December 30, 2023




10 Lessons From 2023

At a glance

As we turn to the New Year, I’d like to say a huge thank you to all Faster Than Normal readers. I’m extremely grateful for all 65,000 of you (and counting!).

A happy camper in Yosemite.

Reflecting on the year's most important lessons is a fitting way to conclude 2023.

It was a year full of growth, and I'm grateful for all the lessons learned. I hope you find them as valuable as I did.

(1) The power of changing core beliefs.

This year, I faced burnout for the first time in my life. The experience prompted me to reflect deeply on the way I think.

To help surface and interrogate these thinking patterns, I set up several coaching sessions with smart people.

The conversations quickly surfaced my tendency to be highly self-critical (beyond reason).

This wasn't a new insight for me, but what was revelationary was figuring out the core beliefs I held about the value of being self-critical.

Namely, I held a positive belief towards self-critique. I believed that it was something that served me. 

I felt it helped me grow, improve, and achieve more.

Further, I held negative beliefs about self-compassion. I felt that being self-compassionate would weaken me or slow me down.

After interrogating these beliefs, I've realised:

  1. Being self-critical doesn't do what I thought it helped me do—get better. Instead, it causes me to take less action towards getting better. 

  2. Self-compassion doesn't do what I thought it did—slow me down. Instead, it speeds me up because it gives me the space to fail and continue growing. When I fail, I can say, "That's okay" and keep moving forward.

One of the focuses of cognitive behavioural therapy is discovering what "core beliefs" we carry with us from childhood and our teenage years. 

When interacting with a situational trigger, these core beliefs create automatic thoughts, creating an emotional, physical, and behavioural response.

It looks like this:

Trigger —> Core belief —> Automatic Thoughts —> Emotional, Physical, and Behavioural response

Here's an example:

—> Being criticised by your boss for poor work (Trigger) 

—> "My work is a reflection of my worth" (Core belief) 

—> "I'm not good enough" (Automatic Thoughts) 

—> Shame, embarrassment (Emotional), anxiety (Physical), and inaction (Behavioural).

What's imperative to realise is that without changing the core belief, we can't change our automatic thoughts and, therefore, emotional, physical, or behavioural responses. 

I've realised that even though I was aware of the recurring negative thoughts of self-critique, I wasn't aware of the beliefs I held about it, and that's exactly what prevented me from ending it. 

Once I reframed the way I thought about the value of self-critique from positive to negative, I could easily dismiss the thoughts when they arose.

If you want to create lasting change, start with your beliefs. 

For those wanting to dip their toes into this work, here is an exercise I did this year.

(2) Compounding is everywhere.

I've developed a firm conviction that the most important principle to learn in the context of career success is the law of compounding.

Here's a visual from one of my favourite podcasts, Art Of Investing, hosted by Rick Buhrman and Paul Buser.

The whole premise is to find your "P", improve your "R", and nurture your "T"

P = Principal = Passion/Purpose/The thing you choose to work on

R = Growth Rate = How quickly you can compound. 

In the career sense, I think the factors that determine growth rate are:

  1. Status/credibility/brand.

  2. Personal relationships.

  3. Skills. These can be:

    1. Domain-specific—e.g., machine learning, general-business—e.g., marketing, sales, finance, or,

    2. Meta-—such as how fast you can learn, decision-making, effective communication, writing, etc.

  4. Knowledge.

  5. Beliefs.

  6. Traits (E.g., Confidence, Tenacity, Discipline). 

T = Time period

What's critical to appreciate is that whenever you change career direction, you're fiercely interrupting compounding. You're not only changing "P," you're also reducing "R" and, of course ", T" on whatever it is you're switching to.

Hence, the range vs. specialist conversation is mostly people talking past each other. Range is essential when you're young in helping cultivate broad interests, skills, and knowledge, etc. However, to maximise the growth rate and compounding in the long-term, specialising is essential.

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(3) Learning is not exposure to information; learning is behaviour change. 

Derek Sivers once said, "If more information were the answer, we'd all be billionaires with perfect abs." 

In other words, getting the correct information to change our behaviour is not the problem—changing our behaviour is the problem.

Making a habit of approaching new information with the mindset of, "How am I going to change my behaviour in light of this new information?" is one of the most valuable meta-habits that can be developed and accelerates personal growth remarkably.

(4) Being connected to others is not having to "catch up."

Measuring the health of personal relationships is fuzzy.

I've always struggled to know how "in touch" to stay with people that matter to me. This seems silly in hindsight, given that the strength of personal relationships is one of the most vital indicators of life satisfaction and lifespan.

This year, I learned a simple heuristic that's changed the way I think about the health of personal relationships from Brian Chesky on the Diary of a CEO podcast:

To measure the health of your relationships, ask whether you need to fully "catch up" on what's been happening in their life when you see them. 

If you have to "catch up" on the events of the last 3-6 months of life, you're not genuinely connected to them. 

Here are two questions to ask of the people that matter to you:

  1. What's the most significant thing that's happened to them in the last three months?

  2. How would you rate their overall life satisfaction out of 10?

If you can't answer these questions confidently, you're not truly connected to that person.

(5) Suffering is Universal. Always ask, "What's in it for them?"

The one thing that connects all humans on the planet is suffering. It happens to all of us in some way.

Approaching conversations with this mindset is incredibly freeing. It takes you out of your head and insecurities and helps you serve others.

Few books have markedly changed my life this year, like Joe Polish's "What's In It For Them." 

The central premise is to find how others’ are suffering and do anything within your power to help them remove it.

If you do this for long enough, without expectation of anything in return, you leave an indellible impact on the lives of many and build genuine relationships based on giving.

We can always help cure another person's suffering if we care to.

(6) Self-esteem scorecards are a cheat code.

I'm a firm believer that self-esteem is built, not born. Some of us are lucky enough to exit childhood with fully developed self-esteem, and others are not. 

For those in the second camp, social media also has the unwelcome effect of making us acutely aware of where we lack relative to others. It's never been harder to build self-esteem.

This year, I took the time to write down everything I am (traits, strengths, etc.), have achieved (milestones, hard things I've done), and the positive things people have said about me.

Focusing on where I've been and what I've become helps keep my mind focused on myself—not in comparison to others, and it's incredibly motivating to reflect on the growth.

Here's a workbook you can use.

(7) Use accountability in areas that have yet to stick.

Choose someone you can trust who will hold you firmly to your goals and put a recurring calendar invite to call for 5 minutes every weekday. 

Keep track of the score; the loser buys a nice dinner monthly.

Take the simple solution unless you're already hitting 100% of your habits and goals.

(8) Non-negotiables are worlds better than "usually."

I've noticed that when I create a "usual" habit, for example, waking at 5 am, it invariably falls off after some time, despite best intentions. 

I put this down to having a 'cognitive out' on completing the habit. Because I've told myself that I do it 'usually', it opens the door to missing 'sometimes.'

The trap is that 'sometimes' becomes 'usually', and you're back where you started.

When we make a non-negotiable, there are no cognitive outs.

(9) Morning routines are (mostly) BS.

The simplest way to figure out whether your morning routine is useful is to ask this question:

Does each additional minute spent on your morning routine increase your output per unit of time? 

In other words, is each extra minute you're spending on your morning routine improving your overall productivity for your day, or are you just procrastinating doing the thing that will get you the result? 

The point at which it becomes procrastination is when you need to stop. In my mind, a reasonable morning routine is no longer than 1 hour from waking to getting on with what you need to do. 

For me, that looks like going for a 30-minute walk, having a shower, hydrating, caffeinating and then starting my day.

Ask yourself, are you getting more productivity in what matters from the morning routine that you're doing?

(10) Quieten the ego, look for the lesson.

Ego prevents us from changing essential areas of our lives because it prevents us from objectively seeing reality.

It's easy to feel envious in a world driven by social media. 

If we envy someone's success, we feel strong emotions when we think of them.

This emotion prevents our logical brain from understanding what made us successful and helping us get there.

The same applies to many other areas of life. Don't let your ego prevent you from seeing clearly.

And finally, some short bonus lessons:

  1. When it comes to personal relationships, clarity is kindness. It gives others’ the feedback and space needed to grow, while also helping set healthy boundaries for yourself.

  2. Growth accelerates exponentially with the help of others’. Don’t lone wolf it.

  3. Measurement is table stakes for improvement. If you’re not measuring it, you’re probably not serious abut it (applies to business and life).

  4. Take self-discipline out of the equation with important habits. Automate or delegate accountability to someone solely responsible for helping you get it done.

  5. Anticipatory anxiety is real. The difference in mornings with and without notifications is profound.

  6. The Splitting Time Fallacy. We think that splitting time between projects is 50/50. In reality, when you split time between two projects, both projects get less than one half (and possibly much less) due to hidden overheads like administration, instant messages, etc. 

  7. Wanting things fast doesn’t make them happen faster, it means you only go after smaller goals.

  8. The greater your gifts, the greater your duty.

  9. Suffering arises from over-identifying with our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, etc. The solution? Detachment. Detachment is not indifference, it is the act of viewing these things objectively, i.e. I am not my feelings, emotions, past or beliefs, I have feelings, beliefs, emotions, etc.

I’d love to hear from you:

  • Which lesson resonated the most?

  • What were your biggest lessons from 2023?

Until next year,


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