How To Meditate – Learn With Guided Meditation

Matt Bodnar - How To Meditate

Have you ever wanted to learn how to meditate but couldn’t figure out where to start? Should you focus on“guided meditation” or “unguided” meditation? It can be confusing and overwhelming with so many different methods, ideas, and beliefs about what meditation is and how you should perform it.

At a meditation class in central Vietnam last summer I asked the guru leading our session “what kind of meditation are we performing today?” and he looked at me funny and gave me an answer that threw me for a loop. I thought I  knew a decent amount about meditation at the time, but what he said changed my perspective.

When I was 17 I took a trip across Southeast Asia and that’s when my fascination with meditation began. I bought a book on Zen Buddhism and read it on the plane ride home. Since then meditation was always something that fascinated me, but I never knew exactly how to meditate.  I finally started taking a more serious look at how to meditate a few years ago when I saw that Tim Ferriss meditates every morning.

“Mindfulness” and Being Present

I first started out almost by a whim. I randomly decided to search the phrase “zen garden” on Pandora and ended up with a pretty cool radio of relaxation and meditation music. I was just working peacefully and then I got this really strong urge to just sit down and meditate (having no idea how to meditate or what I was doing).

I had no agenda or plan. I just sat in a loose lotus position (similar to the picture at the start of this post), closed my eyes, and tried to be present and practice “mindfulness” for about 15 minutes. When I first read about how to meditate – so much of the information was about things like “mindfulness” and I wasn’t sure what that even meant, let alone how to practice it.

This impromptu meditation got me into the habit of listening to really soothing zen and meditation music (I’ll share some of my absolute favorite meditation music at the end of this post) a few times a week and practicing what I would later learn was “unguided” meditation.

When I was doing this sort of “unguided” meditation – just trying to clear my thoughts and “be present” (that’s another buzz word you hear a lot when trying to learn how to meditate) I did experience a few moments of euphoria and out of body experiences – but mostly my mind just wandered and I would sometimes feel like I was wasting my time.

You’ve probably had the same problem if you’ve tried to learn how to meditate before, but I could never get fully into the habit of meditation. I would go days or weeks without meditating, and sometimes when I did meditate I felt like I wasn’t really accomplishing anything.

So what was I doing wrong? The good news is – as the  guru leading my meditation class in Vietnam last summer told me – there is no “right way” to meditate. It’s all about what works best for you.

My path of infrequent meditation lasted for a few years before I discovered how to meditate with a method that – at least for me –finally felt “right.”

The Envisioning Method

While on Mixergy, I stumbled upon an absolutely awesome interview with Vishen Lakihani, the founder of MindValley, about how he launched his business. During the interview he went in depth into his daily meditation practice that he calls the “The Envisioning Method” and how it changed his life.

This method is a bit different than the traditional sort of meditation that you’ve heard about before – its not about “mindfulness” or being present – its a kind of guided meditation and each of its six phases are rooted in the science of positive psychology in order to increase happiness, relieve stress, and leave you more focused and energetic.

Vishen is quick to point out that getting caught up in a debate about the definition of meditation is not important. If you want to learn how to meditate – its all about finding a good starting point. This may not fall under traditional definitions of meditation – but the reality is that this method can have a tremendous positive impact on your life – whether your call it meditation or not.

I won’t go into great detail of how this method works – MindValley put together a really well done 20 minute video explaining the entire process – along with a starter mp3 that will guide you through the process until you are familiar with how to do it yourself – all of which you can get for free on this page (note: you do have to put in your email).

The whole process takes between 10 and 20 minutes. To give you a basic overview – the six phases are the following:

  1. Connectedness (Compassion)

  2. Gratitude

  3. Forgiveness

  4. Visualize Your Future

  5. Visualize Your Perfect Day

  6. The Blessing

Honestly every phase has made a huge impact in my life – I think the three most important have been gratitude, forgiveness, and visualizing my future.

Gratitude

If you have never read or heard about gratitude studies in positive psychology –do a few Google searches and research this more on your own.

There is an amazing study that even one week of daily gratitude practice can raise your “happiness set point” 10% up to six months in the future. Even if you don’t use this meditation method – I highly recommend starting some sort of daily gratitude practice.

Forgiveness

The practice of daily forgiveness has also had a tremendous impact on me by letting me take responsibility for my happiness instead of having it rely on external events.

“The weak cannot forgive, forgiveness is an attribute of the strong” – Ghandi

When you look at people who have literally changed our world – like Ghandi and Nelson Mandela – they are showcases for the true power of forgiveness. But the reality is (and science backs this up) – harboring grudges instead of forgiving is bad for you – both mentally and physically.

Visualization

The process of visualization opens up your mind (and more importantly – your subconscious) – to seeing new pathways and opportunities that you would never have dreamed of.

Conditioning your subconscious to believe and accept the new possibilities opens them up as a reality and gives you the subconscious permission to make progress on your biggest goals and dreams.

Meditation Music

When I meditate, I like to listen to very soothing and chill music to center my mind and help me focus. Getting the right music can really help you when you’re starting to learn how to meditate.

My favorite artists to meditate to are David & Steve Gordon. I absolutely love their albums “Garden of Serenity II,” “Gratitude,” and “Music for Meditation – Inner Stillness.” Sometimes the song names can get a little goofy but the music itself is really peaceful and soothing – and most importantly perfect meditation music.

Most of their songs are available on Spotify (except for my absolute favorite song “Zen Garden, Part 1”… yes I bought their CD just for this track) and I’ve linked a few of them on Myspace and GrooveShark so you can have a listen below.

Music for Meditation – Inner Stillness

Zen Garden

If you like this kind of meditation music – just search around on Spotify or Pandora and you can find all kinds of great tracks to help you relax and focus your mind.

The meditation music helps you center yourself no matter when or where you decided to meditate. When I’m on the road I just plug some headphones in and meditate on the floor of my hotel (or wherever I am staying) when I get up.

How To Meditate For Beginners

Learning how to meditate can be confusing, but if you are serious about trying meditation out in your life you should give the envisioning method a shot. This meditation method has really made a huge difference for me and I finally feel like I’ve found the “right” method for myself.

At the end of the day – if you want to learn how to meditate – you have to find a meditation method that is right for you too.

Vishen’s “Envisioning Method” is an absolutely great place to start with some simple and impactful guided meditation. You don’t need to do anything other than que up some great music and listen to his guided MP3 a few times until you have the process down. At the start it will take about 20 minutes per day, but once you have the process memorized you can squeeze in a 10 or 15 minute session when are shorter on time.

Like any new habit – I recommend trying this out for 5 days in a row to see if you like it. If you can make it that far, chances are you will stick with it (and reap all the awesome benefits).

Another great tool for keeping yourself accountable on a daily basis is lift.do – there are a number of simple meditation plans you can sign up for and check in daily.

Thanks you for reading this and I hope you discovered how to meditate and what you can do to start meditation today.

If you love meditation and you want to take your mental game to the next level – you should read this post on three things that will shift your reality.

Three Big Ideas That Will Change Your Reality

Transform your reality.

I believe in constantly challenging my assumptions, thinking outside the box, and pushing myself to the limit of transformation – constantly expanding my horizons both mentally and physically.

In the last 60 days I have completely transformed my perception of myself, reality, and the world.

In November I  joined “The Foundation” – a 6 month online mentoring program for software startups. As you may notice from some of my older posts here, I have been a huge fan of the ideas of Dane Maxwell for a long time.

Dane has one of the most unique ways of the looking at the world (much the same reason that I like Tim Ferriss) and he takes a lot of this unconventional thought to a whole new level – well beyond even the awakening I had after reading the 4HWW for the first time.

After emailing this list of links out to friends again and again, I decided that I needed to put them in a blog post so I could share these eye opening ideas with as many people as possible.

Here are three “big ideas” that I have taken away from The Foundation. I wanted to share with you a few podcasts, videos and interviews that encapsulate each of these concepts.

Focus On Changing Your Mindset First

“If you play the game at the belief level, everything shifts.” – Dane Maxwell

The single biggest and most important takeaway for me was to focus on understanding and eliminating my limiting beliefs. This single shift, which requires some seriously deep emotional thinking, has transformed the way that I act and think about the world.

“The framework is this:

The beliefs you have lead to the feelings you feel.

The feelings you feel lead to the thoughts you think.

The thoughts you think lead to the actions you take.

The actions you take lead to the results you get.

So, instead of focusing just on the actions or the thoughts – go to your deepest level – your beliefs about the world – make one minor shift in your beliefs and you will see a ripple effect on everything in your life.”

– Andy Drish

If you check out nothing else from this post, listen to this podcast immediately. This one hour podcast really sums up most of the core lessons that I have taken away from Andy and Dane at the Foundation – and has a big discussion about limiting beliefs that opened my eyes to the power of uncovering and demolishing your limits.

If you want to find out more specifics on reversing and breaking down limiting beliefs, check out this 30 minute video where Dane explains the process.

I have also included a few more links at the end of this post for those who want to do a deeper dive into discovering their own limiting beliefs.

Forget ‘Finding Your Passion’

Do you struggle with the notion of finding your passion? Do you waffle around between ideas or keep waiting until you find that perfect fit where you will be in harmony with what you are doing?

“Because of.. the myth that you have to be passionate about your idea to do it. My thought is most successful entrepreneurs have done so many different things. You couldn’t even point to what their passion is.” – Hiten Shah

The whole concept creates a tremendous amount of frustration, confusion and dissatisfaction. Instead, highly successful software entrepreneur Hiten Shah (founder of Kiss Metrics) says – optimize for learning and forget trying to find your passion.

“I would just emphasize what you want to learn about. If you want to learn about marketing because you think it’s really important to any idea then just go learn about marketing and try different things and you’ll pretty much find what you’re aligned with, right? If you’re really dying to build software online and build software as a service products or learn how to program because you think that that’s what you need to do then just go learn it. Just start learning. Figure out what you think you’re most attracted to and start learning it.” – Hiten Shah

Focusing on learning removes fear and ego from the equation – it creates a path forward and a framework for you to stay resilient even in tough times.

If you’re optimizing for learning fear doesn’t come into the equation because you’re always seeking new things, seeking how to do something better, seeking the best way to do it, seeking the knowledge and so fear isn’t even part of the equation, it’s not even the thought that comes to mind because you’re like, “Well, how can I learn how to do that?”  -Hiten Shah

Here’s the full interview with Andy Drish and Hiten Shah. One of my business partners told me that listening to this interview was one of the single biggest turning points in his business career – I highly recommend checking it out.

Take Action, Quickly and Often

One of the largest mistakes you can make is not taking enough action – even if you are unsure what direction you are moving in (isn’t that the essence of being an entrepreneur anyway?).

“Recklessly take action on everything. If you wait to feel good before you take action, you’re totally screwed” – Dane Maxwell

To be a successful entrepreneur you have to have an action bias. Peter Shallard “the shrink for entrepreneurs” breaks down the reasons behind this philosophy in this great one hour interview with Andy Drish.

“Focus on [] relentlessly trying to shorten the gap between having an idea and acting on it. … There’s certain things in business that school, high school and your parents just won’t prepare you for. And college won’t prepare you for. Nothing will prepare you for other than doing it. The biggest problem I see is that people have these ideas. They’re like, “Oh, I should try this,” like X, Y, Z marketing tactic or “I should build a website or whatever,” and then they think about it and trying to decide whether or not it’s right; whether or not the strategy is correct.

They really are thinking about strategy very, very carefully. But when you’re just starting out I think that you should road test everything. Any idea that you have should be implemented as quickly as possible and then you make your deductions based on real world results. Experiential data rather than kind of sitting there brainstorming and doing planning. In a way what I’m saying is kind of to over exaggerate it. Don’t plan anything, just do a bunch of stuff.” – Peter Shallard

That’s pretty powerful stuff right? The phase “relentlessly shorten the gap between ideas and action” has become a huge focus for me.

Here is an amazing video with Noah Kagan (founder of App Sumo) and Tim Ferriss (one of my favorite authors of all time) where Noah shows in real time how quickly you can break down an idea and take meaningful action – instead of pretending to make progress. I’m still amazed every time I watch this video, the clarity of thought that Noah brings to the table is just astounding.

Extra Credit – More on Removing Limiting Beliefs

Here are a few more resources for digging deeper on the limiting belief front.

More on the the “Four Questions” for reversing limiting beliefs, this framework is originally from renowned psychologist Byron Katie.

These 2 posts by entrepreneur Rob Scott are also fantastic resources on how our mindset impacts our thoughts and actions and how we have to focus on shifting our subconscious before we do anything else. Rob’s work within the Foundation was one of the most powerful things I have experienced so far.

Mindset is the most important thing.

The power of the subconscious. (this video is eye-opening if you ever feel like you’ve been stuck in a rut)

Thank You

Thank you so much for reading this post. I really hope some of these ideas have as profound an impact for you as they have had for me.

Here’s a quick recap of the three big ideas:

  1. Shift your mindset first

  2. Optimize for learning

  3. Shorten the gap between ideas and actions

If you even start implementing one of them in your life it could have a huge impact.

If you’re looking for a few books that also fit within this eye opening worldview, I would highly recommend checking this post out as well.

Thank you again for reading.

Image credit to Hartwig HKD on Flickr.

The Best Books I Read In 2013

 

I hope you like my new video content about the best books I read in 2013. Below is the list of books, the links are affiliate links to Amazon.

Paper Books

 

Kindle Books

 

Audiobooks

 

Here are a few other links to some of the other things I mentioned in my video. Hope you enjoy!

Really cool NPR interview with Paul Davies of Cosmic Jackpot.

Here is a link to Rob Kelly’s Blog (the book I was waving around at the start of the video).

My recent blog post about my favorite quotes from The Launchpad (yay Kindle).

Thanks again for reading my blog.

 

Do Less, Achieve More – The Personal Operating System

standing on the edge

“I’m swamped! So much to do and so little time! I’m never going to get it all done.” 

Sound familiar?

Take a step back from the precipice my friend.

“Being busy is a form of laziness, lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. The key to not feeling rushed is remembering that lack of time is actually a lack of priorities.” – Tim Ferriss

I’m just as lazy and unfocused as anyone else. Sometimes I can barely get anything done. I get sidetracked. I play too many video games. But I also accomplish much more than the average person. It’s not because I’m smarter or better or more motivated, it’s because I have a system that compensates for my laziness.

It’s called a Personal Operating System. It’s a set of rules and principles that govern my behavior. Systems are essential to running a successful business, why wouldn’t you also implement a system to run your life?

My Personal Operating System is based around a few core principles for maximizing productivity and output.

  • Schedule and ritual are essential to free working memory and avoid decision fatigue – automate the unimportant areas of life and save your creativity and decision making power for the few important and high impact items.
  • A personal operating system helps compensate for lack of productivity or motivation. A good system lets you recover and ensures that the few things you do accomplish have the highest leverage impact possible.
  • You have to get good at letting the little bad things happen or wait, so you can get the big things done. It’s not because I don’t have the time. This is a really important distinction – it is because I don’t have the attention.
  • Perform a regularly scheduled 80/20 analysis. Your to-do list should be only the highest leverage positive 20%; your not-to-do list should be to avoid the most negative 20% of people and activities. More on how to perform an 80/20 analysis.
  • Focus on eliminating as much as possible before doing more. What are the psychic anchors tethering me to the ground and creating stress?

The message is simple – focus on scheduling and automating as much as possible, zero in your activity on the highest leverage things you are doing, and cut out the rest.

I crunched my Operating System down into a one page PDF.  It’s part motivational quotes, part philosophy, and all about getting the right things done.

I review these principles first thing every Monday morning when I wake up. I also have a print-out pinned to my wall. I pull it out and read it over whenever I feel like I am losing focus or not accomplishing what I want.

You can download the PDF right here.

If you want to learn more about the philosophies underpinning my Personal Operating System, I highly recommend checking out the blog of Tim Ferriss and in particular a fantastic Mixergy interview he did recently that flushes out many of these ideas in more depth.

Image  Credit to Simon Harrod on Flickr.

How To Perform An 80/20 Analysis

Want to be more productive? Start by cutting out wasted time and focusing on the few highest leverage activities you can.

Sounds great, right? The problem is, of course, how do you actually DO that? The cornerstone of productivity is having simple and easy processes that enable you to follow through and pick back up when you slip.

One of the things I perform on a regularly scheduled basis is an “80/20 Analysis” of everything in my life.

If you’re unfamiliar with the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, check out this great article on Lifehacker about it. The core message is that most things we do are largely irrelevant and the “vital few” have an outsized impact on our lives.

Performing a regular 80/20 analysis has been an invaluable tool for me, and I wanted to share the template that I use to organize my own thoughts whenever I perform one.

GET IN THE MINDSET

Mindset is one of the most critical elements of success. You absolutely have to get your mindset right first. Tony Robbins frequently says that more than 80% of success is psychology. Here are some great quotes from Tim Ferriss to help you get your mind in the right place to conduct an 80/20 analysis.

“The goal is to find your inefficiencies in order to eliminate them and to find your strengths so you can multiply them.” – Tim Ferriss

“Simplicity requires ruthlessness.” Tim Ferriss

Do 80/20 analysis constantly, so to analyze also the 20% of people or activities that are creating 80+% of my stress, consuming 80+% of my time, and as is almost always the case, the stuff that was consuming the most time did not overlap very much with the 20% that was most important.

On a regular schedule you’ll sit and do that 80/20 analysis and ask yourself what’s the 20% of my life that’s getting me the most impact, the 80% impact, and how do I stop doing the rest.

Look at the 20% that are the highest leverage positive things and I’ll focus on those. I’ll look at then the 20% most negative things that are consuming the most time, and try to eliminate those. There’s quite a bit in-between that in the end, often takes care of itself, but really keeping your eye ball of your to-do list are the 80-20 positive, and the not-to-do list for the 80-20 negative is huge. 

When I’m really feeling overwhelmed, I actually focus on the negative, which is a good thing. I focus on eliminating as much as possible before I focus on doing more. What can I get rid of? What are the psychic anchors, which are like, tethering me to the ground where I’m trying to sprint forward, but I’m just dragging this weight behind me. I focus on a massive elimination first. I try to remove as much as possible so that I have fewer moving pieces to think about. So elimination is a huge part of why I get anything done.”

Tim Ferriss

STEP ONE – FOCUS

  •  Mute Cell Phone
  •  Close Outlook
  •  Close Chrome (or any other Browser)
  •  Take out a pad of Graph Paper

STEP TWO – THE CORE 80/20

Ask each question and brainstorm / write the answers down BY HAND on a sheet of paper. 

BUSINESS

  • What 20% of sources are creating 80% of my problems and unhappiness?
  • What 20% of sources are resulting in 80% or my desired outcomes & happiness?

PERSONAL LIFE

  • What 20% of sources are creating 80% of my problems and unhappiness?
  • What 20% of sources are resulting in 80% or my desired outcomes & happiness?

STEP THREE – THE FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS

  • If I was completely incapacitated and had to work two hours per day – what would I focus on?
  • If I was even more incapacitated and had to work two hours per WEEK – what would I focus on getting done?
  • What are the top three activities I use to fill time to feel as though I’ve been productive? What are my CRUTCH activities?
  • When do I feel STARVED FOR TIME? What commitments, thoughts, and people can I eliminate to fix this problem?

STEP FOUR – ACTION

  • 20% highest leverage positive things -> Defines TO DO LIST
  • 20% most negative things (eliminate) -> Defines NOT TO DO LIST
  • What is the financial impact (or other impact) of these activities?
  • Can these activities be eliminated? How?
  • Can these activities be delegated? How?
  • Can these activities be automated? How?
  • Define CONCRETE steps (especially next steps) for how to do each of the above.
  • Focus on eliminating as much as possible FIRST.

 

I made this into a downloadable PDF copy that you can get here if you want one for yourself.

Many of these quotes and ideas are from the blog of author Tim Ferriss and recent interview he did on Mixergy.com which I highly recommend checking out.

Hope you enjoyed this post and that it helps you become more productive.

My Favorite Places To Eat In New York City (And The 101 Best Restaurants In America)

I lived in NYC for a couple years out of school while I was working on Wall Street. Needless to say, I took full advantage of the amazing restaurant scene the city has to offer.

This list is by no means even close to comprehensive or complete – but I wanted to share some of my favorite spots – broken out more or less into a few different categories depending on what you are looking for.

This is an intentionally limited list of places to visit – the NYC restaurant scene can be so overwhelming sometimes its better to have fewer choices than too many.

Exceedingly Pricey Or Impossible To Get In Or Both

  • Per Se (very hard to get in)
  • Momofuku Ko (very hard to get in, but not as expensive)
  • Masa (this is one of the top 10 most expensive Sushi restaurants in the world)
  • Le Bernadin

Expensive But Not Crazy Expensive

  • Jean Georges
  • Daniel
  • Del Posto
  • Gramercy Tavern
  • Gotham Bar & Grill
  • Gordon Ramsay at the London
  • Adour Alain Ducasse

Midrange… A Bit More Casual But Still Great

  • Marc Forgione (I love this spot, most recent inductee into Iron Chefdom)
  • Bobo in the West Village (not to be confused with Babbo.. order the duck breast!)
  • Babbo
  • Momofuku Ssam Bar (Pork Buns… Mandatory. But the real deal is Bo Ssam, an entire pork butt. Need a minimum of 6 people and reserve 1 day in advance)
  • Hearth (Marco Canora)
  • WD~50 (crazy weird / molecular gastronomy)
  • The Breslan @ Ace Hotel
  • Minetta Tavern
  • Graffiti
  • Eataly
  • Shake Shack
  • Crif Dog
  • Momofuku Noodle
  • Momofuku Milk Bar (can you tell I’m a huge fan of David Chang? Check out this awesome profile of him)
  • Korilla BBQ (bonus addition… this is technically a Food Truck)

Coffee & Breakfast Spots

  • Stumptown @ the Ace Hotel (Stumptown… my favorite coffee of all time, check out my NYC Coffee Adventures for a few more spots)
  • Café Condesa in West Village (must order – Chorizo Croissant Sandwich)

Unique Bar Scenes

  • Wilfie & Nell
  • PDT aka Please Don’t Tell (need to call at 3pm same day to get reservations – extremely exclusive mixology bar with a secret entrance inside a phone booth)

The 101 Best Restaurants In America

And, as promised, the Daily Mail’s recent list of the 101 Best Restaurants in America. Read the full thing here.

They put together a tremendous resource  for finding the absolute best dining experiences across the United States. Congrats to Nashville locals Catbird Seat for making the list!

  1. The French Laundry, Yountville, Calif.
  2. Gramercy Tavern, New York, N.Y.
  3. Le Bernardin, New York, N.Y.
  4. Momofuku Ssäm Bar, New York, N.Y.
  5. Eleven Madison Park, New York, N.Y.
  6. Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, N.Y.
  7. ABC Kitchen, New York, N.Y.
  8. Babbo, New York, N.Y.
  9. Girl & the Goat, Chicago, Ill.
  10. Cochon, New Orleans, La.
  11. Shake Shack, New York, N.Y.
  12. Jean Georges, New York, N.Y.
  13. Daniel, New York, N.Y.
  14. Alinea, Chicago, Ill.
  15. Chez Panisse, Berkeley, Calif.
  16. Del Posto, New York, N.Y.
  17. Per Se, New York, N.Y.
  18. Commander’s Palace, New Orleans, La.
  19. Zuni Cafe, San Francisco, Calif.
  20. Animal, Los Angeles, Calif.
  21. Gotham Bar & Grill, New York, N.Y.
  22. Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles, Calif.
  23. Bouchon Bistro, Yountville, Calif.
  24. Husk, Charleston, S.C.
  25. Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas, Nev.
  26. Franklin BBQ, Austin, Texas
  27. Mission Chinese, San Francisco, Calif.
  28. August, New Orleans, La.
  29. Masa, New York, N.Y.
  30. Bar Tartine, San Francisco, Calif.
  31. Marea, New York, N.Y.
  32. WD-50, New York, N.Y.
  33. Vetri, Philadelphia, Pa.
  34. Beast, Portland, Ore.
  35. The Publican, Chicago, Ill.
  36. Ippudo, New York, N.Y.
  37. Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Va.
  38. Blackbird, Chicago, Ill.
  39. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, New Haven, Conn.
  40. Galatoire’s, New Orleans, La.
  41. Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, New York, N.Y.
  42. La Taqueria, San Francisco, Calif.
  43. Bazaar, Los Angeles, Calif.
  44. Torrisi Italian Specialties, New York, N.Y.
  45. Guy Savoy, Las Vegas, Nev.
  46. Spiaggia, Chicago, Ill.
  47. Xi’An Famous Foods, Queens, N.Y.
  48. Di Fara, Brooklyn, N.Y.
  49. Spago, Los Angeles, Calif.
  50. Next, Chicago, Ill.
  51. Cut, Los Angeles, Calif.
  52. Coi, San Francisco, Calif
  53. Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, Brooklyn, N.Y.
  54. Quince, San Francisco, Calif.
  55. FIG, Charleston, S.C.
  56. Michael Mina, San Francisco, Calif.
  57. é by José Andrés, Las Vegas, Nev.
  58. Frasca Food & Wine, Boulder, Colo.
  59. NoMad, New York, N.Y.
  60. Bern’s Steak House, Tampa, Fla.
  61. Alan Wong’s, Honolulu, Hawaii
  62. O-Ya, Boston, Mass.
  63. Clio, Boston, Mass.
  64. State Bird Provisions, San Francisco, Calif.
  65. Komi, Washington, D.C.
  66. Craigie on Main, Cambridge, Mass.
  67. TRU, Chicago, Ill.
  68. Yardbird Southern Table and Bar, Miami, Fla.
  69. McCrady’s, Charleston, S.C.
  70. Joe’s Stone Crab, Miami, Fla.
  71. Kreuz Market, Lockhart, Texas
  72. Lucques, Los Angeles, Calif.
  73. Le Pigeon, Portland, Ore.
  74. SriPraPhai, Queens, N.Y.
  75. Hominy Grill, Charleston, S.C.
  76. Zahav, Philadelphia, Pa.
  77. Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix, Ariz.
  78. Al Di La, Brooklyn, N.Y.
  79. City Grocery, Oxford, Miss.
  80. The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, Calif.
  81. Fore Street, Portland, Maine
  82. Michael’s Genuine, Miami, Fla.
  83. Jaleo, Las Vegas, Nev.
  84. Al Forno, Providence, R.I.
  85. Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare, Las Vegas, Nev.
  86. Dahlia Lounge, Seattle, Wash.
  87. The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tenn.
  88. Canlis, Seattle, Wash.
  89. Congress, Austin, Texas
  90. Underbelly, Houston, Texas
  91. Catbird Seat, Nashville, Tenn.
  92. Woodshed Smokehouse, Fort Worth, Texas
  93. Sushi Yasuda, New York, N.Y.
  94. Fearing’s, Dallas, Texas
  95. Minibar, Washington, D.C.
  96. The Four Seasons, New York, N.Y.
  97. Benu, San Francisco, Calif.
  98. Stella!, New Orleans, La.
  99. Providence, Los Angeles, Calif.
  100. Rasika, Washington, D.C.
  101. Lola, Cleveland, Ohio

Lastly, a friend of mine recently started a blog all about New York City – really great read and has a bunch of stuff worth checking out if you are visiting or live in NYC.

Hope you enjoy and as always – stay tuned on Twitter.

Image Credit KayOne73 on Flickr.

 

Social Media 101 – Your Social Media Reading Homework

Social media is the future of advertising and brand engagement and it can have a powerful impact on you and your business, but many people struggle to even understand its basics.

What most marketers don’t get is that the reason social media is powerful is not the platform itself – it is that unlike the era of mass media – social media lets you connect directly with the people.

That is its true strength. Seth Godin puts this perfectly into context in his blog post “What’s Your People Strategy?

Hard to imagine a consultant or investor asking the CMO, “so, what’s your telephone strategy?”

We don’t have a telephone strategy. The telephone is a tool, a simple medium, and it’s only purpose is to connect us to interested human beings.

And then the internet comes along and it’s mysterious and suddenly we need an email strategy and a social media strategy and a web strategy and a mobile strategy.

No, we don’t.

It’s still people. We still have one and only one thing that matters, and it’s people.

All of these media are conduits, they are tools that human beings use to waste time or communicate or calculate or engage or learn. Behind each of the tools is a person. Do you have a story to tell that person? An engagement or a benefit to offer them?

Figure out the people part and the technology gets a whole lot simpler.

Now its time for you to build your own people strategy. Here is a list of a few of my absolute favorite books on the subject. I’ve tried to keep this list as short and sweet as possible. It’s time to hit the stacks!

Core Curriculum

Crush It! (Amazon)

The seminal piece by social media legend Gary Vaynerchuck. You can probably read the entirety of Crush It in less than an hour. This book won’t wow you with a ton of never before seen social media secrets, but the raw power of Gary V’s enthusiasm, and the fact that he was one of the first people to realize the true potential of social media – make this book the starting place for any social media reading list.

If you consider yourself well versed in the basics – you can probably get away with skipping this one. But if you are clueless to social media and its potential – this is a mandatory starting place. This book answers the “Why” of social media. Here’s a picture of my favorite chapter in Crush It! (and one of the most important lessons in social media)

Smarter, Faster, Cheaper (Amazon)

I originally discovered David Siteman-Garland when looking around for website similar to Mixergy. He does a great web video / podcast series called Rise to the Top where he interviews entrepreneurs and talks about their success stories.

David’s first book – Smarter, Faster, Cheaper – is probably the book I most recommend to people who really want to dive in and learn how to build great content and develop the core of a successful social media strategy. I’ve given away several copies as gifts and lent my own copy out several times (still waiting to get it back from the latest friend I’ve lent it to). This book really delivers concrete actionable steps that can help you build a robust social media strategy based around rock solid content and execute it.  This book answers the “How” of social media.

Trust Agents (Amazon)

For the best summary of Trust Agents – check out my 23 Favorite Kindle Highlights from the book. Trust Agents is a lot like Smarter Faster Cheaper but with a business focus. Smarter Faster Cheaper is all about how to build and execute an effective social media strategy around you and your personal brand (a book for mediapreneurs as he calls it), Trust Agents focuses on doing it within the context of an existing corporation or business with a sales and customer service tint.

 

Extra Credit

These books don’t form the core of my thoughts on social media but I think each one really drills down on some of the foundations behind any successful social media strategy.

Never Eat Alone (Amazon)

Absolutely awesome book by Keith Ferrazi.  Never even mentions social media as this is a book about traditional networking, but this book redefines the entire concept. This book changed the way that I thought about networking and what it means – it’s not mashing your business card into as many hands as possible – it’s all about being a resource, helping other people become more successful, and giving more than you get. Turns out that is exactly how you succeed with social media.

Raving Fans (Amazon)

An oldie but a goodie. Written well before the time of social media this book is all about customer service. But the core message underlying the book should be the backbone of any social media plan. You have to care deeply about each one of your customers (or followers) and take the time to defy their expectations. This book is another quick read told through an easy to remember parable.

22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (Amazon)

Tim Ferriss called this one of his Top Five Must Read Books. Another one that you can get through in an hour or two. The core message here is that defining your own niche – or your own game as Trust Agents would say – is essential to any successful marketing strategy.

Linchpin (Amazon)

Seth Godin is widely regarded as one of the marketing geniuses of our time. Known for his pithiness, Godin’s book Linchpin can ironically ramble on at times.  I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of most of this book, but the single chapter titled “The Resistence” is worth the entire book and more. This chapter, riffing on the famous Steve Jobs line “Real Artists Ship” is all about overcoming your fears and objections and really putting yourself out there – an essential piece not only for social media success but for anyone who wants to achieve something big.

 

Bonus Blog Posts

Last but not least, I couldn’t help but include a few social media blog posts as well.

How to Build Great Content

1000 True Fans (by Wired founder Kevin Kelly)

How To Build a High Traffic Blog Without Killing Yourself

Three Minute Crash Course in Personal Branding

Giving is the core of any successful social media strategy.

Hope you enjoy this reading list and hit me up on Twitter!

Nashville Bucket List – Top Local Restaurants, Speakeasies & Coffee Shops

Mixologist?

I am a huge fun of supporting local establishments in Nashville – and luckily for me there are a ton of delicious spots in town – no matter what you are looking for. Given that we have been named “Nowville” by GQ and one of the “hottest cities in America” by the New York Times – I wanted to celebrate a few local spots and share them with everyone.

I keep this list for myself (hmm where should I go to dinner tonight?) and to be honest I haven’t even eaten at every restaurant on here, but I thought it would be great to share with everyone anyway.

Leave me comments and get your favorite spots added as well!

SOUTHERN FOOD & LUNCH

  • Arnolds
  • Prince’s Hot Chicken
  • Monell’s
  • Loveless Cafe
  • Martin’s BBQ Joint
  • Burger Up
  • Mas Taco
  • Sloco Sandwich Shop
  • Local Taco
  • Pharmacy Burger

DINNER SPOTS & NICER PLACES

  • Silly Goose
  • Margo
  • Marchete
  • The Southern
  • Silo
  • Tavern
  • City House
  • Catbird Seat
  • Etch
  • Rumor’s East
  • Lockeland Table
  • Smiling Elephant
  • Watermark
  • The Bound’ry
  • Flyte
  • Capitol Grill at the Hermitage
  • Manja
  • Rolf & Daughters
  • PM Nashville

 SPEAKEASY

  • Patterson House
  • Holland House
  • Corsair’s Tasting Room

COFFEE HOUSES

  • The Well
  • Barista Parlor
  • Crema Coffee
  • Fido
  • Frothy Monkey
  • The Jam Coffee House

Updated as of 2/14/13 – Thanks everyone for the suggestions!

Check out this post on the top restaurants in America.

Follow me on Twitter to keep up with my latest adventures.

29 Lessons from Paul Graham & Y Combinator – Advice for Startups

Hacker News was originally recommended to me by this crazy Czech guy named Jan Sramek. Jan flew in from London to New York and happened to be in my training class when I first started working at Goldman.

Jan, who is currently one of the founders of a stealth mode startup in Switzerland called Erudify, was sort of an oddity to us. Not only had Jan already written a Self Help Book by the ripe age of 22, but he also seemed to have an entire PR team lauding all these wild feats and accomplishments he had achieved in the UK during his undergrad years.

I knew he was a pretty smart guy and I would always pick his brain about what he was reading, thinking, etc.  One day I asked him if he knew any good blogs to read. I was bored and looking for some good stuff other than mashing refresh on the WSJ website and Bloomberg over and over again.

That happened to be one of the most fortuitous questions I’ve ever asked in my life. Not only did Jan recommend Tim Ferriss’s blog to me but he also shared Hacker News.

I still remember sitting at my desk as all the blog posts and news stories on Hacker News filled my head with entrepreneurial daydreams. Meanwhile I was stuck sitting there 14 hours a day with my eyes glued to the markets.

Since Y Combinator runs Hacker News, I instantly wanted to read the book “The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s Most Exclusive School for Startups” as soon as I heard about it.

Launch Pad is a quick read and I definitely recommend it for anyone interested in startup life or wanting to learn more. I learned a ton about Y Combinator and a bunch of its companies (Rap Genius and Code Academy are two that I discovered – and both kick ass).

Below are all of my Kindle highlights (29 in total) from the book.  I wanted to share them to give you a taste of what the book is like.

The twenty-five-year-old had the most advantages, which included “stamina, poverty, rootlessness, colleagues, and ignorance.”

If you’re not fully focusing on your product to the exclusion of all else, you’re wasting your time.

“There’s so much luck involved with startups you increase your odds of success by swinging the bat multiple times. Each time you do something that isn’t swinging the bat, you theoretically decrease your odds of success,”

No one asked ‘Should we fix payments, or build a recipe site?’ and chose the recipe site. Though the idea of fixing payments was right there in plain sight, they never saw it, because their unconscious mind shrank from the complications involved. You’d have to make deals with banks. How do you do that? Plus you’re moving money, so you’re going to have to deal with fraud, and people trying to break into your servers. Plus there are probably all sorts of regulations to comply with. It’s a lot more intimidating to start a startup like this than a recipe site. When Patrick Collison was asked what he thought about Graham’s point about the intimidating nature of a big problem, Collison politely dissented, arguing that what should be emphasized was that addressing a hard-to-solve problem is actually not as hard as everyone thinks: founders and employees alike are inspired to work harder than if they were taking on the mundane. [Referencing Stripe]

One’s environment is critically important to one’s productivity.

“Here’s how to generate new ideas. Three things. One: founders are target users. Two: not many people could build it, but founders are among them. Three: few people realize it is a big deal.”

“Ask yourself: ‘What do I wish someone would start a startup to do for me?’” says Graham. “The next best thing: something for someone else that you know is a problem.”

The best kind of thing to work on – and I appreciate this is going to be somewhat abstract or higher-level advice – the thing you want to work on is, there’s this need that’s really clear and you can just launch some shitty site and people just start using it.

Friends can mislead, Taggar says. His advice: address what businesses need, not what consumers say they would use.

“One of the big things they focus on is ‘proxy for demand.’ Which basically means when looking at some new idea, they want to see what people are doing at the moment? What kinds of crappy solutions are they hacking together at the moment.” They’ll ask founders who are building a product what their future users are doing right now. “If the answer is, ‘No one is really doing it at the moment’—a lot of people think that’s a good answer, but it’s not. Because it means they’re not desperate for it.”

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of the product you’ve launched, you’ve launched too late.”

He suggests that startups set a specific weekly target for growth, which can be measured in terms of revenue or users or something else, but should be essential to the startup. Anything that is not directly related to that metric is to be pushed to the wayside.

“I’m always a fan of, rather than trying to do huge, radical releases of stuff, just test out theories, the easy, simple way, and just see if anything starts happening,”

“The gold standard of weekly revenue growth is 10 percent a week. That’s insanely high. That works out to 142x a year.”

This is a strange question to pose, because, in startup life, commitment comes in only one size: total.

“They don’t fuck around, right? The startups that succeed, they don’t go to meet-ups, they don’t run around talking to boards of advisers, they just write code and talk to customers, right?” This is Graham’s oft-repeated mantra, too. Write code and talk to customers.

“We did it because we want their software to be good,” he explained. He mocked the “professional” notion that work and life are supposed to occupy separate spheres. In a startup that begins in an apartment, the founders work odd hours, wearing the most casual of clothing. They look at whatever they want online without worrying whether it’s “work safe.” The cheery, bland language of the office is replaced by wicked humor. And you know what? The company at this stage is probably the most productive it’s ever going to be.

In the YC universe, business schools are deemed so useless that no one bothers to expend any energy in remarking upon their irrelevance to software startups. The only question relating to formal education that does draw attention is whether to finish or even go to college.

Only to the basic YC tenets: work on code and talk with customers; launch fast and iterate; focus on one measurable weekly goal.

“The way to get really big returns is to do things that seem crazy,” he wrote in 2007, “like starting a new search engine in 1998, or turning down a billion-dollar acquisition offer”—a reference to Facebook.

“It will all come to what they feel in their gut about you guys as founders. If you seem”—he pauses again—“you know, fearsome, like you’re going to take over the world, then they’ll think, ‘OK, these guys are going to take over the world, and there’s definitely a world here for them to take over,’ right?”

The transition that makes people seem more confident, more resourceful, and tough—right?—that’s what you get out.

The YC User’s Manual tells founders that even in the very best case, when an investor is paying close attention, information equivalent to only four or five sentences will be absorbed from a presentation seen for the first time. One of the sentences should be a genuine insight, something that will surprise—“If a statement is not surprising, it’s probably not an insight,” the manual says. Investors may remember far less of the presentation than this, however. A single noun may be all that sticks in the mind afterward. “Something to do with chat.” “Something to do with databases.” The manual says about a third of the startups on Demo Day will do no better than this.

A lot of things broke. But a lot of things always break. So we’re going to fix the things that break.” He tries out a joke: “And then more things will break.

In YC’s portfolio “the number one company is worth more than the next 199 companies combined, while number two is worth more than the next 198 combined, and so on.”

[To be a billion dollar company] “One: you really need a huge market. And two: you need founder-market fit.”

“Just focus on one of three things: One, be cheaper. Two, focus on a niche. Or, three, be 10x better than the other products out there.”

“The point of this story is that you guys need to have this kind of swag. You need to suck people, and especially investors, into your own reality.” He heads into the conclusion. “So, what have we learned? One. You’ve got to put yourself out there and meet people, even if it’s awkward. Two. You’ve got to hug your cofounders and love your batchmates. Three. Experts aren’t going to help you solve your problems. Four. You’ve gotta have swag.”

“Smart people by definition have odd ideas.”

Hope you enjoyed and as always – hit me up on Twitter.