Smart People Should Create Things

It was 1974 and Art Fry was spending his weekend singing for the local church choir. On this particular Sunday, Fry was dealing with a relatively boring problem: he couldn’t keep his bookmarks in place.

In order to find hymns quickly, Fry would stick little pieces of paper between the pages like bookmarks. The only problem was that every time he stood up, the pieces of paper would slide down deep between the pages or fall out of the book completely. Annoyed by the constant placing and replacing of his bookmarks, Fry started daydreaming about a better solution.

“It was during the sermon,” Fry said, “that I first thought, ‘What I really need is a little bookmark that will stick to the paper but will not tear the paper when I remove it.’” [1]

With this idea in mind, Fry went back to work the next week and began developing a solution to his bookmark problem. As luck would have it, Fry happened to be working at the perfect company. He was an employee at 3M and one of his co-workers, Spencer Silver, was an adhesives specialist.

Over the next few months, Fry and Silver developed a piece of paper that would stick to a page, but could be easily removed and reapplied over and over. Eventually, this little project became one of the best-selling office supplies of all-time: the Post-It Note.

Today, 3M sells Post-It Notes in over 100 countries worldwide. You can find them at libraries and schools, in offices and boardrooms, and scattered around nearly every workspace in between.

What can we learn from the story of Art Fry? And is there something we can take away from this to make our lives and the world better?
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The Power of Architecture: How the World Around You Shapes Your Thoughts and Actions

In 1952, polio killed more children in America than any other communicable disease. Nearly 58,000 people were infected that year. The situation was on the verge of becoming an epidemic and the country desperately needed a vaccine.

In a small laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, a young researcher named Jonas Salk was working tirelessly to find a cure. (Years later, author Dennis Denenberg would write, “Salk worked sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, for years.”)

Despite all his effort, Salk was stuck. His quest for a polio vaccine was meeting a dead end at every turn. Eventually, he decided that he needed a break. Salk left the laboratory and retreated to the quiet hills of central Italy where he stayed at a 13th-century Franciscan monastery known as the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi.

The basilica could not have been more different than the lab. The architecture was a beautiful combination of Romanesque and Gothic styles. White-washed brick covered the expansive exterior and dozens of semi-circular arches surrounded the plazas between buildings. Inside the church, the walls were covered with stunning fresco paintings from the 14th and 15th centuries and natural light poured in from tall windows.

It was in this space that Jonas Salk would have the breakthrough discovery that led to the polio vaccine. Years later, he would say…

“The spirituality of the architecture there was so inspiring that I was able to do intuitive thinking far beyond any I had done in the past. Under the influence of that historic place I intuitively designed the research that I felt would result in a vaccine for polio. I returned to my laboratory in Pittsburgh to validate my concepts and found that they were correct.”
-Jonas Salk

Today, the discovery that Salk made in that Italian monastery has impacted millions. Polio has been eradicated from nearly every nation in the world. In 2012, just 223 cases were reported globally.

Did inspiration just happen to strike Salk while he was at the monastery? Or was he right in assuming that the environment impacted his thinking?

And perhaps more importantly, what does science say about the connection between our environment and our thoughts and actions? And how can we use this information to live better lives?
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Big Project Syndrome: Thoughts on Struggling to Finish My First Book

As regular readers know, I’m working on my first book right now. The book is about the power of small improvements in a world obsessed with overnight success.

For the most part, the book will include the best ideas from my weekly articles plus dozens of additional research studies and topics that I haven’t mentioned yet. I will also mix in my usual dose of practical ideas, interesting stories, and real world experiences. I have about 40,000 words written right now. My hope is that it will be the best work I’ve created thus far.

So what’s the problem?

I am really struggling to tame this beast and make progress. I haven’t written consistently on the book for weeks and lately it feels like the project is always in the same place today as it was 10 days ago.

Although I write about habits and consistency every week, I have said many times that I am no expert. Like everyone else, I’m just learning as I go. In this article, I’m going to share a few of the issues I’m struggling with and discuss just how hard it is to take a big project from idea to execution.
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Masters of Habit: The Deliberate Practice and Training of Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice is widely considered to be the greatest wide receiver in the history of the National Football League. In addition to winning three Super Bowls, Rice holds nearly every single season and career receiving record available. He is also the NFL’s all-time leader in yards, receptions, and touchdowns.

Many experts say he may be the best football player ever, regardless of position. Basically, Rice was a one-in-a-lifetime talent. Literally, the best of the best.

But in Geoff Colvin’s popular book, Talent is Overrated, he shares an interesting story about Rice’s work ethic and his approach to deliberate practice. As you’ll see, it wasn’t just talent that made Rice successful and we can all learn from his approach and use similar strategies to improve our health, our work, and our lives.
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How to be More Productive and Eliminate Time Wasting Activities by Using the “Eisenhower Box”

Dwight Eisenhower lived one of the most productive lives you can imagine.

Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. During his time in office, he launched programs that directly led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, the launch of the internet (DARPA), the exploration of space (NASA), and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act).

Before becoming president, Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army, served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and was responsible for planning and executing invasions of North Africa, France, and Germany.

At other points along the way, he served as President of Columbia University, became the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and somehow found time to pursue hobbies like golfing and oil painting.

Eisenhower had an incredible ability to sustain his productivity not just for weeks or months, but for decades. And for that reason, it is no surprise that his methods for time management, task management, and productivity have been studied by many people.

His most famous productivity strategy is known as the Eisenhower Box and it’s a simple decision-making tool that you can use right now. Let’s talk about how to be more productive and how Eisenhower’s strategy works.
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How to Change Your Beliefs and Stick to Your Goals for Good

In one of my very first articles, I discussed a concept called identity-based habits.

The basic idea is that the beliefs you have about yourself can drive your long-term behavior. Maybe you can trick yourself into going to the gym or eating healthy once or twice, but if you don’t shift your underlying identity, then it’s hard to stick with long-term changes.

Graphic by James Clear.

Graphic by James Clear.

Most people start by focusing on performance and appearance-based goals like “I want to lose 20 pounds” or “I want to write a best-selling book.”

But these are surface level changes.

The root of behavior change and building better habits is your identity. Each action you perform is driven by the fundamental belief that it is possible. So if you change your identity (the type of person that you believe that you are), then it’s easier to change your actions.

This brings us to an interesting question. How do you build an identity that is in line with your goals? How can you actually change your beliefs and make it easier to stick with good habits for the long run?
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Stop Wasting Time on the Details and Commit to the Fundamentals

I was in the gym one day, training like usual, when my coach made an important observation. It didn’t take me long to see how this discovery applied to other areas of my life as well.

Here’s what happened.

We looked across the gym and saw someone performing lateral raises with dumbbells while standing on a Bosu ball. (This is an exercise that focuses on smaller muscles in the shoulder and doesn’t do much for the rest of the body.)

My coach watched for a moment and then said, “Imagine how good you have to be for that exercise to be the thing that gets you to the next level.”

His point was that this person was focusing on an exercise that improved a few, tiny muscles in their body while ignoring the more important foundational movements. Even an Olympic athlete who had mastered the basic movements (squats, bench press, etc.) could not honestly look in the mirror and say, “You know what’s holding me back? I’m not doing enough lateral raises.”

In other words, the problem is that too many people waste time on the details before mastering the fundamentals. And I’d say the same in true outside of the gym as well.
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I’m Using These 3 Simple Steps to Actually Stick with Good Habits

I have been trying a new strategy for building habits and it is working incredibly well. This strategy is remarkably easy and it is governed by three simple rules.

First I’ll tell you the three rules. Then, I’ll explain how I’m using this strategy and offer some other examples of how you can put these rules into practice.

Here’s how it works…
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