There is little I love more than learning! Books are great. Podcasts are too. But short life learning lists are the most knowledge-dense and effective way to digest actionable tips. Learning from others is far more efficient than learning from your own mistakes!
I wrote my first 30 Life-Enhancing Learnings for my 30th birthday. I enjoyed compiling that list and planned to make it a yearly habit, but I missed publishing it last year. So this list contains my 32 top learnings over the past two years.
I wrote this post to reflect on the learnings that have improved my life. Some of the learnings may also be relevant for you. I hope you enjoy them and that at least one resonates!
- I work from my laptop, for myself, from anywhere. I know this is a position of extreme privilege. Some of my life lessons may be less applicable to others. That’s ok. They’re merely lessons from my life. It would be weird if they all applied to everyone!
- As with all advice on the internet, this wasn’t written with your exact situation in mind.
- Take what you like, adapt it, and make it your own!
1) Health is the #1 priority. Being healthy positively impacts all areas of life, whilst bad health puts all else into perspective. Plans quickly shifted when I got Covid twice in the last two years. It was mild, but it reminded me to be grateful for my health and prioritise its preservation.
2) Get multiple medical opinions. It’s your health. Don't risk it by relying on the opinion of only one person. Medical professionals frequently differ. When they do, you’re the one that suffers. In my case, a lingering minor ailment was cured within six hours when a new doctor prescribed the correct treatment!
3) Balanced training. A healthy exercise regime should cover strength, endurance, and flexibility. It’s easy but foolish to neglect any area, and I tend to neglect flexibility. Improving my bench press is fun, but making marginal gains shouldn’t be at the expense of mobility workouts.
4) Life is short. It’s shorter when stressed. Although impossible to eliminate, be vigilant of stress. Is it worth stressing over and potentially shortening your life? Especially true in a work context. Many folks have highly stressful but well-paying jobs. Given that extreme stress is likely knocking a few years off your life, along with impacting your health right now, think hard about whether the extra money is truly worth it.
5) Eat porridge, but not just any porridge, Marleen’s porridge. Arguably the best porridge in the world. It’s tasty and nutritious, plus when eaten as a late breakfast, it fills me until late afternoon. Recipe for the world's best porridge.
6) Reduce meat consumption. Meat consumption, particularly red meat, is linked to many fatal diseases, including heart disease and certain cancers. I had briefly experimented with reducing my meat intake for environmental reasons but was unaware of the link to deadly diseases until I read ‘How not to Die’. Not smoking, not being obese, getting a half hour of exercise a day, and eating healthier (defined as consuming more fruits, veggies, and whole grains, but less meat) account for 78% of chronic disease risk. I became a vegetarian after reading the book.
7) Eat more veg. It’s good for you, tasty, and less calorie dense, so you can eat more! Many restaurants are accommodating if you ask for additional vegetables with your dish.
8) The plate method. Fill 1/2 of your plate with vegetables & fruit, 1/4 proteins and 1/4 grains & starches. Our traditional ratios are out of whack. The plate method ratios make it easier to eat a balanced diet and maintain my ideal weight. This article goes into more detail.
9) Break it down. When learning a new skill, break the skill into small chunks and work on each part individually. This also applies to any task. If stuck, break it down. For surfing, I found it helpful to isolate two areas that needed particular attention: my pop-up & turning. It can be hard to get many repetitions of these movements on the water, but they can be practised on land. Surf-skating replicates the motion of turning on a wave and hugely improved my balance.
10) Get a teacher. Learn faster by hiring someone experienced. They can provide more focused training plans, guide you through the tricky parts, and provide actionable feedback as you progress. Surf lessons were invaluable to progress up the steep learning curve, and I use the Runna app for personalised half-marathon training.
🤔 Decision Making
11) Life is risk management, not risk avoidance. No risk, no reward. Rather than seeking to avoid all risks, I have a simple two-step framework: 1) Calculate the likelihood of a risk occurring and 2) The impact of the risk materialising. Be especially vigilant of risks which could lead to ruin, even if they are very unlikely to materialise. A good approach is to take risks with high potential upsides and low potential downsides.
12) Recognise the inherent risk. When markets are booming, the best results often go to those who take the most risk. Many don't appreciate the inherent risk in their choices. A crypto trader tried to convince me of the merits of getting leverage to make easy money from high-yielding crypto investments. He was making decent returns but refused to accept that there was a high degree of risk. Fortunately, I recognised the risk. Many who followed this strategy have faced the fallout of what happens when risk meets adversity.
13) What are you optimising for? Always know your priority. Prioritise and act accordingly. I revert to this question for all important decisions.
14) Fish where there is plenty of fish and not many fishermen. Not all environments are equally challenging. Choose carefully. Becoming an Olympian as a half-pipe skier is easier than as a sprinter.
15) The top three: Not all decisions are equal. Some will have an outsized impact on your life. Three of life’s most important decisions include 1) Who to spend it with, 2) Where to live, & 3) What to work on. Be extremely deliberate in all three.
16) Problems are universal. Expose yourself to many industries, companies and problems. Similar challenges pop up repeatedly. Taking w hat works in one domain and applying it to another is an easy tactic to make an impact. (But don’t dismiss the importance of specific domain expertise to understand the nuances of each problem.)
17) Understand your performance enablers. Explore what conditions facilitate flow and drive your peak performance. Once known, shape your environment to optimise for these conditions. For knowledge workers, one hour at peak performance can produce more than five standard hours. I frequently hit a highly productive zone if I’m well-rested, have recently exercised, am nicely caffeinated, and have a quiet place to work without interruption. Because my work is flexible, I am quick to abort a work session if I’m not ‘feeling it’ — I’ll break to do errands (gym, shopping, etc.) and save my work hours for another time when my brain is on fire.
18) Output excellence over Outlook availability. Our relationship with work transforms when we have the autonomy to complete it on our terms. Surf when the waves are good and run in the sun. This may necessitate working evenings or weekends, but this matters little when it’s on your schedule. An environment that priorities output excellence over Microsoft Outlook availability leads to exponentially more efficient and happy workers.
19) Beyond a certain point, money is merely digits in the bank. The goalposts continuously shift if you haven’t defined what is ‘enough’. Define ‘enough’, and do your best to prevent your lifestyle expectations from expanding when you get there. Trade those digits to improve your life and buy back time.
20) Intentional work calls. Calls are often a distraction to deep work and a substitute for actually doing the work. Be intentional with your time and others. Question the purpose, the required participants, and the time needed. A useful phrase I often use is ”For now, please list all questions you have at this stage, and I’ll get back to you with my response. Happy to have a call after this phase if still required”.
21) You can work reduced hours and still be ambitious. There is often a stigma about reducing your working hours. It’s rarely associated with high performers that want to pursue interests outside of work. I’ve worked part-time for the last year, have never enjoyed my career more, and now operate even more productively! I love my work but also have sufficient time to pursue other interests. In a knowledge-based economy, I firmly believe that appropriate prioritisation, focus, and technology should enable us to reach our work goals quicker and create more time for other interests each week.
22) Daily top three. Ask your partner or people close to you for their top three highlights of the day. It’s a wonderful way to catch up and see what resonates most with them.
23) Introduce friends to friends. Most people in your social circles will get along. Be the matchmaker. Some of my closest friends were deliberate introductions via other friends.
24) Introduce with a kick-start. When introducing others, add extra info to immediately create the connection and kick-start the conversation. “Ken, I’d like you to meet Ian. He volunteers at the soccer club, loves macroeconomics, and is a coffee connoisseur”.
25) Anything can happen. Just because you haven’t seen it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. Even the unlikely scenario can occur. Few would have ever imagined a global lockdown.
26) It’s not a done deal until the final step is done. Related to #25, it’s always possible something can pop up at the last minute. Expect the unexpected, and do your best to prevent sure things from falling through.
25) People are making it up as they go. Be informed and think for yourself on essential matters. Remember the contrast between government pandemic responses? People do their best, but it doesn’t mean they always know what is best. When Covid started, seeing Ireland in lockdown whilst the UK acted as normal was a real eye-opener. Especially as I picked up Covid before the first lockdown!
27) It’s not like this everywhere. The world is a big place, full of variety. Your city/career/interests/friends occupy a ridiculously tiny corner of the world. If something isn’t working, do something about it. Explore environments that facilitate the change you seek.
28) Social norms are local norms. What we consider bizarre may be normal to others. Taking off your shoes inside is weird for the Irish but expected in Northern Europe. Whilst I was taught “Don’t stare, it’s rude” staring is common in Germany. In many areas of life, there are no true right and wrongs, only local norms. The Culture Map is a great read on cultural differences.
29) Create the space to reflect and plan. Taking time at the start/end of the week to plan out the following week creates a lovely structure to help meet your objectives. It also works brilliantly when done daily! After each client project, I log all my learnings. I refer to this learning journal before planning and commencing the next project.
30) Don’t underestimate travel. Travelling can be fun, but do not underestimate the true time, cost, and energy spent getting from A to B. This is even truer in a post-pandemic world where European rail and flight infrastructure seems to be crumbling! Many trips I’ve taken in recent months have had delays, disrupted my routine, and been more energy zapping than expected.
31) Be open to change. When you come across a potentially better way of living, don’t be stubborn; you’re free to adopt it. Everything is fair game, whether diet, cultural norms or daily habits. I’ve recently become a vegetarian, started drinking black coffee, and gotten into long-distance running.
32) Increase your luck surface area. Increase the odds of luck crossing your path by interacting with more people in more diverse situations. Sharing your work and interests online is a good start. Catching a fish is much easier if you cast a wide net.
Which of these resonates with you? Or which do you have a different take on? What learnings have shaped your worldview? Please do let me know 😊
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I write and share a short monthly newsletter called ‘How Curious!’. It’s packed with my favourite discoveries and recommendations. This includes quotes, books, podcasts, tech, and random links from the web.
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