How to Live

These books notes are special for many reasons. First of all because, a while ago, I promised myself that I wouldn’t read a “self-help” book again. Yet this one is special for many reasons.

First of all, it comes right from Derek Sivers, one of my favorite authors, and also the one advocating for the very quote that presides this Books section.

If more information was the answer, we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.

Second, because the book looks a lot like the compendium of good habits and routines I wish I had written myself. It is actionable, yet full of contradictory advice. This might sound counterintuitive because you’d expect some kind of direction from such a book, but in the end, you’ll see, it clicks.

Third, because it is well written, concise, and to the point. I can’t emphasize this enough. Each word seems to have been carefully chosen. There’s not a single misplaced sentence, not even the slightest useless or cosmetic adjective that doesn’t add to the conversation. Derek has mastered the art of writing in the way we speak.

And finally, this is a book you would love to revisit often. The way it is structured invites you to come back for more. Straight to a single chapter seeking advice on a particular problem. It is direct, actionable, and because it often contradicts itself, you might each time discover something new.

For example, imagine you come across a given chapter its ideas you already agree upon. The read becomes effortless because it matches your preconceived views of the world — a.k.a. confirmation bias. Yet next to it comes a chapter that states the contrary. A cognitive dissonance starts to manifest within. Carrying on with the book becomes more challenging, even painful. You skim through each paragraph to get over it as if those ideas weren’t speaking to you.

That’s mostly how you read it the first time. You devour the chapters that confirm your views of the world and look past the ones that don’t.

However, and here comes the twist, this dynamic changes when you read it for a second. Like a good song, it grows on you, and start to appreciate the nuggets you might have disdained before. That’s what I found to be the most interesting facet of the book. The contradictions, somehow, start making sense. This might sound counterintuitive, but in the end, it is what life is all about, contradictions — isn’t it?

That’s why instead of making the usual book review — there are really good ones floating out there — I made the unusual. A selfish table of contents with a trivial legend, to keep coming back to it and re-read the chapters in clusters.

It is a little bit twisted, but here’s how it works:

  • Each title represents a cluster, and its number and name map to the chapter that most aligns with its core idea.
  • Then within each cluster, the chapters that also reinforce (=), contradict (!), or become neutral but somehow relate (~), to the core idea.

This map suffers from an extreme personal bias. Each cluster could have been re-written from the opposite point of view inverting the symbols for each chapter, yet I surfaced the ones that matched my preconceptions of the world the time I read it.

1. Be independent

  • ~ 21. Reinvent yourself regularly

2. Commit, 15. Learn, and 23. Create

  • = 8. Master something
    • ! 9. Let randomness rule
  • = 14. Value only what has endured
    • ! 13. Chase the future
  • = 16. Follow the great book
  • ~ 6. Intertwine with the world
  • ! 3. Fill your senses
  • ! 7. Make memories

4. Do nothing

  • = 24. Don’t die
    • ! 25. Make a million mistakes
  • ~ 12. Be a famous pioneer
  • ~ 26. Make change

5. Think super-long-term

  • = 10. Pursue pain
  • = 18. Prepare for the worst
  • ~ 20. Get rich
  • ~ 27. Balance everything
  • ! 11. Do whatever you want now

19. Live for others

  • = 22. Love
  • ~ 17. Laugh at life
First published on July 24, 2021