats, sometimes they follow me for blocks, intent on being my friend for life, and other times they can’t be bothered to acknowledge my presence.

This cat, I noticed, was different. He was sitting on his hind legs in the driveway, staring intently at something. Maybe it’s because he was so intent on the object of his fascination, or maybe I was just tired toward the end of the run—but for whatever reason I decided to slow down and walk over to the driveway.

“Hey, what’s going on?” I said to the cat. (Yeah, I talk to cats the same way I talk to people. If you’ve ever had a cat, you understand.)

The cat gave no response. He was fully immersed in something, and as I got closer, I could see what it was. There was a mouse! A tiny one, shivering in an isolated section of grass near the driveway—and just a paw’s swipe away from the cat.

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You Don’t Have to Win at Everything


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I had coffee with an aspiring entrepreneur who was struggling with priorities.

“I worry I’m doing everything wrong!” he said.

Everywhere he went, people gave him free advice. They told him about email marketing ... and webinars ... and the latest new social network ... and all the things he had to do to keep up.

"I'm not sure I'll be able to do all these things," he continued. "I can hardly keep up with the list!"

Well, that’s the thing. First of all, it’s very hard to fully "keep up" these day. There’s always a new network to learn, a new tool to master. There’s always one more thing that can be done.

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Waking Up at Night with Big Ideas


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Long ago, right before I started this blog and began the full-time quest to "go everywhere," I went through a six-month period of thinking about it. When I say I was thinking about it, I mean it occupied my mental world approximately 80% of the time. I was still working and going to grad school during the day, but my attention lay elsewhere.

Then, at night, I'd go to bed with a notebook on my nightstand. I kept it there because almost every night, I'd wake up feeling excited. I'd have another idea or something new to add to the outline.

I loved this story of Benny Hsu making $100,000 from his t-shirt designs—a huge entrepreneurial success on his own, no doubt. But I also related to how the project took over his life and became all he thought about.

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Going to the Movies by Yourself

I’m a big fan of doing things alone. I eat in restaurants alone, I go to faraway places for my birthday alone, and I generally work alone more often than not.

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That’s why I’m naturally predisposed to like new research that shows that when you’re by yourself, you shouldn’t just stay at home and avoid activities that you might normally only do with someone else.

"People decide to not do things all the time just because they're alone," said Rebecca Ratner, a professor of marketing at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, who has spent almost half a decade studying why people are so reluctant to have fun on their own and how it may lead to, well, less fun overall. "But the thing is, they would probably be happier going out and doing something.”

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The Self-Addressed Envelope We Send to Ourselves

"Every day is like a self addressed envelope we post to ourself. Be careful what you post in it.”
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I went through a phase as a kid when I collected autographs from baseball players. It was a pretty short phase—I don’t care much for baseball now—but for a few moths, I spent all my allowance on baseball cards, then consulted a book that listed the addresses of retired players. I’d send off a card to five or ten of them a week, including a note asking for an autograph, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope, then wait to see what happened.

As I recall, the results were pretty good. It took a while, but on average about half of the players returned my envelope with an accompanying autograph. It was fun to get mail, and the response motivated me to send out more batches of requests so I could await the returns in future weeks.

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A Better Approach to “Never Check Email in the Morning”


226823992_0eb2580004_z You’ve heard the conventional wisdom: never check email in the morning.

That sounds great, unless your job involves communicating with people, or if you happen to care about what people have to say to you. In either of those cases, you very well might want (or need!) to see what's happened overnight just as you sit down to work.

It's also true, though, that it's easy to get sucked into replies and never end up creating or building or just working on something that requires long-term focus, all because you can't get your nose out of the inbox.

Years ago I found a better way that I still use most days of the week. Here's how it works.

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“Knowledge Is Not Understanding” — The Case of the Backwards Bicycle

I loved this video from Smarter Every Day, where host Destin Sandlin learns to ride a bicycle that has been custom welded to reverse the handlebars.

It sounds easy—all you have to do is think left when you normally think right, and vice versa. Can’t be too hard, right? But it is hard... very hard.

After he learns to ride the reverse bicycle, he then has another big problem: how to switch back to an ordinary bicycle. It turns out that's really tough, too.

Lesson: “Once you have a rigid way of thinking in your head, sometimes you cannot change it, even if you want to."

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Hate Paying Taxes? It Could Be a Lot Worse: You Might Not Have to Pay Them

I do wish it were simpler. I was surprised last year to learn that I agreed with Donald Rumsfeld on something.

Part of it is my own fault: I keep starting new businesses and entities. I have a tax return for my career as an author, another for my entrepreneurial work, another for WDS, another for the WDS Foundation (a separate organization), and now another for Pioneer Nation. Who knows what else I’ll have next year!

Why can’t Amazon or Zappos or Apple figure this out for the federal government? Imagine the possibilities.

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Win the Way You Won Before


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When you encounter a setback and need to regroup, think back to a time when you won. You mastered a skill, navigated a tricky negotiation, or otherwise came out on top.

Can you use the same skill or strategy now? Can you adapt that skill or strategy to a new situation?

Sure, circumstances may have changed. But you haven’t always lost or struggled, so think about that time when you got it right.

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Prepare for Tomorrow by Doing One Thing Differently Today


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Here’s a trick that will help every time.

Work hard during the day, and cross off as many things from your list as you can. But as you’re winding down, save something. Leave one thing undone.

Don’t actually do that one more task—but do identify it.

Stop before you’re completely ready to stop. Build a bridge to the future, and leave your current day’s work knowing what you’re going to do next.

It will work. Every time.

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There’s Always Time to Write a Book


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Some inspiring insight from Laura Vanderkam:

"I have never believed that book writing needs to be all-consuming. It wasn’t for Toni Morrison writing The Bluest Eye at night after her kids went to bed and let’s face it, we’re not likely to produce anything like The Bluest Eye no matter how much time we spend writing. Books are projects like any other.

Incidentally, you can make time for the rest of your life too. I’m always amused by the lines in book acknowledgements in which authors (generally, male authors) thank their families for putting up with all their missed dinners. Not only am I not missing dinner, I’m generally cooking it."

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How to Learn About Entrepreneurship Without Spending a Cent

As part of the promotion for this year’s B-School program with my friend Marie, I wanted to point out two very clear things:

1. I think this course is fantastic, and well worth the cost. If you like the idea of establishing a freedom business, like I’ve done and so many AONC readers have done, this is a great way to get going in a structured program.

2. If you don’t have the money or aren't sure you're ready, you don’t need to pay for this or anything else. You’re not "missing out." There are always other ways you can learn and participate.

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Immerse Yourself in What You Want to Become

38563077_a0e8fc4065_z In reading the transcript of Bob Dylan’s speech at MusiCares, I also liked this part on the origins of his songwriting:

“There's nothing secret about it. You just do it subliminally and unconsciously, because that's all enough, and that's all I sang. That was all that was dear to me. They were the only kinds of songs that made sense.

I learned lyrics and how to write them from listening to folk songs. And I played them, and I met other people that played them back when nobody was doing it. Sang nothing but these folk songs, and they gave me the code for everything that's fair game, that everything belongs to everyone.

For three or four years all I listened to were folk standards. I went to sleep singing folk songs. I sang them everywhere, clubs, parties, bars, coffeehouses, fields, festivals. And I met other singers along the way who did the same thing and we just learned songs from each other. I could learn one song and sing it next in an hour if I'd heard it just once."

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To Be Happier, Go to the Library


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If you liked the Japanese tradition, here's another one from this side of the Pacific:

“Older people often draw as much happiness from ordinary experiences — like a day in the library — as they do from extraordinary ones.


Personally I'm still a fan of jetsetting about on international trips, so I don't think you have to choose between travel and "ordinary experiences"—but yes, a day at the library can bring a lot of joy.

Link: Affixing More Value to the Ordinary Experiences of Life

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