Josh Kaufman

Bestselling Author, Business & Self-Education


The Best Essays I Read in 2017

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 2017.

Major research topics this year included business, entrepreneurship, creativity, learning, skill acquisition, productivity, psychology, health, science, systems, wisdom, and general life satisfaction. 1

Of the 1,266 posts I saved, here are a few of the essays that had a significant influence on my thinking this year. (You can also browse my selections from 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012.)

(Note: these are essays I read and saved in 2017. Original publication dates for the essays themselves may vary.)

Scott Young: "You Should Have More Spectacular Failures"

Most advice is calibration. Eat less (because you’re inclined to overeat). Study more (because you’ll probably wait too long and cram right before the exam). Procrastinate less (because you’ll probably spend days stressing about trying to do the thing that if you just did it now, it wouldn’t be all that bad). […]

I believe that with most people, the aversion to failure, combined with the limited personal experience and limited societal expectations for success, mean that we’re too conservative with our expectations for ourselves.

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Olga Khazan & Kristin Neff: "Why Self-Compassion Works Better Than Self-Esteem"

[…] When we have self-compassion, when we fail, it's not “poor me,” it's “well, everyone fails.” Everyone struggles. This is what it means to be human. And that really radically alters how we relate to failure and difficulty. When we say, "Oh, this is normal, this is part of what it means to human," that opens the door to the grow from the experience. If we feel like it's abnormal, this shouldn't be happening, then we start blaming ourselves. […]

And in fact, I would argue that self-compassion also provides a sense of self-worth, but it's not linked to narcissism the way self-esteem is. It's not linked to social comparison the way self-esteem is, and it's not contingent, because you have self-compassion both when you fail and when you succeed. The sense of self-worth that comes from being kind to yourself is much more stable over time than the sense of self-worth that comes from judging yourself positively.

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Mark Forster: "The Natural Selection of Tasks"

When I first started developing Autofocus one of the ideas that was at the foundation of what I was trying to achieve was the natural selection of tasks. By this I meant that I wanted to find a method that would free our minds to naturally focus on what was important to us and leave the rest. […]

We should rid ourselves of the idea that putting a task on the list implies any commitment to doing it. It does however imply a commitment to keeping it under consideration for as long as it remains on the list.

There is no such thing as procrastination. What we call “procrastination” is just our minds working through the selection process.

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Sarah Constantin: "Momentum, Reflectiveness, Peace"

I’ve been writing a lot lately about the mental habits that make calm and reflection possible. This is because a lot of “rationality” seems to depend on dispositions — things like the propensity to question your first assumptions, seek new information, examine evidence in a fair or dispassionate manner, and so on. It’s very difficult to be motivated towards reflective behavior if you’re so upset that the mental motion of “stop and think” is impossible for you. Knowing about cognitive biases isn’t much use if you don’t want to do anything except your default reactions to stimuli.

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Adam Gazzaley & Larry D. Rosen: "Are You a Self-Interrupter?"

Our technology-rich world has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. While on the one hand we have access to information or people anywhere at any time, on the other hand we find our attention constantly drawn by the rich, multisensory, technological environments. […]

There are two approaches by which we can diminish the negative impact of interference on our lives: changing our brains and changing our behavior. Note that these approaches are not mutually exclusive; they are complementary, and you will likely achieve the most beneficial outcomes if you pursue them concurrently.

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Brennan Dunn: "The Definitive Guide To Project Billing"

Hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, per feature, per project. There seem to be a limitless number of ways to charge your clients. In this post, I’ll overview the pros and cons of each, and end with my recommendations.

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Karl Friston: "The Mathematics of Mind-Time"

I have a confession. As a physicist and psychiatrist, I find it difficult to engage with conversations about consciousness. My biggest gripe is that the philosophers and cognitive scientists who tend to pose the questions often assume that the mind is a thing, whose existence can be identified by the attributes it has or the purposes it fulfils. […]

As a consequence, I’m compelled to treat consciousness as a process to be understood, not as a thing to be defined. Simply put, my argument is that consciousness is nothing more and nothing less than a natural process such as evolution or the weather.

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Kevin Simler: "Tears"

So humans are a peculiar species. You probably knew that. What you may not have realized — like I hadn't until recently — is just how many specific traits and behaviors are uniquely human.

We're not just big-brained featherless bipeds with special instincts for language, tools, and culture. We're also the only creatures who sing from the ground, sing and dance together, bury our dead, point declaratively, enjoy spicy foods, blush, and faint (not to mention all of our weird sexual practices). We have the least symmetrical brains, the most dependent babies, and the fastest and most accurate overhand-throwing skills. […]

But mostly I want to talk about crying, or to be more precise, weeping or emotional tears. Humans, of course, aren't the only species whose eyes occasionally fill up with fluid (e.g. when irritated). Nor are we the only species to wail in distress. But we are the only ones who unite tears and noisy crying together in a single behavior.

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Marcus Blankenship: "The 4-letter-word word that makes my blood boil"

“JUST”

It’s one of the worst four-letter words I know. Whenever I catch myself using it, I stop and apologize. And when I hear it, I hold up my hand and stop the person speaking.

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Michael "Rands" Lopp: "One Thing"

I bounced from work a little early before the holidays to tackle one big rock project. It was the development of a headcount plan for 2017 along with a supported budget forecast. The work is familiar, I’ve done it many times. This big rock had been on my list for over a month regularly getting pushed each day I couldn’t find time to make progress. With the relative quiet of the holidays, I told myself, “Headcount and budget. Tuesday morning. I’ll make coffee and knock it out before Noon. Two hours. Three tops.”

I started on schedule in the comfort of the Cave, coffee in hand, fired up the necessary spreadsheets, and eleven hours later I was done. Eleven hours. Aside from a small amount of unexpected side research, and a couple of brief breaks, I was heads-down productively crunching numbers for 10+ hours with the benefit of having a crew of talented humans answering my endless questions throughout the day.

Eleven hours. I wasn’t even close with my original estimate, and this is work I’ve done multiple times before. When I shipped off my completed artifacts in the evening, I reminded myself my original plan was to do this big rock at work. I asked myself, “Given the interruptions, meetings, and other corporate curveballs in the office, how long would this big rock have taken?”

My honest answer was alarming: I would not have finished.

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Paul Waldman: "Nobody Knows What They're Doing"

In his Washington Post column today, Ezra Klein makes an important point about politics generally and Washington in particular that I think isn't widely enough understood. He calls it "the myth of scheming," and what it amounts to is that in politics, things don't operate they way do in the movies. Or to put it less charitably, nobody knows what the hell they're doing and everyone is bumbling around blindly.

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Holly Theisen-Jones: "My Fully Optimized Life Allows Me Ample Time To Optimize Yours"

I rise blissfully at 4:30 am, thanks to my Tibetan singing bowl alarm clock. After 20 minutes of alternate nostril breathing, I start my day with a three-minute cold shower. This I follow with twenty minutes of stream-of-consciousness journaling, then another twenty minutes of gratitude journaling…

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  1. I set aside excellent essays and posts related to the more technical aspects of my own business (writing, publishing, programming, teaching, etc), as well as topics of personal interest (like tabletop RPGs and martial arts) to make this digest more applicable to the interests of my readers. 


Published: December 31, 2017 Last updated: January 8, 2018

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