The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

At the beginning of this year, I set a goal for myself to go through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

For those who aren’t familiar with The Artist’s Way, the book is structured as a 12-week program to free your inner creativity, boost your creative output, and get past any blocks in your life that may be holding you back. The process is that you read one chapter a week, work through some questions at the end of each chapter, have a daily writing task called morning pages, and try one new experience a week.

While the book is focused on artists, in today’s day and age where most work is knowledge work, the book applies to any type of work or part of your life that requires deep thought and skill.

In essence, the book is a process to be your most creative self in knowledge work and get through blocks.

A block is an unconscious response to internalized negative beliefs that manifests itself through self-limiting beliefs, fear, self-sabotage, envy, guilt, addictions, and other inhibiting forces.

Julia Cameron explains, “Very often a creative block manifests itself as an addiction to fantasy… this is where you spend more time dreaming about art than doing art. Or watching TV shows about cooking rather than cooking.” For writers, this often manifests itself as an addiction to reading.

After nearly 4 months I completed The Artist’s Way in April and am thrilled that I did. It took me longer than 12-weeks as I took two weeks for one chapter, and 3 weeks for another, but I can actually say I got through it.

My 5 Biggest Learnings from The Artist’s Way

1) Morning page(s)

The biggest practice in the book is the idea of doing morning pages. Every morning, the first thing you are supposed to do is sit down and write 750 words in a stream of consciousness. It doesn’t matter what you write just that you get through them. Julia Cameron describes doing morning pages as an active form of meditation and I think it is an apt description.

You don’t realize how many things are floating around in your subconscious. By writing down whatever you are thinking about, no matter how trivial, you are able to get your thoughts out of your mind and onto the page. This lets you start the day with a fresh slate. In some sense, you can think of it as a warm up or mental stretch before a day’s work of thinking. Like most things, these are easiest to complete when you have no other distractions: No browsers open, nothing on your screen open, phone away, etc.

It is super important to not take a shortcut and just stop at 300 words or wherever. Some of the most meaningful reflections came on the days when I was struggling to get though the page and in the last few hundred I would push through some thought that was holding me back.

I did morning pages throughout, only missed 3 days, and have kept up with them since completing The Artist’s Way. It generally takes me about 15 to 25 minutes and I do my morning page in Word where it is essentially one page single-spaced. You can also handwrite them, which is about 3 pages, or use something like which has analytics tools built in to nudge you to keep up with doing them.

2) Artist’s Date

The second main practice in the book is the Artist’s Date. This is where you set aside time once a week, of at least two hours, to go and see or try something new and fun. The idea is to get yourself out of your day-to-day and out of your serious/self-judging zone to give yourself some space where you can just experience, experiment, and play.

This can range from going to a place you have never been, writing poetry, building something, flying a drone, seeing a concert, playing with Legos, going for a bike ride, cooking a new recipe, or some other creative pursuits where you can just have fun and not worry about it being “good.” For my Artist’s Dates, I created an NYC Bucket List and would pick one thing a week from it to go and explore. I’ll write more about this soon.

3) Reviewing morning pages quarterly

9 weeks in your task for the week is going back through your morning pages and tallying up what you have been writing about. It is fascinating to see what has been occupying your mind.

This was one of my favorite parts. You may think that that thought in your mind is not really a big deal but by doing this task you find out that you wrote about it for 45 of the past 63 days (true story). It was really useful to see what I constantly came back to, what I had fixed, and what I had changed. I now do this quarterly.

4) Getting past blocks

It is interesting to see all the things that subconsciously bother you or hold you back from projects you otherwise would like to do. The book does a good job of finding, defining, and getting past any blocks you may have.

Doing the morning pages and the weekly tasks are the biggest ways these surface. For myself, completing The Artist’s Way gave me the confidence to drop a writing client that had been holding me back and focus my time on other projects that would have a bigger impact. This includes a book project which I will begin sharing info on soon.

5) The Artist’s Way boosts creative output
The science of creativity shows that in any creative pursuit, whether its science, rap, writing, or what have you, quality of output comes from quantity of output.

The Artist’s Way is a process to jumpstart your output of work to open the door to you doing your best work.

I would say going through the process of the book certainly boosts your creative output.

In 2014, I tried The Artist’s Way but only made it 5 weeks through. Even with just those five weeks, doing the morning pages I noticed an increase in my creative output. For example, I wrote a short story in an afternoon one day because it was bursting out of me.

This time while doing The Artist’s Way I finally responded to a long letter I received 6 years ago from one of my friends continuing some conversations we had on life. I had been hesitating for years to start it because I knew it was going to be an undertaking. Inspired by daily writing I was doing I finally put the time forward to write it and finish it. It turned out to be a mini-memoir, 24 pages long, and is one of the things that I am most proud of having written.

The Artist’s Way Overall

I would highly recommend The Artist’s Way to anyone who is feeling stuck in their life, career, work, etc. as a good process to get yourself unstuck.

If you want still are curious, you can read hrough my best friend Rahaf Harfoush’s week-by-week takeaways for when she did The Artist’s Way.

By |September 17th, 2015|2 Comments

Steve Jobs’ Secret of a Successful Life

20 years ago Steve Jobs gave a great interview to the Silicon Valley Historical Association on life, risk, success, and failure. In a 2 min segment, Steve talked about what he believes is the secret of a successful life. His insight has since been backed up by psychology.

In his interview, he shared a simple and brilliant insight, which has since been back up by psychology research. Jobs said,

“When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use….. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

This isn’t motivational blather. It actually reveals an important insight.

Mindsets Matter

Starting a few decades before Steve Jobs’ interview, Carol Dweck has spent her career studying how people’s beliefs about themselves affect and predict their behaviors and success in life. One of the simplest beliefs that affects every other part of our life is whether we believe our intelligence and talent change or not. Those that believe their intelligence and talents are set and do not change have adopted a “fixed mindset.” Those who believe that we can learn, grow, and better ourselves have adopted a “growth mindset.”

As Dweck explains in her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”:

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone the fixed mindsetcreates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.


Growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.

The reason mindsets are so important is that they influence how we deal with obstacles and setbacks, or more simply, how resilient we are. Those with a fixed mindset see setbacks as an indication that they are incompetent or there is something wrong with them. This hits their self-esteem, makes them defensive, and lowers their willingness to stick with challenging problems. Those with a growth mindset are much better able to overcome setbacks as they realize setbacks say nothing about them as a person, they just mean that something needs to be done or learned.

We develop the mindset we have at an early age in life and it is reinforced as we get older. Our mindset though can vary across different areas of our lives. For instance, while we may have a growth mindset when it comes to work, we may have a fixed mindset when it comes to something like public speaking, creativity, or exercise.

Mindsets and performance

One of Dweck’s key insights is that our mindsets are affected by the environments we are in and how we get praise and attention. For instance, Dweck’s research on children has shown that you can induce a fixed mindset by praising a child for their intelligence (“You’re so smart!”) when they complete a task. Conversely, you can induce a growth mindset by praising their effort and process. The effects are significant.

In a study of over 400 fifth graders, Dweck gave the students three sets of puzzles. The first puzzle set was easy enough that all the students did well. After this puzzle set, 1/3 were praised for their intelligence (Wow, you got X number correct. That’s a really good score. You must be smart at this.”), 1/3 for their effort, (“Wow, you got X….You must have worked really hard”), the last 1/3 were praised for their performance with no reason for their good performance.

The students then did the second puzzle set which was hard enough that they all did poorly. Those who were praised for their intelligence after the first puzzle set were discouraged by their bad performance while those who were praised for their effort after the first puzzle set enjoyed the harder tasks even though they had not succeeded.

The students then did a third puzzle set of equal difficulty to the first. While all students originally had done well on a puzzle set of this difficulty, those who had been praised for their intelligence now did 10%-25% worse than their first time around. Those who were praised for their effort, did 15%-25% better than the first time.

This doesn’t end in childhood

Work environments also push people towards one mindset or the other. Depending on how co-workers and bosses give feedback, they just as easily induce the fixed mindset as the growth mindset in us. Performance reviews in particular commonly induce the fixed mindset unless the review is carefully designed to induce a growth mindset.

A fixed or growth mindset carries into all parts of our life

As I said earlier, our mindset can be different for different areas of our lives. However, the growth mindset is the basis of success in each area whereas the fixed mindset leads people to stall in their lives. We may not even realize how we induce a fixed mindset. This becomes more evident once we revisit 6 essentials of long term sustainable happiness: How often have we said about ourselves or others

EssentialFixed MindsetGrowth Mindset
Physical Health“I am not a runner.”
“She’s a natural.”
“I’m going to get better at running.”
“She must practice a lot.”
Mental Fitness“I could never do that.”
“He was born a genius.”
“I’m going to learn how he does that.”
“I need to read more about sociology.”
Emotional Health“She is never stressed.”
“Some people are just not meant to be happy.”
“I am going to practice meditation today.”
“He keeps a gratitude journal.”
Social Health“He is the one.”
“I don’t like meeting new people, I am an introvert.”
“We work to make each other better.”
“I am going to learn public speaking.”
Purpose / Meaning “What is my passion?”
“It’s my destiny.”
“What can I contribute to the world to make other people’s lives better?
Material Wealth“I’m not good with money”
“I need to get mine.”
“What can I create to earn more money this year?”
“She learned to invest”

Just as the kids with a fixed mindset lost motivation and did worse over time, a static view can prevent you from growing in different parts of your life. Many people don’t realize they have a fixed mindset when it comes to what is success. They reach the “top” and realize there is more to it than money, fame, or whatever. The growth mindset reaffirms that life is a process, and integral to the pursuit of long term sustainable happiness, working every day to be better and grow to realize that you can make a difference in the world.

Back to Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs Secret of Life

Later in the same interview Steve Jobs has another great insight on life,

“that’s what separates, sometimes, the people that do things from the people that just dream about them. You gotta act. And you gotta be willing to fail, you gotta be willing to crash and burn, with people on the phone, with starting a company, with whatever……. if you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.”

The only way to grow is by learning, and you only do that by opening yourself up to failure. The secret of life is that you can change your life for the better, all aspects of it. It will be harder than you imagine to do so, but by taking control of your life and consciously working on becoming better you can achieve your own success.



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By |September 30th, 2014|0 Comments

Long-Term Sustainable Happiness

Last time, I wrote about my hypothesis that true success depends on “long-term sustainable happiness” – a positive and balanced relationship between six categories or “essentials” needed to live a healthy and rewarding life. Today, I’d like to explore the relationship between these essentials and happiness in our daily lives.

I have never met anyone who did not want to be happy.

You can be happy in the short term if you make tradeoffs between the different key parts of life. There are many “successful” people in the world who are financially doing well but have lost focus on the other important parts of their lives. Many have terrible relationships and emotional health, or are blindly focused on wealth, or feel trapped by their job, or have developed bad health habits. There are many “unsuccessful” people in the world who are struggling with the same things.

If you have made tradeoffs and are unhappy, then you likely aren’t giving one of the essential parts of your life the care or attention it needs. In the long-term, ignoring these symptoms leads to problems.

My Path

At various times in my own life I have made some big tradeoffs between the key parts of life and it has always ended terribly. For example, a few years ago I was spending too much time working in a job that was not fulfilling. I was balancing two different roles at the company, neither of which were well-defined, with numerous bosses each with their own set of expectations. While the money was good and I was in an influential position, I was far too focused on wealth and was ignoring the other essentials of life.

I was grinding through every day to push forward work that I didn’t feel made a difference. I was ignoring the essential of purpose while focusing on wealth. My emotional health was also taking a beating as I kept getting competing feedback from my various bosses, didn’t feel the support of anyone working around me, and was seeing the work that I really cared about (investing and writing) suffer as a result. All of these combined with the hours I was spending on my job began to stress me out, and took a significant toll on my relationship, my health, and my emotions.

I was exhausted and in terrible shape. I felt lost, unappreciated, useless, and had a sinking feeling deep in my mind that I had wasted years of my life. Worst of all my relationship came crashing down as all the anxiety and stress I was bottling up came to weigh on it.

I quit the job, picked myself back up, refocused on what is important, and learned a great deal. Since then, I have spent my time digging into the research on what makes people successful.

Long-Term Sustainable Happiness

Long-term happiness is the ideal that I am striving for.

My research, based on the study of positive psychology, decision making, social neuroscience, rationality, and other disciplines, has led me to propose that there are 6 essentials for long-term sustainable happiness in life. People who are truly successful are those who are growing and getting better in each of the different key parts of life. The dictionary defines an ideal as “an idea or standard of perfection or excellence.”

Ideals aren’t goals, they are beacons to guide your way.

To be clear, I’m not talking about eternal bliss. This is not something that you achieve and then check off your list. It’s a constant process of being self-aware and truthful about how things are going, adjusting your priorities to make time for what’s important, and constantly refocusing on what inspires you. It is a journey and a struggle to stay on the path. You need to recognize that obstacles and setbacks are a part of the process. By deconstructing long-term sustainable happiness to its various components you can see where you are lacking and need to better yourself. The essentials act as a litmus test, they identify pain points and help you focus on the areas that need attention so that you can develop long-term sustainable happiness.

A successful life

Sunrise in DC Dan Dzombak

I have found that you stay on the path to long-term sustainable happiness through developing and living a life of positive habits, what the ancients called virtues, bettering yourself and the lives of others. As the famous saying goes, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

By focusing daily on the 6 essentials of long-term sustainable happiness, over time you see meaningful changes that compound. These habits lead to positive life changes that grow larger and better as time passes, to the point where you feel great every day about the path you are on.

Importantly, developing good habits in each of the separate areas leads to mutually reinforcing feedback loops amongst the various key parts of life. Research has shown how

  1. Exercising and positive health habits leads to better emotional health and less stress.
  2. Better emotional health leads to better decision making, physical health, and mental fitness.
  3. Better social health leads to better mental fitness, health habits, and emotional health.
  4. Better emotional health leads to better performance at work.

The list goes on and on but one thing is clear, when you develop better habits and get stronger in one part of life other parts will improve at the same time.

Only you can say if you are truly successful or not. By focusing on the path to long-term sustainable happiness, you are setting yourself up to thrive in this world.


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By |September 5th, 2014|0 Comments

What is Success?

I have always been obsessed with successful people. I constantly read about the processes, habits, philosophies, behaviors, histories, and influences of those who have managed to accomplish great things. Not only do I find it motivating, but by understanding how and why successful people do what they do, I pick up tools and ideas that I can use to improve my own life. As I researched over the years, I came to realize that success has many different definitions depending on who you ask. So what is success?


The dictionary defines success as the accomplishment of one’s goal; the desired result of an attempt; or one that succeeds. Pop culture would have you think the success is all about money, fame, and power. The numerous stories of unfulfilled lives and burnout among so called “successful people” shows however that success is not solely about achievement or possessions.

A great recent example is provided by Arianna Huffington. In 2007, she was on top of the world. Fabulously wealthy, celebrated as one of the world’s most influential women, and cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post. A shining example of success! However, in April of that year Arianna collapsed from exhaustion. She spent the next few months going from doctor to doctor and wondered is this really what success feels like? In her own words, “In terms of the traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful. But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success.”

As Arianna figured out, and many others before and after her have as well, success in life is more than money and power. It is defined by your actions and how you live your life.

What is needed to succeed in life?

I have spent the past few years figuring out what exactly is a successful life. Research in psychology has shown there are six essential aspects of happiness in life:

  1. Physical Health: You need to be physically healthy to have the energy to engage in life. If you don’t have a baseline of health you can’t function and can’t be successful.
  2. Mental Fitness: You need to be continuously engaging your mind. Learning and growing, experiencing new ideas, getting better, pursuing mastery, and putting your ideas to work to accomplish your goals.
  3. Emotional Health: You need to be self-aware emotionally, feel good about yourself, and have a positive self-image. If you are depressed to the point where you can’t function you can’t be successful.
  4. Social Health: You need positive relationships in your life and people that love and support you. You have friends and loved ones that you trust, that make you a better person, and inspire you to be better. There are people you can call at any time of the night if you have a big problem. Humans are social, if you don’t have people you care about and that care about you can’t be successful.
  5. Purpose / Meaning / Spiritual Health: You make a positive impact in others’ lives, giving meaning and purpose to your work and daily life. This keeps you focused and inspires you to overcome the day to day struggles and setbacks that are a part of everyone’s life.
  6. Material Wealth: There is a basic level of food, shelter, and clothing that all people need and that is paid for through money. If you are too poor or have too much stress from struggling financially you can’t be successful.

You can function and be happy in the short term without all of these elements but in the long term if you are missing one of them it is unsustainable and you will become miserable. By definition, something will have to change in your life for you to go on.

Emotions are how your subconscious communicates with yourself, they are one of the reasons humans are so resilient. If you are unhappy, it is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong with your life and you should do something about it.

What is Success?

My hypothesis is that success is the drive for long term sustainable happiness.

In the short term, you can find happiness from all sorts of different things: work, partying, small-wins, YouTube, TV, money, Facebook-likes, alcohol, shopping, movies, etc.

In the long term, if you do not have the above 6 essentials you will not feel happy or successful. Only you can know if you are truly successful or not, and that is only the case if you are on the path to happiness over the long term.

Going forward, my writing will focus on how to achieve success across each of the different essential parts of life, and how by building good habits and processes for each you can achieve success and long term sustainable happiness.



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By |August 25th, 2014|0 Comments
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