The 2015 Tiny Gains Challenge

For the next 20 weeks, I’m going to lead the charge on The Tiny Gains Challenge. Along the way, you’ll learn how to build better health habits, avoid injury, and get leaner and stronger in the easiest way possible.

Let me explain how this is going to work and, more importantly, why this will work.
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It’s Not Just About What You Say, It’s About How You Live

For the last 2,000 years the Nguni people have lived on the lands of central and southern Africa. Today, the Nguni people are primarily spread across the southern and eastern portions of the African continent.

Given their long and rich culture, oral tradition and hand gestures are an important part of communication within the Nguni nations. The Nguni people speak not just with words, but also with their bodies.
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World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov on How to Build Confidence in the Face of Fear

Garry Kasparov and his long-time rival Anatoly Karpov—two of the greatest chess players of all-time—took their respective seats around the chess board. The 1990 World Chess Championship was about to begin.

The two men would play 24 games to decide the champion with the highest scoring player being declared the World Chess Champion. In total, the match would stretch for three months with the first 12 games taking place in New York and the final 12 games being played in Lyon, France.
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Getting to Simple: How Do Experts Figure out the Correct Things to Focus On?

Peak performance experts say things like, “You should focus. You need to eliminate the distractions. Commit to one thing and become great at that thing.”

This is good advice. The more I study successful people from all walks of life—artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, scientists—the more I believe focus is a core factor of success.

But there is a problem with this advice too.

Of the many options in front of you, how do you know what to focus on? How do you know where to direct your energy and attention? How do you determine the one thing that you should commit to doing?

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but let me share what I’ve learned so far.
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First Principles: Elon Musk and Bill Thurston on the Power of Thinking for Yourself

Bill Thurston was a pioneer in the field of mathematics. He was particularly known for his contributions to low-dimensional topology, 3-manifolds, and foliation theory—concepts that sound foreign to number-challenged mortals like you and me.

In 1982, Thurston was awarded the Fields Medal, which is often considered the highest honor a mathematician can receive. One reason Thurston was able to contribute valuable insights to his field of mathematics was that he utilized a different set of mental models than his peers.
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The Chemistry of Building Better Habits

There is a concept in chemistry known as activation energy.

Here’s how it works:

Activation energy is the minimum amount of energy that must be available for a chemical reaction to occur. Let’s say you are holding a match and that you gently touch it to the striking strip on the side of the match box. Nothing will happen because the energy needed to activate a chemical reaction and spark a fire is not present.

However, if you strike the match against the strip with some force, then you create the friction and heat required to light the match on fire. The energy you added by striking the match was enough to reach the activation energy threshold and start the reaction.

Chemistry textbooks often explain activation energy with a chart like this:

Activation Energy

It’s sort of like rolling a boulder up a hill. You have to add some extra energy to the equation to push the boulder to the top. Once you’ve reached the peak, however, the boulder will roll the rest of the way by itself. Similarly, chemical reactions require additional energy to get started and then proceed the rest of the way.

Alright, so activation energy is involved in chemical reactions all around us, but how is this useful and practical for our everyday lives?
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How to Stop Lying to Ourselves: A Call for Self-Awareness

It was September of 1816 and two Parisian boys were playing in the courtyard of the Louvre, the famous museum in Paris.

On the other side of the courtyard, a physician named René Laennec began to quicken his pace as he walked along in the morning sun. There was a woman with heart disease waiting for him at the hospital and Laennec was late.

As Laennec crossed the courtyard, he looked toward the two boys. One of them was tapping the end of a long wooden plank with a pin. On the other end, his playmate was crouched down with his ear pressed against the edge of the plank.

Laennec was immediately struck with a thought. “I recalled a well-known acoustic phenomenon,” he would later write. “If you place your ear against one end of a wood beam the scratch of a pin at the other end is distinctly audible. It occurred to me that this physical property might serve a useful purpose in the case I was dealing with.”
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