Josh Kaufman

Bestselling Author, Business & Self-Education


The Best Essays I Read in 2013

As part of my annual review process, I took a few hours to look through my research database for great essays and blog posts I read in 2013. Of the 3,492 posts I've saved, here are a few of the best.

Donald Robertson: A Simplified Modern Approach to Stoicism

This article is designed to provide a very concise introduction to Stoicism as a way of life, through a simplified set of Stoic psychological practices… The routine below is designed to provide an introduction to Stoic practice for the 21st Century, which can lead naturally into a wider appreciation of Stoic philosophy as a way of life. The instructions are designed to be as straightforward and concise as possible, while still remaining reasonably faithful to classical Stoicism.

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Piotr Wozniak: Good Sleep, Good Learning, Good Life

It is everyone's dream to wake up fresh, happy, and ready for action on a daily basis. Sadly, in the modern world, only a small minority lives that dream. Yet the dream is within reach for most healthy people given:

1. a bit of knowledge, and
2. a readiness to make some lifestyle sacrifice.

I hope that this article compiles all the basic ingredients of knowledge that are helpful in accomplishing refreshing sleep.

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Donella Meadows: Leverage Points - Places to Intervene in a System

How do we change the structure of systems to produce more of what we want and less of that which is undesirable? […]

This idea of leverage points is not unique to systems analysis—it’s embedded in legend: the silver bullet, the miracle cure, the secret passage, the magic password, the nearly effortless way to cut through or leap over huge obstacles. We not only want to believe that there are leverage points, we want to know where they are and how to get our hands on them. Leverage points are points of power.

[A]lthough people deeply involved in a system often know intuitively where to find leverage points, more often than not they push the change in the wrong direction. […]

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Mark Forster: The Simplest and Most Effective Productivity Method of All

The older I get the more I think that I actually know what I should be doing all along, and all the time management systems and prioritising, visioning, and so forth are just ways of avoiding doing the things I know in my heart I should be getting on with. […]

So when I construct a enormous list of 150 tasks which “need" doing, I’m becoming increasingly aware that the 150 tasks are there in order to bury four or five things that I really don’t want to do. […]

So can I cut back all the listing and planning so I can access directly what I really need to be doing right now this minute?

I think the answer is “yes", and I’m now going to try to describe how…

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Sam Harris: The Fireplace Delusion

I recently stumbled upon an example of secular intransigence that may give readers a sense of how religious people feel when their beliefs are criticized. It’s not a perfect analogy, as you will see, but the rigorous research I’ve conducted at dinner parties suggests that it is worth thinking about. We can call the phenomenon “the fireplace delusion."

On a cold night, most people consider a well-tended fire to be one of the more wholesome pleasures that humanity has produced. A fire, burning safely within the confines of a fireplace or a woodstove, is a visible and tangible source of comfort to us. We love everything about it: the warmth, the beauty of its flames, and—unless one is allergic to smoke—the smell that it imparts to the surrounding air.

I am sorry to say that if you feel this way about a wood fire, you are not only wrong but dangerously misguided. I mean to seriously convince you of this — so you can consider it in part a public service announcement — but please keep in mind that I am drawing an analogy. I want you to be sensitive to how you feel, and to notice the resistance you begin to muster as you consider what I have to say…

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David Heinemeier Hansson: Ambition Can Be Poison

In the right dose, ambition works wonders. It inspires you to achieve more, to stretch yourself beyond the comfort zone, and provides the motivation to keep going when the going gets tough. Rightfully so, ambition is universally revered.

But ambition also has a dark, addictive side that’s rarely talked about. […]

That’s the danger of what too much ambition can do: Narrow the range of acceptable outcomes to the ridiculous, and then make anything less seem like utter failure. It’s irrational, but so are most forms of psychological addiction. You can’t break the spell merely by throwing logic at it.

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Daniel Coyle: Better Parenting Through Silence

[S]ilence creates something vital, because it allows the kid to narrate the process. […]

## 1. Seek to put the kid in the position of control.
## 2. Speak minimally and avoid commands; instead, ask questions that lead to action.
## 3. When they encounter a problem, avoid rushing to the rescue. Create opportunities for resilience.

The larger point is, kids are smart. You can’t con them. To take on challenges they need to be in control. They need to be given the room and motivation to encounter the challenge honestly, and a parent’s role is to help create the conditions where that can happen — then to step back.

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LessWrong.com: The Worst Argument in the World

I declare the Worst Argument In The World to be this: "X is in a category whose archetypal member has certain features. Therefore, we should judge X as if it also had those features, even though it doesn't."

Well, it sounds dumb when you put it like that. Who even does that, anyway?

It sounds dumb only because we are talking soberly of categories and features. As soon as the argument gets framed in terms of words, it becomes so powerful that somewhere between many and most of the bad arguments in politics, philosophy and culture take some form of the Worst Argument In The World.

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Patrick McKenzie: Salary Negotiation: Make More Money, Be More Valued

Your salary negotiation — which routinely takes less than 5 minutes to conclude — has an outsized influence on what your compensation is.

Compensation can include money or things which are more-or-less fungible replacements for money, but it can also include interesting things which you value from “more time with your family" to “opportunities to do tasks which you find fulfilling" to “perks which make a meaningful difference in your day-to-day quality of life." That makes your negotiation five very important minutes. You generally can’t do a totally bang up job on any five minutes of work this year and have your boss give you an extra $5,000.

You can trivially pick up $5,000 in salary negotiations just by sucking less.

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Luke Muehlhauser: The Cognitive Science of Rationality

The last 40 years of cognitive science have taught us a great deal about how our brains produce errors in thinking and decision making, and about how we can overcome those errors. These methods can help us form more accurate beliefs and make better decisions.

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"Mr. Money Mustache": The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement

[W]hen it boils right down to it, your time to reach retirement depends on only one factor: your savings rate, as a percentage of your take-home pay.

If you want to break it down just a bit further, your savings rate is determined entirely by these two things:

  • how much you take home each year
  • how much you can live on

While the numbers themselves are quite intuitive and easy to figure out, the relationship between these two numbers is a bit surprising…

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Robert Twigger: Anyone Can Learn to be a Polymath

Invention fights specialisation at every turn. Human nature and human progress are polymathic at root. And life itself is various — you need many skills to be able to live it. […]

The benefits of polymathic endeavour in innovation are not so hard to see. What is less obvious is how we ever allowed ourselves to lose sight of them. The problem, I believe, is some mistaken assumptions about learning. We come to believe that we can only learn when we are young, and that only ‘naturals’ can acquire certain skills. We imagine that we have a limited budget for learning, and that different skills absorb all the effort we plough into them, without giving us anything to spend on other pursuits.

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James Altucher: How to Be the Luckiest Guy on the Planet in 4 Easy Steps

There have been at least ten times in my life that everything seemed so low I felt like I would never achieve the above three things and the world would be better off without me. Other times, I felt like I was stuck at a crossroads and would never figure out which road to take. Each time, I bounced back.

When I look back at these times now, I realize there was a common thread. Each time, there were four things, and only four things, that were always in place in order for me to bounce back. Now, I try to incorporate these four things into a daily practice so I never dip low again.

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Micael Widell: Life is All About Killing the Magic

What is your meaning of life? Do you have one?

Mine is to kill all the magic and mystery. I want to lie on my deathbed totally bored with everything that exists in this world. I want to have tried everything that ever intrigued me. I want to have read all the books I wanted to read. I want to have gotten to know all kinds of people who are a mystery to me today. I want to have experienced enough to have killed all the curiosity that was ever in me.

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Dave Asprey: Four Words That Make You Weak

If you listen closely to the words people say, you can learn a lot about what’s going on inside their heads. Your own words also tell a tale. By listening to and analyzing the words you use on a regular basis, you can learn to stop unconsciously programming yourself to have limited performance.

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Charlie Hoehn: How I Cured My Anxiety

For a long time, I thought I was going crazy. I’d convinced myself that something horribly wrong was about to happen. I thought I would be stabbed, shot, or arrested every time I left my apartment. I was sure that there was an impending disaster that would melt the social contract and pit my neighbors against me. I saw criminals and undercover cops everywhere I went. All that “world is coming to an end" talk — I bought into it… I tried to behave like nothing was wrong, when all I wanted to do was lock myself in a room and curl up in a ball.

Then one day, I discovered the cure. When my mind processed it and recognized it was the solution, I started laughing. The answer had been so obvious all along.

In less than one month, I was back to my old self. The cure for my anxiety was free, fun, painless, and immediately effective. I have no fear that those feelings will ever return. If they do, I’ll be able to wipe them out right away.

I hope this post can help you eliminate your anxiety once and for all. It’s not nearly as hard as you think.

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LessWrong.com: Morality is Awesome

Applied ethics is about what is awesome and what is not. Parties with all your friends inside super-intelligent starship-whales are awesome. ~666 children dying of hunger every hour is not. […]

"Wait a minute!" you cry, "What is this awesomeness stuff? I thought ethics was about what is good and right."

I'm glad you asked. I think "awesomeness" is what we should be talking about when we talk about morality. Why do I think this?

## 1. "Awesome" is not a philosophical landmine. If someone encounters the word "right", all sorts of bad philosophy and connotations send them spinning off into the existential void. "Awesome", on the other hand, has no philosophical respectability, hence no philosophical baggage.

## 2. "Awesome" is vague enough to capture all your moral intuition by the well-known mechanisms behind fake utility functions, and meaningless enough that this is no problem. If you think "happiness" is the stuff, you might get confused and try to maximize actual happiness. If you think awesomeness is the stuff, it is much harder to screw it up.

## 3. If you do manage to actually implement "awesomeness" as a maximization criteria, the results will be actually good. That is, "awesome" already refers to the same things "good" is supposed to refer to.

## 4. "Awesome" does not refer to anything else. You think you can just redefine words, but you can't, and this causes all sorts of trouble for people who overload "happiness", "utility", etc.

## 5. You already know that you know how to compute "Awesomeness", and it doesn't feel like it has a mysterious essence that you need to study to discover…

## 6. "Awesome" is implicitly consequentialist. "Is this awesome?" engages you to think of the value of a possible world, as opposed to "Is this right?" which engages to to think of virtues and rules. (Those things can be awesome sometimes, though.)

I find that the above is true about me, and is nearly all I need to know about morality. It handily inoculates against the usual confusions, and sets me in the right direction to make my life and the world more awesome. It may work for you too.

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Published: December 31, 2013 Last updated: December 31, 2013

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