Not a marathon, not a mountain

When I was 7 years old I was invited to run a 400m race (approximately 440yards). I had no idea how long that was. I remember thinking I needed to pace myself. I was prepared to get injured, and persevere, to breathe until my lungs burned. But I was gonna make it. These other kids probably didn’t even prepare!

The day was overcast and chilly when we finally toed the starting line. Then it was over in a few measly seconds. It turned out everyone in my class could run 400m full out. In fact you could run the race several times a day without getting very tired.

In my mind it had been a marathon. But in reality, it wasn’t. A lot of problems we struggle with are like this.

It looked like a marathon to me because I lacked perspective, and I expected this new thing to be difficult. I didn’t know it back then, but I was exhibiting learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness is behavior exhibited by a subject after enduring repeated aversive stimuli beyond their control.”


The term was popular for a long time before it was discovered that this definition is actually backwards. We are born helpless, and our default mode of being is helplessness. What we need to learn is that more things are within our power to than we believe. Problems are solvable. We are not fated by birth, nor doomed by our situation.

We start learning this as children, but most of us stop after a certain point. Where that point is, can define your world view.

Most problems in life are like my race. Even many mental issues are like this. The situation might be hard, or the emotion overwhelming, but the actual issue is our lack of experience. We haven’t learned that we can change them.

Popular media portrays some people as having been through tough times, down on their luck, burned out. While other people are portrayed as if nothing bad ever happens in their lives, like they were born with a surplus of luck. And there are real differences – especially at a young age – that shape us in ways that are hard to undo. But this world view is mostly wrong.

It’s more likely that person A with infinite luck has seen more adversity than person B who’s down on their luck. In fact that’s the main reason why person A has better tools to handle problems. This portrayal and world view is holding us back. It’s helping us stay in the comfort zone, full of anxiety about the marathon of hurdles between us and our goals.

Of course we need appropriate amounts of adversity to grow instead of burning out, but most of us probably need more adversity, not less. And the only way to truly know is to try it.

That huge problems that’s currently stopping you? It’s not a marathon, it just feels like it. At the finish line, you’ll look back and wonder why you spent all that time waiting to run. You can do this.

This outdated worldview is holding back the internet

If you’re born before 1990 you probably tend to believe a computer is a laptop (or a desktop, but that’s so retro…).

Walking around the average office you might think that’s correct. But there are two issues with this world view. The first one is that the numbers don’t agree, I’ll get back to that. And the second one is that it gives us a bad explanation to understand our users or clients with.

What we believe are computers is just the shape that was popular for computing devices between the early 80s and 2007. They used to be beige boxes, but the use case was the same: they sit on our desk or table, and they let us peck at spreadsheets with our mice.

That’s not what the world looks like anymore. More and more people were introduced to computers that looked like the iPhone. They know what laptops are, sure. But to them that’s not what a computer is. For them the computer is a screen you use for internet services.

In fact most computing is already done on iphone-like devices:

“In terms of computing, no one now questions the shift that took place from desktops and laptops to mobile devices. However, reality was messier as it took nearly a decade for consensus to view the smartphone as a laptop or desktop alternative. For years, smartphones were viewed as merely laptop and desktop extensions. What was initially viewed as a superior email machine for executives marked the start of a paradigm shift in the making.”

Above Avalon

The world looked confusedly at us kids who understood the internet. Now we’re in danger of doing the same. We’re probably already moving towards computation that is even less like a traditional computer like watches and headphones.

Most companies still lag the mobile paradigm shift, partly — I think — because we who were born before 1990 still think a computer is a box with a keyboard.

It’s time to abandon the idea of the traditional computer. It had it’s day, I still love it. But that’s no longer a model of the world that makes sense.

The only useful distinction today is online or offline. And online is touch first.

Get focused with interstitial journaling

If you are like me you’ve struggled with focus during the work day. Maybe tried a bunch of tools to keep track of your tasks and notes but nothing seems to stick over time. Eventually things just pile up and you either clear it out and pray, or work nights with a knot in your stomach.

Interstitial Journaling can probably help with that. It won’t miraculously give you any more time, and it’s not gonna clear out your inbox for you. But it will give you the breathing room you need to spend your time wisely.

I learned this about six months ago from the brilliant community over at Ness Labs and it has really helped me. My clients and colleagues are noticing my new strategic use of time, and I’m delivering a lot more.

Here’s how you do it

Pick a tool.

Pick a note taking tool. It can be anything, but it has to be with you in all situations. Paper works, your phones note app will also work. I use Roam Research but the tool doesn’t matter, it’s all about the process.

Your action trigger

It’s called interstitial because it happens between all your other tasks. Every time you stop doing anything, anything at all, you take a short note in your journal. It’s ok if you forget in the beginning, just take a note as soon as you notice. The important thing is you’re building a habit that will save you time.

What to do

Add a new line in your journal with three things:
The time. What you just did. And what you will do next.

That’s it.

What might this look like?

I usually start off my days quite organised and then suddenly there’s a four hour gap and I restart writing something like “2:15 oh no, I’m on YouTube again”. But that’s ok. The goal here is to create the habit, not to be perfect. You’ll start noticing patterns quickly regardless.

08:20 Finished meditating. Time to clear out my inbox.
08:58 Done with email. Gonna look at my todo list, and pick our the important things.
09:12 Started sorting my todos but I had forgotten my meeting with Annelie, omw now!
13:30 Meeting went well, but then I spent 2 hours “inspiration” browsing on Pinterest… Now I’m gonna cross of my first todos.
13:37 Planned next steps from meeting. Time to prep a presentation.

A fictional, but normal, piece of journal

Why does this work?

We all get distracted. Sometimes it’s simply tired brains wandering, but often it’s priorities changing, ad hoc meetings or calls. We can’t stop being interrupted. So we have to work with the interruptions.

Interstitial Journaling uses this fact by writing down what’s going on at every interruption, or every time we finish something. This way we can learn from the patterns in our lives, and it makes us consciously pick the next thing we’re gonna work on.

This is the core benefit of this form of journaling. Making how we spend our time explicit we become our own personal coaches. Checking that we do our reps, and advising us on what to do next, without the shouting.

A nice side effect is that we can start to notice patterns in how we spend our time. Helping us learn how much time certain tasks really take, and automatically becoming strategic.

It was just my second day journaling this way when I exited a meeting and was just about to resume a project, when updated my journal and realised that there wasn’t enough time before my next appointment. Instead I scheduled time with myself for the project later in the week and did some smaller tasks.

I was being strategic with my time, as a side effect of knowing what I was doing! It blew my mind.

This method has helped me a lot, and I hope it helps you too! Either way, please let me know your thoughts!

Revisiting life strategies two years later

At the end of my Life strategies post I promised to follow it up after 6 months and reflect on what worked and what didn’t. That was over two years ago, so today’s the day.

Did having explicit do’s and don’ts help me shape my life? Not at all, is the short answer.

I think the reason is that I didn’t spend any time reflecting on these strategies. There wasn’t a way for me to stumble across them in my day to day. Despite being tremendously powerful ideas to me when I wrote them down, I forgot about them after a few weeks.

Since then I’ve started using Roam, designed a competitive reflection journal with Ting, even practiced interstitial journaling for 6 months or so and I’d love to brag that I’m much better at revisiting ideas. But in all honestly I’m still not great at it.

I do weekly reviews of all my commitments and tasks. I journal every day. I do a monthly summary of everything I’ve learned and noted down. But there’s very little discovery of my old thoughts, and usually not a lot of time for reflection when I do reviews.

This could be my failure of priority. Basically a not taking the time. Or it could be I simply prefer to keep thinking forwards instead of backwards. Who knows?

What I do know is that I hope I can figure out a way to learn better from my own experiences. (If you have any strategies I would love to hear them?) Because what is the point of doing things, learning things, and taking notes, if we don’t take the time to reflect and learn from them? And how can we learn from our thoughts if we don’t revisit them from time to time?

Vacation from consumption

In a conversation with a friend he explained that he takes weeks off consuming in order to focus on creation. That sounds amazing.

He has, like me, the idea that he wants to create more than he consumes. Regardless of if it’s published or not, simply create for the joy of making things. That’s why I was excited about this concept.

My friend picks a week with few meetings and blocks off time for creative work. He writes down a handful of things he’d like to work on, and makes a commitment to not consume anything during the week. This sounds a lot like Taleb’s via negativa to me, which is an idea I like.

I asked him about the process during the week; his response was simply that he works on his list, and often he finds that he creates something quite quickly, after which he can spend the rest of the time blocked off exploring the offshoots of what he created. But he doesn’t start consuming.

Sounds like a perfect vacation to me. I can’t wait to try it.

How to learn through failure

“Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

George Bernard Shaw

I recently read this blog post by Jim Nielsen where I learned how to notice if I’m actually learning or not.

Like everyone else I’ve read ad nauseam about how important failing is to the learning progress. I’ve become convinced that this is true, but I find myself unable to explain how does that work?

I can’t just attempt to fail, fail repeatedly, and magically improve?

So when I read Jim Nielsens piece Learning and Being Wrong I was ecstatic to find a description for what failure and learning feels like in practice.

The post is based on notes from Adam Grant’s book Think Again, which I haven’t read (yet).

In a series of quotes and notes Jim describes what it feels like to learn.

“If you don’t look back at yourself and think, ‘Wow, how stupid I was a year ago,’ then you must not have learned much in the last year.”

All that time we spend regretting past choices and missed chances are actually a proof that we’re making progress. How wonderful! And it doesn’t stop there.

He’s also found this amazing quote that describes what learning looks like in practice.

“Being actively open minded means “searching for reasons why we might be wrong—not for reasons why we must be right” because “the purpose of learning isn’t to affirm our beliefs; it’s to evolve our beliefs.””

This quote is almost a step by step instruction on how to learn. Whenever I learn something new, I should actively look for ways to be wrong. This seems counter intuitive. But doing it this way I will much quicker understand if I am mistaken, or end up not being able to find anything wrong, and proceed knowing it’s true enough.

This process lets me trust what I know a lot more, as well as gives the right kind of attitude about knowledge: it’s never absolute truth.

A thought that struck me when I got this far was: Would that process work for new knowledge as well? Things where there is no one to ask, or no existing reference material? 

Let’s say I do some test or look at something and formulate some naive idea about how it works. I write that down and then start looking for ways I might be wrong. I will probably keep discovering edge cases and ways my theory is incorrect. But iterating on that process, I could end up discovering completely new knowledge.

So here’s a three step process for learning anything through failure, based on the above insights:

  1. Form a hypothesis based on your observations. Ex: React is the most popular framework for new digital businesses.
  2. Actively look for ways to be wrong. Ex: Ask around for startups looking to hire for alternative tech stacks. Check google trends and news trends for competing frameworks.
  3. Either reform your hypothesis based on new information. Ex: React is the most popular framework in new VC backed digital businesses.
    Or realise that you can’t invalidate it, and act as if it’s true.

I have no idea if this is true or not. But I’m mightily excited to try and disprove it!

I’ll end this post with another brilliant insight from this post, what knowledge feels like:

“being wrong is the only way I feel sure I’ve learned anything.”

Let me know if I’m wrong, please. And enjoy being wrong!

Hard work is not the solution

I listened to the Tropical MBA podcast a few weeks ago and one idea made me drop everything and question my process. I wrote about it at the time, but since then my thinking has moved on a bit, and I want to share what I’m currently exploring.

So I truly believe, especially when you’re stuck, which is I’m sure a problem all of us have, it’s much better to experiment and play that gets you much further along than hard work. Now disagree with me if you want to. But the biggest breakthroughs in my business, and my personal life, they’ve all come through experimentation. Not hard work.

Darren Joe

This is frighteningly true in my case.

The best work I’ve done was the result of experimenting and stepping outside my comfort zone. But daring to experiment and follow the results requires an open mindset, and relaxed schedule. In other words experimenting with a sense of play. Not at all the structured process I usually apply to work.

A little later in the same episode the host, Dan, connected another thought to this powerful idea:

essentially practice based learning. You can’t read or listen to this podcast your way into being a great entrepreneur, you really have to kind of like monkey see monkey do

Dan Andrews

I believe this to be true. In fact it was the first topic we discussed when I studied pedagogics at University. Somehow I’ve forgotten this over the years.

The Idea

These two ideas paint a vivid picture for me, that make me want to change my approach to work. I’ll try to summarise this thought here:

  • You won’t learn the important things without trying them out. Reading, listening, taking notes, can only give you ideas you need to experiment with. Not the actual knowledge.
  • You won’t get much done if you’re only working hard. You can do linear, mechanical, work. But not the creative work that will really truly leverage your time. For that you need to experiment, and playfully.
  • So to improve your output and learning, you should maximise the amount of time you spend playing around with experiments. In short, follow your inspiration and explore.
  • Here’s the awkward part; it follows logically that hard work and formal learning might actually slow you down. So you should avoid them at all costs.

The Work

I’m excited to experiment with this. Though since this is a big change of direction, I’m not sure how. To make time to play and experiment, I need time, without the pressure of goals. So I need to stop working on a lot of the projects I’ve started.

I also need to follow my curiosity, but inspiration wanes, so I probably need to make smaller experiments profitable. One way of doing that is to publish the work.

I’m excited about trying this out. I will try to share my progress, but I’m also really interested in hearing other ideas on this topic. Drop me a message, or tweet. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How to reach props via this using Typescript with Vue 2x

This article only describes this specific case, if you want to know how to set up Typescript for Vue this is a good source.

On a recent client project I had wanted to reach prop values of my component and needed to use this, but that causes errors:

// example
mounted(): void {
  this.interval = setInterval(() => {
  }, 1000)

// error
Property 'interval' does not exist on type 'CombinedVueInstance<vue, {}, unknown, Readonly<{poll: Poll; radius: string;}>>'

This caused quite a bit of annoyance before I realised the simply fix.

The solution is just to add a placeholder in data so the Vue instance has this value on initialisation. This allows Typescript to know that the value does indeed exist on the instance.

export default Vue.extend({
  name: 'PollingComponent',
  data() {
    return {
      interval: 0 as any,
  mounted(): void {
    this.interval = setInterval(() => {
    }, 1000)

Now there’s some interesting browser compatibility problems regarding the type of an Interval. I found that it could be both a Timer or a Number depending on the browser. So in the end I just ended up using any. I can’t see any hard in that since it’s a Javascript function.

Happy coding!

How to use Typescript with props in Vue 2x

This article only describes this specific case, if you want to know how to set up Typescript for Vue this is a good source.

I recently had this issue in a client project. I wanted to use component properties with a shared Interface model, but using it directly as a type results in the error:

'Poll' only refers to a type, but is being used as a value here.

So how do you use a Typescript interface with your Vue component?

You make your type a function that returns the interface. Why this works I’m not quite sure of. But it does work.

Interface Poll {
  question: String,

export default Vue.extend({
  name: 'PollCard',
  props: {
    poll: {
      type: Object as () => Poll,
      default: {} as Poll

Happy coding!