life heuristics, motivation

How to do Hard Things Pt. 2: Going Super Saiyan

TL;DR: Things get harder before they get easier. When exercising, or doing anything else hard, embrace the pain – its the only way to level up. 

If you are like me and was born in the 1990s, you probably familiar with the show Dragon Ball Z. I used to watch it over cereal on Saturday mornings, and the thing that always struck me about the show was how in the epic fights as Goku or one of his friends faced off against the forces of evil,   would always suffer some sort of initial defeat.  The power of their opponent was so enormous that the outcome seemed hopeless.

Then magically,  the background music would swell and Goku would reach into himself to pull out some extraordinary ability that evened the odds.

Remember this scene?

Even as a kid, I  thought that the cycle was pretty cheesy – if he had so much power why didn’t he use it in the first place? Why did he let himself (and us) suffer through all of the brutal beatings that led up to his transformation? Why didn’t he start out with Super Saiyan 4, or as the Giant Gorilla, and just beat the ever-living-shit out of his opponents in the first place?

This guy was enormous.

Today, I think that I found one answer. As context, earlier this week I broke through some internal walls, and swam 3000 meters non stop in the pool. Then, I went back to try my hand at repeating the phenomenon,  to see if I could do it or that it was a fluke. And it was HARD. The first 700 meters were slow and brutal, and the next 700 were even worse, by the end of that I was gasping for air, stumbling around in the pool, my shoulders screaming. And I thought to myself, golly, I guess I was just lucky and couldn’t actually swim at this length.

Then a funny thing happened at 1500 m. I got my breath back. My shoulders cooled down, and my strokes got longer. The end-of-the-wall kickturn became routine, and I started cruising.

I found that the same thing works for running as well. I used to be afraid of running, but after running 2.5 miles, the feeling of tightness went away and there was just calm resolve. It seems like when you commit yourself to something, and keep working through the pain, your body realizes “Oh, you are going for the long run – guess I better give you more energy.” I’m sure that there is a scientific explanation as well, something about aerobic vs. non-areobic exercise, using up the cellular creatine, etc, but its the good thing to know is that you have much more in reserve then you thought 🙂

So going back to Goku, maybe getting beat up was just part of the cycle, and he could not become more powerful without opposing resistance. So the next time that you feel uncertain about your ability, or capability, just remember- it will scale to match the problem you are matching. Grit your teeth and think of Goku 😉

Kick Ass and Take Names.

life heuristics, motivation

Breaking Boundaries

“We often make the mistake of giving up before we really, truly, begin.” ~Anonymous

Daniel Bell (AUS) action reflections Swimming 2000 Sydney PG

Today I swam 3 kilometers. I never thought that I could do it, or even that it was within the scope of things of which was available to me. Now after the experience, I’m forced to come back and look at other aspects of my life where I’ve demarcated realms of possibility and impossibility.

Goal setting is important. But sometimes the slow progress that you make through the journey to your goal is deceiving – for example, when we set out to swim 10 laps, the first and the second and third seem like an eternity, and there are yet so many to go, but suddenly you’re at four, and five and halfway there. A few more and you have made it over the halfway hump and it’s now an accelerating rush, as you surge closer to your goal.

My old mentor at Brown, Keith Thompson, once told me something that I thought was remarkably simple and insightful. Essentially, the goals that we set ourselves are also limits or boundaries on the things that were willing to push ourselves to do – when he runs or reads a book he doesn’t say “I’m going to stop at page so-and-so or by that landmark there”, because once you do as you approach a landmark case begins the slow any check more quickly about your progress.

Rather his internal dialogue goes something more like “I’m going to try to make it to that point, and then will reevaluate my progress”. Something so simple as not having a definite end in mind, so allows you to keep pushing in a way that he couldn’t after a supposedly resolution.

Which brings us to one of the age-old questions – what would you do if it was not impossible? …. And how do you know for certain that it is?

life heuristics, motivation

Finding your rhythm for excellence

A question I been thinking a lot about lately is: what is the best way to establish a routine in order to improve at something important?

One thing I’ve noticed about biking is that after three weeks, it’s become more of a habit then a conscious decision – and interestingly the consequence is that the outcome of each ride, whether I ride faster or slower that day, matters less than just the fact that I keep riding. Progress, especially in something large and intricate, takes a lot of time. Our human need for gratification sometimes gets in the way of maintaining steady rhythm in order to put in the necessary work as we are constantly thinking about whether or not we are improving. If we plateau in our performance, we may get discouraged.

One way to get around this problem might be what Drew Houston suggested in his commencement speech at MIT this year, when he said something to the lines of:

But it was a fascinating challenge. I was possessed. I would think about it in the shower. I would think about it in the middle of the night. It was like a switch went on — suddenly I was a machine.

In the middle of all this, my mom and dad wanted all of us to come up to New Hampshire to spend a family weekend together. But I really wanted to keep working on my poker bot. So I pull up in my Accord and open the trunk, and next I’m dragging all my computer stuff and all these wires into our little cottage. The dining room table wasn’t big enough so I started moving all the pots and pans off the stove to make room for all my monitors. This time it was my mom who thought something was wrong with me. She was convinced I was going to jail.

I was going to say work on what you love, but that’s not really it. It’s so easy to convince yourself that you love what you’re doing — who wants to admit that they don’t? When I think about it, the happiest and most successful people I know don’t just love what they do, they’re obsessed with solving an important problem, something that matters to them. They remind me of a dog chasing a tennis ball: their eyes go a little crazy, the leash snaps and they go bounding off, plowing through whatever gets in the way. I have some other friends who also work hard and get paid well in their jobs, but they complain as if they were shackled to a desk.


Obsession definitely is a cure for this problem, in fact it’s probably the best cure because it doesn’t take any conscious will or volition. It almost sounds little magical, if you manage to find the thing that you become obsessed about then discipline is secondary.

That’s all fine and dandy, but what if you’re not obsessed about anything just yet? One thing might be to keep seeking and find your passion that will absolve you of the responsibility, but in the meantime there is something else that you can start doing right now. It’s not as glamorous or easy as being obsessed, but something within your control.


I call it: Having a rhythm. It involves building a routine in which you practice the thing you want to prove at every day, and instead focusing on the immediate outcomes of each day, you focus on the process, and rest in your confidence that over time you will improve. It’s not easy, and I haven’t figured it out exactly – but one thing that biking is taught me the setting aside time for it each day, especially in the morning we don’t have any other distractions or obligations, really helps.

I keep you updated on how it goes. If you have something that works for you, or thought along similar veins, feel free to share them below 🙂

life heuristics, motivation

Whose time do you live by?


Not all time is created equal. 

The Greeks believed in two kinds of time, Chronos and Kairos. Chronos was the time of man, man’s time – it was the space, and pace that ordinary human life progressed along. All the joys and sorrows that are common to man – the spring sowing, the autumn harvest; the joys of new life, the mornings of death— Chronos encapsulated them all. This is the natural harmony of life, the eternal cycle of the mundane. And the lesson in life with the find one’s rhythm, because there was no escape.

And then, there is Kairos. God’s time. Absolute, resolute and magnificent. Acyclic, unprecedented, this was when epochs were decided, when immortals wrestled with fate – and won. When outcomes depended as much on the will of its contestants as it did on the circumstances.

These two parallel planes of existence coexist side-by-side. At any point one can choose to cross between one or the other. There is security and comfort in Chronos, the security that believes in the long history of humanity and “who am I to assume that my life will be different”; the comfort of finding one’s pace and rhythm – and belonging. There is hardship and sacrifice in Kairos, where the granite record of one’s fate can be re-carved with the price of blood, and the only steadfast companion is the shadow that drags at one’s feet. But there is also a secret joy, that few should know – and that is the joy of creating something new.

The fire of the Forge demands its payment of sweat, and flickers hungrily over charred bones and wasted metal, but that it is the only place where diamonds are made.

In rhetoric, Kairos means “a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved.”