If you’ve paid any attention whatsoever to the whole Trump/Russia/election interference/corruption saga, I’m sure you have the same feeling I do: it’s hard to get a handle on the whole story because it’s so utterly sprawling, and there are massive gaps in the publicly-known allegations. Jane Mayer has written a magnificent piece for The New Yorker, putting everything known (and adding some heretofore unknown pieces of reporting, including the stunning allegation that Trump decided against nominating Mitt Romney as Secretary of State at the direction of the Kremlin) into a cohesive, even-handed, and I must say, convincing story.
It’s best to think of this not as an article but as a short book. It’s over 15,000 words; the audio version is 1 hour and 42 minutes long. Put aside an hour or so today and read it. It’s compelling reading, and a remarkable piece of journalism.
On Tuesday, I woke up feeling a bit tired, uninspired, and just generally not in the mood to tackle my to-do list for the day. I understand myself well enough by now to know how to react to this situation (most of the time) but was curious about how other people deal with such episodes.1 So I asked on Twitter: “What do you do to get yourself moving when this happens to you?” I got tons of interesting responses, which I’ve organized into some broader categories in the hope that they’ll help someone out in the future.
Please note: the activities on this list are intended for those who need a little kick in the pants every once in awhile to get going. I am not a doctor or therapist, but if you feel listless and unmotivated on a regular basis, you should talk to your doctor or find a therapist or talk to a trusted friend or family member about it. Depression and anxiety are serious and treatable medical conditions that can’t be addressed just by taking a walk in the woods or buying a new watch.
Exercise. Take a run. Go to yoga. Walk around the block…or wander around the city for an hour. Hop on a bike. Meet a friend for a class at the gym. Lift weights. Tons of research has been done on the mental health benefits of exercise. To quote one paper: “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.”
Friends and family. Arrange to spend some time with someone you care about and who knows you well enough to understand how and why you’re feeling this way. Texting is cool, but there’s no substitute for a real-life hang. FaceTime or phone calls can help too.
Get out in nature. If you can, head to the ocean, the forest, the mountains, the lake. You don’t even need to run or walk or bike or kayak, just sit and commune with the natural world. The Japanese call this shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”, which has been shown to lower stress levels, blood pressure, and even blood glucose levels.
Pets. I was going to group this under “friends and family”, but so many people specifically mentioned hang time with animals that I broke it out separately. Take the dog for a walk, cozy up with your cat on the couch (if your cat allows such behavior), or play with your snake if that’s your thing. Don’t have a pet? Head to the dog park, borrow a friend’s pooch, or ask a friend if you can join them on their evening dog walk.
Press the reset button. Tackling the day’s activities when you’re down can feel like walking straight into a stiff wind. Doing something a bit different with your day can reset your mood and brain into a better mode. Take a different route to work. Try a new coffee spot. If you listen to NPR in the morning, switch to music. If you usually listen to music, try some silence. Take a cold shower…or a long hot one. Scream into a pillow.
Think small. If your lack of motivation stems from a lengthy to-do list, tackle the easiest items on the list first. Or break down some of the bigger to-dos into smaller items and do those. The idea is to score some easy wins and build momentum for the rest of your day.
Treat yourself. If you can, take the morning off or even the whole day. Go see a movie. Don’t eat lunch at your desk; pick a favorite spot and dine out. Make yourself a healthy breakfast. Or an unhealthy one! Buy yourself that breakfast pastry you normally abstain from. Play a game on your phone. Order dessert. Buy yourself something you’ve been wanting that you don’t really need. Note: Use this option sparingly and watch out for unintended effects. Treating yourself to a new coat or gadget every once in awhile is fine, but retail therapy can quickly turn into financial problems.2
Gratitude. To quote a line from Hamilton, look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now. As photographer Clayton Cubitt put it: “I think back to my struggles clawing my way out of the trailer park, the violence I survived, all the shitty jobs I had to work and the shitty bosses I had to tolerate, the extra 15 years it took me, and I find the renewable energy of gratitude for my survival.” Recalling the specific ways in which things could be worse and remembering how lucky you are can be extremely helpful.
Help others. Sometimes the best thing for snapping out of a low mood is to refocus your attention away from yourself and toward helping others. Sign up to volunteer next week. Write a handwritten note to a friend who has been through a rough time lately. Make a donation to an organization you care about. Tell a mentor how much their influence has meant to you. It doesn’t need to be a big thing or an ongoing commitment…”think small” works here too.
Get inspired. We’ve all got our favorite sources of inspiration. Watch a favorite I-wish-I’d-made-something-this-amazing movie. Go to a museum and look at art. Read some poetry. It’s a little weird, but something that always seems to do the trick for me is watching Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. It gives me chills every time.
Sleep. Maybe you’re not getting enough rest? Go back to bed for an hour or take a nap in the afternoon…the day will still be there when you wake. As I wrote recently, “One of the best things I’ve done for my work and my sanity is going to bed at about the same time every night and getting at least 6.5 hours (and often 7-8 hours) of sleep every night.”
Meditate. Along with many other items on this list (sleep, exercise, pets, socializing), mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve mental health, including stress reduction, reducing anxiety, addiction, and even chronic pain relief and depression. But you don’t need to sit in the lotus position on a velvet cushion to meditate…it can be as easy as sitting up straight and concentrating on your breathing for 5 minutes. Listening to relaxing music with your eyes closed or even playing video games can be meditative in their own way.
The best thing about many of the things on this list is that they provide benefits beyond just snapping you out of a temporary rut, especially if you can develop a practice around them. Exercise strengthens the body and mind. Feeling gratitude can alter your views on any number of political and social issues. Getting sufficient sleep can upgrade your entire life. Meditation can alter your reality. Helping others makes the world a better place. String enough of these together and perhaps waking up unmotivated and inspired can be a thing of the past. Definitely something to aim for anyway. Good luck!
If you’re curious, here’s what I did to get motivated that morning: made my bed (I usually don’t), meditated with Alto’s Odyssey for 10 minutes, did the dishes, went through all my mail & paid my bills (a task I’d been putting off and dreading), did three other little tasks I’d been putting off, and took a long hot shower. Things I wish I’d been able to do as well: go for a walk (it was muddy and rainy and the nearest walkable town is a 30-minute drive), have lunch with a friend, go to a museum, stand in the sand at the ocean listening to the waves roll in. VT can be a challenge sometimes.↩
Part of the reason I asked this question on Twitter is that I wanted to avoid treating myself on that particular morning. I didn’t want to play a game on my phone (I do that too much), take the day off (I’d already done that a few days earlier), or treat myself to an afternoon cookie (my diet lately has been terrible). And I definitely did not want to buy a TV I don’t need or a Nintendo Switch I wouldn’t really play.↩
John Moody, Fox News' executive vice president, has a problem with the fact that Team USA has introduced a bit of diversity to its roster. The Washington Post reported that the 243 member team of Olympians has two openly gay men, “10 are African American — 4 percent — and another 10 are Asian American. The rest, by and large, are white.”
That's way too gay and black for vice president Moody. From his op-ed
(which appears to have been taken down from the Fox News site without explanation, but here's the Archive.org snapshot):
Unless it’s changed overnight, the motto of the Olympics, since 1894, has been “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” It appears the U.S. Olympic Committee would like to change that to “Darker, Gayer, Different.” If your goal is to win medals, that won’t work.
A USOC official was quoted this week expressing pride (what else?) about taking the most diverse U.S. squad ever to the Winter Olympics. That was followed by a, frankly, embarrassing laundry list of how many African-Americans, Asians and openly gay athletes are on this year’s U.S. team. No sport that we are aware of awards points – or medals – for skin color or sexual orientation.
For the current USOC, a dream team should look more like the general population. So, while uncomfortable, the question probably needs to be asked: were our Olympians selected because they’re the best at what they do, or because they’re the best publicity for our current obsession with having one each from Column A, B and C?
Note: In this post, I talk about the death of someone whose work meant a lot to me.
This week, we lost Dean Allen. I didn’t know Dean well at all; I did meet him briefly, once, years ago. We exchanged a few words, none of which I remember. I do remember he was exceedingly kind and gracious, clasped my hand in both of his, and shook it twice.
Like “A Dao of Web Design” before it, Dean’s “Reading Design” imbued a sense of worth and weight in the weird, tiny medium I’d started designing for—he changed the way I looked at the web. And I think about this entry almost monthly. Not least because it linked to this moving piece by Paul Ford, which is still one of my favorite pieces of writing. And through Paul’s site, I discovered Jeffrey’s, and then Scott Andrew’s, and then Erin’s, and then Eric’s, and then Molly’s, and then, and then, and then. Honestly, I very likely wouldn’t be here without Dean’s writing; at the very least, my career would’ve looked dramatically different.
Losing Dean feels like losing a bit of the web that shaped me, of the web I fell in love with. Of course, the “old web” was, as Erin rightly points out out, a beautiful and broken thing, more flawed and exclusionary than we realized. Back then, most of the folks I looked up to were almost-entirely male, and entirely-entirely white. I’m grateful that’s changed in recent years, and the web’s better for it—I am, too. I wouldn’t trade the new voices in my life for anything.
Work taught us to fear the boss and the review and our performance ranking. And we are motivated to do the work if we get paid for it, because, after all, that’s why we call it work. Do the least, because you're always going to get asked to do more.
Or we could be motivated to avoid shame, or to take advantage of the sale that’s about to end. Motivated by deadlines, by crises, by the media "breaking news" out of the situation room.
Is it any wonder, then, that we end up as short-term, unhappy, profit seekers? And that marketers and others that seek to engage with you build their offerings around your motivation?
Millions of students are in college, many going hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. They are surrounded by huge libraries, high-speed internet access and educated people, and yet the dominant dynamic remains: how little can I do? Will this be on the test?
And the rest of us are in the real world, with the infinite library of humanity at our fingertips, with millions of people to connect with, with an unlimited array of problems worth solving right in front of us.
What if each of us were motivated by curiosity instead? Or generosity? Perhaps we could learn to see possibility instead of risk. What if we took and finished online classes because we could, not because there are assignments, tests and a certificate?
I see this firsthand with the shift students in my courses go through. At first, there's an awkward pause when people realize that there are no tests. Without tests, it seems, it's easier to focus on more pressing urgencies at home or at work. But then, postures begin to change. People realize that a different kind of motivation might lead to a different sort of outcome.
The choice of motivation is a fork in the road. It not only determines what we do and how we do it, but it drives marketers to decide what they make and how they’ll sell it. It changes the way school boards and regents design courses. It changes the story we tell ourselves.
Today's Groundhog day, an oddball holiday built on the premise that winter's a grind, that we want it to be over with, that our motivation is TGIF... The magic of the film, though, was realizing that our motivation is actually up to us, and that if we choose, we can change it. If we do, the world might change in response.
Exponential growth gets all the glory. Every startup story that lands on the cover of a magazine has a hockey-stick chart to flaunt. Yes, disruption is driven by such violent expansion, and the world needs some disruption some of the time. But for the other 360 days out of the year, what it also needs is some modest, linear growth.
Linear growth is what happens in domains that aren’t animated by network effects (and when no artificial growth hormones are injected!). It’s the simplicity of good products sold at reasonable prices that find happy customers. These customers talk to friends and colleagues in other businesses, and over time that word of mouth spreads the good vibes, which turns the business up.
But the limelight has no patience with such simple, slow methods as word of mouth. It’s not infectious enough. Not exponential enough. That’s a shame.
Because the world is full of problems that needs solving by people who are willing to put in the work for the long haul. I’m not talking about the freakish 120-hour/week, seven-year death marches, but the patient, sustainable work that might last a lifetime. Problems that yield better to people sticking with it.
These problems rarely provide the world with more platforms, but the world has enough platforms. If everyone wants to be the foundation, then there’s nobody left to serve as the beams or cladding or tiles. That’s a recipe for a concrete and corporate wasteland.
It’s also a recipe for monoculture. Network effects have given us spectacular stories of unfathomable growth, but it’s also given us monopolistic conglomerates that poison the market and its variety.
I’m no particular fan of advertisement, but it’s still clear as day that the world is much worse off for having all the value of that trade captured solely by Facebook and Google. Yeah, that’s disruption, and no, it’s not the kind that makes the world better off. It’s creative destruction without creative regeneration. More black hole, less forest-fire cleanse.
Capitalism as a system is prone to all manners of dysfunction, but few are as fatal as that of monopolies backed by exponential growth. Markets as a force for good quickly break down and get perverted when only a few power players remain to call all the shots.
Maybe such concentration is “natural” in a few domains, but that doesn’t mean we should stand idle by and let it corrupt both business and society. In an era past, trust busters knew how to protect the common good by opposing the behemoths of industry with antitrust fights and laws. AT&T had a “natural” monopoly, and it still deserved to be broken up. Such memories are unnecessarily quaint now, and even when brought up, it’s through a myopic literal lens (Facebook + Google aren’t causing “higher prices”, therefore they’re not bad monopolies. Bullshit).
But the discussion of whether the regulators will once more mount up shouldn’t distract us from doing what we can today. Which is to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs to nobler goals than simply to become caliph instead of the caliph.
Which is pretty much all the business press and other spectators (and speculators) are obsessed with these days. Who’s going to be the next Google? The next Facebook? The next Apple? These are interesting questions, but they’re not the only questions, and by posing them over and over again ad nauseum, we’re restricting the conversation and constricting our imagination.
What if the next NEXT THING wasn’t a supplementation of an existing network-effect megacorp, but a proliferation of a thousand or million smaller businesses that were given the time and place to breathe and thrive?
But for that to happen, it needs not only to be seen as feasible, but desirable. That to eschew the exponential demands of investors is a sign of strength, not a mark of weakness. That to be content with linear growth is streak of independence, not absence of vision.
We are in dire need of such reprogramming of the entrepreneurial boot loader. So many faithful decisions are taking in the early stage of a business that locks its course for perpetuity. Very few ventures get to turn back the clock and have a do-over on their cap table. Epiphanies that come too late might as well not come at all.
You can’t move a tree by blowing at it softly once the roots are down. But you can radically change where a seed will land by doing the same.
I promise I’m not trying to make a lame plea for “children are the future”, although that’s both trite and true. New businesses are started by adults of all ages. Every single one of them have the power to pick how they’ll nurture their growth when it’s started. Choosing to chase the exponential is just that, a choice. Which also means that choosing the linear is a choice too.
Which I guess is really my chief argument here. Or appeal, even. That more people choose the path of linear growth. That they embrace it with vigor and pride. That they make no apologies for wanting a modest and sustainable business that can live in harmony with other shops of the same description.
The path of linear growth has been the trajectory of Basecamp for 14 years today. It’s brought beauty and warmth to millions of people who’ve used our product. It’s brought stability and a home to the fifty-odd people we employ at the company. And it’s brought the deepest of meanings and satisfaction to Jason and I for owning it.
May you make your own fortune as you take a swing at the same.
I feel like this is the problem with all of the modern first-world society. "But the limelight has no patience with such simple, slow methods as word of mouth. It’s not infectious enough. Not exponential enough. That’s a shame.
"Because the world is full of problems that needs solving by people who are willing to put in the work for the long haul. I’m not talking about the freakish 120-hour/week, seven-year death marches, but the patient, sustainable work that might last a lifetime. Problems that yield better to people sticking with it."