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Do the Real Thing

Why We Take Detours

Why We Take Detours

The real thing requires genuine difficulty. Pretend activity is just difficult enough to make you think you're doing something that matters while avoiding the real difficult things.

The fake activity will make you feel better about yourself, but won't produce results.


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Do the Real Thing

Do the Real Thing




Key Ideas

Doing The Real Work

Success mostly boils down to this: Do the real thing. Stop doing fake alternatives.

If you are a student, instead of creating multicolored folders for your class, sit down and study. If you want to get in shape, don't only plan your workout gear, start exercising.

We are all guilty of this at some stage. We spend months dreaming up elaborate projects that avoid the real work.

Why the Real Thing Matters

The truth is that we often think we are practicing one thing, but later find that we are not really accomplishing our goal.

Several studies show that students are not able to perform on tasks that their classes should have prepared them for. For example, studying economics, but then not able to do better on questions of economic reasoning. Physics students that fail to solve a problem that differs slightly from those taught in class.

Choosing The Obvious Way

When you examine case studies of people with major accomplishments, you might expect some involved technique they used that others were not smart enough to notice. But often, they only did the real thing.

Polyglots are able to speak a language because they spend a lot of time speaking it. Playing on apps alone doesn't count.

Why We Take Detours

The real thing requires genuine difficulty. Pretend activity is just difficult enough to make you think you're doing something that matters while avoiding the real difficult things.

The fake activity will make you feel better about yourself, but won't produce results.


Doing what you love is complicated

As kids, playing was described as fun while work was pretty much defined as not-fun. In school, it was implied that work was monotonous because it was in preparation for grownup work. Grownups a...


Keep in mind this question: How much are you supposed to enjoy what you do? If you underestimate your answer, you'll tend to stop searching too early.

Liking your work does not mean doing what makes you happiest in this second, but what will make you most satisfied over a more extended period, like a week or a month. Your work should be your favorite thing to do. It should be something you admire.

What you should not do
  • Don't worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends.
  • Don't worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world. If you do anything well enough, you'll make it prestigious.
  • Don't be led astray by money, especially when money is combined with prestige.

A test of whether you love what you do is if you would do it even if you weren't paid for it. (Even if you had to work at another job to make a living.)

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The mythical Bigfoot
The mythical Bigfoot

For centuries, people have reportedly seen a mythical primate-like animal in the woods of North America. It looks like a strange, large ape-like figure.

This possibly fictitious animal ...

Mythical primate-like animals: centuries-old tales
  • In the mythology of the Kwakiutl tribe that used to populate the western coast of British Columbia, Dzunukwa is a big, hairy female who lives in the mountainous forests. She spends most of her time protecting her children and sleeping.
  • In California, there are century-old pictographs drawn by the Yokuts that show a family of giant creatures with long, shaggy hair, called "Mayak datat."
  • Nineteenth- and early 20th-century newspapers had sections devoted to the miners, trappers, gold prospectors, and woodsmen claiming to have seen "wild men," "bear men," and "monkey men."
Origin of the name Bigfoot

Bigfoot was a common nickname for unusually large, aggressive grizzly bears who ate cattle, sheep and attacked people.

  • In 1958, a California tractor operator found a series of huge muddy footprints.
  • In 1976, naturalist Ivan T. Sanderson published a book where he used footprints, eyewitnesses, and bone samples as potential evidence of "sub-humans" living of five continents, including North America's Sasquatch and the Himalayas' Yeti.
  • In 1982, Sanderson's book was followed by the Patterson-Gimlin film. The film became a phenomenon.

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Working strategically
Working strategically

A famous quote from Thomas Edison is that "genius is one percent inspiration, and ninety-nine percent perspiration."

While passion and perseverance are essential to reaching your ...

The strategic mindset

A strategic mindset questions and refines your current approach while facing setbacks and challenges. People with a strategic mindset continuously look for a more efficient route.

We might all benefit from thinking strategically in the pursuit of our goals.

Understanding our thinking processes

A new study found a strategic mindset may make the difference between success or failure.

We should be aware and understand our own thinking processes. Useful strategies would include tracking your progress, recognizing your flaws and the areas that need improvement, then creating steps to overcome those challenges.

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Banana bread is a favorite
Banana bread is a favorite

Banana bread has always been popular. In the age of the pandemic, there is a soaring spike of interest in this food above other daily favorites.

Kitchen novices and professional chefs thi...

Avoiding food waste

Buying produce is a bit tricky these days. But bananas are at low risk. You eat them fresh, or when they are overripe, you put them in the freezer until you have enough to make banana bread.

The first banana recipe was published in 1933 during the Great Depression as a means of stretching a week's groceries.

An achievement for anybody
  • You don't have to be a great baker to make banana bread a success. It is an easy-to-reach achievement in a time when we're all feeling defeated.
  • It is also a great canvas for experimentation. Beer can be incorporated as well as shredded coconut, dark chocolate or cinnamon. Traditional flour can be substituted with coconut flour.
  • For some, baking banana bread has a meditative quality. Others find that it helps to maintain their sanity. It feels like an active form of self-care.
Doing the real, useful thing

Much of success boils down to doing the real thing and not an imitation of the real thing. 

For example, if you want to learn a language: Start wi...

Lacking the time

Doing things well may seem daunting. You may feel that you don't have enough time.

But the point is not to deny your obstacles - it's to start with the best plan and make changes as needed, rather than simply starting with something that feels easy enough.

The Paradox of Difficulty

The hardest things end up becoming the easiest, once you've fully committed to a pursuit.

When you've chosen to commit, make it a priority. Put it first in your calendar. Expect frustration and obstacles. You will get stronger.

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There is no such a thing as a "gym person"

There are just people who go to the gym.

Similarly, there’s no such thing as a “productive person.” There are just people who do productive things fairly often.

Keep your “self” out of your decisions

Think of your life as a long sequence of actions and decisions.

Just ask yourself, “Is this a good thing to do?” If the answer is Yes, go do it.

“Change” means changing your identity
“Change” means changing your identity

It’s one thing to say, “I want to start going to the gym weekly.” It’s another to say, “It’s time to change and become the type of person who goes to the gym weekly.”


Distractions Can Ease Pain

Our brains have a limited ability to focus. So distractions can be a powerful tool for reducing the impact of painful or negative experiences.

For example, children are notoriously ...

Distractions Can Make Us Better
  • Distractions can be used to control our urges and impulses: certain games like Tetris can help reduce cravings for fatty foods and even addictive drugs.
  • Distractions can help us stay fit: taking our minds off the pain of physical exercise, with music or television, can improve performance and endurance.
  • Digital distractions and personal technology can also help us develop our ability to take on challenges in the future and build up our courage.
When Distractions Are Destructive

Whether personal technology distractions are a force for good depends on why and how we use them.

Identifying why and how you engage with personal technology may be the difference between healthy and destructive behavior: Do you play to escape your real life, or do you play to make your real life better?


It’s your ability to resolve conflicts between your short-term desires and your long-term goals.

For example, successful self-control means sacrificing immediate pleasure (cookies a...

Why self-control matters

People who have high self-control aren’t missing out on enjoyment. Not being able to resist temptation and enjoying life are not the same things.

They tend to eat in a healthily way, exercise more, sleep better, drink less alcohol, smoke fewer cigarettes, achieve higher grades at university, have more peaceful relationships, and are more financially secure.

Biological limits to self-control

Research showed that self-control is ultimately limited by our biology. We can’t exercise effortful self-control indefinitely – the brain has to do regular maintenance to remain functional.

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Disruption Of Daily Habits
Disruption Of Daily Habits

The ongoing lockdown, happening in varying degrees across the world, has presented humanity with new challenges, testing their patience and making adherence increasingly difficult. It has l...

Choices come with worry

In these times of confusion, when the best experts are clueless, the right choice is no longer a simple task but can require lots of effort.

Being without work also robs us of our daily motivations and the good parts of our job, like positive customer feedback or our feeling of being valued and wanted.

Developed Habits

They unload our minds from our constant decision making, and provide us with ways to relax.

We have a finite amount of energy for solving the daily problems, as our attention is a resource that can be exhausted, making decisions harder as the day goes by.

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