William Liao

November 17, 2022

When does a setback expire?

When an unexpected setback happens, it’s natural to point to the setback and reduce the expectations you hold for yourself at first. At what point, though, should you ban yourself from pointing at that setback? I don’t have a precise answer, but surely it has to be at some point. At some point, enough time should have elapsed for you t...
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November 15, 2022

Doing less

Almost everyone I talk to about priorities likes to speak about them in 3s. “My top three things are…” It’s an interesting idiosyncrasy that I never fully understood. It’s as if focusing on 4 or more things means you’re spreading yourself too thin, and focusing on 2 or fewer things means you’re not doing as much as you could be doing. ...
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November 11, 2022

Conquer the moment

While on a challenging hike today, I questioned whether I wanted to finish it several times. To help myself overcome the temptation to turn back, I framed each moment as a choice to pick between becoming one of two versions of myself: The version that pushes a little further, or the version that recedes (and ultimately turns around) — ...
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November 10, 2022

Baby baby steps

Energy to do things ebbs and flows. Sometimes you’ll be able to sprint toward a goal, other times you’ll barely want to crawl. When the friction to do anything is at its highest think baby-baby steps — ask yourself, “what’s the smallest unit of progress I can make?” Your answer will probably seem trivial — maybe it’s entering a sentenc...
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November 4, 2022

Repetitions in reserve

“Repetitions in reserve” (RIR), is an emerging strength training concept that involves estimating how many times you can perform an exercise until you fail. Training programs incorporating this concept will typically involve training until you have 1–3 reps in reserve — a sweet spot for ensuring you push yourself enough to become stron...
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November 2, 2022

the first criticism and its echoes

The first instance of self-criticism can be useful. If it is constructive, it can be a call to learn from your mistakes and be better. The first criticism can empower you. Every echo — that is to say the subsequent criticisms that exist merely to beratingly remind you of the same mistake — are needless. The more you entertain them, the...
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October 31, 2022

Notes on shipping

Start before you are ready; you will never be 100% ready. Ship before it’s perfect; it will never be perfect. The pursuit of Readiness and Perfection does not help you achieve better outcomes, it stops you from shipping and learning a single anything. Failure itself is hardly the issue; it’s withholding your work so as to never even ha...
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October 28, 2022

Courage

There is a big difference between the idea of courage and being courageous. It is one thing to think to yourself, “I’m going to do this thing — I’ve got to do it.” Declaring an intent to do something courageous seems to be the relatively easy part. It’s another, far more challenging thing entirely to be moments away from executing a pi...
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October 28, 2022

There is a big difference between the idea of courage and being courageous. It is one thing to think to yourself, “I’m going to do this thing — I’ve got to do it.” That seems to be the relatively easy part. It’s another, far more challenging thing entirely to be moments away from executing a pivotal decision or action only to find your...
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October 27, 2022

This could be gone tomorrow

Every time I visit my hometown, I go through three phases: 1. Delight spurred by the rediscovery of local people, places, and things that I have missed. 2. Habituation — a diminishing of delight as I get used to everything and start taking it for granted. 3. Sentimentality — a combination of nostalgia, delight, and sadness that emerges...
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October 25, 2022

really?

What is obvious now was not always obvious then. In the late 18th century, a German doctor, Franz Joseph Gall, posited a theory that the measurements of different parts of the skull were directly related to the different mental capabilities of an individual. This evolved into a discipline, known as phrenology, and went on to enjoy popu...
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October 22, 2022

You are in a game of pinball

The purpose of pinball is to keep playing. There is no final level and there is no maximum score. If you beat your high score, that’s awesome but you don’t win. You play another round to see if you can do better. If you don’t beat your high score, that’s fine but that’s not a total loss. You play another round to see if you can do bett...
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October 21, 2022

In a moment of self-awareness this week, I realized that I am the kind of person who could do 9 out of 10 things right but still find myself panicking about the 1 thing that went wrong. If you ever experience disproportionate responses like this, then it can be helpful to counterbalance your reaction with the question, “what went well?...
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October 20, 2022

Let it go

Even if you’re perfectly justified in feeling anxious or frustrated with a problem, you’re not under any obligation to hold on to those feelings when they arise. It’s possible to acknowledge that you will get to a problem when you can and, in the meantime, let it go instead of allowing it to sabotage your moment-to-moment experience. L...
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October 19, 2022

earnestly try

Telling yourself “I couldn’t possibly do that” before you even try is one of the most absurd, self-defeating things you can do. It’s like picking a random spot in the sky and saying, “I think the limit is here.” You don’t know. Until you try, you can’t know. Instead of drawing some wildly unscientific conclusion, be open to the possibi...
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October 15, 2022

People are humans

People are humans. The People part is exceedingly obvious — it’s the person you’re exchanging with in front of you, at the other end of the line, or in front of the other screen. The Human part can be less obvious if not completely missed in some circumstances — it’s the inherent imperfection, fallibility, and inconsistency that every ...
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October 15, 2022

Win the day

Short-term wins are important if not essential to sustaining the pursuit of long-term goals. Here’s a simple short-term win you can repeatedly pursue: be better than yesterday. Specifically, aim to acquire the knowledge, skills, or courage that allows you to accomplish something today that you were not ready to accomplish yesterday. Tw...
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October 13, 2022

Someone on LinkedIn described one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs they’ve ever had, writing “I wanted to quit 1000 times, but I got it done and it was amazing”. Really hard problems are two-sided: On the one hand, they are usually immensely rewarding once you’ve solved them. On the other hand, they can be so complex, ambiguo...
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October 12, 2022

Passing the baton

Part of proficient problem-solving is knowing when to directly involve yourself and when to pass the problem to someone else. The variables domain knowledge, skillset, and bandwidth will help you make this determination. When you have a combination of these factors that is well suited to the problem (you’ll know), then it makes sense t...
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October 10, 2022

You can.

Every challenge you take on is based on some conviction that you’re capable of overcoming it. The words “I can do this” not only give you permission to start, but in many cases it also serves as a vital source of endurance and grit to help you get through the trenches. The second you start walking back your conviction with words like m...
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October 7, 2022

Misspent energy

A quick way to flag misspent energy is to ask yourself if you’d still be okay with doing what you’re doing on the last day of your life. Would you still want to be angry at the driver in front of you that is going slower than you’d like? Would you still torment yourself over a frustrating situation you cannot control? Would you still r...
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October 7, 2022

No one wants to make the wrong decision. So to help us feel like we’re about to make the right one, we explore counterfactuals: We ask ourselves over and over again across all kinds of conceivable alternative scenarios, “what if I do this instead of that?” The only problem with this approach is that there’s a near-infinite number of co...
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October 6, 2022

The shadows

Consider this scenario from author and podcaster Russ Roberts: Your friend loses their keys and proceeds to search under a streetlight for them. You ask your friend, “are you sure you lost them here”? Your friend responds, “no, but this spot is the brightest so…” To assume that the answer you are looking for lies within the information...
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October 5, 2022

Certainty

Stanford Professor Ron Howard used to ask students to assign every exam response with the probability they thought they were right. If you got a question right and assigned a high probability to it, you’d be rewarded with more points. If you got a question wrong and you assigned a high probability to it, you’d be penalized by losing mo...
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October 3, 2022

Stains

The moment a stain is created, it begins to react with the fabric, dyes, finishes, and atmosphere. If you clean it right away, it’s generally very easy to address. If you wait, the stain has time to ‘set’ through the reactions mentioned and as a result, becomes substantially more difficult to address. You’re not dropping everything to ...
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October 1, 2022

Busyness

Being busy can often feel useful, but it’s a poor measure of progress. You can be busy and make no progress. You can be busy and make a lot of progress. Same energy requirements yet drastically different outcomes. Anchor yourself with two questions first: what am I actually trying to accomplish? What things — actions, conversations, qu...
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October 1, 2022

Stumbling uphill

You can put a magnifying glass on a mistake or setback and interpret it as progress totally lost, but that isn’t always the case. When you’re ready and if you’re open to it, a setback can forge you in a way that serves you in the future. This isn’t to glamorize setbacks, they are often frustrating to say the least and should be avoided...
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September 29, 2022

The second arrow

There’s a Buddhist parable that describes how one can get struck by not one, but two arrows when an unfortunate event happens. The first arrow is the event itself — it’s the project you’ve poured your heart and soul into suddenly getting cancelled, it’s finding out that someone you love has a terminal illness, it’s the sudden recogniti...
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September 25, 2022

Do Date

Seeking information and guidance is useful up to a point. At first, it’s well-intentioned: you look for information to make an informed decision. Sounds reasonable. Eventually, it becomes a stalling tactic: you seek information because it allows you to justify postponing a decision or action. I just need more information, that’s all. I...
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September 23, 2022

Improvisation

You can plan for what you know, but you can’t plan for the curveballs that are inevitably thrown at you. Being able to follow a plan is half of what is needed to take a day in stride; the ability to respond without preparation to a plan being derailed or diverted is the other. There is no degree, course, or instruction manual that will...
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