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Hell Yeah or No by Derek Sivers - Book Summary

10 min read

“Hell Yeah or No” is written by Derek Sivers, a musician, entrepreneur and writer. It is a book about what’s worth doing, changing your thinking and making things happen.

The book often makes me think “Damn, I never thought of it that way”, and for that reason alone I think it’s worth to share.

I’ve gotten many precious nuggets from this book and it changed my perspective and world views.

My Highlights

  • What would you do then, if you didn’t need the money and didn’t need the attention?
  • You can focus your time locally or globally.
  • No matter what you say, your actions reveal the truth.”
  • No matter what you tell the world or tell yourself, your actions reveal your real values. Your actions show you what you actually want.
  • Holding on to an old title gives you satisfaction without action. But success comes from doing, not declaring.
  • It’s crucial to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Most people don’t know. They just go with the flow.
  • Whatever you decide, you need to optimize for that goal, and be willing to let go of the others.
  • That’s why you need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Know it in advance. Use it as your compass and optimize your life around it. Let the other goals be secondary so that when those decision moments come, you can choose the value that you already know matters most to you.
  • You have to know your preferences well because no matter what you do, someone will tell you you’re wrong.
  • If you expect criticism in advance and take pride in your unusual stance, you can bash on with a smile, being who you want to be. Then every time they say you’re wrong, that’s a sign you’re doing it right.
  • Like a funhouse mirror that distorts what it reflects, your imitation will turn out much different from the original. Maybe even better.
  • look around at those existing ideas in the world. You can imitate them and still be offering something valuable and unique.
  • the former self is not always right. We shouldn’t preserve our first opinions as if they reflect our pure, untarnished, true nature. They’re often just the result of inexperience or a temporary phase. Old opinions shouldn’t define who we are in the future.
  • Public comments are just feedback on something you made. They’re worth reading to see how this thing has been perceived. You can even take it as feedback on the public image you’ve created. All people know is what you’ve chosen to show them. So if your public persona is coming across wrong, try tweaking it. Never forget that the public you is not you.
  • How you do anything is how you do everything. It all matters.
  • Your actions are completely under your control, and seem to be the best indicator of future success.
  • Fish don’t know they’re in water. If you tried to explain it, they’d say, “Water? What’s water?” They’re so surrounded by it that it’s impossible to see. They can’t see it until they jump outside of it. This is how I feel about culture. We’re so surrounded by it that it’s impossible to see. Many things we think are true are really just our local culture. We can’t see it until we get outside of it.
  • Your time-focus can change in an instant. If you ask a present-focused person to describe their ultimate career and write down the steps to achieve those goals, their focus will change to the future. If you ask a future-focused person to name every background sound they can hear, or where their body is touching their chair, their focus will change to the present.
  • Both mindsets are necessary. You need a present-focus to enjoy life. But too much present-focus can prevent the deeper happiness of achievement.
  • If I’m acting too undisciplined, I realize it’s because I’ve stopped vividly seeing my future. I can only see the present. If I’m acting too disconnected, I realize it’s because I’m obsessed with my goals. I can see only the future.
  • You won’t act differently until you think of yourself differently. So start by taking one small action that will change your self-identity.
  • If you’re not feeling “Hell yeah, that would be awesome!” about something, say no.
  • Say no to almost everything.
  • Refuse almost everything. Do almost nothing. But the things you do, do them all the way.
  • After a difficult year of wrestling with those inner demons and avoiding all temptations, he did it. He finished his first book. It wasn’t a success, but it didn’t matter. He had finally beat The Resistance. He went on to write many successful novels.
  • “Hell yeah or no” is a filter you can use to decide what’s worth doing. But this is simpler and more serious. This is a decision to stop deciding. It’s one decision, in advance, that the answer to all future distractions is “no” until you finish what you started.
  • It’s saying yes to one thing, and no to absolutely everything else.
  • Art is useless by definition. If it was useful, it would be a tool.
  • At the top of every page of my website, I used to have a sentence that describes what I do — another way of saying how I might be useful to the stranger browsing my site. But I erased it last week. For now, I’m nobody’s tool.
  • When a friend says something interesting to me, I usually don’t have a reaction until much later.
  • People say that your first reaction is the most honest, but I disagree. Your first reaction is usually outdated. Either it’s an answer you came up with long ago and now use instead of thinking, or it’s a knee-jerk emotional response to something in your past.
  • Motivation is delicate. When you notice your motivation fading, you have to seek out the subtle cause. A simple tweak can make all the difference between achieving something or not.
  • Even the toughest of us have delicate motivation. When you notice that something is affecting your drive, find a way to adjust your environment, even if that’s a little inconvenient for others.
  • Personal change needs some space to happen. To bring something new into your life, you need somewhere to put it. If your current habits are filling your day, where are these new habits supposed to go?
  • It’s usually something tiny. For example,
  • Before you start something, think of the ways it could end. Sometimes the smart choice is to say no to the whole game.
  • It’s unusual to be physically alone, but extremely social. A solitary socialite.
  • The last time I was in really bad state of mind, I used these five steps to get out of it.
  • Ask myself what’s wrong in this very second.
  • Observe now. Act later.
  • Raise standards. Say no to anything less than great.
  • Focus on my goal
  • Do all the necessary stuff
  • I suspect you can graduate in two years if you understand there’s no speed limit
  • “the standard pace is for chumps” — that the system is designed so anyone can keep up. If you’re more driven than most people, you can do way more than anyone expects. And this principle applies to all of life, not just school.
  • When I notice that I’m all stressed out about something or driving myself to exhaustion, I remember that bike ride and try dialing back my effort by 50 percent. It’s been amazing how often everything gets done just as well and just as fast, with what feels like half the effort. Which then makes me realize that half of my effort wasn’t effort at all, but just unnecessary stress that made me feel like I was doing my best.
  • All the best, happiest, and most creatively productive times in my life have something in common: being disconnected.
  • People often ask me what they can do to be more successful. I say disconnect. Even if just for a few hours. Unplug. Turn off your phone and Wi-Fi. Focus. Write. Practice. Create. That’s what’s rare and valuable these days.
  • You get no competitive edge from consuming the same stuff everyone else is consuming. It’s rare, now, to focus. And it gives such better rewards.
  • Some people think they need to go all the way to Thailand to meditate, or to India to learn yoga. But of course these are things they can do for free at home. Some people think they need to travel to a country to learn its language. But check out Moses McCormick learning more than a dozen languages from Ohio, or Benny Lewis learning Arabic from Brazil.
  • It’s so important to separate the real goal from the old mental associations. We have old dreams. We have images we want to re-create. They’re hard to untangle from the result we really want. They become excuses, and reasons to procrastinate.
  • Conventional wisdom tells us to do the important and difficult thing first. But doing this boring work moves me from a state of doing nothing to doing something. It makes me feel like doing something important again. So the next time you’re feeling extremely unmotivated, do those things you never want to do anyway.
  • Your happiness depends on where you’re focusing. The metaphor is easy to understand, but hard to remember in regular life. If you catch yourself burning with envy or resentment, think like the bronze medalist, not the silver. Change your focus. Instead of comparing up to the next-higher situation, compare down to the next-lower one.
  • On the other hand, when you’re being ambitious, trying to be the best at a specific skill, it’s good to be dissatisfied, like that silver medalist focusing on the gold. You can use that drive to practice and improve. But most of the time, you need to be more grateful for what you’ve got, for how much worse it could have been, and how nice it is to have anything at all. Ambition versus gratitude. Comparing up versus comparing down.
  • If we love doing something, it seems simple. We think of it as one fun step.
  • Now I have to pay attention to that, with each new project I start. How many steps am I picturing?
  • Do you have a list of conditions you need to have met before you do something? Try changing “and” to “or.”
  • You have to remember that there are always more than two options.
  • Great insight comes only from opening your mind to many options.
  • Imagine you’ve got a big question like, “Should I quit my job and start my own company?” You go ask the advice of some successful people you respect. Because they can’t know everything about you and your unique situation, they’ll give advice that’s really just a reflection of their own current situation.
  • The problem is taking any one person’s advice too seriously. Ideally, asking advice should be like echolocation. Bounce ideas off of all of your surroundings, and listen to all the echoes to get the whole picture.
  • Ultimately, only you know what to do, based on all the feedback you’ve received and all your personal nuances that no one else knows.
  • Life is like any journey. You need to change directions a few times to get where you want to go.
  • Early in your career, the best strategy is to say yes to everything. The more things you try, and the more people you meet, the better. Each one might lead to your lucky break.
  • Then when something is extra-rewarding, it’s time to switch strategies. Focus all of your energy on this one thing. Don’t be leisurely. Strike while it’s hot. Be a freak. Give it everything you’ve got.
  • The problem is thinking short term — assuming that if you don’t do all the things now, they won’t happen.
  • The solution is to think long term. Do just one thing for a few years, then another for a few years, then another.
  • Most people overestimate what they can do in one year, and underestimate what they can do in ten years.
  • To assume you’re below average is to admit you’re still learning. You focus on what you need to improve, not your past accomplishments
  • What power! Now you’re the person who made things happen, made a mistake, and can learn from it. Now you’re in control and there’s nothing to complain about.
  • Think of every bad thing that happened to you, and imagine that you happened to it.
  • I actually love being wrong, even though it cracks my confidence, because that’s the only time I learn. I actually love being lost, even though it fuels fears, because that’s when I go somewhere unexpected.
  • My public writing is a counterpoint meant to complement the popular point.
  • I like to think that everything is a coincidence. Life feels more amazing to me if it has no meaning. No secret agenda. Beautifully random.
  • Which of course makes me wonder about all the other beginnings and endings and things we just take for granted as fact, but make just as much sense as their opposites.
  • The excitement was in finding them, not keeping them.
  • The man just said, “We’ll see.”
  • Everybody’s ideas seem obvious to them.
  • So maybe what’s obvious to me is amazing to someone else?
  • Smart and useful isn’t bad. It’s rational, like a machine. But happiness is the oil. Without it, the friction kills the engine.
  • Happy and smart isn’t bad. The self-focus feels great at first. But you can’t actually pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Ultimately you must be lifted by those around you.
  • Happy and useful isn’t bad. These people are doing good for the world, so it’s hard to find fault. They have great intentions but lame strategies — wasted effort and unused potential.
  • When life or a plan feels ultimately unsatisfying, I find it’s because I’ve forgotten to find the intersection of all three: What makes me happy What’s smart What’s useful to others
  • Do something for love and something for money. Don’t try to make one thing satisfy your entire life. Each half of your life becomes a remedy for the other.
  • “The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
  • It’s easy to think I need something else. It’s hard to look instead at what to remove.
  • So if you decide someone is stupid, it means you’re not thinking, which is not being smart. Therefore, smart people don’t think others are stupid.
  • But the act of reading a book is really about you and what you get from it. All that matters is what you do with the ideas, no matter the source. Apply them to your own life in your own way. It was never about them. It’s about you.
  • assume that men and women are the same.
  • to get smarter, you need to get surprised, think in new ways, and deeply understand different perspectives.
  • Don’t focus on the example itself. Use it as a metaphor, and apply the lesson to my situation.
  • To make a change, you have to be extreme. Go all the way the other way. It will feel like overcompensating, but you have to stack a huge pile of bricks on the other side.
  • Nothing has inherent meaning. It is what it is and that’s it. We just choose to project meaning onto things.
  • “Practice. Thousands of hours of practice, and eventually I got it.
  • It’s overwhelming to feel so in awe of the people who seem to do it naturally. I’m just a beginner. It may take me another fifteen years, but I’m determined.
  • Judge a goal by how well it changes your actions in the present moment.
  • Inspiration is not receiving information. Inspiration is applying what you’ve received.
  • It’s dangerous to think in terms of “passion” and “purpose” because they sound like such huge overwhelming things.
  • notice what excites you and what scares you on a small moment-to-moment level.
  • You grow by doing what excites you and what scares you.
  • Whatever scares you, go do it.

Get the Book

You can get the book here.



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