M.A. Psychology, Oxford. McKinsey Alum. Founder & Editor at TAoL.
You’ve built a popular blog and made a career out of helping people become the best versions of themselves. How did you get there and what did that take?
In short: years of hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and struggle.
We had very little prior experience in entrepreneurship, no proper work ethic, and laughably low levels of self-discipline when we first started. What we had instead were insecurities and worries – and plenty of them: “What will other people think? Who are we to write about personal mastery? What if this fails? What will our friends think?” You know the drill.
It’s been three years since we published our first article. During that time, we’ve both almost always been working either full-time or part-time aside from working on the business. That is, except for a period of six months when we moved to Egypt to focus 100% on growing the business. Yup, we purposely sacrificed six months of our lives to go all in on our dream.
So the way we got here was through patience and hard work. We kept learning new stuff, kept applying it, kept failing, kept moving forward until eventually, a few things started working and we doubled down on those.
What major obstacles or failures have you faced on your journey? How did you overcome them? Or how did they set you up for later success?
There were a ton of obstacles. For us, the biggest ones were internal. For whatever reason, we just didn’t start out with a lot of self-belief. We were constantly worrying about what others would think and how they would judge us. Pushing through that negativity was probably the largest obstacle. And what helped us the most in overcoming it is mindfulness – seeing those feelings for what they are, accepting them with nonjudgment, and getting on with what needs to get done.
Other obstacles were constant setbacks in general. It’s tough when you work on a project for months and then it all comes to nothing. We’ve tried so many things and most of them failed, and after that failure, you just need to keep going. The way this sets you up for success is through various ways: You grow a thicker skin, you learn what works and what doesn’t, you gain resilience, and so on.
Who are/were your heroes? Who helped you get where you are today?
Most of them are successful business owners with books, YouTube channels, and podcasts that we’ve consumed relentlessly. Not only did we learn practical strategies from them, but perhaps more importantly, we got motivation and inspiration from them. They’re doing exactly what we dream of doing in the future. They’re on a path of personal growth, and they’ve been working on themselves all their lives.
How do you decide what things are important to you in life as well as how and when you will work on them?
Lots of journaling, thinking, reflecting. We’ve been journaling on our visions, values, goals, and priorities for years. Unless you frequently remind yourself of where you’re going and what your priorities are, life will get in the way and you’ll forget all about it.
The decision of when to work on which priorities is simply a question of rational thinking. For example, we’d love to travel more, discover the world, meet more amazing people, and such. But we also understand that while we’re building the business, these things take backstage. And we have to trust ourselves to make this work so that once we’re in a stronger financial position, we can give more time and importance to other priorities.
How do you try and balance all the things you want to (and must) do without letting them all overwhelm you?
Writing everything down. And we mean everything. If you’re familiar with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) (Summary) system, that’s what we’re talking about. Keeping lists of next actions, projects, things we’re waiting for, things we might want to do in the future, and so on.
And then keeping those lists up to date. Sometimes, we may spend thirty to sixty minutes per day organizing lists and getting up to date on what we’ve done, what still needs to get done, and so on. It’s time-consuming, but with the number of projects and emails we’re swamped in every day, there’s simply no other way.
What are your favourite ways to eliminate daily distractions and focus on doing what matters?
Phew. Where do we even begin? For starters, our phones are on airplane mode and in drawers most of the time. Sure, friends and family complain about it, but the peace of mind and uninterrupted working are well worth it.
We don’t have a television. We don’t have an XBOX or PlayStation. We don’t have computer games. We don’t have entertainment apps on our phones. We use Firefox Focus as our phone browser. We use Empty New Tab Page to eliminate hot-linked websites on new tab pages. Our apartment is very minimalistic and as clutter-free as possible.
What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self? What advice should they ignore?
Start reading books!!! (Three exclamation marks for a reason.) Get into meditation and mindfulness. Focus on building self-discipline and work ethic. Stop playing video games. Stop getting drunk every weekend. Get clear on your goals, values, and priorities. Figure out where you want to go. Make plans to get there. Don’t sacrifice your integrity, ever. Focus on the process, not the outcome. Stay patient. Play the long game. Pursue self-mastery.
Advice to ignore: Anything coming from people who don’t live their dreams, who aren’t life-long learners, who aren’t humble, who aren’t clearly further along on their path to self-mastery than you.
What 3 books would you recommend to your 18-year-old self and why?
Damn, just three?
- A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle – to learn about the human psyche and get into mindfulness/spirituality.
- The Magic of Thinking Big (Summary), David J. Schwartz – to learn about classic self-help concepts and get into the world of personal development.
- Tools of Titans (Summary), Tim Ferriss – to learn how successful people think and act and what makes them different from the rest.
(Arthur’s Note: Nils and Jonas are also budding authors in their own right! To grab a free copy of their new book, Stop Procrastinating: A Simple Guide to Hacking Laziness, Building Self Discipline, and Overcoming Procrastination, click here)
What do you love most about the work that you’re doing and life that you’re living right now?
We have full control over our schedules. We can take days off when we want to. We can travel whenever we want to. We can choose our own projects. We can write about anything we want.
What are the biggest changes you’ve noticed in yourself over the last 10 years?
- Less judgmental about ourselves and others
- Less rigid on our opinions
- More kind and compassionate
- More disciplined
- More productive
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it what would it say and why?
Oh, there are so many great quotes to choose from. Here’s one of our favourites from the Sufi poet, Rumi:
“Travelers, it is late. Life’s sun is going to set. During these brief days that you have strength, be quick and spare no effort of your wings.”