Secrets to life
The human race is obsessed with finding the secrets to success. There are podcasts, thousands of books, and even more articles written on the secrets of success in every area. Secrets to a better marriage, to a full night’s rest, to a six-pack. Anything someone wants, someone else will tell them what the secret to obtaining it is and turn a profit doing it. The problem (with looking for secrets) is that thanks to the internet, most information is available to anyone with a computer. So if there ever truly were secrets to starting your business in 7 days, everyone knows them now. There are few secrets left.
The lack of secrets doesn’t mean there aren’t keys to success. In fact, the keys are often pretty obvious and out in plain sight for all to see. The keys are often known by everyone. Unfortunately the keys usually don’t look the way we want them to so we ignore them and seek out the secrets instead. We walk right past the true keys we need while searching for the nonexistent secrets that can’t help us.
Want to be healthier overall? Just want make a general improvement? There’s no 7-minute workout, no easy diet pill or shake to fix all your problems, no meditation technique. There’s no secret waiting to be unearthed. But there is an obvious key that we have known about forever. It’s just too boring for people to take notice. So again, you want to be healthier? The key is to get good sleep.
Shoot for ~8 hours, in a dark room (this is important — studies have shown light shining on people’s feet, even if wearing a black-out sleep mask, impacts their sleep), with a sound machine, and if possible wake up naturally without an alarm clock. That’s it. Very simple to execute. But how many people make getting good sleep their new year’s resolution? How many people set a goal of optimizing their bedtime routine around sleep? It’s far harder to exercise every day and eat healthy food at every meal, but it’s far easier to set those as your goals. They are far more tangible, sexier, and easier to measure. Definitely more fun to talk about, based on how often people talk about their last workout or diet plan.
A new year’s resolution that’s fun and exciting and impressive to talk about might be “Run at least 2 miles, 3 days per week.” That will make you healthier, but it’s going to take a long time to do so (as in months or years) and you’ll probably burn out before you reach any of your weight loss or health goals. At least people will respect you when you tell them how hard you’re working, though. In case it’s not clear, that last sentence is what is known as sarcasm. A new year’s resolution that’s boring to talk about and will turn exactly zero heads, but will be vastly more effective is “No food after 7 pm, no screen time after 8 pm.” Both of those things will help you sleep better, which improves literally every aspect of your life. You have my personal guarantee as someone who is not a doctor that this will have a greater impact on your life than running 3 or even 7 days a week. The improved sleep helps your body in a billion ways and gives you the energy to do everything else below. So you can set a really difficult goal that’s fun to talk about, or set a really easy goal that no one cares about.
A few more examples:
Want to get stronger? You can spend tons of time researching and trying to find the most perfect workout routine, the most perfect protein supplement, the most perfect gym membership for your needs, but you’re not getting any stronger while researching. The secret you’re searching for doesn’t exist; the key is to get moving. The key is to find heavy things and lift them against gravity. Your body works great for this — pullups, pushups, situps. The best part is if you can work out with just your body then you can start as soon as you’re done reading this sentence. There can be no excuses like trying to find the right workout, not wanting to sign up for a gym membership, not knowing what to do, not having equipment at the house. All the equipment you need is attached to you. The key is to get going.
Want to stand out at work? Show up on time, treat your coworkers with respect, do your best. Even doing just one or two of these things gets you ahead of most others. Doing all three makes you a superstar. Are these secrets? Absolutely not. They’re super obvious. You’re mom and dad told you to do these things your whole life. They’re just not very fun or shiny, so they don’t get much attention. They’re keys that are hidden in plain sight. (Honorable mentions are smile and do the right thing. These will get you far too.)
Want to eat better? Your new year’s resolution could be to cut out red meat except Sundays, eat nothing processed with more than five ingredients, or cut out all added sugar. Or a million other nutritional goals. You could spend hours researching the best diet and completely revamp how you live. These are all good things by the way. But the most effective new year’s resolution could just be to keep fruits and veggies easily accessible and move junk food out of the kitchen. You know what the junk food is, don’t complicate it with a definition. Healthy food goes on the counter, processed food goes downstairs or in the hall closet. Anywhere it can’t be easily accessed. That goal will be far more effective than any of the others, but it won’t turn anyone’s heads. Won’t catch anyone’s eye. Can you imagine yourself at a party and someone says their new year’s resolution was to only eat out for one meal per month, and even then it had to be under 800 calories. That’s impressive. It will certainly turn heads and inspire awe. You respond with “Yeah, I’ve just been keeping the potato chips downstairs.” No one will care about your goal, I promise. But the endgame is to eat better, not to tell people how you’re going to eat better. The key is obvious and doesn’t need to be complicated
Want to make money investing? The key is to do the boring thing and buy and hold. Unless you’re a career investor (and even then many of them fail), the best thing you can do with your investments is nothing.
Want a better relationship with your spouse? You can read books, go to counseling & therapy, learn about their love language, ask them daily what they need from you emotionally, plan date nights an entire year in advance (again these things are good, just not the secret to a happy marriage), or you can just set your mind to putting their needs above yours. The rest will fall in line if you do that. Simple.
Want to build, maintain, or regain a strong relationship with your kids? Reading parenting books is great, taking classes is great, parenting blogs are great, but you won’t find many life-changing secrets. If you want a strong relationship with your kids, spend distraction-free time with them. There’s no secret, it’s the most obvious thing you could think of. An obsessive parent trying to be better might set a goal to read 3 books on parenting this year and take away 3 lessons from each. That’s 9 lessons to enact, they will be crushing it! In far less time though, a more practical parent might set a goal to put their phone and the remote in a shoebox each night from 5:30–8:30 pm. That action is so easy no one will want to do it. (I don’t do it.) Spend hours reading books, or spend a few seconds putting your phone away so you can just focus on your kids.
Side note: Another key to being a better parent is just trying to be a better parent. So in the above example, the parents who set out to read books and the parents who set out to ignore their phones for a few hours each night will both fare better than parents who do nothing to improve.
Want better friends? You could read books on winning friends and influencing people, on building strong relationships, becoming a social magnet, all in the search for a secret, a golden nugget of truth. Or you could just be kind to others. Listen when they talk. Listen more than you talk. Ask how they’re doing. The “secret” is really obvious once again, as it’s always been, as it will forever be.
Want to learn more? You don’t need a new secret studying technique or a tutor or an online course. No doubt those things will help you learn some. But if you want to learn the most, find things that interest you and explore them in ways you enjoy. Reading a book, reading a blog, watching a video, visiting a museum, getting outside and looking at the thing that interests you, experimenting, breaking things, asking questions, finding other experts. You don’t need some secret, you just need to dive into the subject you want to learn about in a way that keeps you engaged. Philosopher and rapper Propaganda says “Remember when we were in kindergarten, and you had to learn about worms? Yeah, you went outside, and you played with worms! What a novel idea!”
Want to be a better writer? Write.
Want to learn the piano? Start playing.
There are few secrets in life; just don’t be a bonehead. In 99% of the “tricky situations” or struggles we find ourselves in, we know what we need to do. We just have to decide to do it. Don’t let research be an excuse. Don’t let ignorance be an excuse — because you’re not ignorant of what you need to do. Nearly every time you just don’t like the way what you need to do looks and sounds.