I’ve followed Ali Abdaal’s journey on YouTube for a few years now. While not one of the earliest subscribers to his medical school content, I was there when he started to make content about the iPad. I was also making content about using an iPad and his content was much better. It’s been cool to see how he’s evolved as a creator and now an entrepreneur and author.
My main guidance if you’re thinking about reading “Feel Good Productivity”: if you want to learn more about his journey as a YouTuber, you probably won’t find it in this book. I don’t know if it was a personal choice or on guidance from the publisher. But there seems to be more credibility in sharing stories as a doctor and from scientific studies. I kept hoping for more about his journey as a creator in and out of niches from medical student to doctor to tech to productivity to entrepreneurship to being an author through traditional publishing.
I’m left still hoping for that.
What remains, though, is an excellent book about, well, the cycle of joy that can lead to more productivity that can lead to more joy. If harnessed correctly.
If anything, I’ll remember this one question:
What would this look like if it were fun? I stuck the note to my computer monitor and went to sleep.
Feel Good Fitness (a personal case study aka how I’m applying some of the tactics from the book)
And it’s certainly a book full of tactics. They’re labeled “experiments” to try. “Feeling good” and “being productive” will vary from person to person. Some people try to maximize productivity, unfortunately putting off “feeling good” forever. The best way to accomplish that awful outcome is to put the two at odds.
I’ve dabbled in many fitness programs. The dabbling is probably why I don’t get results. Anyway, one philosophy I like is StrongFirst’s, especially around intensity. Most training session should leave you feeling good afterward. This is directly opposite of other approaches, where the main goal is to obliterate yourself and be lying in a pool of sweat by the end. Find joy in the pain.
Feel Good Alter Ego (you only have to be Goggins for an hour)
Ali describes his character in World of Warcraft:
I’ve always been Sepharoth, the tall, handsome Blood Elf Warlock with billowing purple robes and an army of demons at my command.
I’m guessing he’s also a Final Fantasy VII fan? Video games show that we’re willing to learn new and pretty hard things for the sake of entertainment.
(On the other hand, I’m less willing to learn to play new games these days. I think there’s a lot of rust for me to shake off and I’m always a little frustrated when I take a couple weeks off of a game and come back to it and realize I don’t know the controls anymore. It makes me feel very very old.)
Games can be an escape. They can sometimes be more entertaining than the real world. The character in your virtual world might carry more prestige within those virtual walls than you might feel you have in the real world.
You can try to have fun with building an alter ego in the real world. Or a part of the real world both in location and time. When you walk into the gym, you can build up a different mindset. Paraphrasing what Shaan Puri says: you don’t have to be Goggins all the time, you just have to be Goggins for an hour a day. That’s enough to get get the movement required for good physical shape. (The kitchen becomes the hard part at that point.)
Our devices are bringing our physical and digital worlds closer and closer together. It’s going to become easier and easier to create and hop into different alter egos. Maybe someday soon I’ll be able to just embody some digital Goggins with his hater’s mixtape pumped directly into my brain.
Sincere not serious
You can’t make every part of work a game, but you can probably adjust some parts of your process to bring some aspects of games in. But even games aren’t always fun, depending on the mindset that you bring to it.
The trick is simple: when you feel like your work is draining or overwhelming, try asking yourself, ‘How can I approach this with a little less seriousness, and a little more sincerity?’
Poker with friends comes to mind. The right amount of stakes makes it fun. In college, this was like a $10-20 buy-in. Winner gets $200 and the rest don’t feel too bad about losing.
High stakes takes the fun away. There’s too much seriousness. If you’re playing for, I don’t know, your house. Oh, it’ll be engaging. And I’m sure it’ll feel great if you win. (And presumably win your opponent’s house to turn into a rental property.) But it probably isn’t all that fun during it. Even if you win you’ll be drained at the end of it.
Zero stakes also takes the fun completely out. There’s no sincerity. There’d be times where we’d think “Oh poker is fun, let’s play.” but not everyone would want to play for money. So then we’d try to play without money. “Okay it’ll be fun just because of the competition.” But removing the stakes removes the sincerity of it. Everyone just goes all-in way earlier than they would’ve if money is involved.
In your work you’ll want to find the right balance. You can burn out in either direction. If you’re taking it too serious then every day will be draining. If you’re not taking it serious at all then you’re probably working without purpose.
To reduce the seriousness, it might just take a bit more deliberate recharging. Something to remind you that work isn’t everything—you’ve got things outside of it. To increase sincerity, look at it as a training session—if you have to do this tedious work anyway, you may as well try to get better at it so you can get it over with faster.