Overview – 12 key lessons learned this year

This year has been an eventful one full of rich lessons and experiences. Upon reflection, here are some key lessons learned this year that have helped me in my life and I hope will help you in yours.

1. Follow and enjoy the process

This is one of the most important concepts you can ever learn: stick to a process.

In any endeavour we undertake in life, we face challenges. Challenges that at times look insurmountable.

Our emotions at this time can run the gamut—fear, anger, frustration, worry, the lot.

With our head frazzled, we begin to doubt everything involved—the endeavour, others, ourselves.

But if we find a good process and stick to it like a habit, we overcome the challenges eventually as a byproduct.

Contrary to expectations, a good process is freedom. Freedom from self-questioning doubt about what you’re doing. Freedom from the ensnaring bite of impatience. Freedom from the presumptions of others.

If an endeavour is condensed down to a trusted way of improvement and application toward a skillset, it becomes a matter of when, not if you will cross the finish line.

“When you focus on the process of what needs to be done, you’re controlling the controllables. You’re not unrealistic in trying to force things outside of your scope of control to happen nor confused about how you should proceed towards a goal. The process provides and if we stick to it, results will occur eventually.”

For the ultimate combination, find a good process that you enjoy as well. A good process you follow as a habit will drag you over the line. An enjoyable process will have you skipping over it with glee, ready to go for round two.

When in doubt, keep your wits about you and follow the process.

Lessons Learned This Year Process

2. Master awkwardness

We all hate the feeling of awkwardness. As sociable creatures in evolutionary terms, we’re highly sensitive of our emotional standing around others and seek to alleviate any tension we feel in this regard as soon as possible.

The irony is that the most successful people have an ability to endure pain which includes social tension. In fact, not only do they avoid running away from it, they move towards it. They understand that pain is a signal for progress.

As author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss writes: “What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do. As I have heard said, a person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have. Resolve to do one thing every day that you fear.”

It seems paradoxical upon first impression but makes complete sense if you think about it. If you’re willing to do what others can’t do (endure pain such as social tension), you’ll achieve outcomes they won’t.

This is more evident among physical challenges where we see concrete proof that enduring more pain can make one stronger. Lifting weights at the gym, going on lung-busting runs, or even pushing limits with crazy feats are some of the tangible ways we see people becoming fitter, stronger, healthier.

Yet when it comes to cognitive or emotional pain, we’re clueless in applying the same concept. With the risk of scornful eyes judging us, we avoid anything that could be socially awkward like the plague.

Ironically, training ourselves to endure temporary social awkwardness is easier than most physical challenges. It’s just our conditioning has made us think that we’re operating in life or death situations when it comes to speaking to a range of people (as it could have done in our ancestral past) when modern reality is so different.

For instance, it’s objectively easier to approach and start a conversation to someone you find attractive than to fight on the frontlines in a war zone. Yet there are genuinely military men out there that can’t approach a woman they like for fear of rejection.

As for my own quote on the matter:

“One of the big secrets behind charisma and building rapport is being able to ride a wave of initial discomfort until it subsides and you’re able to make the other person feel the positivity that you feel.”

Unlike most physical pain, social discomfort dissipates fairly quickly once you show another person you’re comfortable in their presence. If you’re comfortable in your own skin, they’ll pick up on that and reciprocate this feeling themselves (see ‘State Transference’ below).

Do something that socially challenges you. Embrace (and therefore overcome) any awkwardness you experience and see how much you grow as a result.

Lessons Learned This Year Awkwardness

3. Structure your environment for success

Our environment contains thought triggers and placing yourself in or building an environment conducive to how you want to live is key.

This doesn’t have to mean Feng shui-esque furniture arrangements in your living room. But it does mean being mindful of your day-to-day surroundings and setting them up so they maximise your lifestyle.

For example, how much of your bedroom and/or office is contributive to the aim of the room? We often have junk or background elements we don’t use or need simply because we think we have to pad out the room in the eyes of others.

The other aspect of this concept is lowering the activation energy required for you to do what needs doing. In other words, making it as easy as possible to get started.

If you want the most productive work, make your workstation easy to work at. If you want to learn to DJ, put your DJ setup in an area of the house that will force you to practice. If you want to workout, reduce the friction to getting in the right gear and lifting those first weights.

Don’t underestimate the power of positioning yourself correctly in your environment.

Lessons Learned This Year Environment

4. Feedback

Most of us have heard about the importance of feedback and how we can use it to iterate and improve.

But this year, I learned a nuance about analysing feedback that I never would’ve expected.

Earlier this year, I posed a question in a group chat I’m part of about a skill that I and others in the group were learning. My question was about a specific aspect and I genuinely wanted to know how to improve it.

To my surprise, I ended up getting only one answer despite the group containing hundreds of members. The answer appeared sarcastic and a few other members jeered along. Needless to say, I felt provoked and disappointed that my harmless question led to apparent ridicule rather than concrete feedback.

But once my head had cooled, I realised the feedback was useful.

Reflecting on why I felt uneasiness and tension from the reply I’d received, I speculated whether the reply was one of derision and some other members in the chat ‘ganging up on me’. But the likelihood was 1) the reply wasn’t a personal attack, 2) members weren’t ganging up on me but found the humour in the situation and, 3) there was an element of truth in the reply albeit being a smarmy one.

Did the replier have to coat his answer in such a flippant tone? No. Could he have elucidated his answer further? Yes.

But I realised all I could do was control my thoughts and actions and glean any helpful tidbits from the reply. I was able to look past the smarminess as all that mattered was that I got better at a practice and art form I was learning rather than worry about what others thought of me.

The biggest lesson is that even if the manner in which someone delivers feedback or information is poor (smarminess, bad communication skills, etc.), the actual knowledge conveyed could still be useful and contain elements of truth.

If that element of truth is useful you need to look past the poor delivery if in the long run you will benefit from the knowledge (although not at the expense of a baseline level of self-respect).

Lessons Learned This Year Feedback

5. State Transference

Like many others, I’d always been aware of how our moods affect the people we’re around and vice versa.

But it was only this year I realised how to harness this phenomenon and use it as a positive force.

Welcome to the Law of State Transference. As its name implies, given the potency of social empathy hardwired in us, we can make others feel what we’re feeling which is useful in social settings.

Learning how to embody a positive state to make a person feel that state themselves for most impact is a game changer.

Due to the nature of feedback loops, it’s important to tip the scales to the right side of state transference rather than the opposite side of negativity. As I wrote in ‘The Law Of State Transference: How To Connect With Anyone‘:

“Much of the strength behind the Law of State Transference is in the way it acts as a feedback loop.

If you’re feeling positive, content and engaging, the person you’re interacting with will soon feel the same way associating you with this set of positive emotions they’re now feeling. This will cause you to feel even more confident in your own skin and radiate a continuous positivity in the interaction.

Conversely, if you’re feeling anxious, stiff, bored or any other negative emotion, the other person will pick up on this and have their mood dampened as a result. They’ll associate you with a feeling of negativity and at worst, you’ll internalise this as the person not liking you which can affect your own perception of your self-confidence in social situations.”

Now you know the name of the phenomenon, harness it for yourself.

6. Hanlon’s Razor – Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity

I’ll confess, throughout most of my life I was quick to attribute blame as soon as it became apparent in others. I often jumped to conclusions that annoying or immoral situations on the account of others was due to their malintent.

The reality is that most people aren’t evil. It’s quite taxing for a human being to spend their life waking up thinking of how to undermine others.

With this foundation in mind, it opened me to the possibility that perhaps non ideal situations caused by other people weren’t down to malice but other reasons. Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity” is one such explanation.

And it’s been a useful one. When you realise the complexity of so many situations and how this percolates the chance of misunderstandings and confusion, you realise that so many effects are the result of naivety and a lack of knowledge rather than maliciousness.

Remember to be careful in making judgements about others when you don’t have full information and don’t jump to malice immediately as an explanation for other people’s undesirable behaviour.

Lessons Learned This Year Hanlon's Razor

7. Surface Area/Numbers Game

Another one of the lessons learned this year is the concept of taking more shots which we can simplify into the terms of ‘Surface Area’ or ‘Numbers Game’.

Simply put, if you increase your surface area aka the amount of times you do something, you increase the odds that you’ll hit what you’re targeting.

Many of the greatest sportspeople know this all to well. As a Manchester United fan, growing up I used to see Cristiano Ronaldo miss shot after shot, free kick after free kick in his bid to score. Years later he’s considered one of the greatest footballers of all time with all kinds of world-beating goalscoring records. No one remembers his missed shots but they do remember his goals.

The CEO of OpenAI Sam Altman summarises this concept as follows: “‘Give yourself a lot of shots to get lucky’ is even better advice than it appears on the surface. Luck isn’t an independent variable but increases super-linearly with more surface area—you meet more people, make more connections between new ideas, learn patterns, etc.”

Start embodying this concept today by increasing the volume and exposure of what you’re doing to make the odds work in your favour.

Lessons Learned This Year Surface Area

8. Beware Social Narrowing

Social Narrowing refers to the phenomenon of only sticking to the social circles we know, siloing ourselves off from connecting with other people.

Social Narrowing is a subtle curtailer to a flourishing life. It often goes unnoticed, as most in-group biases do.

Despite the comfort that familiar groups provide, it’s not optimal to ‘close your mind off’ from meeting new people just because you’ve formed the start of a social circle. As I wrote in my article on how to meet people with an open mind:

“But most people don’t apply this same logic to their social circles. We settle for the people we come across sooner in new environments as long as their personality is ‘good enough’ for friendship. We operate on ancient biological hardwiring for modern social paradigms and the juxtaposition between the two shows that behaving in this more ‘archaic manner’ isn’t the most conducive for this day and age.

Now that modern social paradigms differ enormously in size and scope than our ancestral past, we risk holding ourselves back by operating in this same way. The average new person out there is not likely to attack us with spears or steal our food if we stray a tiny bit away from the territorial area of our main social circle. They instead could be a valuable person in our lives once we open the shutter and see them as the human being they are.”

There’s nothing wrong with favouring connections with people you’ve known for a long time. But never let that silo you away from the possibility that a new person could have something valuable to bring to your life.

9. The core of what makes us human is the same wherever you go in the world

One of the undeniable beauties about travel is the lessons you learn about the human condition through the inevitable cross-cultural comparisons that take place when you’re no longer surrounded by your compatriots on a daily basis.

From years of travelling across a variety of places, I’ve learned the important principle that no matter the type of human being someone is, we have more in common with them than differences. 

Without wanting to get too existential, we’re all sacks of flesh and blood living on a giant ball of rock that spins around an even more humongous ball of gas and plasma at a 1000 miles per hour, all situated in a minuscule part of space we call the universe.

We like to think we’re so unique but in the wider context of the existence, we’re not. Our societies make us quick to highlight the differences we have between others to the extent that we forget just how much we have in common with our fellow Homo Sapien brethren.

As I remarked earlier this year:

“In a world where war, conflict and strife are showcased through mass media on a daily basis, it’s easy to forget this. The differences between humans are shoved in our face more than the similarities.

If we go to the edges of human competence we find differences among people, but the overwhelming mass of competence is shared. Despite ‘variations’, we should understand that we have way more similarities among each other that we share in common than we have differences.

This reassuring fact should help place our focus on conviviality and kinship with all others no matter their origins rather than exclusion based on difference.”

Lessons Learned This Year Core Human

10. The power of multi-day challenges

Having successfully started a concept known as the ‘30 Day Challenge’ last year in my own life, I wanted to share it with others more widely.

The 30 Day Challenge is a multi-day gamification of lifestyle design improvement. By gamifying how we tackle aspects of lifestyle design, we combine the power of many of the lessons listed here into one to increase the likelihood that we’ll get to where we want to be.

For example, setting goals to achieve in a month will have you following a good process, using feedback to improve how you carry out that process, and increase the surface area of your actions since you’re forced into doing what you can to succeed by the deadline.

Multi-day challenges are particularly powerful when you’re travelling for an extended time or moving abroad. They put you in a position to take advantage of the novelty that comes from being in a new place and the new people and experiences that are open to you as a result.

For longer periods of time, you can also do the ‘90 Day Challenge’ to get even more out of this activity.

11. Metis vs Techne

Metis and Techne. Two exotic sounding words that contain a lot of ancient wisdom.

Metis tends to deal with the realm of oblique knowledge and that which we might call ‘soft skills’. It’s a fingertip feel, an internalised knack, a knowing cunning which can’t simply be passed on through words but has to be lived and breathed to be learned.

Techne on the other hand covers the areas of hard and objective knowledge. It’s knowledge can be codified into numbers and words and passed on through word of mouth or book learning.

Despite this distinction being made as far back as Ancient Greece, the configuration of the modern world would have us believe that all knowledge or the most important knowledge is techne, that which we can learn in a book or classroom. The problem with this bias is we’re in danger of engendering a lopsided approach to learning in our societies.

There are modern proponents of the importance of metis learning in real world contexts such as public speaking or business using different terms (e.g. ‘biologically primary’/‘biologically secondary’ for metis/techne respectively).

Regardless of the terms used, understanding the distinction between the realms of knowledge will better allow you to calibrate how you learn giving you an advantage in an increasingly lopsided world.

12. Don’t pray for softer seas, build a stronger ship

Most of us dream of an easier life.

We want a stress-free existence devoid of mundane chores and undesirable responsibilities.

We want to only interact with people who have our best interests at heart not ones who drag us down.

We want to swim in an ocean of possibilities with waters that carry us high yet remain calm.

Yet such wishful thinking gets us nowhere. In fact, it misses the point entirely.

You see the human condition is at its best when we have meaningful work oriented towards improving the lives of others, no matter who they are. This means we flourish when we have a cause to fight for.

This cause can be anything—a passion, a job, a vocation, a purpose. But it will need to be stress-tested against the realities of life and that means encountering failures and discomfort in the process of growing outside of the comfort zone.

Paradoxically, the comfort zone is a dangerous place. Calm seas don’t make for strong sailors.

As one person puts it: Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.

Lifestyle design might be a flashy term but at its core, it encompasses personal development. Improving one’s lot such that when difficulties arise in life (and they inevitably will), we’re resilient enough to absorb the shocks and even thrive from them.

We can’t control the hands we’re dealt in a game but we can control how we play them. We can’t control the waves underfoot but we can make our vessel as impeccable as it can be.

Don’t pray for softer seas, build a stronger ship.


Reflecting on lessons learned this year is a useful way of revising the most groundbreaking insights you’ve come across such that the lessons stick with you for good.

In this post, I’ve shared 12 key lessons learned this year that have influenced the way I think and behave and therefore the way I live. These lessons range from wider applications of mental models to practical lifestyle design tips when abroad. Wherever you are, I hope you find them useful.

I’d love to hear what you think about the lessons covered in this post and how you’re applying them. Alternatively, if you have any questions about anything related, you can get in touch on my Contact page and I’d be happy to reply.

Lessons Learned This Year Ship