I recently finished reading The Art of Learning, and greatly enjoyed it. While I’ve always been pretty strong on the technical aspects of learning (eg precision practice, codifying routines, etc), my mental prowess when it comes to learning new things is one of my weaker points.

As I’ve also backed off more and more from Examine.com, I’ve been spending more and more time thinking about how one achieves success. Success itself is of course relative – a combination of desire, talent, time, and actual results. I’ve also been thinking a lot more about the mental aspects of it – motivation, enthusiasm, passion, and what not.

This background sets up something I’ve come to appreciate more – the quantified self movement may actually be helping you wimp out.

As someone with an analytical mindset (I did graduate as a computer engineer), I tend to love numbers and metrics. My initial move in losing weight was walking 10,000 steps a day. I have logs from the past ~5 years that cover my weight, the activities I did that day, and any other pertinent information.

So I was originally a huge fan of the idea of “tracking” my life – how well I was sleeping, how well I was recovering (HRV), and all that jazz.

The problem is we get caught up in these #s too much. For example, my highest HRV was 92 (on a scale from 1 to 100). Any time I had an HRV under 90, I had my built-in excuse – “I didn’t fully recover.” My lowest HR was 49. Any time was HR over 55, I had another built-in excuse – “I was still fatigued.”

Now I know that is not how HRV works. And I know that there are a billion factors that can affect my heart rate. But we are not rational beings. We do dumb things all the time, knowing full well that they aren’t good for us. And even though I knew better, my inferior HRV, HR, amount-of-slepe, or whatever, was still in the back of my mind.

“How you feel is a lie” is a common phrase thrown around by people in fitness, and I’m starting to believe it more and more. Greg Nuckols had a great write-up on the effects of perceived steroid usage. Basically people went to their coaches for some ‘roids, and were given placebos. Everyone got stronger. Then half of the people were told they were given a placebo. They proceeded to immediately lose their strength gains, while the other half remained as strong as ever.

The people who suddenly lost their strength gains – it’s not as if their muscle mass just disappeared! So if the physical was all the same, the mental game must have had a significant impact. And at the end of the day, there is an opportunity cost to how things impact you. What’s more important – spending 5 minutes a day figuring out your optimum omega-3 dosage, or spending those 5 minutes sharpening your mind?

The problem we have today is we are overloaded with information. We should be working on increasing our mental acuity, focus, concentration, and more. To me, the quantified self movement seems to be more problem than solution – the data may actually be shackling you.

Backstory:

John Meadows posted on Facebook how fitness model Jaco de Bruyn ripped off his workout program.

Jaco de Bruyn then posted admitting he ripped it off, and came to a business agreement with John.

Some time after that, Jaco backed out.

How the story unfolds, I don’t know. I can vouch that John Meadows is a class act. But what really grinds me gears is how he angles it as a “bad decision.” In the comments section, his fan boys go on about how it was a simple mistake, how he must be an outstanding person to fess up, etc etc.

What the hell? What kind of mental gymnastics are at play here?!

A mistake is when you accidentally write 79 instead of 97. A mistake is when you say “yes baby you do look fat in those jeans.” But copy pasting someone else’s work, passing it off as your own, and profiting isn’t a mistake. It’s malicious.

That’s not a bad decision – it’s a planned decision.

Not to mention, would Jaco De Bruyn have ever admitted to it if he hadn’t been caught first?

Plagiarism isn’t a mistake. It’s a deliberate deleterious act only done by lazy hacks.

Three months ago, Examine.com was sitting at above $700,000 in revenue.

With the recent launch of the Examine.com Research Digest (ERD), Examine.com is now a million dollar business. And cash-flow positive to boot.

I already covered the basics steps of what made us stand out. But you know what ERD was? It was us doubling down on what we do best – take nutrition research and make it accessible.

That’s the core of our mission. It just so happens that our focus has been on supplementation and nutrition, but if someone was to ask – “What is the problem you solve?” – the answer: “We break the ivory tower of academia”

It should be noted that by focusing on what we do best has done wonders for our traffic. We’re now at roughly 25,000 visitors per day – and we rely on no single source. We get a ton of traffic from Google. From Facebook/social media. From other websites. By making ourselves useful, we’ve gone a long way in shielding ourselves from relying on one source.

And speaking of relying on a source – I had previously posted how roughly 25% of our revenue for our Supplement-Goals Reference came from our affiliates. For ERD? Less than 10%.

It should be noted that none of this would have been possible without a fantastic team. I make talent/outlook my #1 concern – salary we can always figure out (part-time, equity, public speaking, whatever). This has then directly contributed to the quality of what we present, which has in-turn directly contributed to the amazing support we’ve had. That then generates more revenue, and it’s a nice cycle that continues on.

There are other lessons to be shared here. For now, we’re all happy that we’re making a dent in the cesspool of misinformation that is nutrition online.

To-Doned list

16 Sep
2014

Tasks and todo lists – everyone talks about them. The satisfaction of crossing something off. Their never-ending nature.

I love todo lists. And not because they keep me organized or because of the satisfaction of crossing them out. Nope. I love todo lists because I save everything I did get done and keep it on record. It’s a shrine to all the tasks I have defeated in the past.

It’s pretty simple. I have a file called “To-Doned List.” Every day, first thing I do before I look at my email or Facebook or anything is I add an entry for the current date. Then, as I get shit done, I add them to my To-Doned List.

At the end of the day (3pm for me), I can almost always look back and say “I got a lot of things done today. Now it’s time to turn off work.”

On the few days when I don’t get much done… I come back the next day with a vengeance. And I obliterate everything in front of me.

Hell, aren’t we taught that positive reinforcement is the best? You know how they say death by a thousand cuts? This is like success by a thousand (tiny) steps.

Well this was convenient happenstance.

Men’s Fitness released their list on The Game Changers of 2014. Amongst that varied list, which included juggernauts such as Stephen Colbert (I love that guy), Pharrell, Stephen Curry (I love the NBA), was … me! Sol Orwell, “The Educator”.

First off – what an honor. I had originally thought it was a list of game changers in fitness, so I was thinking – yeah sure, Examine.com belongs in that list. Only when this went live did I realize that it was a bit more encompassing than that. And I’ll admit, it felt awesome.

After my last post (in which I called out people like the Food Babe and Tania Browne about their narcissism), I had about a dozen people ask me – is building your own brand bad?

Of course not

Everyone builds a brand. The question to ask – is the brand about your self or about your work?

As an example, lets consider my friend Eric Cressey. He’s a “brand.” He has his own fan page. BUT – when you think of him, what comes to mind? Rehabilitation. Baseball/pitching. Teaching. All based around his work, not around him.

When you think of magazine writers like Lou Schuler and Adam Bornstein (I’d include Sean but that’s just cheating hah), their brand is not about themselves, but about their nuanced writing. Their fans are fans because of their work.

I’d like to believe the same applies for me. Sure, you may like me, and you may admire my beard (seriously – the #1 compliment I get is about my beard from guys), but what you really like is what Examine.com is doing.

On the other hand, when you think of people like FoodBabe, what do you think of? Their constant screeching. Their self-congratulations. It’s as if they love to hear themselves talk. Mememe all the time.

Just look at Tania Brown on twitter – how exactly did she find time to tweet 45,400 times?!?! Across 5 years, that’s ~760 tweets per month, or 25 tweets a day!

I’m tired just thinking about tweeting 25 times a day, much less every day for 5 years.

At the end of the day, we all build our own brands, and we even have different brands of ourselves. Our family likely knows us differently than our friends who know us differently than our significant others. But – is your professional brand about you or what you can do?

This image actually made me laugh:

It’s been making circles around the Internet as a way of mocking the FoodBabe and her crusade against big-words-she-cant-pronounce (or comprehend).

And people like her are an easy target. She has no domain of knowledge, she shrieks at everything that seems intimidating, and she brings in a crowd. Then again, with a name like “FoodBabe” (how can you call yourself that and be taken seriously??), we don’t expect much.

At the end of the day, she’s building up what I call the “cult of mememe.” It is doubtful she really cares. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, she shrugs and keeps shrieking. Her only goal is to build up her Facebook and twitter followers (‘social capital’) in order to leverage both eFame and reallifeFame.

While a lot of people are fooled, the more cynical and educated tend to easily dismiss her antics.

My concern is with “educated” advocates who are also obsessive about the “cult of mememe.” These are people who, under the guise of being educated in the sciences, are still obsessed with their social capital and eFame.

I’ll use an example that hits close to home: Tania Browne.

Her bio states that she is studying in health sciences and statistics, and is interested in becoming an epidemiologist. From the face of it, you would think she would appreciate an evidence-based approach (like us!)

And yet when our article on The Guardian appeared, she jumped on it faster than the FoodBabe attacks BigCo, all under the guise of “I study science and blog at The Guardian and SciLogs.” She clearly did not know what she was talking about, but that did not stop her from using big words and making grandiose statements. She was so grossly uninformed that we even wrote a point-by-point rebuttal on how she could not even get the most basic of facts right.

My personal favorite? “I don’t read the full text of papers because that is why we have abstracts.”

Similar to the FoodBabe, she twisted logic and made noise without understanding basic science.

Similar to the FoodBabe, she didn’t care when evidence was produced that clearly contradicted her statements … instead, both seemed more concerned about getting attention and building up her social capital. Evidence was secondary to untrue comments that were getting precious retweets.

Unlike the FoodBabe, Tania Browne presented herself as an educated expert with a relevant academic background.

And to me, that is far more nefarious.

The Internet is devolving. And it’s more than just the media. It’s people’s obsession with social influence and being eFamous. With having followers who retweet and fans who comment and say how right you are (regardless of the truth).

It’s not the uneducated like the FoodBabe that are the problem. It’s the “educated” like Tania Browne who care more about being famous than about the truth.

Relevant: I’ve always abhorred the self-branding. And self-branding is particularly strong in fitness and health. It’s a big reason why Examine.com has always been about the actual research, not the individual behind it. None of our products ever have our names directly on it. You can look it up and find us (we don’t hide that), and we’re accessible… but we’re all part of something much bigger.

Over the past month or so, I’ve read The Console Wars (about Nintendo vs Sega) and Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (how Marvel got started).

A common thread between them is that the best thing to focus on was the product itself. For the consoles, it was “the name of the game is the game” … provided your game is good, everything else will be taken care of. A similar phrase applied to comic books (on a side note: reading the book on Marvel made me realize how unplanned comic book stories are. And how exhausting it all seemed).

Now, I may not necessarily agree with that (the Internet is not like Rome … if you build it, they will not come), but the overall premise is 100% true. Far too many people focus on fluff and ancillary stuff that doesn’t matter – web design, exact email verbiage, etc etc. Provided your core product is solid, people are willing to overlook your mistakes.

Do the small details matter? Yes. But far too often they are dealt with while leaving the core to rot.

About 3 times a week I have people I know email me suggesting that Examine.com should do this, or do that, and so forth. I love these emails – it gets new ideas percolating in my noggin and it also lets me see how others perceive Examine.com as. And yet always, at the end of the day, I come back with “our focus is on our research now.” Even our two products came by organically – the Supplement-Goals Reference from user demand to make it accessible in a large reference manner, and then the Stack Guides from users who said they just wanted step-by-step directions. Our upcoming third product is the same – fixing a problem we’ve had our users ask of us.

Don’t lose focus or get distracted by quick but not long-term dollars.

I’ve been interviewed quite a few times on a variety of podcasts and websites, and when asked about my workflow, my rough answer:

I work 4 days a week. Each of those days I: work 2 hours, 1 hour break, work 1 hour, break/nap 30 minutes, 1 hour work, done for the day. I get more done in those 16 hours a week than I would in 30 hours.

It seems counter-intuitive that working less is more productive (this is where I tangentially note the counter-intuitive nature of raising prices and earning more while driving down support requests and headaches), but this is the basis of Parkinson’s Law:

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

What a beautiful quote.

I’m sure you remember the days in high school or university where you would procrastinate writing an essay or studying for an exam until the last moment, and then become highly focused and just crush it (or alternatively, crash and fail spectacularly).

The same situation is in play here – when I know that my time is limited, I work tirelessly. When I know that I have an hour coming up to read sports news, dick around on Facebook, go sit on my sofa and read a book, or go for a casual walk with my dog, I make the most of my work time.

I am also not beholden to specifics – if I end up working into my break-time, or my break-time extends into my work-time, I don’t stress over it.

The best part of this hyper-focus is the balance it brings to my life. I’m constantly learning and doing things that have nothing to do with work, which further fuels my creativity, ability to focus, and stay motivated. I open up my inbox on Mondays and absolutely crush it, leaving inboxzero in its wake.

Most importantly, when I do have to put in the hours (for a launch or something similar), it’s still done at a high level. Every 6-9 months I can turn my afterburners on and just annihilate what’s in front of me for a week or two of 16 hour days.

Next time you find yourself wasting time, remember Parkinson’s Law. Work to live, not live to work.

But we all already know that right?

I just finished reading Ryan Holiday‘s book – Trust me, I’m Lying. In some ways, it reminded me of the things I used to do in the early 2000s when it came to MMOs, but that’s for another day.

The book was basically two books in one – Book 1 covering how to manipulate the media, and then Book 2 covering what a shit show the media is.

The entire thing is depressing. But it’s also a great read because it doesn’t mince words. It doesn’t pretend that online media is a noble cause out there to get the truth out to the masses. That it’s about responsibility. That it self-corrects. Because let’s be honest: it isn’t.

I’ve said for a decade that the media is neither good, nor bad. It is neither Left nor Right. It answers to one god: Sensationalism. Which leads to traffic. Which leads to revenue. There’s a reason why crazies who say stuff like “if you were on a ketogenic diet you would never get cancer” – because it follows the equation: Sensationalism -> Traffic -> Revenue.

Rinse and repeat.

I remember how 8 years ago a story hit the Internet – “Muslim community offended by Apple NYC Cube’s similarity to Holy Kaaba.” It spread like wildfire across the tech community and the Right Wing blogosphere. It was originally unsourced, until it was revealed that the “source” was some random post on a forum. The “one unverified idiot on forum” morphed into “Muslim community” in 60s flat. And when we reached out to some of the bloggers who had breathlessly reported on this story, we were met with outright hostility. I remember one even said “well the Muslim community should reach out to me then.” Why the hell is the “reporter” not double-checking his own work (an issue Ryan constantly harps in his book)?!?!

I won’t even get into the comments (another thing Ryan touches on) and how it just fanned anti-Muslim hysteria. And how not a single blogger bothered to update it. Well, one did change the headline from “Muslim community offended by Apple’s Fifth Avenue NYC Cube” to “Muslim community offended by Apple’s Fifth Avenue NYC Cube?” – that’s some quality investigative journalism.

Get the book – it’s a great read. I even told my friend Lou Schuler (tangent: Lou is such a big deal he has his own Wikipedia page) to get it. And Ryan doesn’t talk in abstracts – he calls out specific people. His call outs on Arrington of TechCrunch made me laugh because I remember thinking the same things back in the day (I wonder if Ryan knew that Arrington originally made it big via domains – he was CEO of Pool.com – which made his raging hypocrisy against domainers even more laughable).

But you don’t have to be (full of shit)

The book spoke to me. I’ve turned down a dozen plus VCs because I have no interest in chasing (or trying to become) the next big thing. I have no desire for the endless cycle of exposure. After my experience 8 years ago with the bogus Apple store, I basically stopped trying to do anything “news” worthy.

Ryan captures my views:

Meanwhile, smaller sites that have built core audiences on trust and loyalty sell out their ad space months in advance. They have less total inventory, but they sell all of theirs at higher prices and are more profitable, sustainable businesses.

Examine.com will never be as big, say, LiveStrong.com. Our team will never be as famous as Dr. Oz. BUT – we will be profitable and sustainable.

Which is all I care about anyway (that, and long relaxed walks with my doggy).

Revenue in Examine.com’s first 2.5 years of existence: ~$10,000

Revenue in the past year: $700,000

I’ll likely write more about this later, but the basic steps were (this post was inspired by Adam Bornstein’s post on top 5 ways you’ve known you made it):

  • I harnessed my career capital (knowledge in building up websites).
  • Conversely, I did not try to do things I had no domain of knowledge in (research). I know more than the average person, which is important so we can discuss issues and come to better understandings, but at the end of the day, the business decisions were mine, and the research findings were not.
  • I built up an awesome team – both directly involved in the company and people who I could turn to advice for.
  • We took the long long road. Seriously – it’s amazing how much money supplement companies offered us. Hell, we’ve been told we could be iHerb’s #1 affiliate, which would net us ~$50k/month
  • We didn’t spend on useless things. Relevant to the point above, Kurtis was pretty fantastic about keeping his costs to a bare minimum as we built up our reputation.
  • In fact, I’d say our #1 focus was quality and reputation. We were in no rush to release a product. We were in no rush to sell to our audience. We showed them we were about value.
  • We focused on something we could sell every day, not just during a hyped-up launch period. Having experienced a dozen+ fitness product launches in the past few years, I can tell you that most products make 75-90% of their revenue in the first 10 days they launch. For us, that # is lower than 20% (and affiliates generated maybe ~25% of the launch sales).
  • We acted big. We tried to be professional from day one. Now that we are big, it feels like a comfortable suit! At the same time, I’ve tried to be as accessible as possible (and now so is Kamal).

Slowly but surely we carved out our own niche, and eventually became so good they couldn’t ignore us.

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