Hell Yeah or No - Book Highlights

The title of this book is sound wisdom for how to be less overwhelmed. I see it as the art of getting better at understanding what is worth doing. We all struggle with this.

Derek and I talked on the Time Off podcast a while back, and I was buzzing for weeks after our conversation. This book of his has allowed me to continue that buzz on a weekly basis. The book is brief and entertaining, and here are my favorite lines and highlights from my most recent read.


My book highlights from “Hell Yeah or No.” by Derek Sivers. :

Actions, not words, reveal our real values.

No matter what you say, your actions reveal the truth.

Your actions show you what you actually want.

Keep earning your title, or it expires.

But success comes from doing, not declaring.

Why are you doing it?

You can’t diffuse your energy, trying to do a little bit of everything, or you’ll always be in conflict with yourself.

That’s why you need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Know it in advance. Use it as your compass and optimize your life around it. Let the other goals be secondary so that when those decision moments come, you can choose the value that you already know matters most to you.

You know that existing business that you wish you had thought of? Copy it. Why? Because we’re imperfect mirrors. Like a funhouse mirror that distorts what it reflects, your imitation will turn out much different from the original. Maybe even better.

Experience erases prejudice.

Old opinions shouldn’t define who we are in the future.

The public you is not you.

Public comments are just feedback on something you made.

Character predicts your future.

Character isn’t fate or destiny. Character isn’t DNA, decided before birth. Character is the result of your little choices and little actions. How you do anything is how you do everything. It all matters.

My culture isn’t in the center. It’s off on the edge, like one petal in a flower, like they all are. Not right or wrong — just one of many options.

Are you present-focused or future-focused? Both mindsets are necessary. You need a present-focus to enjoy life. But too much present-focus can prevent the deeper happiness of achievement. (I call this “shallow happy” versus “deep happy”.)

The world treats you as you treat yourself. Your actions show the world who you are.

If you’re not feeling “hell yeah!” then say no.

Though it’s good to say yes when you’re starting out, wanting any opportunity, or needing variety, it’s bad to say yes when you’re overwhelmed, over-committed, or need to focus.

It’s one decision, in advance, that the answer to all future distractions is “no” until you finish what you started. It’s saying yes to one thing, and no to absolutely everything else.

People say that your first reaction is the most honest, but I disagree. Your first reaction is usually outdated. Either it’s an answer you came up with long ago and now use instead of thinking, or it’s a knee-jerk emotional response to something in your past.

When you notice that something is affecting your drive, find a way to adjust your environment, even if that’s a little inconvenient for others.

Before you start something, think of the ways it could end. Sometimes the smart choice is to say no to the whole game.

If you’re more driven than most people, you can do way more than anyone expects.

Relax for the same result. It’s been amazing how often everything gets done just as well and just as fast, with what feels like half the effort.

People often ask me what they can do to be more successful. I say disconnect. Even if just for a few hours. Unplug. Turn off your phone and Wi-Fi. Focus. Write. Practice. Create. That’s what’s rare and valuable these days. You get no competitive edge from consuming the same stuff everyone else is consuming. It’s rare, now, to focus. And it gives such better rewards.

It’s not that I hate people. The other best times in my life were with people. But it’s interesting how many highlights were just sitting in a room in that wonderful creative flow, free from the chatter of the world. No updates. No news. No pings. No chats. No surfing.

Some people think they need to go all the way to Thailand to meditate, or to India to learn yoga. But of course these are things they can do for free at home.

Conventional wisdom tells us to do the important and difficult thing first. But doing this boring work moves me from a state of doing nothing to doing something. It makes me feel like doing something important again. So the next time you’re feeling extremely unmotivated, do those things you never want to do anyway.

Instead of comparing up to the next-higher situation, compare down to the next-lower one.

Procrastination hack: change “and” to “or”. Do you have a list of conditions you need to have met before you do something? Try changing “and” to “or.”

There are always more than two options. Great insight comes only from opening your mind to many options. Brainstorm them all, from the hybrids to the ridiculous. It takes under an hour, but has always helped my friends feel less stressed, think clearly, and get excited about decisions that used to feel like dilemmas.

Ideally, asking advice should be like echolocation. Bounce ideas off of all of your surroundings, and listen to all the echoes to get the whole picture.

If by chance it was a dead-end road, then switch your strategy back to trying everything. Eventually your focus on something will pay off. Because you’re successful, you’ll be overwhelmed with opportunities and offers. You’ll want to do them all. But this is when you need to switch strategies again. This is when you learn to say “hell yeah or no” to avoid drowning.

The solution is to think long term. Do just one thing for a few years, then another for a few years, then another.

Don’t be a donkey. You can do everything you want to do. You just need foresight and patience.

To assume you’re below average is to admit you’re still learning. You focus on what you need to improve, not your past accomplishments

Consider yourself as just a student, and your current actions as just practice.

Everything is my fault. What power! Now you’re the person who made things happen, made a mistake, and can learn from it. Now you’re in control and there’s nothing to complain about. As soon as I catch myself blaming anyone for anything, I decide it’s my fault.

My public writing is a counterpoint meant to complement the popular point.

So what if you look past yourself and ask, “What are the odds that this rare thing will happen to someone?” Almost 100 percent. That’s a nice reminder when the odds seem impossible. Amazingly rare things happen to people every day.

Are you holding back something that seems too obvious to share? Maybe what’s obvious to me is amazing to someone else?

Smart and useful isn’t bad. It’s rational, like a machine. But happiness is the oil. Without it, the friction kills the engine.

We all have a need for stability and adventure, certainty and uncertainty, money and expression.

About your art: Pursue it seriously. Take lessons. Make weekly progress. Keep improving, even if you’ve been doing it for decades.

Your main obstacle to this amazing life will be self-control. You’ll need good time management to stop addictions like social media and video-watching, and make your art your main relaxing activity. You’ll need good mind management to not think of your job after you leave the office.

Don’t try to make your job your whole life. Don’t try to make your art your sole income.

Resist the urge to figure it all out in advance. Realize that now, in the beginning, is when you know the least. When people expect you to make these decisions in advance, get used to saying, “We don’t know yet.” Then tell this simple story about walkways to show them how wise you are.

So when should you make decisions? When you have the most information, when you’re at your smartest: as late as possible.

Don’t start a business until people are asking you to.Don’t announce anything. Don’t choose a name. Don’t make a website or an app. Don’t build a system. You need to be free to completely change or ditch your idea. Then you get your first paying customer. Provide a one-on-one personal service. Then you get another paying customer. Prove a real demand. Then, as late as possible, you officially start your business.

It’s so easy to waste time doing stuff that’s not important, not really fun, and not useful to anyone, not even yourself. It’s so hard to fight the resistance to do the more difficult but more important thing. Finishing that book. Writing that song. Launching that project.

The solution is deliberate unlearning. Doubt what I know. Stop the habit of thinking I know it. Require current proof that it’s still true today. Otherwise, let it go.

I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.

The most successful people I know have a narrow focus, protect themselves against time-wasters, say no to almost everything, and have let go of old limiting beliefs.

Smart people don’t think others are stupid. So if you decide someone is stupid, it means you’re not thinking, which is not being smart.

Being stupid means avoiding thinking by jumping to conclusions. Jumping to a conclusion is like quitting a game. You lose by default.

But the act of reading a book is really about you and what you get from it. All that matters is what you do with the ideas, no matter the source. Apply them to your own life in your own way.

So to get smarter, you need to get surprised, think in new ways, and deeply understand different perspectives.

Nothing has inherent meaning. It is what it is and that’s it. We just choose to project meaning onto things. It feels good to make stories.

Goals shape the present, not the future. A bad goal makes you say, “I want to do that some day.” A great goal makes you take action immediately. A bad goal is foggy, vague, and distant. A great goal is so clear, specific, and close you can almost touch it. (This is crucial to keep you going.) A bad goal makes you say, “I’m not sure how to start.” With a great goal, you know exactly what needs to be done next.

Judge a goal by how well it changes your actions in the present moment.

Seeking inspiration? Inspiration is not receiving information. Inspiration is applying what you’ve received. People think that if they keep reading articles, browsing books, listening to talks, or meeting people, they’re going to suddenly get inspired. But constantly seeking inspiration is anti-inspiring. You have to pause the input and focus on your output. For every bit of inspiration you take in, use it and amplify it by applying it to your work. Then you’ll finally feel the inspiration you’ve been looking for. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Life is an ongoing process of choosing between safety (out of fear and need for defense) and risk (for the sake of progress and growth). Make the growth choice a dozen times a day.