How to invest in gaming #2: Embracer Group

Sweden features an impressive line-up of successfull tech and gaming companies: Paradox Interactive, King (Candy Crush), SoundCloud, DICE, Mojang (Minecraft), Klarna, iZettle and Spotify to mention some. Then there is Embracer Group. This name only came to my attention half a year ago, but what an exiting company! Let’s dive right in.

Embracer Group (EMBRAC B – Sweden)

Stock price as of this writing: 255 SEK
Company valued at: 108 mrd SEK (13 billion dollars)


This is only a highlight of games. Their entire portfolio includes over 200 franchises.

THQ Nordic

  • Saints Row
  • Dead Island
  • Desperados
  • Darksiders
  • Destroy All Humans
  • Wreckfest
  • Kingdoms of Amalur
  • Titan Quest
  • Gothic
  • ELEX

Koch Media (Deepsilver and Ravenscourt)

  • Chivalry II
  • Wasteland 3
  • Iron harvest
  • Outward
  • Kingdom Come: Deliverance
  • Yakuza
  • Agents of Mayhem
  • Dead Island
  • Risen 3

Coffee Stain Studios

  • Valheim
  • Satisfactory
  • Deep Rock Galactic
  • Goat Simulator

Saber Interactive

  • World War Z
  • Mud Runner
  • Snow Runner
  • NBA2K

In addition to the mentioned IPs, Saber Interactive has also worked on a wide range of other games, like different versions of The Witcher 3, Crysis Remastered, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Quake, and Vampyr.

Gearbox Entertainment

  • Borderlands
  • Homeworld
  • Duke Nukem
  • Borthers in Arms

Gearbox Entertainment has also worked on a number of other games you might have heard of, like Half-Life and Counter-Strike.

Deca Games

  • Realm Of The Mad God
  • Knights & Dragons
  • Modern War
  • Crime City
  • Kingdom Age


  • Killer Sudoku
  • Pixel Art
  • Jigsaw Puzzles
  • Blockudoku
  • Groovepad


Aspyr is first and foremost a developer specializing in porting games to different platforms. Most notably it has ported a good portion of the Sid Meier Civilization series to the mac.

Amplifier Game Invest

Amplifier does not develop games of their own, but functions (to my understanding) almost as an incubator for small game startups. They invest in small startups, and offers project management to their partners.

Strengths and opportunities

Vast portfolio of franchises
Just look at the list above. It’s not even conclusive. With over 200 franchises, 57 internal game development studios and 5 500 employees, Embracer Group dabbles in pretty much every genre on every platform. This brings diversity, flexibility, and also heavily increases the chances of creating best-selling games.

Just take Valheim, which just hit 3 million sales in less than three weeks! Satisfactory is another big hit from Coffee Stain Studios, with well over a million games sold.

Adding to their diversity, their studios does not just focus on their own IPs, but are trusted partners of other giant game developers. Just take a look at Aspyr, which has ported over 20 titles (including DLCs) from 2K, owned by Take-Two Interactive.

Speaking of Aspyr, while doing this research I stumbled over rumours of Aspyr working on the new title for Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic. If that turns out to be true, wow.

Extreme focus on acquisitions and investment
Last autumn they announced in one single day that they had acquired no less than 13 companies. This february they did pretty much the same, dropping the news that they had acquired Aspyr, Easybrain and Gearbox Entertainment on the same day.

The level of ambition is astronomical, which can be of great benefit for their investors. In december, they signed a credit facility contract, increasing their liquid funds to more than 11.5 billion SEK (1.4 billion dollars).

Weaknesses and threats

With the huge amount of acquisitions comes huge amounts of responsibility. Embracer Group’s game studios are located all over the world, and leading 50+ companies with 5 500 people is no easy task.

On top of this there seems to be a big focus on experimenting with completely new games and franchises. While a great opportunity, it will also lead to a lot of projects bleeding money. Embracer Group takes a very different approach than for example Paradox Interactive, which focuses mainly on developing big franchise “platforms” and then bombarding it with DLCs for years and years.

Final thoughts

I believe Embracer Group is an extremely interesting company with a level of ambition that is admirable. I think that ambition will either lead to very big success or very big failure. I have taken a small bet on the first, making it the biggest single stock in my small portfolio.

Interesting articles


How to invest in gaming #1: Paradox Interactive

While researching investment opportunities within the gaming industry, I decided it would be fun to create a series of articles with my notes. This is the first article, and dives into one of my favorite gaming companies – Paradox Interactive.

Paradox Interactive (PDX – Sweden)

Stock price as of this writing: 239.80 SEK
Company valued at: 3 057 680 000 USD (25.8 mrd SEK)

This swedish game developer and publisher became my most lucrative investment last year, with a 114% ROI. Paradox are primarily focused on the grand strategy genre, where they are a big player with games like Europa Universalis, Stellaris, Cities: Skylines, Hearts of Iron, Crusader Kings, Age of Wonders and Magicka. They also acquired the popular title Prison Architect last year, and are a successfull publisher for a variety of great titles: Steel Division, Tyranny, Surviving the Aftermath, Empire of Sin and Pillars of Eternity to mention some.

Game Studios

Paradox currently owns several different development studios in addition to their original Paradox Development Studio and its siblings:

Harebrained Schemes: Battletech, Necropolis, Shadowrun series, Golem Arcana, Strikefleet Omega, Crimson: Steam Pirates

Iceflake Studios: Surviving the Aftermath, Ice Lakes, Race Arcade, Premium Pool Arena, Target Horizon, Pirates don’t run

Triumph Studios: Age Of Wonders

Playrion Game Studio: Airlines Manager

Strengths and opportunities

Replayability & DLCs
One of the biggest strengths of Paradox is their ability to deliver deep, complex games with hundreds or thousands of hours of replayability, and then churn out DLCs. One of their main titles, Europa Universalis IV, currently have 33 DLCs, costing about 290$ combined. That means that a loyal fan of the game may leave about 320$ for the entirety of the DLCs plus the base game. This would be the closest thing you can come to a subscription based model without actually being one.

Churning out regular DLCs also ensures the games feel fresh and updated, and makes sure that players stick around for several years.

It’s not unusual to see Steam reviews from players with thousands of hours on Paradox titles

One of Paradox’s strength is that they have a overall theme: Strategy games. While a lot of the biggest companies dabbles in pretty much every genre, Paradox focuses mainly on strategy games, particularly grand strategy. This gives them the ability to be focused both in development, acquisition and talent.

Mobile and consoles
Grand strategy games involves a lot of clicking and reading, working best on desktop. That said, there’s obviously a big potential if they manage to successfully enter these platforms. Titles like Stellaris has already been ported to Xbox, and the acquisition of mobile game developer Playrion seems to signal that they want to take this seriously in the future.

New games
Crusader Kings III was released this autumn, 8 years after the second installment in the series. Being a very similar series with the latest game released one year after Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis V will probably not be too far away. Having hit the mark with Crusader Kings III (93% positive Steam reviews as of this writing and 1 million copies sold), it’s a promising foundation to build on for Paradox. Both Cities: Skylines (2015) and Stellaris (2016) will also eventually get a new addition.

In addition to having a bunch of great titles to upgrade regurarly, hopefully they’ll be able to conjure up some brand new stuff as well. The acquisition of Prison Architect is also interesting to expand upon, with different kinds of architect games being a logical expansion.

Another kind of game that would be very exciting to see would be some kind of a strategy MMO. Although the DLC model makes each title very lucrative, it does have a maximum limit for what a player is able to spend on each game, unlike MMOs or games that heavy utilizes micro transactions like FIFA or Counter Strike.

Board games
Paradox has also announced that they are going to develop several of their digital games into board games, which could be another nice revenue stream. Crusader Kings and Magicka Mayhem are first out.

Weaknesses & threats

Grand strategy games are certainly not for everyone. One of the downsides of deep and complex games is that they have a big and sometimes unforgiving learning curve. This may throw a lot of potential customers off, especially those new to the genre. I believe the probability of Paradox launching an insane worldwide bestseller like Counter Strike, PUBG or Fortnite is pretty low.

Perhaps not as crazy as the learning curve of EVE Online, but Paradox titles are not for the casual gamer.

Games as platforms
To sell 30+ DLCs for 300$ for a game, you need players who really, really enjoyes the game. While a lot of games can sell big on hype and call it a day, Paradox is in it for the long term. A big hit can become a very big hit, but a big miss may be a very big miss.

Mobile and console
While being an opportunity, focusing on mobile and console games may simply be a dead end, at least for most of Paradox’s titles. Grand strategy games are best played on desktop, period.

Conversion optimization Ecommerce Marketing

8 email signup strategies from a industry leader

Notes from a recent webinar on signup strategies from Sleeknote and Hello Retail. Watch the whole webinar here. These strategies and best practices is based on the entirety of Sleeknotes customers, and is therefore building upon an enormous amount of data (10.2 billion visitors according to their stats).

  • Using an image in a pop-up doubles the conversion rate
  • When using a time trigger to display a pop-up, 8 seconds is found to be the “golden” delay time
  • When using screen scrolling as a trigger, 38% is the sweet spot
  • Using a countdown timer in your pop-up is shown to increase conversion rates 4x
  • When it comes to number of input fields in a pop-up form (email, name, company etc), the conversion rates per input field is as follows:
Number of input fieldsConversion rate
  • Use a two-step pop-up to capture multiple fields from the user. For example, in step one you ask for only the email, and in step nr 2 you ask for name/gender/age etc. 76% of those who complete the first step completes the second step
  • An underused feature of Sleeknote is to make a trigger based on data layers in Google Tag Manager. You can for example make a pop-up trigger based on shopping cart value. They showed an example of an e-commerce store selling wine, doing a trigger split: When a user had items in their shopping cart and about to leave the site, an exit intent pop-up would trigger, that also considered the shopping cart value. For shopping carts with a value under X, the pop-up would read something like “finish your order and join our competition for a bottle of this nice wine.” For shopping carts with a value over X, the pop-up would read “finish your order now and get this bottle for free.”
  • Another feature that Sleeknote thought was underused was to set triggers based on opening hours. For example, in opening hours you could have a pop-up with “call us now on this number”, but outside the opening hours it could say “leave a message and we will contact you shortly”

Want to learn more? Sleeknote runs a very interesting blog, covering pretty much every aspect of creating successfull pop-up campaigns.

Conversion optimization Marketing

Analysis of 13 signup pages


13 takeaways from 13 signup pages:

  • Make the “No credit card required” very visible
  • Show the key selling point for the software in a one-liner
  • Highlight the most important functionality
  • Display the length of the trial period in number of days
  • Show the benefits during the trial period in addition to the main product
  • Showcase number of customers
  • Showcase biggest clients with logos
  • Show certificates to build trust
  • Use a white or grey background color
  • Use strong color (red, blue, orange) on call-to-action (CTA) buttons
  • Phone number or chat for on-the-verge customers
  • Include a FAQ-section
  • Use a quote from a happy customer

…and only use a handful of these at the same time. Most signup pages are deliberately very clean and simple.


Salesforce lets you “connect to your customers in a whole new way with the world’s #1 CRM platform.”

The signup page

Title, CTA text & color and background

TitleStart your free trial today
CTA colorPurple, #5457ff
Background colorDark blue, 215CA0


  • “No credit card required, no software to install.” Insuring the customer that signing up is hassle-free
  • Show phone number for leads wanting to talk to an “expert”
  • Displaying security/privacy certificates to build trust, DigiCert by Norton and TRUSTe by TrustArc


Sleeknote lets you “Engage Your Visitors with On-Site Messages”

The signup page

Title, CTA text & color and background

TitleTry Sleeknote for Free
CTA textCreate Free Account
CTA colorPurple, #5457ff
Background colorWhite/grey


  • 4 selling points: “all included” and “unlimited number…” + a sentence telling us that there is much more
  • Number of customers from x countries, telling us they are a global company
  • Also showcasing the logos of their biggest customers
  • They highlight how long the trial is (7 days)
  • No credit card required


Unbounce is a tool that helps you “Design Beautiful Landing Pages That Convert More”

The signup page

Title, CTA text & color and background

TitleCreate your (name of product) account
CTA textSign Up with Email
CTA colorDark blue, #0033ff
Background colorWhite


  • Frequently asked questions section with the top 3 most common questions for the trial account
  • 4 most important features of the selected plan, available by drop down
  • Shows the price you need to pay after the free trial, price in green color to feel cheaper
  • 2 certificates for building trust, indicating they are SSL secure and GDPR compliant
  • The CTA color is actually a variable, not hard coded
  • Easy changing of pricing plan


Hubspot “helps thousands of companies grow better every year.”

The signup form

Title, CTA text & color and background

TitleCreate your free account
CTA textNext
CTA colorOrange #ff7a59
Background colorWhite/blue


  • Very simple page, almost no information
  • Company one-liner: “Hubspot helps thousands of companies grow better every year”
  • “Free forever. No credit card needed”
  • Reassuring that they are committed to protecting your privacy


ClickFunnels: “Enabling People To Grow Their Companies Through Sales Funnels”

The signup page

Title, CTA text & color and background

TitleClickFunnels: Enabling People To Grow Their Companies Through Sales Funnels
CTA textStart Building My First Funnel!
CTA colorBlue #036eeb
Background colorWhite


  • Their main selling point is very clear
  • Long quote from a happy customer
  • It is obvious how many steps there are left to complete the signup process
  • Emphasise “FREE” 14 day trial
  • Makes it easy to sign up: “No contracts. Downgrade or cancel your account anytime with a single click from your dashboard”


Splunk “makes it simple to collect, analyze and act upon the untapped value of the big data generated by your technology infrastructure, security systems and business applications”

The signup page

Title, CTA text & color and background

TitleName of product
CTA textCreate your account
CTA colorPurple/pink #E20082
Background colorWhite


  • Good introduction text about what Splunk enables you to do
  • 4 selling points focused on functionality, elaborated


Zapier give you the tools to “automate your work”

The signup page

Title, CTA text & color and background

TitleJoin millions worldwide who automate their work using Zapier
CTA textSign Up
CTA colorOrange, #ff4a00
Background colorWhite


  • Big, bold title and 3 most important selling points
  • Builds trust by telling you Zapier have millions of users worldwide
  • Specifies number of days in free trial
  • 3 ways of signing up


Slack “brings the team together, wherever you are”

The signup page

Title, CTA text & color and background

TitleTry Slack with your team, for free
CTA text+ Create a Slack Workspace
CTA colorWhite
Background colorWhite


  • No selling points
  • Obviously a lot of users are trying to create workspaces even though their company already have one


Adobe Creative Cloud is a “collection of 20+ apps and services for photography, design, video, web, UX and more”

The signup page

Title, CTA text & color and background

TitleStart your free 7-day trial
CTA textStart free trial
CTA colorBlue #0d66d0
Background colorWhite/Light grey


  • Very simple layout
  • Namedrops the 3 seemingly most popular apps (Photoshop, Illustrator and Adobe XD)
  • 4 additional selling points in addition to the main product
  • Specified pricing information


Mailchimp lets you “Engage your customers. Build your brand.”

The signup page

Title, CTA text & color and background

TitleWelcome to Mailchimp
CTA textSign Up
CTA colorBluish green #007c89
Background colorLight grey


  • Very little information except a great text: “Find your people. Engage your customers. Build your brand. Do it all with Mailchimp’s Marketing Platform.”


Twilio lets you “Engage customers on any channel, any time.”

The signup page

Title, CTA text & color and background

TitleGet started with a free Twilio account. No credit card required.
CTA textStart your free trial
CTA colorRed #f22f46
Background colorRed and blue, gradient


  • 7 most important selling points, focused on functionality
  • Lots of colors
  • Elegant design
  • I want to push the red button


Atlassian “make tools like Jira and Trello that are used by thousands of teams worldwide.”

The signup page

Title, CTA text & color and background

TitleName of product
CTA textAgree and sign up
CTA colorBlue #0052cc
Background colorWhite


  • Specifies “no credit card required”
  • 4 benefits for the free account


Piesync gives you the ability to “Keep you customer data in sync across all your business apps, two-ways and in real time.”

The signup page

Title, CTA text & color and background

TitleConnect your apps. Empower your business.
CTA textNext
CTA colorBlue #006be6
Background colorBluish grey


  • 3 selling points, one for functionality and two for purchase decision
  • One customer testimonial
  • Highlights free trial duration twice
  • No credit card required

If you appreciated this post, you’ll probably also want to check out Sunsama’s brilliang welcome email series.

Blog tips Book notes

The Blog Startup: Notes

Meera Kothand
Meera Kothand

Meera is an email marketing strategist and 3X Amazon best-selling author.

TLDR: Main takeaways

  • To make money from your blog, you need to sell products or services. Ads is not enough
  • Build your email list
  • Define your niche/theme
  • Define your ideal reader
  • Mine forums, Facebook Groups, Amazon etc for content ideas
  • Map out your readers journey
  • Give every post an objective and map it to the readers journey
  • Be creative with opt-in incentives

Notes on The Blog Startup

In march 2019, over 4.4 million blog posts were published every day. Each minute, 380 websites are created. Why would someone read your blog when there are millions out there? Why should they buy from you instead of someone else?

Blogs don’t make money

Many of us want to get started with internet marketing because we’re fascinated with all the golden promises we’ve heard, intrigued by those income reports we’ve read, and want to scratch that itch of “Can I really make money online?”

But unless you use ads as a monetization strategy, blogs don’t make money. Businesses do. Your blog is not a business. It would be really difficult and you would need a huge amount of traffic to be able to make money from the ads alone on your blog. So when people say, “My blog makes 10k a month,” they have a solid business in the background working for them. They have a business model. They have their core or brand that is responsible for attracting people to them.

There are two ways to approach blogging when you’re starting out.
In method 1, you start with no product or service and create content to attract, grow, and nurture your audience. Your blog serves as a content hub to get people in the door.
In method 2, you have existing products and services and your blog serve to support your business.

Nail your lucrative niche

Niche is probably the most loathed word in your vocabulary right now. You’ve probably seen interconnected circles, taken quastionnaires about your passion and interests, and still circled back to where you started – with nothing to show for it.

The real reason you’re not able to pick a niche is that you’re afraid to commit. You’re afraid that you’ll go down the wrong path and waste all this time (and maybe even money) starting something that you realize later is not working. Nailing down your niche can seem like this immensely critical decision that can make or brake your site.

Here are some myths you may have heard about niches:

  • If there are big, established blogs in a niche, stay away from it
  • If you don’t have enough experience and knowledge in the niche, don’t even attempt it
  • Your niche has to be original

If there are several blogs in a niche, that niche is crowded. But it also means that there is validation of an existing audience out there for your blog.

Those big blogs may take a chunk of your audience, but not everyone will resonate with the voice and style of the big blogs. That’s the reason several blogs are able to thrive alongside each other. Remember that people are more likely to be influenced by someone they like and can relate to – someone who’s at a level that seems attainable. The pie is big enough for all of us.

Think of your blog in terms of the problem it solves. In its essence, a niche is a solution to a problem. People want to be better versions of themselves.

The missing puzzle pieces that people don’t consider before they pick a niche are:

  • Are there others in this niche who are serving a similar audience (big or small) who have the same problem or pain points that you want to help sove
  • Effectively monetizing their sites

Who is participating in the conversation in this niche? Make a list of these people. Take note of their biz models: How are they monetizing their blogs? If you see that people are paying to get rid of pain or to gain something, then there’s certainly potential in that niche. You’re looking for signs of money flows in the niche. This could be via digital products, coaching, services, events, or even physical products.

Your niche needs to have recurring income potential. You don’t want to solve a problem that people only seek help for once. You want a niche where people have the opportunity to advance and fulfill their potential at various stages. How can they solve pain points of various intensities as they progress?

What if I can’t see myself talking about a single topic?
There are lots of lifestyle blogs that make good money. But you do need to bring your topics under one overarching theme or topic. What is your main message to your audience? What is the one thing you want them to take away? What message combines your different topics?

Pick a message, keep it at the center, and then work out your value proposition. Keep drilling that in and your audience will understand what you have on offer compared to when you try to explain five other things at the same time.

Your one reader

By defining who exactly your ideal reader is, you’ll be able to:

  • Talk to your audience at the right level
  • Not waste your effort writing for people who will never enjoy or gel with your content
  • Not scratch your head thinking about what content to create because you know exactly what your audience needs


  • What frustrates them?
  • What worries do they have?
  • What websites do they visit?
  • What blogs do they read?
  • What other hobbies or interests do they have?
  • What social media channels do they hang out on?
  • What mental block do they have to overcome?
  • What is preventing your ideal reader from achieving the desired outcome?

Motivation factors:

  • What do they desire, want, and aspire to?
  • What are their fears, frustrations, and challenges?
  • What do they want to achieve in the next three years?

Mine for information

Join Facebook groups where your ideal audience members are likely to hang out. Find out what questions they are asking and what pain points they have. Other places you can mine for information on your ideal reader are Amazon, Udemy, and Product Hunt to name a few.

The more you alienate people, the more you attract your own kind of people too

The reader journey

What keeps my audience stuck in this phase and what do they need from me and my content to move forward? Create different pieces of content to fuel the reader journey.

For instance, let’s take the example of a single mom who wants to start a virtual assistant (VA) business. Here are some topics that I came up with for readers who are at different stages:

  • Why a VA business is perfect for moms and why you need to start one today (problem unaware)
  • 13 things holding you back from launching your VA business (problem aware)
  • Think you have no skills to start a VA business? Think again. Here’s why you may be perfect for the role (solution unaware)
  • How this mom makes $10K a month form her VA business (desire)
  • The only e-book you need to start your VA business in 10 days flat (action and implementation)

Determine the purpose of the post

Always determine how each piece of content is going to fit into your entire blog and business. Ask yourself what’s the goal of the post. What do you want each post to do? When you write with the end in mind, you know what the post is meant to do based on the tangible and intangible goals you set beforehand.

Tangible goals:

  • Drive opt-ins to gauge interest for a product
  • Get opt-ins and then lead them down a sequence to a paid product
  • Make an affiliate commission
  • Pitch a sponsored post
  • Educate your reader

Intangible goals:

  • Position yourself as an expert or thought leader
  • Network with influencers
  • Empower your readers
  • Entertain with personal stories

Opt-in incentives

The easiest way to grow your email list is to offer an opt-in incentive or lead magnet. Examples:

  • Swipe files
  • Cheat sheets
  • Tool kits
  • How-to guides
  • Exclusive access to membership/Facebook groups
  • Test/Quiz/Assessment
  • Webinar
  • Bite-sized email series
  • Free assessment
  • Free consult
  • Coupons
  • Loyalty program

The thank you page

The thank you page is your opportunity to wow your readers. Here are som elements you could include:

  • A picture of you
  • Clear instructions on what they should do next
  • Your social media links
  • A request to share your site or freebie
  • Links to your best content
  • Testimonials from your readers
  • A personality (the most important thing!)

Links to a selection of Meera’s books on Amazon

Personal review

I had hoped it would be a little more advanced with more insights and tips. But hey, I understand that this is meant for people who are just starting out, and from a newcomers perspective I believe it is a okay introduction. It does contain several actionable tips & tricks, and I got inspired on some of the chapters. It is also a very easy read. The book is short and the text is very big, so you’ll be rushing through it in no time. I appreciate books that are just as long as they need to be.

Rating: 5/10

Book notes

The Obesity Code: Notes

Dr. Jason Fung
Dr. Jason Fung

Dr. Jason Fung is a Canadian nephrologist. He’s a world-leading expert on intermittent fasting and low carb, especially for treating people with type 2 diabetes. He has written three best-selling health books and he co-founded the Intensive Dietary Management program.

TLDR: Main takeaways

  • Insulin drives weight-gain
  • Reduce your consumption of added sugars
  • Reduce your consumption of refined grains
  • Moderate your protein consumption
  • Increase your consumption of natural fats
  • Increase your consumption of fiber and vinegar
  • Use intermittent fasting
  • A lot of todays nutritional “truths” are based on very little or shaky scientific backing

Notes on The Obesity Code

The art of medicine is quite peculiar. Once in a while, medical treatments become established that don’t really work. Through sheer inertia, these treatments get handed down from one generation of doctors to the next and survive for a surprisingly long time, despite their lack of effectiveness.

In the science of nutrition, there is rarely any consensus about anything:

  • Dietary fat is bad. No dietary fat is good. There are good fats and bad fats.
  • Carbohydrates are bad. No, carbohydrates are good. There are good carbs and bad carbs.
  • You should eat more meals a day. No, you should eat fewer meals a day.

Evidence-based medicine does not mean taking every piece of low-quality evidence at face value. I often read statements such as “low-fat diets proven to completely reverse heart disease.” The reference will be a study of five rats.

The parable of the cow

Two cows were discussing the latest nutritional research, which had been done on lions. One cow says to the other, “Did you hear that we’ve been wrong these last 200 years? The latest research shows that eating grass is bad for you and eating meat is good.” So the two cows began eating meat. Shortly afterward, they got sick and died.

Causal factors vs association studies

It is dangerous to assume that because two factors are associated, one is the cause of the other. Witness the hormone replacement therapy disaster in post-menopausal women. Hormone replacement therapy was associated with lower heart disease, but that did not mean that it was the cause of lower heart disease. However, in nutritional research, it is not always possible to avoid association studies, as they are often the best available evidence.

Of all the parasites that affect humanity, I do not know of, nor can I imagine, any more distressing than that of obesity

William Banting

Fat doctors

Here’s the question that has always bothered me: Why are there doctors who are fat? Accepted as authorities in human physiology, doctors should be true experts on the causes and treatments of obesity. Most doctors are also very hardworking and self-diciplined. Since nobody wants to be fat, doctors in particular should have both the knowledge and the dedication to stay thin and healthy. So why are there fat doctors?
The standard prescription for weight loss is “Eat less, move more.” It sounds perfectly reasonable, but why doesn’t it work?

The demonization of dietary fat

The increase in life expectancy from 1900 to 1950 reinforced the perception of a coronary disease epidemic. For a white male, the life expectancy in 1900 was fifty years. By 1950, it had reached sixty-six years, and by 1970, almost sixty-eight years. If people were not dying of tuberculosis, then they would live long enough to develop their heart attack. Currently, the average age at first heart attack is sixty-six years. The risk of a heart attack in a fifty-year-old man is substantially lower than in a sixty-eight-year-old man. So the natural consequence of a longer life expectancy is an increased rate of coronary disease.

But all great stories need a villain, and dietary fat was cast into that role. Dietary fat was thought to increase the amount of cholesterol, a fatty substance that is thought to contribute to heart disease, in the blood. Soon, physicians began to advocate lower-fat diets. With great enthusiasm and shaky science, the demonization of dietary fat began in earnest.

There was a problem, though we didn’t see it at the time. The three macronutrients are fat, protein and carbohydrates: lowering dietary fat meant replacing it with either protein or carbohydrates. Since many high-protein foods like meat and dairy are also high in fat, it is difficult to lower fat in the diet without lowering protein as well.

So, if one were to restrict dietary fats, then one must increase dietary carbohydrates and vice versa. In the developed world, these carbohydrates all tend to be highly refined. Low fat = high carbohydrate.

This dilemma created significant cognitive dissonance. Refined carbohydrates coult not be simultaneously be both good (because they are low in fat) and bad (because they are fattening). The solution adopted by most nutrition experts was to suggest that carbohydrates were no longer fattening. Instead, calories were fattening. Without evidence or historical precedent, it was arbitrarily decided that excess calories caused weight gain, not specific foods. Fat, as the dietary villain, was now deemed fattening – a previously unknown concept. The calories-in/calories-out model began to displace the prevailing “fattening carbohydrates” model.

The issue was finally settled in 1977, not by scientific debate and discovery, but by governmental decree. George McGovern, then chairman of the United States Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, convened a tribunal, and after several days of deliberation, it was decided that henceforth, dietary fat was guilty as charged. Not only was dietary fat guilty of causing heart disease, but it also caused obesity, since fat is calorically dense.

The resulting declaration became the Dietary Goals for the United States. An entire nation, and soon the entire world, would now follow nutritional advice from a politician. This was a remarkable break from tradition. For the first time, a government institution intruded into the kitchens of America. Mom used to tell us what we should and should not eat. But from now on Big Brother would be telling us. And he said, “Eat less fat and more carbohydrates.”

The food pyramid

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, now updated every five years, spawned the infamous food pyramid in all its counterfactual glory. The foods that formed the base of the pyramid – the foods we should eat every single day – were breads, pastas and potatoes. These were the prceise foods that we had previously avoided to stay thin. For example, the American Heart Association’s 1995 pamphlet, The American Heart Association Diet: An Eating Plan for Healthy Americans, declared we should eat six or more servings of “breads, cereals, pasta and starchy vegetables that are low in fat and cholesterol.” To drink, “Choose fruit punches, carbonated soft drinks.” Ahhh. White bread and carbonated soft drinks – the dinner of champions. Thank you, American Heart Association.


Refined grain consumption increased by almost 45 percent. Since carbohydrates in North America tended to be refined, we ate more and more low-fat bread and pasta, not cauliflower and kale.
Success! From 1976 to 1996, the average

  • fat intake increased from 45 percent of calories to 35 percent
  • Butter consumption decreased 38 percent
  • Animal protein decreased 13 percent
  • Egg consumption decreased 18 percent
  • Grains and sugars increased

There is no survival advantage to carrying a very high body-fat percentage. A male marathon runner may have 5 to 11 percent body fat. This amount provides enough energy to survive for more than a month without eating.

Is a calorie a calorie?

“A calorie is a calorie” implies that the only important variable in weight gain is the total caloric intake, and thus, all foods can be reduced to their caloric energy. But does a calorie of olive oil cause the same metabolic response as a calorie of sugar? The answer is, obviously, no. These two foods have many easily measurable differences. Sugar will increase the blood glucose level and provoke an insulin response from the pancreas. Olive oil will not. When olive oil is absorbed by the small intestine and transported to the liver, there is no significant increase in blood glucose or insulin. The two foods evoke vastly different metabolic and hormonal responses.

How do we process food?

What is a calorie? A calorie is simply a unit of energy. Different foods are burned in a laboratory, and the amount of heat released is measured to determine a caloric value for that food. All the foods we eat contain calories. Food first enters the somach, where it is mixed with stomach acid and slowly released into the small intestine. Nutrients are extracted throughout the journey through the small and large intestines. What remains is excreted as stool. Proteins are broken down into their building blocks, amino acids. These are used to build and repair the body’s tissues, and the excess is stored. Fats are directly absorbed into the body. Carbohydrates are broken down into their building blocks, sugars. Proteins, fats and carbohydrates all provide caloric energy for the body, but differ greatly in their metabolic processing. This results in different hormonal stimuli.

Caloric reduction is not the primary factor in weight loss

The correlation between weight gain and the increase in calorie consumption has recently broken down. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in the United States from 1990 to 2010 finds no association between increased calorie consumption and weight gain. While obesity increased at a rate of 0.37 percent per year, caloric intake remained virtually stable. Women slightly increased their average daily intake from 1761 to 1781, but men slightly decreased theirs from 2616 to 2511.

If we eat an extra 200 calories today, nothing prevents the body from burning that excess for heat. Or perhaps that extra 200 calories is excreted as stool. Or perhaps the liver uses the extra 200. We obsess about caloric input into the system, but output is far more important.

Reducing calories in works only if calories out remains stable. What we find instead is that a sudden reduction of calories in causes a similar reduction in calories out, and no weight is lost as the body balances its energy budget. Some historic experiments in calorie reduction have shown exactly this.

(In this experiment) thirty-six young, healthy, normal men were selected. For the first three months, subjects received a standard diet of 3200 calories per day. Over the next six months of semi-starvation, only 1570 calories were given to them. However, caloric intake was continually adjusted to reach a target total weight loss of 24 percent, averaging 1.1 kg per week. Some eventually received less than 1000 calories per day.

Even (the professor initiating the study) was shocked by the difficulty of the experiment. The men experienced profound physical and psychological changes. Among the most consistent findings was the constant feeling of cold experience by the participants.
Resting metabolic rate dropped by 40 percent. Measurement of the subjects strength showed a 21 percent decrease. Heart rate slowed considerably, from an average of fifty-five beats per minute to only thirty-five. Heart stroke volume decreased by 20 percent. Body temperature dropped to 35.4 degrees. Physical endurance dropped by half. Blood pressure dropped. Men became extremely tired and dizzy. They lost hair and their nails grew brittle. Psychologically, there were equally devastating effects. The men experienced a complete lack of interest in everything except for food.

The body reacts in this way – by reducing energy expenditure – because the body is smart and doesn’t want to die. What would happen if the body continued to expend 3000 calories daily while taking in only 1500? Soon fat stores would be burned, then protein stores would be burned, and then you would die. Nice. The smart course of action for the body is to immediately reduce caloric expenditure to 1500 calories per day to restore balance. Caloric expenditure may even be adjusted a little lower to create a margin of safety. This is exactly what the body does.

With reflection, it should immediately be obvious that caloric expenditure must decrease. If we reduce daily calorie intake by 500 calories, we assume that 0.45 kg of fat per week is lost. Does that mean that in 200 weeks, we would lose 91 kg and weigh zero kg? Of course not. The body must, at some point, reduce its caloric expenditure to meet the lower caloric intake.

Doctor’s orders

The applicability of these findings to caloric-reduction diets is obvious. Assume that prior to dieting, a woman eats and burns 2000 calories per day. Following doctor’s orders, she adopts a calorie-restricted portion-controlled, low-fat diet, reducing her intake by 500 calories per day. She feels lousy, tired, cold, hungry, irritable and depressed, but sticks with it, thinking that things must eventually improve. Initially, she loses weight, but as her body’s caloric expenditure decreases to match her lowered intake, her weight plateaus. Her dietary compliance is good, but one year later, things have not improved. Her weight slowly creeps back up, even though she eats the same number of calories. Tired of feeling so lousy, she abandons the failed diet and resumes eating 2000 calories per day. Since her metabolism has slowed to an output of only 1500 calories per day, all her weight comes rushing back – as fat. Those around her silently accuse her of lacking willpower. Sound familiar? But her weight regain is not her failure. Instead, it’s to be expected. Everything described here has been well documented over the last 100 years!

Caloric reduction and portion-control strategies only make you tired and hungry. Worst of all, you regain all the weight you have lost.


Glycogen is easily available, but in limited supply. During a short-term fast, your body has enough glycogen available to function. During a prolonged fast, your body can make new glucose from its fat stores – a process called gluconeogenesis (the “making of new sugar”). Fat is burned to release energy, which is then sent out to the body – the fat-storage process in reverse.

This situation partially explains the difficulty in losing accumulated fat. Before getting money from the bank, you spend what’s in your wallet first. But you don’t like having an empty wallet. In the same manner, before getting energy from the Fat Bank, you spend the energy in the Glycogen Wallet. But you also don’t like an empty Glycogen Wallet. So you keep the Glycogen Wallet filled, which prevents you from accessing the Fat Bank. In other words, before you can even begin to burn fat, you start feeling hungry and anxious because your glycogen is becoming depleted. If you continually refill your glycogen stores, you never need to use you fat stores for energy.


Under normal conditions, high insulin levels encourage sugar and fat storage. Low insulin levels encourage glycogen and fat burning. Sustained levels of excessive insulin will tend to increase fat storage. An imbalance between the feeding and fasting will lead to increased insulin, which causes increased fat, and voilà – obesity. Could insulin be the hormonal regulator of body weight?

Certainly, the insulin response differs greatly between lean and obese patients. Obese patients tend to have a higher fasting insulin level, as well as an exaggerated insulin response to food. It is possible that this hormonal activity leads to weight gain.

Insulin can make you fat

In a fascinating 1993 study, high-dose insulin allowed virtual normalization of blood sugars in a group of type 2 diabetic patients. Starting from zero, the dose was increased to an average of 100 units per day over a period of six months. At the same time, patients decreased their caloric intake by more than 300 calories per day.

The patients’ blood sugar levels were great. But what happened to their weight? It increased by an average of 8.7 kg! Despite eating less than ever, patients gained weight like crazy. It wasn’t calories that drove their weight gain. It was insulin.

Insulin can make you thin

If insulin causes weight gain, can lowering its levels have the opposite effect? Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Type 1 diabetes has been descibred since ancient times. Arataeus of Cappadocia, a renowned ancient Greek pysician, wrote this classic description: “Diabetes is a melting down of flesh and limbs into urine.” No matter how many calories the patient ingests, he or she cannot gain any weight. Until the discovery of insulin, this disease was almost universally fatal.

Insulin levels go waaayyy down. Patients lose a lot of weight. In the type 1 diabetic community, there is a disorder called “diabulimia.” Diabulimia is the deliberate under-dosing of insulin for the purpose of immediate and substantial weight loss. It is extremely dangerous and certainly not advisable. However, the practice persist because it is an extremely effective form of weight loss.

Insulin levels go down. Weight is lost.

The results are very consistent. Drugs that raise insulin levels cause weight gain. Drugs that have no effect on insulin levels are weight neutral. Drugs that lower insulin levels cause weight loss. The effect on weight is independent of the effect on blood sugar.


Hormones tell us we are hungry (ghrelin). Hormones tell us we are full (peptide yy, cholecystokinin). Hormones increase energy expenditure (adrenalin). Hormones shut down energy expenditure (thyroid hormone). Obesity is a hormonal dysregulation of fat accumulation. Calories are nothing more than the proximate cause of obesity.

Obesity is a hormonal, not a caloric imbalance.

Both fasting insulin and fasting leptin levels are higher in obese people, indicating a state of both insulin and leptin resistance. The leptin response to a meal was also different. In lean people, leptin levels rose – which makes sense, as leptin is a satiety hormone. However, in obese subjects, leptin levels fell. Despite the meal, their brains were not getting the message to stop eating.

Understanding how to treat obesity

Once we understand that obesity is a hormonal imbalance, we can begin to treat it. If we believe that excess calories cause obesity, then the treatment is to reduce calories. But this method has been a complete failure. However, if too much insulin causes obesity, then it becomes clear we need to lower insulin levels.
The question is not how to balance calories; the question is how to balance our hormones. The most crucial question in obesity is how to reduce insulin.


Once released, cortisol substantially enhances glucose availability, which provides energy for muscles – very necessary in helping us to run and avoid being eaten. All available energy is directed toward surviving the stressful event. Growth, digestion and other long-term metabolic activities are temporarily restricted. Proteins are broken down and converted to glucose .

At first glance, cortisol and insulin appears to have opposite effects. Insulin is a storage hormone. Under high insulin levels (mealtimes), the body stores energy in the form of glycogen and fat. Cortisol, however, prepares the body for action, moving energy out of stores and into readily available forms, such as glucose. That cortisol and insulin would have similar weight-gain effects seems remarkable – but they do. With short-term physical stress, insulin and cortisol play opposite roles. Something quite different happens, though, when we’re under long-term psychological stress.

In our modern-day lives, we have many chronic, nonphysical stressors that increase our cortisol levels. For example, marital issues, problems at work, arguments with children and sleep deprivation are all serious stressors, but they do not result in the vigorous physical exertion needed to burn off the blood glucose. Under conditions of chronic stress, glucose levels remain high and there is no resolution to the stressor. Our blood glucose can remain elevated for months, triggering the release of insulin. Chronically elevated cortisol leads to increased insulin levels – as demonstrated by several studies.

And so, by extension, stress causes weight gain – something that many people have intuitively understood, despite the lack of rigourous evidence. Stress contains neither calories nor carbohydrates, but can still lead to obesity. Long-term stress leads to long-term elevated cortisol levels, which leads to extra pounds.


Sleep deprivation is a major cause of chronic stress today. Sleep duration has been steadily declining. In 1910, people slept nine hours on average. However, recently, more than 30 percent of adults between the age of thirty and sixty-four report getting fewer than six hours of sleep per night. Shift workers are especially prone to sleep deprivation and often report fewer than five hours of sleep per night.

Population studies consistently link short sleep duration and excess weight, generally with seven hours being the point where weight gain starts. Sleeping five to six hours was associated with a more than 50 percent increased risk of weight gain. The more sleep deprivation, the more weight gained.

Getting enough sleep is essential to any weight loss plan.

The empire strikes back

The American Heart Association (AHA) published its own book called the No-Fad Diet: A personal Plan for Healthy Weight Loss. It’s only mildly ironic that while condemning other diets, the AHA would recommend the only diet (low-fat) repeatedly proven to fail. But the low-fat religion was enshrined in the medical community and it did not tolerate disbelievers.

No concern that higher intake of sugar and other refined carbohydrates could be harmful. No concern that the low-fat diet had been proved a spectacular failure by every dietary study done. No concern that obesity and diabetes epidemics were raging full force under their very noses. The AHA fiddled while Rome burned.

During the forty years that the AHA advised a low-fat diet, the obesity crisis grew to gargantuan proportions. Yet no time did the AHA question whether their completely ineffectual advice was actually helping people. Instead, doctors played their favorite game: blame the patient. It is not our fault the diet doesn’t work. It is their fault for not following the diet.

It is now increasingly recognized that the low-fat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and may have caused unintended health consequences

Harvard researchers DRS. Frank Hu & Walter Willett, 2001


The liver manufactures the overwhelming majority -80 percent- of the blood cholesterol, with only 20 percent coming from diet. Cholesterol is often portrayed as some harmful poisonous substance that must be eliminated, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Cholesterol is a key building block in the membranes that surround all the cells in our body. In fact, it’s so vital that every cell in the body except the brain has the ability to make it. If you reduce cholesterol in your diet, your body will simply make more.

Addictive food

Let us assume we’re at a all-you-can-eat buffet. At some point, you simply cannot eat any more, and the idea of consuming two more pork chops is sickening. That feeling is your satiety hormones telling you that you’ve had enough. But what if you were offered a small slice of cake or apple pie? Doesn’t seem so hard to eat now, does it? As kids, we used to call this the second-stomach phenomenon: after the first stomach for regular food was full, we imagined that there was a second one for desserts. Somehow, despite being full, we still have room for highly refined carbohudrates like cake and pie – but not proteins or fats. Highly refined and processed foods somehow do not trigger the release of satiety hormones, and we go ahead and eat cake.

Think about foods that people say they’re “addicted” to. Pasta, bread, cookies, chocolate, chips. Notice anything? All are highly refined carbohydrates. Does anybody ever say they are addicted to fish? Apples? Beef? Spinach? Not likely. Those are all delicious foods, but not addictive.

Refined carbohydrates are easy to become addicted to and overeat precisely because there are no natural satiety hormones for refined carbs. The reason is that refined carbohydrates are not natural foods but are instead highly processed. Their toxicity lies in that processing.

Unrefined carbohydrates are different

Dr Staffan Lindeberg studied the residents of Kitava, one of the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea – one of the last places on earth where poeple ate a largely traditional diet. Starchy vegetables, including yam, sweet potato, taro and cassava, made up the basis of their diet. An estimated 69 percent of calories were derived from carbohydrates, and less than 1 percent of the calories came from processed Western foods.

Despite this high carbohydrate intake, insulin was very low among the Kitavans, resulting in virtually no obesity. Comparing the Kitavans to his native Swedish population, Dr. Lindeberg found that despite a diet that was 70 percent carbohydrates (unrefined), the Kitavans had insulin levels below the 5th percentile of Swedes. The body mass index of young Kitavans averaged 22 (normal) and it decreased with age.

Similarly, natives of the Japanese island of Okinawa eat a diet that is nearly 85 percent unrefined carbohydrates. The dietary staple is sweet potato. They eat three times as many green and yellow vegetables, but only 25 percent of the sugar consumed by residents of nearby Japan. Despite the high intake of carbohydrates, there is virtually no obesity, and the average body mass index is only 20.4. They are one of the longest-lived people in the world, with more than triple the rate (compared to nearby Japan) of people living past 100 years.


In his 1945 Nobel lecture, “Penicillin,” Dr. Fleming correctly predicted the emergence of resistance:

“There is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by eposing his mocrobes to non lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant. Here is a hypothetical illustration: Mr. X has a sore throat. He buys some penicillin and gives himself, not enough to kill the streptococci but enough to educate them to resist penicillin.

By 1947, the first cases of antibiotic resistance were reported. How did Dr. Fleming so confidently predict this development? He understood homeostasis. Exposure causes resistance. A biological system that becomes disturbed tries to go back to its original state. As we use an antibiotic more and more, organisms resistant to it are naturally selected to survive and reproduce. Eventually, these resistant organisms dominate, and the antibiotic becomes useless.

(…) even using normal, physiologic levels of insulin will yield the exact same result. Men with no previous history of obesity, pre-diabetes or diabetes were given a ninety-six-hour constant intravenous infusion of insulin. By the end, their insulin sensitivity dropped by 20 percent to 40 percent. The implications are simply staggering. With normal but persistent amounts of insulin alone, these healthy, young, lean men can be made insulin resistant. I can start these men on the road to diabetes and obesity simply by administering insulin – which causes insulin resistance.

The main compartments are the brain, liver and muscle. Changing the resistance of one does not change resistance in the others. For example, hepatic (liver) insulin resistance does not affect insulin resistance in the brain or muscle. When we ingest excess carbohydrates, we develop hepatic insulin resistance. Significant dietary intervention will reverse the hepatic insulin resistance, but will have no effect on insulin resistance in the muscles or the brain. Lack of exercise may lead to insulin resistance in the muscles. Exercise will increase insulin sensitivity there, but has little effect on insulin resistance in the liver or brain.

Whenever the body is exposed to a constant stimulus, it acclimates to it

When we eat

In the development of obesity, the increase in meals is almost twice as important as the change in diet. We obsess about what we should eat, all in the hopes of making us slim. But we spare not even a single thought as to when we should be eating.

Eating six small meals per day causes the metabolic rate to go up six times a day, but only a little.

One myth is that eating frequently keeps blood glucose from becoming too low. But unless you have diabetes, your blood sugars are stable whether you eat six times a day or six times a month.

We are eating all the time. Societal norms, which had previously frowned upon eating except at mealtimes, now permit eating anywhere, anytime. Government agencies and schools actively encourage snacking, something that previously had been heavily discouraged. We are taught to eat the minute we roll out of bed. We are taught to eat throughout the day and eat again just before sleep. We spend up to eighteen hours in the insulin-dominant state, with only six hours insulin deficient.

Crazier still – we have been brainwashed to believe that constant eating is somehow good for us! Not just acceptable, but healthy.

Indeed, many health professionals have been very vocal about increasing the number of eating occasions. This situation is just as crazy as it sounds. Eat more to weigh less. That doesn’t even sound like it will work. And guess what? It doesn’t.

Big Food

Big Food sponsors many large nutritional organizations. And then there are the medical associations. In 1988, the American Heart Association decided that it would be a good idea to start accepting cash to put its Heart Check symbol on foods of otherwise dubious nutritional quality. The Center for Science in the Public Interest estimates that in 2002, the AHA received over $2 million from this program alone. Food companies paid $7500 for one to nine products, but there was a volume discount for more than twenty-five products! Exclusive deals were, of course, more expensive. In 2009, nutritional standouts such as Cocoa Puffs and Frosted Mini Wheats were still on the Heart Check list.

Funding sources

Funding sources have enormous influence on study results. In a 2007 study that looked specifically on soft drinks, Dr. David Ludwig from Harvard University found that accepting funds from companies whose products are reviewed increased the likelihood of a favorable result by approximately 700 percent!

The scapegoat: Calories

The obesity epidemic couldn’t very well be ignored, and a culprit had to be found. “Calories” was the perfect scapegoat. Eat fewer calories, they said. But eat more of everything else. There is no company that sells “Calories,” nor is there a brand called “Calories.” There is no food called “Calories.” Nameless and faceless, calories were the ideal stooge. “Calories” could now take all the blame. They say candy doesn’t make you fat. Calories does. They say that 100 calories of cola is just as likely as 100 calories of broccoli to make you fat. They say that a calorie is a calorie. But show me a single person that grew fat by eating too much steamed broccoli. I know it. You know it.

One of the worst myths is that eating more frequently causes weight loss. Eat snacks to lose weight? It sounds pretty stupid. And it is.

Obesity has begun to afflict younger and younger children. In one study covering a twenty-two-year period ending in 2001, children of all ages show an increased prevalence of obesity, even in the zero- to six-month-old age range. That finding is especially interesting. Conventional calorie-based theories of obesity are unable to explain this trend. Obesity is considered an energy-balance problem, one of eating too much and exercising too little. Since six month-olds eat on demand and are often breastfed, it is impossible that they eat too much. Since they do not walk, it is impossible that they exercise too little. Similarly, birth weight has increased by as much as 200 grams over the last twenty-five years. The newborn cannot eat too much or exercise too little. What is going on here?

The sad but inescapable conclusion is that we are now passing on our obesity to our children. Why? Because we are now marinating our children in insulin starting in the womb, they develop more severe obesity sooner than ever before. Because obesity is time dependent and gets worse, fat babies become fat children. Fat children become fat adults. And fat adults have fat babies in turn, passing obesity on to the next generation.

Several large-scale studies on prevention of childhood obesity were started in the late 1990s. (…) The specific nutritional goal was to reduce dietary fat to less than 30 percent (…) Did the children learn how to eat a low-fat diet? Sure did. Dietary fat started at 34 percent of calories and over the course of the study, fell to 27 percent. Did they eat fewer calories? Sure did. The intervention group averaged 1892 calories per day compared to 2157 calories per day in the control group. Fantastic! The children were eating 265 fewer calories per day. They learned their lessons extremely well, eating fewer calories and less fat overall. Over the course of three years, calorie counters expected a loss of approximately 37 kilograms! But did the children’s weight actually change? Not even by a little bit. It was the “largest school-based randomized trial ever conducted.” They ate less and exercised more. They just didn’t lose any weight.

Calories do not drive weight gain, and thus reducing them will not lead to weight loss.

Knowing that they were fighting a losing battle in North America and Europe, the sugar pushers took aim at Asia to make up for lost profits. Asian sugar consumption is rising at almost 5 percent per year. Things are shocking when you consider that only 1 percent of Chinese had type 2 diabetes in 1980. In a single generation, the diabetes rate rose by a horrifying 1160 percent. Sugar, more than any other refined carbohydrate, seems to be particularly fattening and leads to type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes correlates with sugar, not calories.


The majority of Americans identify breakfast as the most important meal of the day. Eating a hearty breakfast is considered a cornerstone of a healthy diet. Skipping it, we are told, will make us ravenously hungry and prone to overeat for the rest of the day. Although we think it’s a universal truth, it’s really only a North American custom. Many people in France (a famously skinny nation) drink coffee in the morning and skip breakfast.

It is simply not necessary to eat the minute we wake up. We imagine the need to “fuel up” for the day ahead. However, our body has already done that automatically. Every morning, just before we wake up, a natural circadian rhythm jolts our bodies with a heady mix of growth hormone, cortisol, epinephrine and adrenalin. This cocktail stimulates the liver to make new glucose, essentially giving us a shot of the good stuff to wake us up. This effect is called the dawn phenomenon, and it has been well described for decades.

Many people are not hungry in the morning. The natural cortisol and adrenalin released stimulates a mild flight-or-fight response, which activates the sympathetic nervous system.

Our bodies are gearing up for action in the morning, not for eating.

All these hormones release glucose into the blood for quick energy. We’re already gassed up and ready to go. There is simply no need to refuel with sugary cereals and bagels. Morning hunger is often a behavior learned over decades, starting in childhood.

A large breakfast is thought to reduce food intake throughout the rest of the day. However, such does not always seem to be the case. Studies show that lunch and dinner portions tend to stay constant, regardless of the amount of calories taken at breakfast. The more one eats at breakfast, the higher the total caloric intake over the entire day. Worse, taking breakfast increases the number of eating opportunities in a day. Breakfast eaters therefore tend to eat more and eat more often – a deadly combination.

Furthermore, many people confess that they are not hungry first thing in the morning and force themselves to eat only because they feel that doing so is the healthy choice. As ridiculous as it sounds, many people force themselves to eat more in an effort to lose weight.

(In a study) breakfast eaters averaged 539 extra calories per day compared to those that skipped breakfast – a finding consistent with other trials.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day – for Big Food. Sensing the perfect opportunity to sell more highly profitable, highly processed “breakfast” foods, Big Food circled the easy money like sharks on wounded prey. “Eat breakfast!” they thundered. “It’s the most important meal of the day!” they bellowed. Even better, here was an opportunity to “educate” the doctors, dieticians and other medical professionals. Those people had a respectability Big Food could never achieve. So the money flowed.

There are some commonsense questions you can ask yourself about breakfast. Are you hungry at breakfast? If not, listen to your body and don’t eat. Does breakfast make you hungry? If you eat a slice of toast and drink a glass of orange juice in the morning – are you hungry an hour later? If so, don’t eat breakfast. If you are hungry and want to eat breakfast, then do so. But avoid sugars and refined carbohydrates. Skipping breakfast does not give you the freedom to eat a Krispy Kreme donut as a mid-morning snack either.

Our own disaster

Our own disastrous, misguided dietary changes since the 1970s have created the diabesity debacle. We have seen the enemy, and it is ourselves. Eat more carbohydrates. Eat more often. Eat breakfast. Eat more. Ironically, these dietary changes were prescribed to reduce heart disease, but instead, we’ve encouraged it since diabesity is one of the strongest risk factors for heart disease and stroke. We’ve been trying to put out a fire with gasoline.

Government policies

Despite the similarity in culture and genetics between populations in Canada and the United States, U.S rates of obesity are much higher. This fact suggests that government policies must play a role in the development of obesity.

Socioeconomic status has long been known to play a role in development of obesity in that poverty correlates very closely with obesity. States with the most poverty also tend to have the most obesity.

Financial aid

While mass production of corn and wheat receives generous support, the same cannot be said for cabbage, broccoli, apples, strawberries, spinach, lettuce and blueberries. Food additives receive almost thirty times more in subsidies. Saddest of all, apples receive the most, not the least, federal aid of all fruits and vegetables. All other receive negligible support.

Was this a giant conspiracy to keep us sick? Doubtful. The large subsidies were simply the result of programs to make food affordable, which began in the 1970s. Back then, the major health concern was not obesity, but heart disease that was believed to be the result of excess dietary fat. The base of the Food Pyramid, the foods to be eaten by us every day, was bread, pasta, potatoes and rice. Naturally, money flowed into subsidies for those foods, the production of which was encouraged by the U.S Department of Agriculture. Refined grains and corn products soon became affordable by all. Obesity followed like the grim reaper.

It is noteworthy that, in the 1920s, sugar was relatively expensive. A 1930 study showed that type 2 diabetes was far more common among the wealthier northern states compared to the poorer southern states. As sugar became extremely cheap, however, this relationship inverted. Now, poverty is associated with type 2 diabetes, rather than the other way around.

The second-stomach phenomenon

Removing protein and fat in the diet may lead to overconsumption. There are natural satiety hormones (peptide YY, cholecystokinin) that respond to protein and fat. Eating pure carbohydrate does not activate these systems and leads to overconsumption (the second-stomach phenomenon).


A big problem was the inadvertent triumph of nutritionism. Rather than discussing individual foods (spinach, beef, ice cream), nutritionism reduced foods to only three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. They were then subdivided further as saturated and unsaturated fats, trans fats, simple and complex carbohydrates, etc. This sort of simplistic analysis does not capture the hundreds of nutrients and phytochemicals in foods, all of which affect our metabolism. Nutritionism ingnores the complexity of food science and human biology.

An avocado, for instance, is not simply 88 percent fat, 16 percent carbohydrate and 5 percent protein with 4.9 grams of fiber. This sort of nutritional reductionism is how avocadoes became classified for decades as a “bad” food due to their high fat content, only to be reclassified today as a “super food”. Nutritionally, a piece of butterscotch candy cannot be reasonably compared to kale simply because both contain equal amounts of carbohydrate.

Nutritionally, a teaspoon of trans-fat-laden margarine cannot be reasonably compared to an avocado simply because both contain equal amounts of fats.

Smarter than nature

We gave our children artificial baby formula. We drank artificially sweetened sodas. We thought we were smarter than Mother Nature. Whatever she had made, we could make better. Out with all-natural butter. In with industrially produced, artificially colored trans-fat-laden margarine! Out with natural animal fats. In with solvent-extracted, bleached and deodorized vegetable oil! What could possibly go wrong?


Saturated fats are so named because they are saturated with hydrogen. This makes them chemically stable. The polyunsaturated fats, like most vegetable oils, have “holes” where the hydrogen is “missing.” They are less stable chemically, so they have a tendency to go rancid and have a short shelf life. The solution was to create artificial trans fats.

Ironically, trans-fat-laden margarines had always branded themselves as heart healthy since they were low in saturated fat. Twenty-year follow-up data from the Framingham study revealed that margarine consumption was associated with more heart attacks. By contrast, eating more butter was associated with fewer heart attacks.

A comprehensive review of all the studies of high-fat dairy finds no association with obesity, with whole milk, sour cream and cheese offering greater benefits than low-fat dairy.

Eating fat does not make you fat, but may protect you against it

Eating fat together with other foods tends to decrease glucose and insulin spikes. If anything, dietary fat would be expected to protect against obesity.

While literally thousands of papers have reviewed this data, perhaps Dr. Walter Willett of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said it best in his 2002 review article entitled, “Dietary Fat Plays a Major Role in Obesity: No.” Considered one of the world’s foremost experts in nutrition, he writes: “Diets high in fat do not account for the high prevalence of excess body fat in Western countries; reduction in the percentage of energy from fat will have no important benefits and could further exacerbate this problem. The emphasis on total fat reduction has been a serious distraction in efforts to control obesity and improve health in general.

The multifactorial nature of obesity

The multifactorial nature of obesity is the crucial missing link. There is no one single cause of obesity. Do calories cause obesity? Yes, partially. Do carbohydrates cause obesity? Yes, partially. Does fiber protect us from obesity? Yes, partially. Does insulin resistance cause obesity? Yes, partially. Does sugar cause obesity? Yes, partially. All these factors converge on several hormonal pathways that lead to weight gain, and insulin is the most important of these. Low-carbohydrate diets reduce insulin. Low-calorie diets restrict all foods and therefore reduce insulin. Paleo and LCHF diets (low in refined and processed foods) reduce insulin. Reduced-food-reward diets reduce insulin.

The truth is that there are multiple overlapping pathways that lead to obesity. The common uniting theme is the hormonal imbalance of hyper-insulinemia. For some patients, sugar or refined carbohydrates are the main problem. Low-carbohydrate diets may work best here. For others, the main problem may be insulin resistance. Changing meal timing or intermittent fasting may be the most beneficial. For others, the cortisol pathway is domimant. Stress reduction techniques or correcting sleep deprivation may be critical. Lack of fiber may be the critical factor for yet others.

Most diets attack one part of the problem at a time. But why? In cancer treatment, for example, multiple types of chemotherapy and radiation are combined together. The probability of success is much higher with a broad-based attack. In cardiovascular disease, multiple drug treatments work together. Treating high blood pressure does not mean ignoring smoking.

In cardiovascular disease, for example, “Choose the treatment that suits you” would never be considered satisfactory advice.

It is also important to tailor the approach individually to address the cause of the high insulin levels. For example, if chronic sleep deprivation is the main problem causing weight gain, then decreasing refined grains is not likely to help. If excessive sugar intake is the problem, then mindfulness meditation is not going to be especially helpful.

Obesity is a hormonal disorder of fat regulation. Insulin is the major hormone that drives weight gain, so the rational therapy is to lower insulin levels.

The steps to lower insulin levels

  • Reduce your consumption of added sugars
  • Reduce your consumption of refined grains
  • Moderate your protein consumption
  • Increase your consumption of natural fats
  • Increase your consumption of fiber and vinegar


Coffee, even the decaffeinated version, appears to protect against type 2 diabetes. In a 2009 review, each additional daily cup of coffee lowered the risk of diabetes by 7 percent, even up to six cups per day. The European Protective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study estimated that drinking at least three cups of coffee or tea daily reduced the risk of diabetes by 42 percent. The Singapore Chinese Health Study showed a 30 percent reduction in risk.

Coffee drinking is associated with a 10 to 15 percent reduction in total mortality. Large-scale studies found that most major causes of death, including heart disease were reduced. Coffee may guard against the neurologic diseases Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

A word of caution here: While these correlation studies are suggestive, they are not proof of benefit. However, they suggest that coffee may not be as harmful as we imagined.


Vinegar is also a protective factor. Used in many traditional foods, it may help reduce insulin spikes. Italians often eat bread dipped in oil and vinegar – a prime example of eating a high-carb food with protective factors. Vinegar is added to sushi rice, which reduces its glycemic index by 20 to 40 percent.


While we obsess over the question of what to eat, we virtually ignore the crucial aspect of meal timing

To succeed, we must break the insulin-resistance cycle. But how? The body’s knee-jerk reaction to insulin resistance is to increase insulin levels, which, in turn, creates even more resistance. To break the cycle, we must have recurring periods of very low insulin levels.

We know that eating the proper foods prevents high levels, but it won’t do much to lower them. Some foods are better than others; nonetheless, all foods increase insulin production. If all foods raise insulin, then the only way for us to lower it is to completely abstain from food. The answer we are looking for, is fasting.

The ancient Greeks believed that medical treatment could be discovered by observing nature. Humans, like most animals, do not eat when they become sick. Consider the last time you were sick with the flu. Probably the last thing you wanted to was eat. Fasting seems to be a universal human response to multiple forms of illnesses and is ingrained in human heritage, as old as mankind itself. Fasting is, in a sense, an instinct.

The ancient Greeks believed that fasting improved cognitive abilities. Think about the last time you ate a huge Thanksgiving meal. Did you feel more energetic and mentally alert afterward? Or instead, did you feel sleepy and a little dopey? More likely the latter. Blood is shunted to your digestive system to cope with the huge influx of food, leaving less blood for brain function. Fasting does the opposite, leaving more blood for your brain.

The body’s response to fasting

Glucose and fat are the body’s main sources of energy. When glucose is not available, then the body adjusts by using fat, without any health detriment. This compensation is a natural part of life. Periodic food scarcity has always been part of human history, and our bodies have evolved processes to deal with this fact of Paleolithic life. The transition from the fed state to the fasted state occurs in several stages.

  • Feeding: During meals, insulin levels are raised. This allows glucose uptake by tissues such as the muscle or brain for direct use as energy. Excess glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver.
  • The post-absorptive phase (six to twenty-four hours after fasting starts): Insulin levels begin to fall. The breakdown of glycogen releases glucose for energy. Glycogen stores last for roughly twenty-four hours.
  • Gluconeogenesis (twenty-four hours to two days): The liver manufactures new glucose from amino acids and glycerol. In non-diabetic persons, glucose levels fall but stay within the normal range.
  • Ketosis (one to three days after fasting starts): The storage form of fat, triglycerides, is broken into the glycerol backbone and three fatty acid chains. Glycerol is used for gluconeogenesis. Fatty acids may be used directly for energy by many tissues in the body, but not the brain. Ketone bodies, capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, are produced from fatty acids for use by the brain. Ketones can supply up to 75 percent of the energy used by the brain.
  • Protein conservation phase (after five days): High levels of growth hormone maintain muscle mass and lean tissues. The energy for maintenance of basal metabolism is almost entirely met by the use of free fatty acids and ketones. Increased adrenalin levels prevent the decrease in the metabolic rate.

The human body is well adapted for dealing with the absence of food. Stored food (fat) is naturally released to fill the void. The body does not “burn muscle” in an effort to feed itself until all the fat stores are used. It’s crucial to note that alle these beneficial adaptive changes do not occur in the caloric-reduction diet strategy.

Regular fasting, by routinely lowering insulin levels, has been shown to significantly improve insulin sensitivity. This finding is the missing piece in the weight-loss puzzle.

Growth hormone

Growth hormone is known to increase the availability and utility of fats for fuel. It also helps to preserve muscle mass and bone density. Growth hormone secretion is difficult to measure accurately because of its intermittent release, but it decreases steadily with age. One of the most potent stimuli to growth hormone secretion is fasting. Over a five-day fasting period, growth hormone secretion more than doubles. The net physiological effect is to maintain muscle mass and bone tissue mass during the fasting period.

Myths about fasting

Many myths have been repeated so often that they are often perceived as infallible truths.

  • Fasting will make you lose muscle/burn protein
  • The brain needs glucose to function
  • Fasting puts you in starvation mode/lowers basal metabolism
  • Fasting will overwhelm you with hunger
  • Fasting causes overeating when you resume feeding
  • Fasting deprives the body of nutrients
  • Fasting causes hypoglycemia
  • It’s just crazy

If these myths were true, none of us would be alive today. Think about the consequences of burning muscle for energy.

Starvation mode

Starvation mode is the mysterious bogeyman always raised to scare us away from missing even a single meal. This is simply absurd. Breakdown of muscle tissue happens only at extremely low levels of body fat -approximately 4 percent- which is not something most people need to worry about. At this point, there is no further body fat to be mobilized for energy, and lean tissue is consumed. Fat is burned first.

This situation is akin to storing a huge amount of firewood but deciding to burn your sofa instead. It’s stupid. Why do we assume the human body is so stupid?

There is another persistent myth that brain cells require glucose for proper functioning. This is incorrect. Human brains, unique among animals, can use ketones as a major fuel source during prolonged starvation, allowing the conservation of protein such as skeletal muscle. Again, consider the consequences if glucose were absolutely necessary for survival: humans just wouldn’t survive. After twenty-four hours, glucose becomes depleted. If our brains had no alternative, we would become blubbering idiots as our brains shut down. Our intellect, our only advantage against wild animals, would begin to disappear. Fat is the body’s way of storing food energy for the long term; it uses glucose/glycogen for the short term.

Daily caloric restriction does, in fact, lead to decreased metabolism, so people assumed that this effect would be magnified as food intake dropped to zero. It won’t. Decreasing food intake is matched by decreased energy expenditure. However, as food intake goes to zero, the body switches energy inputs from food to stored food (fat). This strategy significantly increases the availability of “food,” which is matched by an increase in energy expenditure.

Appetite tends to decrease with increased duration of fasting

Can I exercise while fasting?

There is no reason to stop your exercise routine during fasting. There is a common misconception that eating is necessary to supply “energy” to the working body. That’s not true. The liver supplies energy via gluconeogenesis. During longer fasting periods, the muscles are able to use fatty acids directly for energy.

Links to a selection of Jason Fung’s books on Amazon

Personal review

As you can see by the massive amount of notes I took from this book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Almost every page contain some form of eye-opening insights.

Rating: 9/10

PS: A new book by Jason Fung is coming this november, with a very interesting title: The Cancer Code. I’m looking forward to reading it.

email marketing Marketing

Sunsama’s brilliant welcome email series

One example of a great welcome series is Sunsama. Sunsama is a “daily task manager for elite professionals”, and uses the welcome series creatively to explain how their tool will make your life easier and more effective. It accomplishes several things:

  • It delivers actually interesting content for the user
  • Connects the ideas and concepts to its product
  • Great tone of voice: Directly from the “founder and CEO”, but written in a very down-to-earth, friendly tone: “Even though this ends our formal correspondence, if you ever need anything, know that I’m here for you.
  • Delivers easy-to-apply tips for their tool

The welcome series consists of 10 emails, which could seem too much. However, by delivering great content and keeping it short, it does not matter that its long. The numbering of the emails in each subject (1/10, 2/10 etc) is also a great way of communicating that this is not something that will continue forever. Here it is:

Plan your day (1/10)

Good morning name,

It’s time to plan your work for today in Sunsama.

This custom workflow will walk you through picking out what you’re going to work on today, and help you focus your attention on the work that actually matters (and that you have time for).

I’ll check in with you each morning for the next two weeks and share this gentle reminder and a suggestion on how you can get the most out of your limited time each day. And please feel free to reply with thoughts, questions or a thumbs up to the ideas I’ll be sharing. My favorite e-mails in my inbox are responses (even short ones) to these e-mails 🙂

Have a great day today.

Founder and CEO, Sunsama
I share thoughts on work on Twitter

P.S. We’ll send $25 in credit your way for each friend you send our way. Send and track your referrals from here.

Focus (2/10)

Good morning name,

It’s time to plan your work for today in Sunsama.

Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing ideas and writings that have reshaped how I think about my daily work and inspired many of the product decisions we made while designing Sunsama.

Here’s one from Sam Altman on How to Be Successful:

“Focus is a force multiplier on work.

Almost everyone I’ve ever met would be well-served by spending more time thinking about what to focus on. It is much more important to work on the right thing than it is to work many hours. Most people waste most of their time on stuff that doesn’t matter.

Once you have figured out what to do, be unstoppable about getting your small handful of priorities accomplished quickly. I have yet to meet a slow-moving person who is very successful.”

Your daily planning ritual in Sunsama is the force multiplier you’ll use every single day to make sure you work on what’s important. This is your chance each day to decide what work moves you forward and what is just bullshit.

Bullshit (3/10)

Good morning name,

It’s time to plan your work for today in Sunsama.

In Paul Graham’s essay “Life’s Too Short” he writes about pruning bullshit from his life.

“When I ask myself what I’ve found life is too short for, the word that pops into my head is “bullshit.” I realize that answer is somewhat tautological. It’s almost the definition of bullshit that it’s the stuff that life is too short for. And yet bullshit does have a distinctive character. There’s something fake about it. It’s the junk food of experience.

If you ask yourself what you spend your time on that’s bullshit, you probably already know the answer. Unnecessary meetings, pointless disputes, bureaucracy, posturing, dealing with other people’s mistakes, traffic jams, addictive but unrewarding pastimes.

Relentlessly prune bullshit, don’t wait to do things that matter, and savor the time you have. That’s what you do when life is short.”

During my daily planning ritual, I strive to prune bullshit from my task list and work day. In fact, the easiest way to accomplish this is to look at each task and ask yourself out loud: “is this bullshit?”. You’ll be surprised at how effective your internal bullshit detector is, as long as you take a moment to use it each day.”

Attention (4/10)

Good morning name,

It’s time to plan your work for today in Sunsama.

Cal Newport explains ‘attention residue’ and the true cost of those ‘quick checks’ of e-mail, messaging and social media in this essay.

“If, like most, you rarely go more than 10 – 15 minutes without a just check, you have effectively put yourself in a persistent state of self-imposed cognitive handicap. The flip side, of course, is to imagine the relative cognitive enhancement that would follow by minimizing this effect.

To put this another way: if you commit to long blocks without any interruption (not even the quickest of glances), you’ll be shocked by how much sharper and productive you feel.”

I use my daily planning ritual to jiu-jitsu my attention. With Sunsama open throughout the day, the task at the top is a gentle reminder of where I should be committing my attention. Once you know where your attention should be, it’s much easier to know when it has wandered and you kick off a virtuous cycle where you become more capable of avoiding the ‘quick check’. That’s why I try to direct my attention positively towards a goal instead of negatively away from distractions i.e. “I will focus my attention on the task at the top of my list” instead of “I will not check e-mail, slack, facebook, etc”.

Burnout (5/10)

Good morning name,

It’s time to plan your work for today in Sunsama.

Working 12 hour days? Take a moment to reflect on Parkinson’s law:

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”

There is always more work to be done. If you don’t set constraints on how much time you’re going to spend working, your entire day will always be filled with work. When every day becomes consumed by work, you burn out. I learned this the hard way during the first two years I spent working on my startup.

I now use my daily planning ritual to set constraints on how I’m going to work each day. I try not to have more than 2-3 big tasks per day (and a handful of smaller items) so that I can go home before I feel exhausted.

When you say no to work that can’t be done during reasonable working hours you end up saying yes to the work that matters.

Perspective (6/10)

Good morning name,

It’s time to plan your work for today in Sunsama.

As you navigate the minutiae of your daily work, how do you keep the bigger picture of life in balance? Paul Graham answers this question by turning the top five regrets of the dying into these commandments he puts at the top of his todo list:

“Don’t ignore your dreams; don’t work too much; say what you think; cultivate friendships; be happy.”

I made a daily repeating task in Sunsama with the above quote. Each morning, I give myself time to read it and reflect before I start my daily planning ritual. Taking a second to reflect helps me maintain a healthy perspective on my work. There’s no right answer to what you’ll write at the top of your list. Hopefully, the quote above inspires you to craft a reminder that’s meaningful to you.

BTW – if you’re using Sunsama with teammates, make sure to tag this task into a private channel so it stays personal!

Rest (7/10)

Good morning name,

It’s time to plan your work for today in Sunsama.

We’ve spoken a lot about planning work. Today, I want to talk about the importance of carving out time to rejuvenate yourself with deliberate non-work.

My favorite part of the work week is when Travis (co-founder) and I start our Friday late because we start the day with a walk in the forest. I’ll admit the first time I did it, I felt guilty about working a shorter day as a result. What I quickly realized was that I got a lot more done on days I went on forest walks even with the limited hours.

We still hold on to antiquated ideas of productivity that come out of the industrial revolution. If you do cognitively demanding and creative work it should be obvious that your output is not directly a function of your hours worked and that deliberate non-work can help you work better.

As you go through your daily planning ritual today, my challenge to you is to block off an hour (during normal business hours) to do something that rejuvenates you. Here are my favorites if you need inspiration: walk in the woods, read a novel, call a loved one, play basketball or head to a cafe and sip on some coffee and long-form articles. Feel free to write me back with what you do, I’m always on the lookout for new ideas 🙂

Deep work (8/10)

Good morning name,

It’s time to plan your work for today in Sunsama.

Paul Graham observes that when you actually need to get work done you need uninterrupted chunks of time.

“When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.”

Whether you’re a maker or a manager when you want to get something done you need to carve out time. As you go through your daily planning ritual try and block off a few hours on your calendar for deep work. Make the most of this precious block of time by closing your e-mail, Slack and messaging.

Output (9/10)

Good morning name,

It’s time to plan your work for today in Sunsama.

Does this sound familiar to you: you go to work, work for a while until you’re mentally exhausted, look at the clock, see it’s only 3pm, but instead of just going home, you sit at your desk and ‘pretend work’ for another few hours?

You have been the victim of Goodhart’s law, which states:

“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

The problem is, instead of your performance being measured by your actual output at work, your performance is often measured by how many hours you appear to be working. This creates the perverse incentive for you to act like a work prisoner, unable to go home even though you’ve made good progress.

During my daily planning ritual I defend myself from this by planning my day and measuring my performance not by how long I want to work, but what output I want to achieve at the end of the day.

If I finish up my goals for the day by 3pm, I go home. Since my team also uses Sunsama, they can see my output for the day and know I’m heading home because I got a lot done.

Sustain (10/10)

Good morning name,

It’s time to plan your work for today in Sunsama.

From here on out, it’ll be up to you to follow your daily planning ritual. Now that you’ve taken the hardest first few steps, you have all the tools you need to sustain your practice.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past five years of building Sunsama, it’s how to sustain even when it feels like the winds of fate howl tirelessly against you. As long as you’re able to keep making progress bit by bit, day after day, you will always find yourself further than when you started, even (especially) when your ambitions seem far out of reach.

I hope you will continue your daily planning ritual to sustain the pursuit of your own ambitions, without becoming too tired or discouraged along the way.

Even though this ends our formal correspondence, if you ever need anything, know that I’m here for you.

Click here to visit

Book notes

Joy on demand: Notes

Main takeaways:
Be happy. Wish for others to be happy. Smile. Meditate. The world is a beautiful place.


Bicep curls for the mind

In my long struggle with misery, quite by accident, I discovered the mental equivalent of physical exercise. I found that one can deliberately effect life-changing mental changes with simple training exercises – if you will, bicep curls for the mind. And in doing so, improve every single aspect of our lives. The mental equivalent of physical exercise is meditation.

The lucky sperm club

I was born into a family that was poor but caring. In my entire life, I always had enough to eat (and I know my mom sometimes went hungry to ensure that). I always had shelter. I never suffered a single day of war nor a single day of homelessness. Despite being born in what was then a poor, developing country, my country had always given me clean water on tap, free vaccinations, and free education. Billionaire Warren Buffet famously referred to those who grow up in prosperity as “members of the lucky sperm club,” and given the circumstances of my birth and growing up, I too consider myself a member of that club. There are many millions of people who are born into circumstances in which they do not even have access to books, much less to education or clean water. If you are reading this book, it is likely that you are blessed with at least the same luck as I.


The willingness to bear witness to our own pain and failure. To be willing an able to clearly see this self – this wretched useless self – to see all his pain, to see all his failings, his desperate clinging on to all things pleasant and his frenzied aversion to all things unpleasant, to see all the suffering involved in having this human form manifest in him, to be willing and able to bear witness to all of that with composure and kindness – that is an immense source of confidence.

Internal science

When (he) was becoming accomplished as a meditation teacher, he developed a conviction, which I totally agree with, that if meditation (which he calls “the internal science and technology of the east”) were to successfully mate with the science and technology of the west, it will change the world dramatically, for the better.

Prepare for opportunities

A way I prepare for opportunities is by constantly prioritizing my personal growth, sometimes with spectacular results. In early 2000, when I was looking for a job, it was the height of the dot-com boom, and anybody with a pulse and a software engineering degree could get a job in Silicon Valley. Being an award-winning software engineer with straight A’s from a top university, I could have any job I wanted. I decided to join a small, unprofitable startup with a silly name called Google. Why? Because I decided I never want to be the smartest person in the room. If I am the smartest person in the room, I won’t learn anything. Hence, to maximize my personal growth, I chose to work in a company where people seemed to be much smarter than I, and it was Google. And, boy, did that decision work out.

In life, opportunity knocks fairly often, but if you are unprepared for it or unwilling to jump at it, then it will pass you by.


Familiarization is a key aspect of meditation. It’s so important that the Tibetan word for meditation literally means “to become familiar”. The more the mind is in contact with any mental quality (such as calm or joy), the more familiar it becomes with it, and the more familiar the mind becomes with that mental quality the more quickly and easily it gets it.

Meditation is not about not thinking

One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation is that it involves “emptying your mind of all thoughts.” This one misconception is more responsible for turning people away from meditation than any other that I know of. Many beginners mistakenly think that they are supposed to have no thoughts during meditation, and then when they find thought after thought cascading endlessly and uncontrollably in the mind like a raging waterfall, they decide that meditation is impossible and they give up.
No, meditation is not about suppressing thoughts. Instead, it is about allowing the mind to settle on its own terms, in its own time, which includes allowing thoughts to arise as and when they want to. It is true that over time, with practice, as the mind becomes more deeply settled, the stream of thoughts slows down and eventually goes from being a raging waterfall to being like a fast-flowing river, then more like a slow-flowing stream, and finally, the mind is like a placid lake.

One way to rest the mind is to use an image. Imagine a butterfly resting gently on a flower moving slowly in the breeze. In the same way, the mind rests gently on the breath. Another way is to use this mantra, “There is nowhere to go and nothing to do for this one moment, except to rest.”

To feel regretful, you need to be in the past, and to worry, you need to be in the future. Hence, when you are fully in the present, you are temporarily free from regret and worry.

Notice joy

The training is simple. It is simply to notice joy. Whenever there is any joy arising in our field of experience, even if it is merely a subtle hint of joy, simply notice that there is joy, that is all. That is the entire practice.

Noticing joy is like noticing blue cars on the road. When you’re in traffic, blue cars pass you by all the time and, usually, you don’t notice them at all. But if you play a game of noticing blue cars, you’ll find that they are everywhere. There is joy to be found in many moments of our lives, though it may be subtle and fleeting. For example, with that pleasant feeling of warm water on the skin as we get into the shower, joy arises immediately, but we seldom notice it and it fades away in seconds. The practice is simply to notice when joy is there.

Given this insight, we can effectively invite joy just by smiling a genuine smile. Smile as if you are really happy. When you do this, you may create changes in the autonomic nervous system relating to happiness, and from these changes, you may experience joy. This works for me almost every time. It doesn’t need to be a full smile – a half smile works as well.

Whenever there is any experience of joy, notice it. That is all.

Attending to the joy of pleasant daily experiences

Whenever you engage in an activity that involves a pleasant experience, take at least one moment to attend fully to the joy that pleasantness invokes. Some examples:

  • At each meal, attend fully to the enjoyment of at least the first bite
  • When seeing a loved one, take one moment to appreciate that he or she is there, and attend fully to that joy
  • When holding hands with a loved one, take one moment to attend fully to the joy of that contact

Keeping a gratitude journal, finding new things to be grateful for, and recalling a joyful experience every day are all great ideas. However, taking one moment to fully attend to every joyful experience has the advantage of taking no time and no effort. You can do it many times a day, in real time, with zero delay in gratification.

Some examples:

  • That promotion I got is so precious – I know because I worked years for it
  • Owning my car and my house are both precious, and I know because I saved up for years for my house and my car
  • Having a child who loves me is so precious – I know many people who do not
  • Having good health is so precious
  • Having a good livelihood is so precious
  • Living in a peaceful country is so precious
  • Having access to clean water and food is so precious
  • Being able to see the blue sky and green grass is so precious

Everything is amazing right now, and nobody’s happy

Louis C. K.

Awareness of mortality

Someday, I will die. Every single person I love will die, some of them before I do. Even if science and technology can extend the human lifespan to some extent, eventually, I will die, and everybody I love will die. Being aware of mortality changes everything. At the very least, it puts things into proper perspective, it gives us clarity into what is really important versus what is not so important, and it therefore changes how we prioritize things in our lives.

Just note gone

There is a simple practice that can greatly enhance your ability to notice the absence of pain, though it isn’t only concerned with pain. “Just note gone” is a powerful way of practicing with any phenomenon, whereby we train the mind to notice that something previously experienced is no more. For example, at the end of a breath, notice that the breath is over. Gone. As a sound fades away, notice when it is over. Gone. At the end of a thought, notice that the thought is over. Gone. At the end of an experience of emotion – joy, anger, sadness, or anything else – notice it is over. Gone.

This practice changes the way we perceive phenomena: It brings balance to our perception of sensory and mental events. Every sensory and mental event has three parts: arising, presence, and ceasing. Most of us are aware of the first two, but we are seldom aware of ceasing. In other words, our experience of sensory and mental events is unbalanced – we often see the coming but seldom the going. By noticing gone, you restore perceptual balance, thus moving toward seeing things as they really are.

Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation

Wishing for random people to be happy

During working hours or school hours, randomly identify two people who walk past you or who are standing around you. Secretly wish for this person to be happy. Just think to yourself, “I wish for this person to be happy, and I wish for that person to be happy.” This is the entire practice. Don’t do anything; don’t say anything, just think.

Uplifting and settling the mind with altruistic joy

Sit in any posture that allows you to be alert and relaxed at the same time, whatever that means to you. You may keep your eyes open or closed.

Uplift the mind (2-5 minutes)
Take a few minutes to bring to mind one or more people to whom you have brought joy or benefit out of purely altruistic intent. Reflect on the deed(s). Take delight in your good intentions and deeds.

Settle the mind (5-10 minutes)
Settle the mind either with anchoring, resting, or being. You may anchor your attention to any sensory object such as the breath, or you may rest the mind on the breath like a butterfly resting gently on a flower, or you may simply sit without agenda. Allow the mind to settle on its own.

Closing (1-2 minutes)
Close by noticing if there is any joy present in the mind, and if so, attending to it for one or two minutes.

In addition to the formal practice, I also recommend the informal practice of taking a moment to rejoice in inner goodness and altruistic deeds whenever you see them.

Whenever you make a donation of time or labor, or do something out of altruistic intention, take a moment to think, “I am doing this out of altruistic intention. Having this intention makes me so happy.”

Whenever you meet or bring to mind an admirable, inspiring person, take a moment to think, “There exist this wonderful person in this world. I’m so happy.”

Whenever you see somebody performing an altruistic or heroic act, take a moment to think, “More good is being done in this world, I’m so happy.”

Just because you’re in pain doesn’t mean you can’t be joyful

Rigoberta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her life’s work in promoting human rights. When I met her, I found her to be exactly what you’d expect of a steriotypical Nobel Peace Prize winner: she was wise, kind, and joyful. She is friendly to everyone and treats everyone with kindness. She gives people a huge smile and warm hugs. She is bursting with joy. Right beneath the surface, however, there is a huge reservoir of pain. Her father was burned alive. Her mother was raped and tortured before she died. Her brother was murdered. She lost her youngest son. She watched many thousands of people oppressed, tortured, and murdered. When I realized the amount of pain she was holding, I wanted to cry. One of the signs of true greatness is the ability to hold a large amount of pain, not just with courage and equanimity, but also with kindness, compassion, and joy. Rigoberta showed me what greatness looks like. I was moved.

She showed me that when pain is overwhelming, joy does not dissolve away the pain. Instead, it becomes a skillful container for the pain, limiting its damage and allowing the healing process to work. It is a little like putting a cast around your leg when you have a serious fracture. It prevents further damage and allows the leg to heal over time. Rigoberta demonstrated to me, by her own example, how one can hold immense pain, gently, with joy.

Just because you’re in pain doesn’t mean you cannot be joyful

Peace prize nominee Dawn Engle

Seeing everything for the miracle it is

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh poetically says, “The real miracle is not to walk on either water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child – our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
Or, as Louis C. K. put it, less poetically but more humorously when he talked about people complaining on airplanes, “Did you partake in the miracle of human flight, you noncontributing zero? You got to fly! It’s amazing! Everybody on every plane should just constantly be going “Oh my god! Wow! You’re flying! You’re sitting in a chair, in the sky!”

A sailboat in the ocean

It is a parable of a person pushing a sailboat to the ocean. Before arriving at the ocean, the sailboat is pushed with much effort, but once it reaches the ocean, the sailboat is pushed with much effort, but once it reaches the ocean, pushing is useless. On the water, the sailboat is effortlessly propelled by the wind. The distance it travels on the ocean in one day is farther than it could be forced over land in a hundred years.

This analogy carries two important lessons. The first is that effortlessness often needs to be preceded by deliberate effort. If we never push the sailboat to the ocean, if instead we foolishly sit in the sailboat while it is on land hoping for it to be “propelled without effort by the wind,” we get nowhere. In meditation, effortlessness must be established on the foundation of attentional stability; otherwise it is really just mind wandering and a waste of your time. The second lesson is that while the effortful stage is important, its main role is to enable effortlessness. A meditator who does not understand this is like a sailor who keeps pushing the sailboat when it is already in the water, or worse, like the guy who pushes his sailboat all the way to the destination over land rather than pushing it to the water with the intent of sailing to the destination. He is wasting valuable time and effort. I’d rather be sailing.

It takes a very long time to be a overnight success

The non-self

As a fellow adventurer, I can share with you a description of the tiny bit of territory I have personally explored on this subject of non-self. It is nowhere near what the masters have described, but since my exploration is much closer to our day-to-day worldly experience, it may be helpful to you. In my exploration, I learned that there are at least two flavors of non-self, one weaker and one stronger. The weaker flavor is the experience that there is only the observer, and the observer has no identity. This flavor is actually quite easy to describe and fairly straightforward for someone with strong samatha and vipassana practice to arrive at. When we sleep, we sometimes dream. In our dreams, we are sometimes an entirely different person from the person in real life. In other words, in those dreams, we have an entirely different identity as the person who is awake. During the process of falling asleep and getting into that dream, the mind abandons one identity and takes on another. My experience of the first flavor of nonself took that path. Once, as I was in deep meditation, the mind became subtle enough to enter that dreamlike state while being vividly aware, and it arrived at the state after the mind abandons one identity but before the mind takes up another. In that state there was only the observer, and the observer had no identity whatsoever. There was no “Meng,” that “Meng” completely disappeared. There was only the observer. I was able to stay in that state for roughly thirty minutes, and that experience was life changing. In my life, some large percentage of my suffering arises from issues involving my identity (“How dare they treat me like this? Who do they take me for?” “Why am I not lovable?” “Why does he treat me like I am incompetent?”) When the observer has no identity, the observer gains experential realization that identity is entirely mind-made. Identity has no substance whatsoever – it is nothing but a mere creation of mind.

Having experienced that realization, when one gets back to real life, identity-related problems such as being treated like I’m useless or unimportant still sting, but the mind also knows that there is zero substance to that identity anyway, so the suffering is meaningfully reduced.

Strive hard to let go

In striving toward mastery in samantha, vipassana, and brahmavihara – calm-abiding, insight, and sublime states – what are we trying to achieve? Well, we are not trying to achieve anything at all. It is very important to understand that ultimately, meditation is not about getting anything – meditation is entirely about letting go. In fact, I can summerize my entire twenty-plus years of meditation practice in just two words: letting go. The entirety of my practice is learning to let go. For example, early on, I learned to let go of my addiction to constant sensory and mental stimulation. A bit later on, I learned to let go of restlessness and distraction during sitting meditation. Much later on, I learned to let go of some amount of greed, hatred, anxiety, and destructive ego. And at the current stage of my practice, I’m learning to let go of clinging, aversion, ill will, my dependence on sensory pleasure in general, and my need to fluff up my identity and ego. The entire process is nothing but letting go.

At every stage of letting go, I was rewarded with a new source of wholesome joy. For example, when I let go of the need to constantly be stimulated by some sensory pleasure, I experienced the joy of ease. I developed the ability to be joyful simply by sitting down and relaxing. When I let go of some meaningful amount of anger and resentment, I experienced the joy of goodwill. When I let go of my compulsion to not feel the unpleasant feelings relating to my failure, I experienced the joy of confidence. In every single case, what I experienced was the joy of freedom, for example, the joy of freedom from boredom, freedom from want, freedom from anxiety, freedom from my own ego, and freedom from resentment. I am, and always have been, enslaved by two tyrannical masters: my clinging to sensory and ego pleasures, and my aversion to all things unpleasant to senses and ego. I am the slave of Clinging Monster and Aversion Monster. With every bit more of letting go, I gain a little bit more freedom from this enslavement. In freedom, there is great joy.

Personal review

The book carries a lot of insights. It is written humorously and is easy to read. Gave me inspiration and tools for how to find more joy in life.

Rating 1-10 where 7 is not an option: 8/10

Book notes

Can’t Hurt Me: Notes

Wow, what a fantastic book! The story of David Goggins journey from abuse and obesity to becoming the (perhaps) worlds hardest man is extraordinary. He describes the process he has gone through, starting with a very rough childhood with an abusive father, becoming fat and lazy, never working out, to joining the Navy SEALs, running ultra marathons and setting a world record for most pull-ups in 24 hours…

David Goggins
David Goggins

The hardest man god ever created

Notes & takeaways

To the unrelenting voice in my head that will never allow me to stop

Do you know who you really are and what you’re capable of? I’m sure you think so, but just because you believe something doesn’t make it true. Denial is the ultimate comfort zone.

Motivation changes exactly nobody. The bad hand that was my life was mine, and mine alone to fix. So I sought out pain, fell in love with suffering, and eventually transformed myself from the weakest piece of shit on the planet into the hardest man god ever created, or so I tell myself.

Human beings change through study, habit, and stories. Through my story you will learn what the body and mind are capable of when they’re driven to maximum capacity, and how to get there.

The Accountability Mirror

“Look at you,” I said. “Why do you think the air force wants your punk ass? You stand for nothing. You are an embarrassment.” I reached for the shaving cream, smoothed a thin coat over my face, unwrapped a fresh razor and kept talking as I shaved.
“You are one dumb motherfucker. You read like a third grader. You’re a fucking joke! You’ve never tried hard at anything in your life besides basketball, and you have goals? That’s fucking hilarious.”
After shaving peach fuzz from my cheeks and chin, I lathered up my scalp. I was desperate for a change. I wanted to become someone new.
“You don’t see people in the military sagging their pants. You need to stop talking like a wanna-be-gangster. None of this shit is going to cut it! No more taking the easy way out. It’s time to grow the fuck up!”

A new ritual was born, one that stayed with me for years. It would help me get my grades up, whip my sorry ass into shape, and see me to graduation and into the Air Force. The ritual was simple. I’d shave my face and scalp every night, get loud, and get real. I set goals, wrote them on Post-It notes, and tagged them to what I now call the Accountability Mirror, because each day I’d hold myself accountable to the goals I’d set. At first my goals involved shaping up my appearance and accomplishing all my chores without having to be asked.
Make your bed like you’re in the military every day!
Pull up your pants!
Shave your head every morning!
Cut the grass!
Wash all dishes!
The accountability mirror kept me on point from then on, and though I was still young when this strategy came through me, since then I’ve found it useful for people at any stage in life.

If You look in the mirror and you see a fat person, don’t tell yourself that you need to lose a couple of pounds. Tell the truth. You’re fucking fat! It’s okay. Just say you’re fat if you’re fat. The dirty mirror that you see every day is going to tell you the truth every time, so why are you still lying to yourself? So you can feel better for a few minutes and stay the fucking same? If you’re fat you need to change the fact that you’re fat because it’s very fucking unhealthy. I know because I’ve been there.

Tip: Can’t Hurt Me pair well with Born To Run

If you have worked for thirty years doing the same shit you’ve hated day in and day out because you were afraid to quit and take a risk, you’ve been living like a pussy. Period, point blank. Tell yourself the truth! That you’ve wasted enough time, and that you have other dreams that will take courage to realize, so you don’t die a fucking pussy. Call yourself out!

Your life is not fucked up because of overt rascists or hidden systemic racism. You aren’t missing out on opportunities, making shit money, and getting evicted because of America or Donalf fucking Trump or some people hate immigrants or jews or harass women or believe gay people are going to hell. If any of that shit is stopping you from excelling in life, I’ve got some news. You are stopping you!

You are giving up instead of getting hard! Tell the truth about the real reasons for your limitations and you will turn that negativity, which is real, into jet fuel. Those odds stacked against you will become a damn runway!

No time to waste

There is no more time to waste. Hours and days evaporate like creeks in the desert. That’s why it’s okay to be cruel to yourself as long as you realize you’re doing it to become better. We all need thicker skin to improve in life. Being soft when you look in the mirror isn’t going to inspire the wholesale changes we need to shift our present and open up our future.

During my senior year in high school, all I cared about was working out, playing basketball, and studying, and it was the Accountability Mirror that kept me motivated to keep pushing toward something better. I woke up before dawn and started going to the gym most mornings at 5 a.m. before school to hit the weights. I ran all the damn time. One night I ran thirteen miles – the most I’d ever run in my entire life.

Craving discomfort

From that point, I brainwashed myself into craving discomfort. If it was raining, I would go run. Whenever it started snowing, my mind would say, Get your fucking running shoes on. Sometimes I wussed out and had to deal with it at the Accountability Mirror. But facing that mirror, facing myself, motivated me to fight through uncomfortable experiences, and, as a result, I became tougher. And being tough and resilient helped me meet my goals.


After my mother realized I was serious about joining the Air Force, she found me a tutor who helped me figure out a system I could use to learn. That system was memorization. I couldn’t learn just by scratching a few notes and memorizing those. I had to read a text book and write each page down in my notebook. Then do it again a second and third time. That’s how knowledge stuck to the mirror of my mind. Not through learning, but through transcription, memorization, and recall.

When you have no confidence it becomes easy to value other people’s opinions, and I was valuing everyone’s opinion without considering the minds that generated them

As soon as I realized that, being upset with them was not worth my time. Because if I was gonna kick their ass in life, and I was, I had way too much shit to do. Each insult or dismissive gesture became more fuel for the engine revving inside me.


Whether it’s a career goal (quit my job, start a business), a lifestyle goal (lose weight, get more active), or an athletic one (run my first 5k, 10k, or marathon), you need to be truthful with yourself about where you are and the necessary steps it will take to achieve those goals, day by day. Each step, each necessary point of self-improvement, should be written as its own note. That means you have to do some research and break it all down. For example, if you are trying to lose forty pounds, your first Post-It may be to lose two pounds in the first week. Once that goal is achieved, remove the note and post the next goal of two to five pounds until your ultimate goal is realized.

SEAL training

They say you like suffering, Goggins. That you think you’re a bad motherfucker. Enjoy your extended stay in Hell!

Just getting through Hell Week would be the biggest honor of my life so far. Even if I never graduated from BUD/S, surviving Hell Week alone would have meant something. But I didn’t just survive. I was about to finish Hell Week at the top of my class, and for the first time, I knew I was a bad motherfucker.

Once, I was so focused on failing, I was afraid to even try. Now I would take on any challenge. All my life, I was terrified of water, and especially cold water, but standing there in the final hour. I wished the ocean, wind, and mud were even colder! I was completely transformed physically, which was a big part of my success in BUD/S, but what saw me through Hell Week was my mind, and I was just starting to tap into its power.

In a society where mediocrity is too often the standard and too often rewarded, there is intense fascination with men who detest mediocrity, who refuse to define themselves in conventional terms, and who seek to transcend traditionally recognized human capabilities.

Never forget that all emotional and physical anguish is finite! It all ends eventually. Smile at pain and watch it fade for at least a second or two. If you can do that, you can string those seconds together and last longer than your opponent thinks you can, and that may be enough to catch a second wind.

Challenge: Taking souls

Choose any competitive situation you’re in right now. Who is your opponent? Is it your teacher or coach, your boss, an unruly client? No matter how they’re treating you there is one way to not only earn their respect, but turn the tables: Excellence.

That may mean acing an exam, or crafting an ideal proposal, or smashing a sales goal. Whatever it is, I want you to work harder on that project or in that class than you ever have before. Do everything exactly as they ask, and whatever standard they set as an ideal outcome, you should be aiming to surpass that.

If your coach doesn’t give you time in the games, dominate practice. Check the best guy on your squad and show the fuck out. That means putting time in off the field. Watching film so you can study your opponent’s tendencies, memorizing plays, and training in the gym. You need to make that coach pay attention. If it’s your teacher, then start doing work of high quality. Spend extra time on your assignments. Write papers for her that she didn’t even assign! Come early to class. Ask questions. Pay attention. Show her who you are and want to be.

If it’s a boss, work around the clock. Get to work before them. Leave after they go home. Make sure they see that shit, and when it’s time to deliver, surpass their maximum expectations.

Whoever you’re dealing with, your goal is to make them watch you achieve what they could never have done themselves. You want them thinking how amazing you are. Take their negativity and use it to dominate their task with everythin you’ve got. Take their motherfucking soul!

Armored mind

Time stood still as I realized for the first time that I’d always looked at my entire life, everything I’d been through, from the wrong perspective. Yes, all the abuse I’d experienced and the negativity I had to push through challenged me to the core, but in that moment I stopped seeing myself as the victim of bad circumstance, and saw my life as the ultimate training ground instead.

My palms were soft and quickly got torn up on the bars because they weren’t accustomed to gripping steel. But over time, after thousands of reps, my palms built up a thick callous as protection. The same principle works when it comes to mindset. Until you experience hardships like abuse and bullying, failures and disappointments, your mind will remain soft and exposed. Life experience, especially negative experiences, help callous the mind.

Hell Week is designed to show you that a human is capable of much more than you know. It opens your mind to the true possibilities of human potential, and with that comes a change in your mentality. You no longer fear cold water or doing push-ups all day. You realize that no matter what they do to you, they will never break you.

Yes, it was miserable, but I fucking loved it. I thrived off of the barbaric beauty of seeing the soul of a man destroyed, only to rise again and overcome every obstacle in his path.


The sympathetic nervous system is your fight or flight reflex. It’s bubbling just below the surface, and when you are lost, stressed out, or struggling, like I was when I was a down and lost kid, that’s the part of your mind that’s driving the bus. We’ve all tasted this feeling before. Those mornings when going on a run is the last thing you want to do, but then twenty minutes into it you feel energized, that’s the work of the sympathetic nervous system. What I’ve found is that you can tap into it on-call as long as you know how to manage your own mind.

Tip: read my notes on “The Compound Effect” which is also a great book on self improvement

No matter the task at hand, there is always opportunity for self-doubt. Whenever you decide to follow a dream or set a goal, you are just as likely to come up with all the reasons why likelihood of success is low. Blame it on the fucked-up evolutionary wiring of the human mind. But you don’t have to let your doubt into the cockpit! You can tolerate doubt as a backseat driver, but if you put doubt in the pilot’s seat, defeat is guaranteed.

Sounds simple, right? It isn’t. Very few people even bother to try to control the way their thoughts and doubts bubble up. The vast majority of us are slaves to our minds. Most don’t even make the first effort when it comes to mastering their thought process because it’s a never-ending chore and impossible to get right every time.

There is no shame in getting knocked out. The shame comes when you throw in the motherfucking towel, and if I was born to suffer, then I may as well take my medicine

After finishing Hell Week

“Mr. Skop is dead,” the captain said. He took stock of the room. His words had been a collective gut punch to men who were already on the knife’s edge after nearly a week with no sleep and no relief. The captain didn’t give a fuck. “This is the world you live in. He’s not the first and he won’t be the last to die in your line of work.” He looked over at Mr. Skop’s roommate and said, “Mr. Moore, don’t steal any of his shit.” Then he left the room like it was just another fucked-up day.
I felt torn between grief, nausea, and relief. I was sad and sick to my stomach that Mr. Skop had died, but we were all relieved to have survived Hell Week, plus the way the captain handled it was straight ahead, no bullshit, and I remembered thinking if all SEALs were like him, this would definitely be the world for me. Talk about mixed emotions.

Was it possible to survive this, day after day? I thought about quitting. If failure was my future and I’d have to rethink my life completely, what was the point of this exercise? Why delay the inevitable? Was I fucked in the head? Each and every thought boiled down to the same old simple quistion: why?
“The only way to guarantee failure is to quit right now, motherfucker!” I was talking to myself now. “People have a hard time going through BUD/S healthy, and you’re going through it on broken legs! Who else would even think of this?” I asked. “Who else would be able to run even one minute on one broken leg, let alone two? Only Goggins! You are twenty minutes in the business, Goggins! You are a fucking machine! Each step you run from now until the end will only make you harder!”

No matter where we were stationed, we got after it every single morning. We’d meet up at 4 a.m. and get to it. Sometimes that meant running up the side of a mountain before hitting the O-Course at high speed and carrying logs up and over the berm and down the beach. In BUD/S, usually six men carried those logs. We did it with just the two of us. On another day we rocked a pull-up pyramid, hitting sets of one, all the way up to twenty, and back down to one again. After every other set we’d climb a rope forty feet high. One thousand pull-ups before breakfast became our new mantra. At first, Sledge struggled to rock one set of ten pull-ups. Within months he’d lost thirty-five pounds and was hitting one hundred sets of ten!

Warming up for a 100 mile race

Also, I didn’t exactly come in well-rested. The night before the race, I passed by the SEAL Team Five gym on my way off base after work, and peeked in like I always did, just to see who was getting after it. The captain was inside warming up, and called out. “Goggins, let’s jack some fucking steel!” I laughed. He stared me down. “You know, Goggins,” he said, stepping closer, “when the Vikings were getting ready to raid a fucking village, and they were camped out in the fucking woods in their goddam tents made out of fucking deer hides and shit, sitting around a campfire, do you think they said, “Hey, let’s have some herbal fucking tea” and call it an early night? Or were they more like, “Fuck that, we are going to drink some vodka made out of some mushrooms and get all drunked up”, so the next morning when they were all hung-over and pissed off they would be in the ideal mood to slaughter the shit out of some people?”
The captain could be a funny motherfucker when he wanted to be, and he could see me wavering, considering my options. On the one hand, that man would always be my BUD/S instructor and he was one of the few instructors who was still hard, putting out, and living the SEAL ethos every day. I’ll always want to impress him. Jacking weights the night before my firsts 100 mile race would definitely impress that masochistic motherfucker. Plus, his logic made some fucked-up sense to me. I needed to get my mind ready to go to war, and lifting heavy would be my way of saying, bring on all your pain and misery, I’m ready to go! But, honestly, who does that before running a hundred fucking miles?


Set ambitious goals before each workout and let those past victories carry you to new personal bests. If it’s a run or bike ride, include some time to do interval work and challenge yourself to beat your best mile split. Or simply maintain a maximum heart rate for a full minute, then two minutes. If you’re at home, focus on pull-ups or push-ups. Do as many as possible in two minutes. Then try to beat your best. When the pain hits and tries to stop you, dunk your fist in and let it fuel you!
If you’re more focused on intellectual growth, train yourself to study harder and longer than ever before, or read a record number of books in a given month.

before a race his girlfriend was going to run-
Kate was ready to go. Her goal was to break five hours, and for once, I was satisfied being a cheerleader. My mom had always planned on walking it, and I figured I’d stroll with her for as long as I could, then hail a cab to the finish line and cheer my ladies to the tape.
The three of us toed up with the masses as the clock struck 7 a.m., and someone got on the mic to begin the official count down. “Ten…nine…eight…” When he hit one, a horn sounded, and like Pavlov’s dog something clicked inside me. I still don’t know what it was. Perhaps I underestimated my competitive spirit. Maybe it was because I knew Navy SEALs were supposed to be the hardest motherfuckers in the world. We were supposed to run on broken legs and fractured feet. Or so went the legend I’d bought into long ago. Whatever it was, something triggered and the last thing I remember seeing as the horn echoed down the street was shock and real concern on the faces of Kate and my mother as I charged down the boulevard and out of sight.

What am I capable of?
I couldn’t answer that question, but as I looked around the finish line that day and considered what I’d accomplished, it became clear that we were all leaving a lot of money on the table without realizing it. We habitually settle for less than our best; at work, in school, in our relationships, and on the playing field or race course. We settle as individuals, and we teach our children to settle for less than their best, and all of that ripples out, merges, and multiplies within our communities and society as a whole. We’re not talking some bad weekend in Vegas, no more cash at the ATM kind of loss either. In that moment, the cost of missing out on so much excellence in this eternally fucked-up world felt incalculable to me, and it still does. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Training hard

I ran that sixteen-mile stretch at least three times a week. Some days I ran home too, and on Fridays I added a ruck run. Inside the radio pouch of my standard issue ruck sack, I slid two twenty-five-pound weights and ran fully loaded for as many as twenty miles to build quad strength. I loved waking up at 5 a.m. and starting work with three hours of cardio already in the bank while most of my teammates hadn’t even finished their coffee. It gave me a mental edge, a better sense of self-awareness, and a ton of self-confidence, which made me a better SEAL instructor. That’s what getting up at the ass crack of dawn and putting out will do for you. It makes you better in all facets of your life.

By now, I’m sure you can tell that it doesn’t take much for me to become obsessed. Some criticize my level of passion, but I’m not down with the prevailing mentalities that tend to dominate American society these days; the ones that tell us to go with the flow or invite us to learn how to get more with less effort. Fuck that shortcut bullshit. The reason I embrace my own obsessions and demand and desire more of myself is because I’ve learned that it’s only when I push beyond pain and suffering, past my perceived limitations, that I’m capable of accomplishing more, physically and mentally – in endurance races but also in life as a whole. And I believe the same is true for you.

Our culture has become hooked on the quick-fix, the life hack, efficiency. Everyone is on the hunt for that simple action algorithm that nets maximum profit with the least amount of effort. There’s no denying this attitude may get you some of the trappings of success, if you’re lucky, but it will not lead to a calloused mind or self-mastery. If you want to master the mind and remove your internal governor, you’ll have to become addicted to hard work. Because passion and obsession, even talent, are only useful tools if you have the work ethic to back them up.

Sadly, most of us give up when we’ve only given around 40 percent of our maximum effort. Even when we feel like we’ve reached our absolute limit, we still have 60 percent more to give! It takes twenty years to gain twenty years of experience, and the only way to move beyond your 40 percent is to callous your mind, day after day. Which means you’ll have to chase pain like it’s your damn job!

Life is one big mind game. The only person you are playing against is yourself. Stick with this process and soon what you thought was impossible will be something you do every fucking day of your life.

Over a period of time, your tolerance for mental and physical suffering will have expanded because your software will have learned that you can take a hell of a lot more than one punch, and if you stay with any task thay is trying to beat you down, you will reap rewards.

Our minds are fucking strong, they are our most powerful weapon, but we have stopped using them. We have access to so many more resources today than ever before and yet we are so much less capable than those who came before us. If you want to be one of the few to defy those trends in our ever-softening society, you will have to be willing to go to war with yourself and create a whole new identity, which requires an open mind.

If you are on the hunt for your 100 percent you should catalog your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Don’t ignore them. Be prepared for them.


I took the bike and logged over 1,000 miles in the three weeks prior to Ultraman. I’d wake up at 4 a.m. and get one hundred-mile rides in before work. On weekends I’d ride 125 miles, get off the bike and run a marathon, but I only did six training swims, just two in the open water, and in the ultra octagon all your weaknesses are revealed.

In one stretch in 2007, I ran an ultra almost every weekend. There were fifty-mile races, 100-kilometer races, 100-mile races, and longer ones too. I was all about spreading the Navy SEAL legend that I loved, and wanted to be true and living our ethos.

Maybe you think I’m a special case or an obsessive maniac. Fine, I won’t argue with you. But what about my friend Mike? He’s a big-time financial advisor in New York City. His job is high pressure and his work day is a hell of a lot longer than eight hours. He has a wife and two kids, and he’s a ultra runner. Here’s how he does it. He wakes up at 4 a.m. every weekday, runs sixty to ninety minutes each morning while his family is still snoozing, rides a bike to work and back and does a quick thirty minute treadmill run after he gets home. He goes out for longer runs on weekends, but he minimizes its impact on his family obligations. He’s high-powered, wealthy as fuck, and could easily maintain his status quo with less effort and enjoy the sweet fruits of his labors, but he finds a way to stay hard because his labors are his sweetest fruits. And he makes time to get it all in by minimizing the amount of bullshit clogging his schedule. His priorities are clear, and he remains dedicated to his priorities. I’m not talking about general priorities here either. Each hour of his week is dedicated to a particular task and when that hour shows up in real time, he focuses 100 percent on that task. That’s how I do it too, because that is the only way to minimize wasted hours.
Evaluate your life in its totality! We all waste so much time doing meaningless bullshit. We burn hours on social media and watching television, which by the end of the year would add up to entire days and weeks if you tabulated time like you do your taxes. You should, because if you knew the truth you’d deactivate your Facebook account ASAP, and cut your cable. When you find yourself having frivolous conversations or becoming ensnared in activities that don’t better you in any way, move the fuck on!

Perhaps you aren’t looking to get fit, but have been dreaming of starting a business of your own, or have always wanted to learn a language or an instrument you’re obsessed with. Fine, the same rule applies. Analyze your schedule, kill your empty habits, burn out the bullshit, and see what’s left. Is it one hour per day? Three? Now maximize that shit. That means listing your prioritized tasks every hour of the day.

The 24 hour mission

The whole point of the twenty-four-hour mission is to keep up a championship pace, not for a season or a year, but for your entire life! That requires quality rest and recovery time. Because there is no finish line. There is always more to learn, and you will always have weaknesses to strengthen if you want to become as hard as woodpecker lips. Hard enough to hammer countless miles, and finish that shit strong!

Are you an experienced scuba diver? Great, shed your gear, take a deep breath and become a one-hundred-foot free diver. Are you a badass triathlete? Cool, learn how to rock climb. Are you enjoying a wildly successful career? Wonderful, learn a new language or skill. Get a second degree. Always be willing to embrace ignorance and become the dumb fuck in the classroom again, because that is the only way to expand your body of knowledge and body of work. It’s the only way to expand your mind.

In life, there is no gift as overlooked or inevitable as failure. I’ve had quite a few and have learned to relish them, because if you do the forensics you’ll find clues about where to make adjustments and how to eventually accomplish your task.

Breaking the world record for pull-ups

After seventeen hours of pain, around 3 a.m. on January 20, 2013, I did my 4021st pull-up, and the record was mine. Everyone in the gym cheered, but I stayed composed. After two more sets and 4030 total pull-ups, I took my headphones out, stared into the camera and said, “I tracked you down, Stephen Hyland!”
In one day, I’d lifted the equivalent of 846,030 punds, nearly three times the weight of the Space Shuttle! Cheers spread to laughter as I pulled off my gloves and disappeared into the back room, but much to everyone’s surprise, I was not in the mood to celebrate. Does that shock you too? You know that my refrigerator is never full, and it never will be because I live a mission-driven life, always on the hunt for the next challenge. That mindset is the reason I broke that record, finished Badwater, became a SEAL, rocked Ranger School, and on down the list. In my mind I’m that racehorse always chasing a carrot I’ll never catch, forever trying to prove myself to myself. And when you live that way and attain a goal, success feels anti-climactic.

At first, when you push beyond your perceived capability your mind won’t shut the fuck up about it. It wants you to stop so it sends you into a spin cycle of panic and doubt, which only amplifies your self-torture. But when you persist past that to the point that pain fully saturates the mind, you become single-pointed. The external world zeroes out. Boundaries dissolve and you feel connected to yourself, and to all things, in the depth of your soul. That’s what I was after.

The Buddha famously said that life is suffering. I’m not a Buddhist, but I know what he meant and so do you. To exist in this world, we must contend with humiliation, broken dreams, sadness, and loss. That’s just nature. Each specific life comes with its own personalized portion of pain. It’s coming for you. You can’t stop it. And you know it.
In response, most of us are programmed to seek comfort as a way to numb it all out and cushion the blows. We carve out safe spaces. We consume media that confirms our beliefs, we take up hobbies aligned with our talents, we try to spend as little time as possible doint the tasks we fucking loathe, and that makes us soft. We live a life defined by the limits we imagine and desire for ourselves because it’s comfortable as hell in that box. Not just for us, but for our closest family and friends. The limits we create and accept become the lens through which they see us. Through which they love and appreciate us.

The internal voice

But it’s not the external voice that will break you down. It’s what you tell yourself that matters. The most important conversations you’ll ever have are the ones you’ll have with yourself. You wake up with them, you walk around with them, you go to bed with them, and eventually you act on them. Whether they be good or bad.
We are all our worst haters and doubters because self doubt is a natural reaction to any bold attempt to change your life for the better. You can’t stop it from blooming in your brain, but you can neutralize it, and all the other external chatter by asking, what if?
What if is an exquisite fuck-you to anyone who has ever doubted your greatness or stood in your way.

We live in a world with a lot of insecure, jealous people. Some of them are our best friends. They are blood relatives. Failure terrifies them. So does our success. Because when we transcend what we once thought was possible, push our limits, and become more, our light reflects off all the walls they’ve built up around them. Your light enables them to see the countours of their own prison, their own self-limitations. But if they are truly the great people you always believed them to be, their jelousy will evolve, and soon their imagination might hop its fence, and it will be their turn to change for the better.

Unsure what to read next? The Obstacle Is The Way explores similar ideas and mindsets as Can’t Hurt Me.

Book notes

The Obstacle Is The Way: Notes

This was my first real introduction to the philosophy of Stoicism. Having heard a lot about it from the Tim Ferriss Podcast, I was eager to dive deeper into it. This book was a great place to start, as it delivers clear and actionable principles.

Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday

A media strategist and prominent writer on strategy and business.

Notes & takeaways

I think Stoicism is a deeply fascinating and critically important philosophy. But I also understand that you live in the real world, and you don’t have time for a history lecture. What you want are real strategies to help you with your problems, so that’s what this book is going to be. – Ryan Holiday

This thing in front of you. This issue. This obstacle – this frustrating, unfortunate, problematic, unexpected problem preventing you from doing what you want to do. That thing you dread or secretly hope will never happen. What if it wasn’t so bad?

What if embedded inside it or inherent in it were certain benefits – benefits only for you? What would you do? What do you think most people would do?

Probably what they’ve always done, and what you are doing right now: nothing.

The discipline of perception
There are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try:

  • To be objective
  • To control emotions
  • To choose to see the good in the situation
  • To steady our nerves
  • To ignore what disturbs or limits others
  • To place things in perspective
  • To revert to the present moment
  • To focus on what can be controlled

See things for what they are.
Do what we can.
Endure and bear what we must.

What blocked the path is now the path.
What once impeded action advances action.
The obstacle is the way.

Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.

Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel

Recognize your power

Just because your mind tells you that something is awful or evil or unplanned or otherwise negative doesn’t mean you have to agree. Just because other people say that something is hopeless or crazy or broken to pieces doesn’t mean it is. We decide what story to tell ourselves. Or whether we will tell one at all.

There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.

Choose not to be harmed – and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed – and you haven’t been.

Marcus Aurelius

Live in the present moment

It doesn’t matter whether this is the worst time to be alive or the best, whether you’re in a good job market or a bad one, or that the obstacle you face is intimidating or burdensome. What matters is that right now is right now.

Think differently

Having learned early in life that reality was falsely hemmed in by rules and compromises that people had been thaught as children, Steve Jobs had a much more aggressive idea of what was or wasn’t possible. To him, when you factored in vision and work ethic, much of life was malleable.

For more inspiration on thinking differently, read my notes on The Everything Store

This is radically different from how we’ve been taught to act. Be realistic, we’re told. Listen to feedback. Play well with others. Compromise. Well, what if the “other” party is wrong? What if conventional wisdom is too conservative? It’s this all-too-common impulse to complain, defer, and then give up that holds us back.

Finding the opportunity

A good person dyes events with his own color, and turns whatever happens to his own benefit.


The Blitzkrieg strategy was designed to exploit the flinch of the enemy – he must collapse at the sight of what appears to be overwhelming force. Its success depends completely on this response. This military strategy works because the set-upon troops see the offensive force as an enormous obstacle bearing down on them.
This is how the allied opposition regarded the Blitzkrieg for most of the war. They could see only its power, and their own vulnerability to it.

Take that longtime rival at work (or that rival company), the one who causes endless headaches? Note the fact that they also:

  • Keep you alert
  • Raises the stakes
  • motivate you to prove them wrong
  • harden you
  • help you to appreciate true friends
  • provide an instructive antilog – an example of whom you don’t want to become

Or that computer glitch that erased all your work? You will now be twice as good at it since you will do it again.

When people are:
Rude or disrespectful:
They underestimate us. A huge advantage.

We won’t have to apologize when we make an example out of them.

Critical or question our abilities:
Lower expectations are easier to exceed.

Makes whatever we accomplish seem all the more admirable.

Build your inner citadel

We take weakness for granted. We assume that the way we’re born is the way we simply are, that our disadvantages are permanent. And then we atrophy from there. Nobody is born with a steel backbone. We have to forge that ourselves.


If only more people had been thinking worst-case scenario at critical points in our lifetimes: the tech bubble, Enron, 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, and the real estate bubble might ave been avoidable. No one wanted to consider what could happen, and the result? Catastrophe.

Book notes: Zero To One

Today, the premortem is increasingly popular in business circles, from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies and the Harvard Business Review. But like all great ideas, it is actually nothing new. The credit goes to the Stoics. They even had a better name: premeditatio malorum (premeditation of evils).

A writer like Seneca would begin by reviewing or rehearsing his plans, say, to take a trip. And then he would go over in his head (or in writing), the things that could go wrong or prevent it from happening: a storm could arise, the captain could fall ill, the ship could be attacked by pirates.

Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation, nor do all the things turn out for him as he wished but as he reckoned – and above all he reckoned that something could block his plans.


Always prepare for disruption:
What if…
Then I will…
What if…
Instead I’ll just…
What if…
No problem, we can always…

And in the case where nothing could be done, the stoics would use it as an important practice to do something the rest of us too often fail to do: manage expectations. Because sometimes the only answer to “What if…” is It will suck but we’ll be okay.

We are dependent on other people. Not everyone can be counted on like you can (though, lets be honest, we’re all our worst enemy sometimes). And that means people are going to make mistakes and screw up your plans. Not always, but a lot of the time.
If this comes as a constant surprise each and every time it occurs, you’re not only going to be miserable, you’re going to have a much harder time accepting it and moving on to attempts number two, three and four. The only guarantee ever, is that things will go wrong.

Beware the calm before the storm.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
The worst is yet to come.
It gets worse before it gets better.

The world might call you a pessimist. Who cares? It’s far better to seem like a downer than to be blindsided or caught off guard. It’s better to meditate on what could happen, to probe for weaknesses in our plans, so those inevitable failures can be correctly perceived, appropriately addressed, or simply endured.

The art of acquiescence

The fates guide the person who accepts them and hinder the person who resists them


When a doctor gives you orders or a diagnosis – even if it’s the opposite of what you wanted – what do you do? You accept it. You don’t have to like or enjoy the treatment but you know denying it only delays the cure.

If someone we knew took traffic signals personally we would judge them insane.

Things could always be worse. The next time you:
Lose money?
Remember, you could have lost a friend.
Lost that job?
What if you’d lost a limb?
Lost your house?
You could have lost everything.

Yet we squirm and complain about what was taken from us. We still can’t appreciate what we have.

The goal is:
Not: I’m okay with this.
Not: I think I feel good about this.
But: I feel great about it.
Because if it happened, then it was meant to happen, and I am glad that it did when it did. I am meant to make the best of it.


If persistence is attempting to solve some difficult problem with dogged determination and hammering until the break occurs, then plenty of people can be said to be persistent. But perseverance is something larger. It’s the long game. It’s about what happens not just in round one but in round two and every round after – and then the fight is that and the fight after that, until the end.

Persistence is an action. Perseverance is a matter of will. One is energy. The other, endurance.

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield

Alfred Tennyson

When Antonio Pigafetta, the assistant to Magellan on his trip around the world, reflected on his boss’s greatest and most admirable skill, what do you think he said? It had nothing to do with sailing. The secret to his success, Pigafetta said, was Magellan’s ability to endure hunger better than other men.

There are far more failures in the world due to a collapse of will than there will ever be from objectively conclusive external events.

Something bigger than yourself

Hoping to stain the McCain family’s prestigious military legacy and the United States, the Vietcong repeatedly offered McCain the opportunity to be released and return home. He wouldn’t take it. He would not undermine the cause, despite self-interest. He stayed and was tortured – by choice.

People are getting a little desperate. People might not show their best elements to you. You must never lower yourself to being a person you don’t like. There is no better time than now to have a moral and civic backbone. To have a moral and civic true north. This is a tremendous opportunity for you, a young person, to be heroic.

Henry Rollins

Sometimes when we are personally stuck with some intractable or impossible problem, one of the best ways to create opportunities or new avenues for movement is to think: If I can’t solve this for myself, how can I at least make this better for other people? Take it for granted, for a second, that there is nothing else in it for us, nothing we can do for ourselves. How can we salvage some good out of this? If not for me, then for my family or the others I’m leading or those who might later find themselves in a similar situation. What doesn’t help anyone is making this all about you, all the time. Why did this happen to me? What am I going to do about this? You’ll be shocked by how much of the hopelessness lifts when we reach that conclusion.

Stop making it harder on yourself by thinking about I, I, I. Stop putting that dangerous “I” in front of events. I did this. I was so smart. I had that. I had that. I deserve better than this. No wonder you take losses personally, no wonder you feel so alone. You’ve inflated your own role and importance. Start thinking: Unity over self. We’re in this together.

Whatever you’re going through, whatever is holding you down or standing in your way, can be turned into a source of strength – by thinking of people other than yourself. You won’t have time to think of your own suffering because there are other people suffering and you’re too focused on them.

Help your fellow humans thrive and survive, contribute your little bit to the universe before it swallows you up, and be happy with that. Lend a hand to others. Be strong for them, and it will make you stronger.

Meditate on your mortality

Death doesn’t make life pointless, but rather purposeful. And, fortunately, we don’t have to nearly die to tap into this energy.

It’s a cliché question to ask, What would I change about my life if the doctor told me I had cancer? After our answer, we inevitable comfort ourselves with the same insidious lie: Well, thank God I don’t have cancer.

But we do. The diagnosis is terminal for all of us. A death sentence has been decreed. Each second, probability is eating away at the chances that we’ll be alive tomorrow; something is coming and you’ll never be able to stop it. Be ready for when that day comes.

Prepare to start again

The great law of nature is that it never stops. There is no end. Just when you think you’ve successfully navigated one obstacle, another emerges. But that’s what keeps life interesting. And as you’re starting to see, what’s what creates opportunities.

Elysium is a myth. One does not overcome an obstacle to enter the land of no obstacles. On the contrary, the more you accomplish, the more things will stand in your way. There are always more obstacles, bigger challenges. You’re always fighting uphill. Get used to it and train accordingly.

Related book: The Compound Effect

Knowing that life is a marathon and not a sprint is important. Conserve your energy. Understand that each battle is only one of many and that you can use it to make the next one easier. More important, you must keep them all in real perspective.

Not everyone looks at obstacles – often the same ones you and I face – and sees reason to despair. In fact, they see the opposite. They see a problem with a ready solution. They see a chance to test and improve themselves. Nothing stands in their way. Rather, everything guides them on the way.

First, see clearly.
Next, act correctly.
Finally, endure and accept the world as it is.

Of course, it is not enough to simply read this or say it. We must practice these maxims, rolling them over and over in our minds and acting on them until they become muscle memory.

So that under pressure and trial we get better – become better people, leaders, and thinkers. Because those trials and pressures will inevitably come. And they won’t ever stop coming.

On Stoicism
Today, Bill Clinton rereads Marcus Aurelius every single year. Wen Jiabao, the former prime minister of China, claims that Meditations is one of two books he travels with and has read it more than one hundred times.

If Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is antiquity, it is we who are the ruins.

Joseph Brodsky

As I tried to show in this book, countless others have embodied the best practises of Stoicism and philosophy without even knowing it. These individuals weren’t writers or lecturers, they were doers – like you.

Over the centuries though, this kind of wisdom has been taken from us, co-opted and deliberately obscured by selfish, sheltered academics. They deprived us of philosophy’s true use: as an operating system for the difficulties and hardships of life.

Philosophy was never what happened in the classroom. It was a set of lessons from the battlefield of life.

Now you are a philosopher and a person of action. And that is not a contradiction.

You now join the ranks of Marcus Aurelius, Cato, Seneca, Thomas Jefferson, James Stockdale, Epictetus, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington, and many others. All these men explicitly practiced and studied stoicism. They were not academics, but men of action.

To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.

Henry David Thoreau

Personal review

The book is divided into three big sections: Perception, action, and will. Each section has about 10 chapters, exploring different aspects of that theme. Each chapter starts with a story, and the rest of the chapter expands upon the principle found in that story.


  • Interesting book, and a lot of great value
  • Motivating
  • Easy to read. Small chapters, short stories
  • Great book to read in small segments over a longer period of time
  • Inspiring stories from people who have put the stoic principles to use throughout history


  • Somewhat repetitive. Better to read in small doses
  • Some of the principles are overemphasized and the text length could be reduced

Conclusion: Worth to read in small bites, perfect as a 10-20 pager before bedtime.