20 truths about life that nobody wants to believe

I was thinking the other day about how there are all these key pieces of advice that someone influential in our lives (mom, dad, grandma, Cthulu) tells us are true, but that we don’t like the answers to. So to deal with the issue, we decide we’re too awesome to pay attention and insist on failing for ourselves.

Anyway, I thought I’d make a list of the truths I’ve discovered in case anyone out there is wondering about them. NOW: I’ve tested these things and can vouch for their truth, but feel free to ignore me if you’d like the experience of screwing up for yourself. It’s cool.

Here we go:

1. If you want to lose weight or see your abs, you need to eat less.
Nobody wants to eat less or eat better, so if they want to lose weight, they keep eating and simply exercise more. I know I did. I have been aggressively weight training for 20 years and have experimented with just about every way of training out there. I have done powerlifting. I have done strongman workouts. I have done Crossfit. I once did four major endurance events in two months, and I trained 20+ hours a week during that time. But despite all of that, I only finally got a six pack when I got my diet under control and started tracking what I ate religiously using an app. There’s an expression that says “you can’t out-train a bad diet” and one that says “abs are made in the kitchen.” Both are 100% true.

2. The best moneymaking and success strategy is to be awesome.
It’s amazing how many people fret about perfecting their marketing strategy when what they have to offer is total shit. Sure, marketing and SEO and positioning matter… but only once you are producing awesome stuff. No matter how many times we talk about marketing funnels or KDP Select promotion strategy on the podcast, the bottom-line advice always boils down to, “Keep writing awesome books that people love.” That philosophy applies to everything.

3. Most people are lazy.
People say they want to make some kind of a change. They get good, solid advice. Then they do nothing. NOTHING. In most cases, failure is not the result of outside influences. In most cases, failure is due to a simple lack of effort. It’s an ugly truth, but it’s the truth, all right: most people don’t want what they claim to want badly enough to actually put in the work required to get it.

4. Guilt and regret won’t make your problems go away.
There’s no point in dwelling on bad things that happened or that you did in the past. Most people feel that it’s their duty to dwell on guilt, as if they’ll somehow be a horrible person if they refuse to keep feeling guilty. It’s not true. What happened happened. Move on.

5. Bitching won’t make your problems go away.
This one is hilarious to see in action. Why does your father always complain about his crappy car? Why does your neighbor complain about the government and taxes? Bitching and complaining does nothing. Action does something, but bitching is not action. Bitching is bitching. Yet people do it fervently, as if they think that bitching enough will, by itself, solve the problem.

6. Doggedly pursuing a stupid idea won’t turn it into it a smart idea.
I once tried to get a Ph.D in genetics. I hated my studies within a month, but I told myself that if I just stuck with it, I’d eventually love it and life would be grand. It didn’t, and eventually I wised up and quit. One of the best aphorisms I’ve ever heard is from the movie Christine, when Darnell says, “You can’t polish a turd.” So stop trying. That turd is a turd, and no matter how long you polish it, it won’t turn into a shiny new Plymouth Fury. And sure, Arnie got lucky in the movie, but his car turned out to be evil. There’s a lesson there.

7. You should always be yourself.
Ask any gay person if they’d rather go back into the closet and go back to pretending to be someone they’re not. I’ll bet you don’t get a yes. It’s always better to be open about who you are, what you do, what you like, and what you want out of life. I don’t mean to open a can of worms on this one, but sex is a huge issue here. We had a whole episode of our podcast about this if you’re interested. Just be warned that it is EXTREMELY NSFW AND NOT APPROPRIATE FOR CHILDREN. (You’ve been warned; click here to listen.)

8. Worrying is useless.
Worry is like bitching. It changes nothing, but we feel like we’ve got to do it because if we don’t worry about something enough, it seems like we’re being flippant. But try something for me: the next time you’re worried about something, ask yourself how much the problem will improve if you worry really, really hard. That’ll fix things, right?

9. Most successes happen in small steps and take a long time.
This is the cornerstone message behind my Everyday Legendary community, which is filled with people who actually understand that most things worth doing take time. Almost nothing happens in huge, gestalt leaps. Want to become a champion ballerina or start a successful company? Get a little better every day, then repeat.

10. You shouldn’t buy what you can’t afford.
Want that TV? Wait until you have enough cash to pay for it. Want to take the vacation but need to borrow from your credit card (and then not pay it off in full) to do it? You’d better wait. I’ve violated this plenty. Sometimes, for necessities, it feels essential. I almost always regret it.

11. Nobody is rooting for you to fail.
The world isn’t out to get you. There’s no point in pretending that it is. People have their noses so far in their own business that they’re not paying attention to you and your potential failure. You simply don’t matter to them enough to root against. That means you’re free.

12. Nobody cares if you succeed.
This is the corollary to #11 above. Think Aunt Margaret will push your new book to all of her friends? Think that famous person who could really help you will hop on board with your fantastic idea? Nope. They don’t give a shit. Not really. They have their own issues. Your successes are up to you.

13. Nobody cares about your complaints.
I was once part of a group that really, really pissed me off. I made sure I let them know why I was leaving, and how unwelcome I felt. I didn’t think that they’d change and/or beg me to stay, but I thought they’d at least express concern or regret, or at least register some emotion. They didn’t. Same when my wife stormed out of a job under shitty conditions. Same with a bank that had hideous service. And so on. They don’t care, so make your feelings known… but then don’t expect a reaction, and certainly don’t expect change or for them to make it right.

14. There is very little that you truly need.
Food. Water. Air. Shelter. Those are the things you need. You do not need a house. A cardboard box covering your head will do just fine. It’s not ideal, but it will work. Most people inflate their personal cost of living by turning things that they merely want into things they feel they need. It’s okay to want things. It’s good to want things. But stop adding stress to your life by equating your gym membership or your car to your literal survival. If you lose most things, you and your family will continue to live and will still probably manage to be happy from time to time.

15. Everyone lives life according to their own rules, not yours.
Someone says something to you and you’re offended. You think they’re being a jerk, because you have a personal rule that says, “If you say X to someone, it’s because you want to insult them.” But that other person doesn’t necessarily have the same rules as you have. They’re responding according to their own rules, and in all probability, their rules say that they are responding appropriately. They may even think that you are the bad guy. So who’s right? Neither; you simply have different rules. The sooner you realize that everyone is trying to do the best they can in life with what they have (rather than going out of their way to be mean to you), the better.

16. Clueless people don’t know they’re clueless, and never will.
If you’re aghast that someone is a total dipshit and feel the need to show them the dipshit nature of their ways, don’t bother to try. It may be super-obvious to you that you really shouldn’t rest your testicles on the countertop while using the sink like some old men used to do at my gym, but they’re never going to have that epiphany. They may change to please you, but they will never think, “Wow, I was really dumb!”

17. It seldom makes sense to try to convince people you’re right.
I once heard Deepak Chopra call this as “the law of defenselessness.” It basically goes like this: Have your opinion, but release the pressing need you have to defend that opinion to other people. It’s fine to just believe something and not spend a bunch of time justifying your point of view, especially when the issue in question is just an opinion. (TIP: Most things — including those things you’re certain you’re right about — are actually opinions.)

18. You really can achieve just about anything.
It may take you a while, but you can in fact achieve most reasonable things and plenty of unreasonable things. You’ll see that if you stop deciding that things are impossible before even trying. (See also: Everyday Legendary’s central premise.)

19. The people you look up to are just as nervous as you are.
Succeeding gets a lot easier when you realize that everyone who has ever succeeded has doubted that things will work, has failed terribly, and has generally been where the rest of are: worrying and certain that they aren’t good enough. (Bonus fact: Those people you look up to also don’t start being bulletproof and perfect AFTER they’ve succeeded. They actually remain human until the day they die.)

20. Your worst-case scenario is seldom very bad.
Here’s a fun game: Ask yourself “what’s the worst that could happen?” about the thing that worries you most, and then keep asking it until you can’t ask anymore. Then, when you’re at the bottom of that chain of questions, ask yourself how terrible that end result would really be. Here’s an example: I might lose my job > I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills > I would lose my house and car > I’d have to declare bankruptcy > I’d have to move in with mom/dad/grandma or bum on a friend’s couch and have a bad credit rating. Now: is that scenario really THAT bad? Did you die? Are you ruined forever and ever? Will you be tortured? The truth is that most “worst case scenarios” are merely inconvenient, uncomfortable, or embarrassing.

So that’s my list. What are some of yours?


  1. Christopher says:

    Freakin’ love #2.

    So many people trying to peddle garbage out there. We need more awesome people.

    • Johnny says:

      It’s SO underappreciated. Quality won’t succeed on its own, but few things succeed in the long-term without quality. Seems like most people miss that.

  2. Stacy says:

    Like House is famous for saying: “You can’t fix stupid.”

  3. Sherryl says:

    Great post. I need to print this out! I recently did two posts about what is depressing about writing and publishing right now, and what is great and offers opportunities. I had to get friend to help me brainstorm the positive post! Because I got sucked in to the negatives myself. So easy to do, which is why your post is a good reminder.

  4. Elaine says:

    16 – ha! It’s clueless trying to convince the clueless. And 19 spot on: they are just ordinary people doing extraordinary jobs.
    Love the whole piece – spot on, to the point and without any BS masked in sales squeeze pages – just how I like a blog post served up.
    Definitely awesomeness and quite possible supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Johnny!

  5. Ian says:

    21. Ask for help.

    You are facing problems and nothing you do seems to work. You know who could help but you don’t go to them.
    ” He is too busy”, ” I am embarassed”, ”My problem is unique”.

    These are some of the excuses we make for ourselves. There is nothing new under the sun. Someone has been where you are now. GET OFF YOUR BUTT AND ASK FOR HELP!!!

  6. Rami says:

    I like your list. It is mostly how I think and try to think.

    I would like to add one. “The easiest way to feel comfortable is to try always your best.” If you have always tried the best you can, there is nothing to speculate anymore. If you fail, you still know that you did everything you can and can live with it.

  7. Jurgen says:

    This is implied by a couple of points on your excellent list: Resign from your position as Director General of the Universe.

    As soon as you stop being outraged when others do things differently than you consider right, life gets easier.

    • Johnny says:

      Hear hear! Simple acceptance: You cannot control everything, so stop trying. The whole “go with the flow” idea.

    • I was Director General of the Universe once. Had the worst stinkin’ group of Employees ever. They never listened – did what they wanted. On the up-side though, I met some great people and when I resigned to manage my own life, I made some fabulous friends of them. They were hell to work with, but otherwise awesome people. Even crazier – once I resigned, it seemed like they had some decent control over THEIR OWN LIVES without me even doing anything. I mean, I didn’t even hire a replacement before I quit. I was happier, they were happier. Strange.
      I would add – if someone says they’re GOING TO do something three times, they’re blowing smoke up your ass. Everyone forgets something once in awhile, but twice – it wasn’t that important to them. Move along. Do it yourself or focus on your own self. My cousin tells me at least once a month that she’s so inspired by me that she’s GOING TO start walking/be healthier. If she was serious – she’d be in Alaska by now.

  8. Jo Warwick says:

    Some great advice – particularly fond of #19, but under the message of #11 & #12 no one will really what awesome advice is here unless its about them 😉 oh and not #16 …

  9. Even Jesus didn’t fix the whole world.

    There have been many times when I see someone struggling in life and I want to fix them. And I want to keep people from starving and I want to keep sick children from dying. But some people don’t want to be fixed. And, while we can do awesome things on a human scale, we can’t do it all. Even Jesus didn’t fix the whole world. Why should I expect that I should?

  10. I appreciate and am encouraged by #9 and #19 as part of going after my business goals.

    I got a big chuckle from #15, #16 and #17 since I see increasing evidence of them daily.

    Thanks for these revelations and reminders.

  11. Glenn Tobias says:

    You said this in one of your earlier posts, I’ve been teaching whoever would listen for years, everything is (or should be made) simple, but very little worthwhile is easy.
    And then great Bible stuff: Don’t try to teach someone who has proven they won’t listen, it brings shame on you; and what Gods REALLY wants from you – justice, mercy, humility and to love Him with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbor like you’d love yourself.
    As usual, great stuff Johnny!

  12. Iris says:

    Awesome post, JBT! No. 11 really resonated with me.

  13. oliver says:

    Awesome awesome post, so many truths. You may not be able to polish a turd…but you can sprinkle glitter on it

  14. Lynn says:

    Corollary to #6 – Quitting can be a good thing. Or it’s not always bad to quit.
    Sometimes we just aren’t meant to be doing what we’re doing.

    The Freakonomics guys had a great podcast about the Upside of quitting http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/09/30/the-upside-of-quitting-full-transcript/

    • Johnny says:

      I was actually going to mention that but was trying to keep them short… I was thinking specifically of Seth Godin’s “The Dip.” The idea is to quit the things that are dragging you down so that you can concentrate on the good stuff.

  15. Kevin says:

    Another take on Do your best.

    The fact that you did something makes it a lot better than the person who only thought about something.

    My kids don’t like it either but when we compare their work to the nothing created by someone else they always feel good.

  16. Amanda says:

    Love this: a different, refreshing approach which hits the nail on the head. Must print out! Thank you

  17. Chet Frame says:

    Kismet! Or have you been talking to my niece. She posted on eating less as the only way to lose weight. I think I’m going to keep spending money on pills, more food, gastric bypass, smoothies, cheese curds, and free vampire books. It’s easier than facing your reality! 🙂

  18. Dave C says:

    Great list. Another way of looking at #16 is “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It’s a waste of time, and it annoys the pig.”

    I was trying to help Mr 14 year old get his brain around #18 yesterday. “I don’t have time to practice for my piano exam and learn jazz guitar for the school band.” There are planty of things he doesn’t have time for, like every minute over half an hour a day on Facebook and Youtube, but practicing to be the legendary musician he has the skill for is not one of them.

    PS All that skill comes from his mother, not me!

  19. #15 – wish I’d realised it in my teens instead of my 30s!

    My own list would include “On your deathbed, the one thing you’re guaranteed to regret is all the time you wasted. So don’t waste any.”

  20. A most excellent list, for sure. I like the idea that my reality is mine and not that of somebody, so I am free to care about what I want to care about and think what I want to think and do what I want to do to get the results I want to get.

    I like this idea from point 2. “It’s amazing how many people fret about perfecting their marketing strategy when what they have to offer is total shit.” The ones who jump into the marketing part without knowing that what they are doing is this way – no problem. The ones who know and do it anyway, well . . . they’ve recently opened an additional circle of virtual hell for those folks.

    So we are going to need a name for that meme. Along with RickRolling, planking, Harlem shaking, I think we should add “getting Dante’d” for getting siberia-ized as a person marketing STKS (S.tuff T.hey K.now S.ucks)

  21. Betty Hernandez says:

    Similar to several of your points, but my husband and I always, after careful consideration of the information available to us at the time of decision-making, say “We made the best of all decisions” and go on, without regretting what has already been done. If the decision turned out “wrong,” at least it was a learning experience for the future, but not a reason to regret the past!

  22. Nick says:

    #21: If you don’t learn how to control your spending you will never have enough money, regardless of how much you earn.

  23. Michael says:

    My way of summarizing #11through #13: the axis of planetary rotation doesn’t protrude from your rectum.

  24. Darick Reed says:

    I’ll go with lucky #7. (I live in Vegas, where this truth is often laughed at) You should always be yourself. “It’s always better to be open about who you are, what you do, what you like, and what you want out of life.” For years I dressed and acted like I owned a Benz and I rode the bus. “Fake it til’ you make it” still hasn’t worked for me. I’m trying to go with “do it til you make it these days. It’s working.

  25. Tom Southern says:

    Mind-blowing list, Johnny. So irritatingly true! Realising #8 & #14 made my life so much more calming and enjoyable.

    I’d say, “Just do it anyway, whatever you want to do. Some people will criticise you. Others will praise you. And, whether you fail or succeed – some people will criticise you. Others will praise you.

    Cheers Johnny.

  26. #21. You will never succeed if you never try. You have to put yourself out there.

  27. The Maven says:

    So here I was feeling all sorry for myself today, and totally PMSing if we’re going to be honest, and possibly wanting to punch someone in the throat, and then someone tweeted this. So I reluctantly read it and at first I might have hated you a little bit, and now you’re quite possibly my favourite person on the planet (again, I’m emotional today – please disregard.)

    Thanks for being awesome.

  28. Rohit Gupta says:

    All these things are so basic, and yet so powerful.
    I’ve just bookmarked the post, I might need to fall back on the basic tenets somewhere down the line, just in case! 😀

  29. Re #16 Why would those guys DO that? lol Thanks so much for the imagery; I’m scarred for life and will never see a public sink the same again.

    Good stuff obviously based on experience/insight rather than spouting off with some common theories. Love #18 and totally agree. Actually with #20 I was sort of there, years ago, and yeah, I was tortured! It was awful..but I lived. Of course, though not without nightmares. Absolutely on #10 (on a cash-based only system here–don’t use credit) but I wonder, if everyone followed that, whether the freakin’ economy would tank.

  30. I especially like no. 16. You can spend way too much time on trying to convince people of things they’ll never ever understand!

  31. Joona says:

    In the Finnish army there is a saying similar to “You can’t polish a turd” and it goes “You can’t make marmalade out of shit”. That applies to so many things – business, love, friendship, marketing.

    Cool list overall.

  32. Luke says:

    I think I could do a top 20 with the opposite truths to be honest.

    Fact is some people can be changed, you should defend your opinions, you should speak your mind when you feel like it, and sometimes worry and regret do have value. Sometimes people are rooting for you to fail, but other times people are rooting for you to succeed. Some people can’t “achieve anything” and that’s totally okay. They can do other great things or they can be average and happy – it’s their life. Anyone who tells you he knows 20 things which are true is probably overestimating his ability to discern truth or his ability to count and most importantly, inspirational and motivational speakers that charge you for anything are selling you advice that you don’t need so that you can be a better person when in reality you’re already probably just fine and if you aren’t fine you probably don’t need the kind of canned bullshit advice that you find on the internet.

    • We say, “Birds of a feather flock together” but “Opposites attract.” There are lots of these words of wisdom that contradict each other. Still, we find them helpful. One person may need to remind himself that “He who hesitates is lost” while someone else needs to remember to “Look before you leap.” This list happened to resonate with me and I found it helpful.

  33. David Clarke says:

    OK, so here it is. Your 20 things nicely effectively encapsulate my own beliefs.I have not ever tried to write them down and if I did I could not have written them as well as you have – obviously :-).

    But I think there is a strong connection between 3, 4, and 5. No-one did anything awesome who didn’t have self-belief. Buy a gym membership and then give up. Why? Because we have an inner voice that tells us we’re fat. This isn’t laziness. Science has demonstrated we can increase our levels of happiness by keeping a record and reflecting on experiences and achievements.

    So that’s the pitch. The app is in the iTunes App Store (Android version to follow) thehappinessapp.com. I’m sorry for the spam and self-promotion but it works and I think everyone should try some.

  34. Ansh says:

    Unbelievable but yes true facts. . 🙂

  35. boRp says:

    My own rule (to add or not to add): Words may lie. Actions won’t.

  36. TUSSIN says:

    These 20 are prob from a dude with bad credit on his buddy’s couch.

  37. Jovy Kay says:

    Wow! so very true, “Abs are made in the kitchen.” another great website discovered today…

  38. Kari says:

    Very funny. Very true. Number 16 is so dead on. Don’t waste any energy on clueless people because it always results in you pulling your hair out as they never see themselves as less than perfect. If they knew better than they would do better, but they don’t…

  39. Gary says:

    This is a great list! A special shout out for #9. So often marketing pushes our buttons of immediacy with topics like weight loss or making money online. Even though our brain knows somehow that the claims of rapid results is bogus another part of us is swayed into believing it. As most have discovered real success will normally take a lot longer than expected and cost a lot more not only in dollars but in sacrifices.

    Oh and the “abs are made in the kitchen” is an awesome expression!

  40. Clayton says:

    #21. Nobody cares what your sexuality is. Get over it. Jason Collins should be judged on his basketball ability, not his sexual preference. Neither should anyone else. And he shouldn’t get or not get a new contract because of it. Just the same as saying that Tim Tebow isn’t a good quarterback isn’t slamming his beliefs.

  41. tarp says:

    think your funny? real fun guy? wise cracker? one tarps gold is another tarps torture, just because i made this comment sound funny doesn’t mean i’m happy with the constant tarp harrassment.


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