Where’s the bottleneck?

“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.”

Henry Ford

When you’re feeling stuck, look for the main bottleneck. What’s the one thing preventing you from moving forward? 

The problem is we immobilize ourselves by trying to solve the problems 3 moves in advance first. ‘I’d love to save more money each month, but if I did that I wouldn’t have enough to pay for food and expenses, plus I won’t be able to get those new running shoes and I forgot I need to get my oil changed sometime soon.’

Sometimes we even convince ourselves that before we can fix this current problem, we must fix X Y and Z first. ‘I want to get a new job, but first I need to fix my health, but before that, I should really think about going back to school.’

Instead of dealing with the immediate problem, we’re thinking about a hundred other things on our todo list.

Thinking 3 moves in advance is great. But when it comes to solving problems we need to focus on them one at a time. Fixing the main issue may cause other issues down the line, but don’t worry about that now. Focus on the current priority. 

Put everything aside in your mind for a moment and focus exclusively on the priority at hand.

An alternative approach is to go around the problem and reduce complexity by finding a way to nullify multiple problems in one sweep by solving the underlying issue. (I believe this idea is from Tim Ferriss.)What’s one thing I can focus on/do that will nullify all the other (potential) problems.

What we need is a sense of priority. What’s the most important thing you need to focus on right now? We might have to deal with other things later, but that’s for later. Before is before. Later is later. Now—we are dealing with now.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1052

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Get to the Heart of It

I’ve been dealing with sleep issues for the last couple of years. I can fall asleep like the best ‘em them. But my quality of sleep hasn’t been great. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out. My best guess is allergies, not breathing well at night.

The reason I’m telling you this is I made a mistake. A simple mistake, but one easily made. Instead of focusing on the main issue—my quality of sleep— I tried to optimize everything else around it.

My sleep hygiene is on point. Cold room temperature, bed, blackout shades, Magnesium citrate, air filter—the works. But as nice and beneficial as those are, it doesn’t address the underlying problem. Instead of optimizing everything to death first, I should get an at-home sleep study and figure out what the real issue is so I can focus on solving it.

When you’re dealing with a problem—be it health, work, relationships— take a moment to think of the underlying issues that are bothering you.

Optimizations all the minute details won’t necessarily move the needle.

Save yourself some time and get to the heart of things, instead of tiptoeing around it.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1043

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Tiny Problems

“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.”

Henry Ford

My Jeep was broken into early this year. I rarely leave anything valuable in it, because it has a soft top, which is pathetically easy to get into. The thief clearly wasn’t a Jeep person, because they took a knife to the left soft top window, instead of using the big zipper that was an inch away.

Embarrassing sidebar: I’ve locked myself out of my Jeep at least a dozen times. In my defense, the doors are heavy and tend to want to close on there own. But still, I’ll sometimes lock the door manually and forget to grab the keys from the seat. Occasionally I’ve even locked myself out with the keys in the ignition! And of course, this usually happens in the most public and busiest places possible. Luckily with a soft top, I can just zip zip and crawl in through the back like an animal so I can unlock the door and turn off the car.

Where was I? Oh yes, the break-in. Nothing was stolen (there was nothing to steal). But the window was ruined.

I would call this a tiny problem, especially in the grand scheme of things. It’s not fun paying cash for something you didn’t cause, but it’s better to deal with problems early, than wait and let them grow into bigger problems.

Tiny problems are the ones you want to look out for. Big problems you are dealing with now, are likely the result of tiny things left untreated.

Saving money, for example. Not saving a small percentage of your pay isn’t a problem—until it is. Saving money isn’t for you—it’s for your future self. It’s like a shot of CBD for a future worry. When you’re dog steps on your iPad and breaks the screen, when your car has a flat tire on a road trip, when your 5-year-old bed starts hurting your back—you’ve got yourself cover. No anxiety or worries are necessary. Sh💩t happens. Better to plan for it instead of waiting for it to surprise us when we least need it.

Here are some other tiny problems:

  • Miscommunication and-or small conflicts left unresolved.
  • Ignoring our health. Not exercising. Not paying enough attention to our tense muscles.
  • Changing the oil in your car.
  • Staying up late every night. “Burning the candle at both ends.”
  • Negative thoughts.

These things are nothing in the short term, but cause a world of problems in the long term left unresolved. The goal isn’t to worry about all the little things that can cause us to trip, but take care of things (and ourselves) in the moment, instead of pushing them off.

Q: What are some small problems I’ve been neglecting I can start resolving today?

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1041

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Trying Times

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

I loved making Rube Goldberg machines when I was growing up (because of The Goonies and Back to The Future, of course). If you’re not familiar, it’s where you create a “machine” or series of eclectic bits-and-bobs lying around the house to perform a simple task unexpectedly and ridiculously.

Mine were never as intricate as this amazing thing—I mostly just used legos, but it was still loads of fun.

A domino effect is “the cumulative effect produced when one event sets off a chain of similar events.” It’s a chain where A leads to B leads D and G, and so on.

I don’t know if you’ve looked at the news lately (😝) but there’s quite a lot of things going on right now. (Understatement of the century, perhaps?) Life was moving quickly before the pandemic, but now it feels like we’ve been kicked into high gear. Many stressors are being tossed at as a once, some within our control, some out of our control, but no matter what life throws our way, it does us no good to lose our wit and give in to chaos or unhelpful thoughts.

When faced with multiple problems, when dealing with trying times, the best we can do is focus our efforts on one thing at a time. Fretting over a giant list of todo’s or bouncing around (like a beachball at a Nickelback concert) from one problem to the next wastes our time and energy. By focusing our efforts on one problem, one task at a time, we can stress less over the other things we need to do, and instead, give our full immediate attention to the thing in front of us.

Better yet, we can prioritize our next action to be something that eliminates or checks off other future actions.

What’s one problem you can do focus on this very moment, that will solve/prevent multiple other problems in advance?

as Henry Ford once said, “There are no big problems, there are just a lot of little problems.”

The best thing we can do is to catch problems before they happen. The next best thing is to solve them with they are small and manageable. And if a problem is already massive, then we have to break it into smaller and smaller parts until we again can tackle each small problem one at a time. This won’t always be neat and proper. Sometimes we might have to do this on the fly by the seat of our pants.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1014

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Assess What’s Working

If what you are doing isn’t working, then something has to change.

What should you change?

Anything. Your habits. Your routines. Your perspective. Your assumptions—definitely your assumptions. Assess everything you are doing (or not doing) and understand why. Are you running from Paper Tigers? Are you avoiding your passions?

It’s okay if you don’t like what you find. But now what are you going to do about it? What you need is momentum. A little step towards progress and success, and then another and another.

Smarter people have said it better than me —

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

Mark Twain

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

Maya Angelou

It doesn’t matter what problem you are dealing with—use it. Make it a part of your story. Flip it on its head and make it something you are proud of.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #890

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No More Snoozing

“Those who have compared our life to a dream were right… we were sleeping wake, and waking sleep.”

Michel de Montaigne

“I’ve stopped drinking, but only while I’m asleep.”

George Best

We all have problems in life — eventually. The thing about big problems is that 80% of the time they aren’t that way. I’m not trying to be cynical, honest. I’ve just seen firsthand how easy little problem acorns can grow into giant problem trees. Problems usually start where they are too short to ride the rollercoaster, so to speak.

All of the bigger problems I’m facing — the ones I currently have as of writing this anyway — are the accumulation of little things that have grown over my lifetime. Things like spending too much of my day sitting. Falling prey to a midnight sweet (cooooookies🍪 ) that messes up my sleep quality. Pushing off a silly medical bill, hoping it will go away.

Certain things we can’t control and shouldn’t stress over. If you fall because you’re walking in a dark room with no access to a light source to see, is it really your fault for tripping. But other things like neglect, we can control as long as we stay on top of the little things yet important things in life.

Neglect can come from anywhere. Small bills you weren’t aware of that have been growing over time. Bad habits, like walking a certain way, or abusing a component of your body (like your back, neck or feet), which leads to painful problems down the line. Friends you want to keep in touch with but just never found the time to do so. Neglect usually comes with hard lessons of humility that show us a better way to live.

Humility is one of those friends that tells it like it is. While most people compliment you what a good job you’re doing, humility is backhanding you in the face with things/realties you’re not seeing. But not because Humility is out to get you or wants to see you fail. Humility is there to show you where you had blinders on.

Remember, the biggest problems we face in life are usually not big problems at all — there an amalgamation of tiny subtle problems we didn’t notice or kept hitting the snooze button on.

No more snooze button.

Ignoring the problem doesn’t mean we are handing the problem. When we ignore a problem we’re actually just feeding the monster baby. If we keep ignoring it, soon enough that monster baby isn’t going to be a baby any longer.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #837

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A Problem Half Solved

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

A Problem isn’t just a problem itself. It’s also the baggage we stack onto the problem. How we think, perceive and what we believe changes how the problem looks. (If a problem was like a sweater we wear, our thoughts, beliefs about the problem would be us wearing 10+ extra sweaters on top.)

Depending on how much stuff we pile on top of our problems, the heavier it becomes. (Think of it like an exponential: Problem^x)

But by stripping away everything but the original issue, we can more easily tackle it and not let it get the best of us.

Getting to the essence of a problem starts with understanding it. Asking questions is a great way to do this. It’s difficult to see something when you don’t have a full picture of what it is. Questions get to the heart of the issue.

Is the problem something within my control? Can I do something about it? (Sometimes problems are bigger than we are (i.e. changing the weather) and are better let go.)

What is the problem exactly? How many pages can I write about the problem? Can I describe it in a few sentences? Can I describe it in the size of a tweet? Can I describe the essence of the issue in one sentence?

What’s contributing to the problem? Is something else I’m doing (or not doing) making the problem (seem/become) bigger than it should be?

Who can help me with this problem? Who has found a way past this trouble before? Are there any books or resources I can use to solve this? (Help can come from anywhere, not just people we know.)

How can I use this problem to my advantage?

We can also look out for is negative or unhelpful feedback loops. Meaning situations where I can’t do X because of Y I can’t do Y because of Z and I can’t do z because of X. We’ve thought ourselves into a corner. Nothing useful happens when you are stuck sitting in the negative corner. To break the cycle, we need to find a different way to approach the issue. The best way I’ve found to do this is to ask a friend — ideally someone who you admire or you consider smarter than you. If we’re trapped in our perspective, then we can seek someone else’s (or multiple people).

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #828

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Plantin’ Seeds

Big Redwood Trees
Photo by Josh Carter

If you want to grow a giant redwood, you need to make sure the seeds are ok, nurture the sapling, and work out what might potentially stop it from growing all the way along. Anything that breaks it at any point stops that growth.

Elon Musk

One observation I’ve been appreciating recently is the nuanced, yet powerful force of planting seeds. Our future is built on our past decisions, specifically, all the big and tiny things we agree (or not) during each day.

Everything we do, from how we sit, how we communicate to ourselves, how we eat, to what we read, has a butterflying effect into our future. We are who we are today because of echos from our past, and the echoes from our parents past and beyond.

On the surface, there’s rarely immediacy to planting seeds. They take time, attention, water and sunlight that we could be using elsewhere. And we can’t eat them right away. If we tried, they would be as nutritiously effect to what we are trying to grow.

A conversation here, a habit there… A week goes by and there’s not much to show for it. Progress was made, but it’s often too subtle for us to notice. This is one of the big reasons why most people don’t plant seeds. Growing is slow work. ‘I can’t invest or focus on my future problems, because all of my immediate problems are right now’ — this is something I’ve said others and told myself before.

But immediacy doesn’t equate to priority.

What separates those that do, versus those that don’t is prioritize the future today. A creator creates every day — even if it sucks, because eventually they know their investment will pay off.

Invest in the right things, and the ‘immediate’ things will fade away.

Today is always the best day to do something for tomorrow. Why do tomorrow what you can do today?

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #650

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Own It

The only things we are entitled to are:

  • Our problems
  • Our actions (or put another way, our right to change)
  • And our freedom (of speech, beliefs… at least in the US)

Everything else must be earned.

Let’s start with the last and most important. In the US, we are entitled to freedom, but that doesn’t diminish the effort and resistance from those who have fought for us to have our freedom. People laid down their lives for us, we should do our part to remember and respect that.

I”m a white dude in his late twenties, living in America. This is my baseline — I didn’t choose any of this. Compared to the rest of the world (and the subtle / not-so-subtle persecution other people have to deal with) — I’ve got it made in the shade.

Everything on top of that, any financial, work, relationship, mindset, time-mismanagement, bad habit, setbacks and injuries are mine to own.

To fix my problems, to create a meaningful life, I’ve got to own it.

There’s no way forward but to own it.

That also secondarily includes everyone’s else problems that I surround myself with too. For example, if my good friend is in debt, I’m secondarily also in debt to his / her mindset and choices. Their problems are theirs to own, but by the very nature of being around them makes them effect me too. Just like on an airplane, in case of an emergency, you are supposed to put on your air mask first. The problems of the people around me shouldn’t come before my own.

I have the right to solve my own problems. It’s a responsibility, but also a privilege. We get the opportunity to change our circumstances and tell our own story through our trials and triumphs.

  • Did your parents pay for your college education?
  • Did your parents buy you a car?
  • Is your health not great?
  • Did your startup fail?
  • Are you talking more than your walking?

No one owes us anything. Generosity is a gift, but not assured, either. The choice we continuously have to make in life when setbacks and bad things inevitably happen is either:

A. We don’t accept it, we dwell on it and use it as an excuse to stay stuck where we are, or

B. We own it, and go to work, just like all the greatest people of today and yesterday have done.

Own it and get to work.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #589

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Rule It Out

“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

For the past couple of years, I’ve been dealing with a sleep problem. I’m great at falling asleep, and staying asleep. However, the quality of my sleep isn’t great. When I wake up, I’m just as tired as I was when I went to bed. You can see how this can be a real problem. The chronic, low-grade energy from lack of quality rest effects all aspects of my life. Luckily (or unluckily) as humans our bodies are incredibly resilient. We can push and punish our bodies and they will adapt to the new normal. Often this is beneficial. For example, exercising is fantastic for us and necessary for health. And 90% of the benefits of exercising outweigh the downsides of it’s stressors on our system. (An anti-example is overtraining. By training too much, you don’t give your system a chance to recover from the ‘good’ stress, so you reap less and less benefits, and the stress of constantly stressing yourself builds up and can reek havoc on you… eventually)

All that being said, when you don’t sleep well, you get used to the new normal. What else can you do but use the energy you have and continue moving forward? Tired becomes the new normal and you push through. From the outside looking in, nothing is different. You are just you. Which is a weird feeling, to say the least. Everything is normal, but not as effective as you know you could be, but you still have to be on your A game.

This experience has given me the opportunity to dive deep into the world of sleep and sleep optimization. (A few friends have asked me, so I might do a future post on the resources, tools and strategies I’ve discovered about sleep.)

This experience has also taught me the value of thinking and acting systematic when dealing with problems.

Here are five strategies you can use when facing an uncertain problem (in no particular order):

1. Question all assumptions

What are things that we do that are beneficial to us?
What are things that we do and think that are not beneficial to us?

It’s easy to assume that certain habits or actions are beneficial, but without testing those assumptions, we never actually know whether or not they are benefiting us or causing problems. Not everything thing is a net positive, and sometimes negative habits cancel out beneficial habits. Just like a wave can cancel out another wave, the downside of an action or way of thinking can negate the upside to another action or way of thinking. For example, taking a B-12 supplement isn’t really going to move the health needle in our favor if we are also eating ice cream and other delicious crap every day. Not all examples are as easy to spot what the problem is like this one, so it’s good to have a health dose of questioning all that you (think you) know and do, and test all assumptions and how much value they are each adding to your life.

2. Test Each Variables

What are the underlying factors causing the problem?

Donald Rumsfeld once said, “It is easier to get into something than to get out of it. There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint what the problem is without considering all the variables that potentially contribute to the underlying problem.

Sometimes you can’t know all of the variables that go into play, but making a list of the factors you do know can help you uncover what’s good and what’s not. By making a list, and, essentially checking it twice — isolating the variable and seeing how much pull it has on the problem — we can uncover what’s going wrong. Or at the very least, what’ NOT going wrong. (Checking off things that aren’t causing the problem can be just important as the ones that are.)

For sleep, variables such as:

  • Number of hours in bed (How many hours of sleep are you getting?)
  • Staying asleep (How restful are you during sleep?)
  • Going to sleep (How easy is it to fall asleep?)
  • Bed Time (What time are you in bed?)
  • Dinner Time (How many hours between dinner and bedtime?)
  • Stress (Work stress?
  • Screens (Are you looking at screens before bed? If so what time / how long?)
  • Reading (Are you reading before bed?)
  • Blue Lights (Are you exposing yourself to blue light too late from fluorescents etc?)
  • Shower (Do you take a shower / bath before bed?)
  • Cold Thermogenesis? (What does an ice bath or cold shower do before bed?)
  • Mattress (How new is your mattress? High quality?)
  • Pillow (How nice / optimal is your pillow? Especially with an injury)
  • Sheets (How nice are your sheets?)
  • Room Temperature (How cold or hot is your room)
  • Room Darkness (How dark is your room?)
  • Air Quality (Is your air allergy / mold / toxin free?
  • Sound Environment (How quite / noise-free is your sleep environment?)
  • Food (How healthy did you eat today?)
  • Exercise (How much did you move today?)

As you can see, even something as ‘simple’ as sleep can mask a large about of variables that come into play.

When you are tackling a problem, list all the variables you can think of and test each one at a time. You could do the kitchen sink method and try everything at once, which is a much faster (and yet more expensive) approach. But you won’t know what precisely worked for you. By ruling out each variable, your scientifically testing each possibility and determining which factors have the most effect.

3. Think it through.

What’s one thing you can do that solves 90% of the problem?

Not every variable has equal weight. Often, if we tackle on thing, like dominoes the rest will follow. This is a trail and errors game, but we can be smart about how we prioritize and what order we handle problems. What’s an easy win? What’s something you can do right now that will help immediately? (What would Steve Jobs do? 😝) Who’s had this problem before and what did they do to solve it? What’ are the small thing that could possible create a massive outcome? What does your instinct say? Be intentional, think it through.

4. Seek Wisdom from People Smarter than You.

There’s nothing wrong in asking for advice. In fact, if you are not constantly seeking insights from people smarter than you, then you are doing yourself a disservice and holding yourself back from overcoming problems quickly and with the least amount of resistance.

Whenever in doubt: Ask.

Even if it makes you look stupid. Being stupid now is better than always being stupid because you never ask, especially if you are in a position to ask someone you have access to directly.

And when you don’t have direct access to someone who might have an answer for you directly, then read, watch, learn EVERYTHING they’ve put out. A book or podcast by them can be just as powerful as talking to them IRL.

5. Go Easy on Yourself.

This one I had to learn from a friend. Problems can take time to overcome. We’ve got too mentally prepare ourselves for that scenario and play the long game instead of giving up because the circumstance feels hopeless in the present. Keep going, but go easy on yourself. In the end, we’re all just human, struggling and figuring life out as we go. Every obstacle we face is a chance to be better. Every failure is an opportunity for us to learn and be better. Treating ourselves badly only lets the problem win and control us. But focusing on the opportunities and taking things one step at a time puts the ball back in our court.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner

Daily Blog #578

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