Best of 2014: The 10 Most Popular Articles of the Year

Well friends, we have reached the final month of another great year. After publishing a new article every Monday and Thursday during 2014, I’d like to share the 10 most popular articles of the year.

I started this tradition last year when I published my list of the Best of 2013. For me, it is always interesting to review my work and see which articles exploded out of the gate and which ones limped across the finish line. For you, I think it’s nice to have a summary of the articles that are worth your time and attention.

Let’s get into it…
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What I Do When it Feels Like My Work Isn’t Good Enough

In the beginning, it was easy. There was no pressure. There were no outside eyes. There were no expectations.

When I started writing, I wrote in a private document for over a year before I published my first article on JamesClear.com. I wrote about what I wanted to write about. I wrote because I wanted to get my thoughts down. I wrote because I felt like I needed to write.

After a few months of sharing my work publicly, things began to change.

As I developed an audience, I noticed that I began judging my work. In the beginning, I was just happy to get my ideas down on paper, but now I felt like they had to be “good” ideas. I began comparing new articles to my most popular ones. I was constantly measuring everything I wrote against my internal standard of good and bad—even though I didn’t know exactly what that meant.

Thankfully, I didn’t let my self-doubt stop me from writing. I figured this was part of the creative process for anyone who created things consistently. I told myself that judgment and self-doubt was just a toll that I had to pay to continue the journey and create better work.

In a way, this is true. Everyone deals with self-doubt—artists, creators, entrepreneurs, athletes, parents. But in a way, I was wrong. Self-doubt is not a cost you have to pay to become better. Let’s talk about why.
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Avoid the Second Mistake

So often, we make the mistake of believing that sticking to good habits is an all-or-nothing game. (I say “we” because I’ve been there before as well.)

  • We assume that if we slip up on our diet, then we have ruined the whole thing.
  • We act like missing one day of writing means we simply weren’t meant to be a writer.
  • We use our lack of motivation to work out as evidence that we don’t have the willpower to make change happen.

These beliefs are incorrect. Habits are behaviors that we repeat consistently. However, they are not behaviors that we repeat perfectly. This small idea—that consistency does not require perfection—is important.

When it comes to building good habits and breaking bad habits, individual mistakes do not matter in the long-run. Instead, it is the second mistake that is far more important. Let’s talk about why this is true.
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How Constraints Make You Better: Why the Right Limitations Boost Performance

In 1930, a 23-year-old teacher in Uruguay named Juan Carlos Ceriani created a new sport. Ceriani wanted to design a game that was similar to soccer, but that his students could play indoors throughout the year. His new game became known as futsal.

Futsal is very similar to soccer, but it has a few important differences. First, it is played in a much smaller area. (Ceriani designed the game so that it could be played on YMCA basketball courts.) Second, the ball is smaller and has less bounce than a regular soccer ball. Third, there are only five players per side rather than the typical eleven players per side in a soccer match.

This combination of factors—a tighter playing environment and a less bouncy ball—requires futsal players to develop more creative ball skills because they are constantly playing in crowded spaces. Additionally, because there are fewer players, each person touches the ball much more than they would in a standard soccer match. In fact, according to research quoted by Daniel Coyle in his book The Talent Code, futsal players get 600 percent more touches during a typical game than soccer players do. [1]

Throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s, futsal migrated from Uruguay to Brazil, where the Brazilians fell in love with the new game. (Even today, over 75 years later, more people play futsal in Brazil than soccer.) It’s hard to say why futsal became so popular in Brazil, but one thing is for sure: the young Brazilians who grew up playing futsal throughout the 1940s and 1950s developed incredible ball handling and technical skills.

Eventually, these children grew into adults and made the transition from futsal to soccer. The athletic creativity they developed in those futsal games would help the Brazilians to shine on the world stage. During the 12-year span from 1958 to 1970, there were four World Cup championships. Brazil won three of them. [2]
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Time Assets vs. Time Debts: A Different Way of Thinking About Productivity

Late in his career, Steve Jobs famously drove his car without a license plate.

There were all sorts of theories about why Jobs decided to drive without tags. Some people said he didn’t want to be tracked. Others believed he was trying to make a game of avoiding parking tickets. Jon Callas, a former computer security expert who worked for Apple, revealed a different reason.

According to Callas, Steve Jobs discovered a loophole in the California vehicle registration laws. Anyone with a new car had up to six months to get a proper license plate for their new vehicle. During the first six months, however, you could simply drive the vehicle without a license plate.

Once he realized this, Jobs arranged a special leasing agreement with his Mercedes dealer so that every six months he would drop off his current car and receive a new Mercedes SL55 AMG to replace it. This meant that he never drove a car older than six months and he never had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a license plate. [1]

After hearing the story, many people responded by saying something like, “I guess that’s what you do when you have a lot of money.” And, to be fair, it is true that this license plate strategy isn’t reasonable for most people on the planet. If you look deeper, however, you’ll notice that something else was happening: Steve Jobs was building a Time Asset.
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10 Lessons Learned from Squatting 400 Pounds

Last week, I set a new personal record by squatting 405 pounds (184 kilograms).

If you’re interested, here is a short video of the lift…

I have plenty of friends who can squat more weight—and a few who regularly squat over 500 pounds—but this was my first time passing the 400-pound mark so I’d like to share a few lessons I learned along the way.
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Martha Graham on the Hidden Danger of Comparing Yourself to Others

Agnes de Mille had just achieved the greatest success of her career, but right now the only thing she felt was confusion.

She was a dancer and a choreographer. Early in her career, de Mille had created the choreography for a ballet called Three Virgins and a Devil. She thought it was good work, but nobody made much of it.

A few years later, de Mille choreographed a ballet named Rodeo. Again, she thought her work was solid, but it resulted in little commercial fame.

Agnes de Mille
Agnes de Mille in her outfit for Rodeo. (Photograph by Maurice Seymour. Courtesy of Ronald Seymour/Maurice Seymour Archive.)

Then, in 1943, de Mille choreographed Oklahoma!, a musical show from Rodgers and Hammerstein that enjoyed nearly instant success. In the coming years, Oklahoma! would run for an incredible 2,212 performances, both around the nation and abroad. In 1955, the film version won an Academy Award.

But the success of Oklahoma! confused her. She thought that her work on Oklahoma! was only average compared to some of her other creations. She later said, “After the opening of Oklahoma!, I suddenly had unexpected, flamboyant success for a work I thought was only fairly good, after years of neglect for work I thought was fine. I was bewildered and worried that my entire scale of values was untrustworthy. I talked to Martha.”

Martha was Martha Graham, perhaps the most influential dance choreographer of the 20th century. (Although not as well-known by the general public, Graham has been compared to other creative geniuses like Picasso or Frank Lloyd Wright.)

During their conversation, de Mille told Martha Graham about her frustration. “I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be.” [1]

Graham responded by saying,

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”

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How Experts Practice Better Than the Rest

My dad and I were standing in the front yard. Maybe that’s why I remember it. We typically practiced baseball in the backyard, but for some reason we were out front that day. I was around 9 years old and learning how to pitch. My dad was walking me through the basic mechanics.

On this particular day, we were working on the backswing of my arm. The ball came out of the pocket of my glove, my elbow went up, and my arm began to swing back behind me in preparation to throw.

“Elbow up.” That was the cue. “Elbow up. Elbow up. Elbow up.”

We spent that whole session focused on one little movement of 12 inches or so when my hands parted and the backswing started. We probably repeated it hundreds of times that day. Sometimes with full throws, but mostly with drills and little practice patterns.

“Elbow up.”

We kept working on this for a few days and then, at some point, we stopped talking about getting my elbow up and moved on to the next phase of the pitching motion. It wasn’t until weeks later, when I realized we hadn’t said “Elbow up” in awhile, that I noticed that I was getting into the right position automatically.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this was one of my first exposures to the concept of deliberate practice.
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Minimalism, Success, and the Curious Writing Habit of George R.R. Martin

In 1971, a young writer graduated with his Masters degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. He spent the first 13 years of his career writing professionally and made a living from it, but without major success. In 1983, he released his fourth book, The Armageddon Rag.

Nobody read it—the book was a total flop. In the author’s own words, “It essentially destroyed my career as a novelist at the time.” [1, 2]

But he was determined and so he found ways to keep writing. He landed a job writing a television script for CBS. Soon after, the show was cancelled. He managed to work his way onto another TV series, this time on ABC, but it was cancelled again. In 1991, after nearly a decade of bouncing around, he decided to start writing fiction again.

Two million words later, George R.R. Martin was famous.

Martin is the best-selling author of the fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. The first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, has also been turned into a blockbuster television series on HBO. (The first season of the show was nominated for 13 Emmy awards.) [3] The epic 7-part series that hasn’t even been finished (Martin is currently working on the sixth book), but it has already sold more than 25 million copies.

What is most surprising isn’t how good the books are, but how, exactly, Martin writes his best-selling works…
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