January 12, 2021

Not Another 2020 Post…

This is not another “good riddance 2020 post.” While 2020 was certainly unique in its ability to yield a seemingly endless supply of catastrophes on a collective scale – many individuals have surely faced worse years. Instead, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what this past year has helped clarify in my life. Full disclaimer: I recognize the privilege and good fortune we continued to enjoy throughout the last year. Both my wife and I were able to sustain our livelihoods, provide for our family, and remain in relatively good health, and for this, we are abundantly grateful.

2020 Taught Me the Value of Good Neighbors & Community

In 2018, we made the decision to sell our home in order to be less car-dependent and live closer to where we work/play. We knew that doing so would be a bit of a sacrifice, as we had a beautiful, new construction home with an even more beautiful view. It would also require at least two moves as well as navigating the cut-throat Park City real estate market. In 2019, after settling into our current home, I wrote in more detail about our decision and thought process, feeling pretty good about the outcome.

When COVID lockdowns initially hit, it was the first time that I regretted our decision to move, as suddenly, that extra square-footage seemed a lot more valuable. However, looking back at this past year, one of the best things to come out of 2020 was the connections we made within our neighborhood and the lifelong friendships which have emerged. Doubling down on our neighborhood and community proved to be well worth the gamble.

2020 Taught Me the Value of Reading

I read a lot in 2020. As author Ryan Holiday wrote, “The Greatest Shortcut for Leaders Is Reading Books.”

2020 Taught Me That It Can Always Get Worse

There was a three-month span of time in 2020 in which all of the following happened:

  • COVID lockdown/ hysteria began (remember the great TP shortage of 2020?)
  • Biggest earthquake (locally) in 30 years
  • National civil unrest with mass protests and riots
  • Received diagnoses that I needed a valve replacement
  • My grandpa passed away

While maybe not immediately apparent at the time, all of the above had a silver lining. And as awful as our problems may seem, we should relish them when we can, as they can almost always get worse. One of my favorite meditations is from Naval Ravikant, who said, “A healthy man wants a thousand things, a sick man only wants one.”

Furthermore, negative visualization is a Stoic practice for imagining not having what you have. There were a lot of things we couldn’t do in 2020, but instead of fixating on those, I tried to seek gratitude for what I could do, whether that was tucking a healthy child in bed at night, a bike ride through the mountains from my house, or time spent with friends and family.

2020 Taught Me that Those With Simple Pleasures Are the Richest

As noted above, negative visualization can assist in savoring what we have. With the lockdowns, came the loss of my morning routine, which, now that I have back, I have a greater appreciation for. It’s a simple thing, but that hour every morning I get to read, visualize my day, and walk the dog makes all the difference in my mood and output.

2020 Taught Me that Happiness Comes From Intent

Every moment is a choice in how we react to it, and more often than not, the reaction matters more than the initial action. Many of our actions and reactions occur as a chain of events that ultimately determine our state-of-mind. Checking phones first thing in the morning is a great example of an action that sets off a chain-of-events which lead to a negative reaction and poor headspace. The more present we are in our decisions, and conscious of our attitude towards a person, event, thing, or situation, the better equipped we are to sustain a positive outlook and maintain happiness.

Happiness is not achieved through accomplishment or possession but is instead the result of a series of intentional micro-decisions. We can choose to give someone the benefit of the doubt, overlook a slight, or view a negative through the context of a positive, and if we do it enough times, we will be substantially happier than otherwise. For the joy that comes as a result of something is quick to fade, while joy that occurs without reason persists. Inversely, anxiety and stress come from rejecting, consciously or not, the reality of how things are in the moment.

2020 Taught Me There is No ‘One Right Way’ of Doing Things

I tend to overanalyze decisions, regardless of how trivial. However, what I’ve come to realize, is there is seldom a perfect choice. Each path we take bears its own fruit, for better and worse. All we can do is learn from our experiences, be confident in our decisions, and then sit back and enjoy the ride. Besides, with the exception of a few notable life-choices, such as having a child, or committing a crime, there are few actions that can not be undone should they prove untenable.

2020 Taught Me That These Are the Goold Old Days

Throughout the last year, many of us found ourselves looking ahead to better days. It’s all too easy to pend our happiness on future events, ie; a new president, a vaccine, accomplishments, accolades, and so forth. However, Lord willing, these are the days that we will one day look back on with nostalgia, and if we continue to run out the clock on our days, weeks, and months, our time will have passed before we know it.

For everything we do, there will be “a last time” we do it. So next time you find yourself in a seemingly mundane or repetitive task, change your perspective from “have-to-do,” to “get-to-do.”

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Finding Joy While Running the Hedonic Treadmill of Life.

December 18, 2020


Covers of favorite songs can breathe new life into a familiar work. In some cases, they even become the standard – think Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” (originally recorded by Otis Redding) or “Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones (originally written & recorded by Gram Parsons). However, the best cover songs, take on a whole new meaning, as did “Respect” when it became a feminist and civil rights anthem after being recorded by Aretha. While it certainly won’t be remembered as the song of a generation on a level with Respect, I’ve recently been captured by The Tallest Man On Earth’s version of master songwriter Paul Simon’s “Graceland”.

As with the rest of the Graceland album, the title cut is deeply entrenched in world music, specifically the sounds of South Africa, and while the connection between Apartheid, (which was still policy at the time of Simon’s initial release) and the American South is not lost on me, “Graceland’s” lyrics feel more down-home and in tune with the setting in which the song takes place when backed by the minimalist string-arrangement found on The Tallest Man Earth’s version.

What’s more, The Tallest Man on Earth completely omits the third verse of the song:

My traveling companion is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
But I’ve reason to believe
We both will be received In Graceland

Which transforms the song from being one of redemption into one of loss, pushed even further into mourning by The Tallest Man’s sparse and haunting vocals.

It’s not until this cover, that I’ve paid attention to the following verse, which when sung by The Tallest Man On Earth gives me a whole new respect for this bit of songwriting that, like the lyrics themselves, are both so subtle yet obvious and a great example of Simon’s genius ability to advance the storyline in his songs.

She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy the following posts about song covers:

“These Days”, Covered by Nico
“Love Vigilantes”, Covered by Iron & Wine
“Closer to Fine”, Covered by Sicko

I’ve also created a Spotify playlist with my favorite Covers.

December 7, 2020

Finding Joy While Running the Hedonic Treadmill of Life

I’ve been reading Atomic Habits by author James Clear over the past few weeks. In Chapter 8, Make it Attractive, Clear explains how to leverage temptation and desire in order to build better habits. However, what compelled me the most was a study he referenced in regards to the dopamine response in mice. In summary, the findings were:

  1. Dopamine spiked after a new, positive experienced
  2. Dopamine spiked before (in anticipation) of a previously rewarding experience, but not after
  3. Over time, as a new experience became readily accessible, dopamine levels spike in anticipation but actually drop negatively after

Clear states, “It is the anticipation of the reward – not the fulfillment of it – that gets us to take action.”

The Hedonic Treadmill

This phenomenon is also known as the Hedonic Treadmill; the human tendency to return to a pre-existing baseline after major positive or negative outcomes, ie; a person may be ecstatic after winning the lottery, only to return to their previous state of mind shortly thereafter. We see this in our day to day, constantly lusting over what we don’t have, only to want something else once we’ve obtained it. Fortunately, or not, there is a science-based explanation for this, as the human brain is wired to desire rather than appreciate. Researchers have found that 100% of the nucleus accumbens is activated during wanting, compared to just 10% during liking.

Clear writes on, “Desire is the engine that drives behavior. Every action is taken because of the anticipation that precedes it. It is the craving, that leads to the response.”

While Clear leverages desire to build better habits, what does it mean for our long-term happiness to be in a constant battle with our biology? Perhaps this is why the Buddha found the path of enlightenment to be in the abandonment of all possessions and ego. Short of that, I think there are a few valuable takeaways here:

1. Objects & Desires Don’t Bring Happiness

If we understand that our brains are wired to desire and anticipate a reward, rather than appreciate or be fulfilled by the reward, we can reject the notion that such a thing will bring us content. Buying a new car, boat, house, or whatever, is nice, and may even provide a quick hit of dopamine, but we can be certain it will not make us objectively any happier. While this doesn’t free us from our desires, it does allow us to detach and appreciate them for what they are, with the knowledge that they will have no impact on our ultimate happiness.

2. Increase Anticipation for Increased Reward

By delaying gratification and not acting impulsively, we can increase the amount of enjoyment derived from the reward. Booking a last-minute trip to Mexico might give you a rush, but it will be a short-lived thrill. Whereas booking that same trip 3-6 months in advance, will give you the enjoyment that builds throughout the coming months in anticipation of the trip, which as we know, can often be greater than the reward itself.

3. Happiness is All About Perspective, Not Results

The happiness that comes as a result of something will be temporary, whereas joy that comes without reason, persists. Throughout our consciousness, we are presented with millions of micro-decisions where we must decide how to react in that moment. The more we practice reacting to these situations through a positive context rooted in gratitude, the happier we will be. Alternatively, the more we connect our happiness to a reward or achievement, the unhappier we will be.

April 16, 2020

Deep Work & the 80/20 Principle

Another great bit of wisdom that’s come out of reading Deep Work is the 80/20 rule, formally known as the Pareto Principle and also known as the ‘Law of the Vital Few’. The rule is as follows:

Roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Through the context of Deep Work and business, the rule can be interpreted a few different ways:

  • 80% of our delivery is produced in 20% of our time.
  • 80% of our revenue is generated through 20% of our efforts.

What if instead of trying to be/do everything we simply focus on the 20% that’s extremely high-value, whether it be how we spend our time or revenue sources?

Another way to think about it: What constitutes the 80% of our time/energy that is of little value/consequence and how can we remove that from our day-to-day?

April 13, 2020

The Legacy of John Prine

…We were amazed by the beauty of the songs he’d written after more than 50 years of writing music. John was still razor-sharp and he still had a story to tell. On the subsequent tour he played to the biggest audiences he’d ever drawn. He turned 72 that year.

Jason Isbell from his New York Times Tribute to the late John Prine

John Prine never peaked. Fifty years into his career, after beating cancer twice mind you, he was writing some of his best songs and drawing the biggest crowds of his life. What an amazing spirit.

April 9, 2020

Deep Work on Hidden Brain

Note: The following was originally written back in September, but for whatever reason, I never posted. After revisiting the other day, I thought it was especially relevant within the context of the current pandemic. It’s so tempting, to constantly refresh the headlines, which leads us into a never-ending vortex of doom and gloom. Not only is this detrimental to our mental health, but it destroys our ability to focus on what we can control. I have since finished Deep Work the book, and can’t recommend it enough – especially in times like these.

The Battle For Our Attention

Today, more than ever before, there is a constant battle for our attention. Distraction is perhaps the greatest threat to not only our productivity but to our mental health and fitness. We all know the addictive nature of social media as these platforms are engineered for maximum engagement, however, even many of the productivity tools such as email, Slack, Skype, etc… can have drastic effects on our ability to focus and engage in meaningful work.

Cal Newport, a Computer Scientist at Georgetown University, was recently on the podcast, Hidden Brain, discussing distraction and his book Deep Work with host Shankar Vedantam. Newport’s book, Deep Work has been sitting on my shelf for a few months but I have yet to have a chance to read it – however, after listening to the interview it is clear that I need to make the time.

As a remote worker, finding balance and setting boundaries between potentially disruptive behavior, such as checking message notifications and maintaining focus is a daily struggle. As Newport notes in the interview, even “micro-distractions” which occur innocently enough throughout the day, all take a toll on your ability to focus. A simple glance at your inbox or Skype notifications can break your concentration and send you down a rabbit hole.

Newport notes that like mindfulness and meditation, the ability to engage in “deep work” is a skill and takes practice. It’s often neither convenient or easy but offers significant rewards. In the past, I’ve set forth rules such as the following to maintain a distraction-free environment:

  • Schedule my days in advance. In his interview, Newport says he often schedules tasks as much as four weeks in advance!
  • Only check messages & notifications during scheduled times throughout the day. I find that constantly having my inbox or Skype open decreases my productivity and focus.
  • Leave my phone on silent in another room or inconvenient places such as a bag or locker.
  • Have a daily routine for beginning and ending the workday. Newport ends every day with a mantra, “Scheduled shutdown complete.”
  • Track and budget all my time as I would my financial expenses.

I find that when I can follow these rules, I do better work, however, it’s not easy and many times I find myself engaging in old, bad habits.

April 8, 2020

In Remembrance of John Prine

What is there left to say about John Prine that hasn’t already been said – besides, we’re sure gonna miss him. Hope he’s up there enjoying that nine-mile long cigarette this morning.

Thanks for everything John.

March 24, 2020

On Listening to the Whispers

Nearly a year ago to the day, I had the privilege of attending the X4 Summit in Salt Lake City which featured speakers such as President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Richard Branson. Of these, Oprah by far exceeded my expectations and has left a permanent impression. Sitting in the audience one year ago, never would I have imagined being in the position we are now, as we face a pandemic with much of the world on lockdown. However, the words she spoke then have never been more relevant than they are today.

The major problems in life start out as whispers.

Thinking about the above statement within the context of the current global outbreak: the first case of the virus landed in the US back in January. Instead of acting, our government and leaders decided to ignore the threat until it turned into a full-fledged crisis. The best time to act during a crisis, as we know, is not during the crisis, but before. Had instead we heeded what at the time were whispers of a pending threat, as countries such as Singapore and South Korea did, we would not be in the reactive spiral that we are today. Perhaps the silver lining here is that we as a human collective will finally listen to the other whispers which we have so long been ignoring, such as climate change.

Stillness is my greatest partner […] power comes from still spaces.

I try to incorporate stillness rituals into my daily practice; that is a time of quiet to reflect without noise or other distractions. It’s often in these times that it’s easiest to hear the whispers as well as maintain perspective and focus. However, with everyone home on lockdown (including my four-year-old) finding a routine time and place for stillness is harder, yet more important, than ever.

Furthermore, between the endless news cycle, twitter/facebook, and the other media outlets that are at our fingertips, it’s easy to find ourselves going down a doomsday rabbit hole that works to combat any sense of stillness we have left (this is true even in the absence of a pandemic). While it is important to stay informed, limit your media consumption to trusted sources and only during defined intervals throughout the day. Also, I recommend neither starting nor ending your day with such activities. A simple hack for this is to leave your phone or device plugged in somewhere other than your bedroom, or at the very least, away from your bed so there is no temptation to pick it up directly before or after sleep.

Oprah’s Approach In Times of Trouble:

  1. Stop
  2. Still
  3. Decide
  4. Act
  5. Next

We’ve discussed the importance of stopping to listen for whispers and being still. Next, we must decide what to do by separating the things we can and cannot control. We cannot control the actions of an inept President or government, but we can determine the course of action we take ourselves as well as within our own household. Decisions such as staying home, limiting unnecessary interactions, ensuring we have enough essential supplies, and so forth are steps we can take right now that have a positive benefit. We must also weigh the costs of panicking, reacting emotionally, as well as doing nothing.

Once we’ve decided on and implemented a course of action, we must have confidence in our ability to make the best of anything, for if we can come out on the other side of these times relatively unscathed, then we can face even greater challenges. In the words of FDR, “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”

Wishing everyone and their families the best.

March 19, 2020

Serenity Now

His words and attitude always suppose a better state of things than other men are acquainted with and he will be the last man to be disappointed as the ages revolve… how blind that cannot see serenity.

Former Inhabitants, Walden