Omar Shehata

Principles

This is an evolving list of rules I use to guide my life.

I maintain this page mostly for myself. It makes it easier to make the right decisions to get to where I want to be & get myself unstuck.

I also think it's a really interesting way to get to know someone – to read about their values, how they make the choices they do, and what drives them. I encourage you to publish your own (and if you do, and are comfortable sharing, let me know!)

A few lists I've found inspiring:

Do what's hard

This is very important for three reasons:

  1. It makes you feel good. It builds confidence in your skills and ability to tackle a challenge, which is great for overall wellbeing.
  2. Less people do this. Just taking this road automatically puts you in a less crowded space and makes you stand out.
  3. You'll be surprised at what you can accomplish, and you can keep solving harder & more ambitious things.

A still more glorious dawn awaits

Remember these words of Carl Sagan's auto-tuned voice when you are feeling unhappy & stuck.

There is beauty, joy, and fulfillment out there. You've felt it once before, you can find it again. Your best days are not behind you. Think bigger!

It's out there waiting, if you're not happy with where you are, start moving towards it. Go out and find this beauty & share it.

Think about the end

This is very helpful for decisions involving delayed gratification. How do I stop procrastinating and get up and do the things I know I should do?

Picture how you're going to feel a few hours later: If I feel bad now, binge watching is going to leave me feeling just as bad. If I do the dishes, I'll feel accomplished. This makes it really easy to pick, just do the thing that will make you feel better! Even though the "feeling better" may be far in the future.

This also helps me know when to rest. If I picture the future and I would be OK just relaxing or doing something fun? Then go for it!

This good feeling cannot last

It's often hard for me to resist indulging in food or TV because it feels great when I do, and I want this great feeling to continue, so I keep eating/watching, well past the point when it starts to feel bad.

It helps to remember: you cannot keep this good feeling going. This makes it much easier to get up & do something more fulfilling. You're not turning down continuing to feel good — that choice doesn't exist.

Always reach out

Imagine two people who want to collaborate, but each is not sure if the other wants to. They both avoid reaching out, not wanting to bother the other. Never knowing that they both really wanted to work together!

It's always better to reach out, make your desires known. It's always hard, but worth it. This is easy to do if you assume the answer is no and move on. A yes is a delightful surprise. A no is not failure, practice taking it gracefully.

Collaborate more

It's much easier to make progress and avoid getting stuck when collaborating. It's also a lot more fun, and it gives you accountability.

Invest time in reaching out to people & finding good collaborators.

No zero sum - search for utopia

I've often thought that if I improve my life in one way, it must necessarily suffer in another. For example: I can make more money, but then I'd have less free time.

This is not true. There's no reason you can't have both. It's not always possible, but you should always try. Let yourself imagine the best version your life and give it a good shot.

Go for the moon, even if there are problems on Earth

It's tempting to think you should avoid the luxury of fun & creative endeavors when you have more important stuff to worry about. This is a damaging train of thought because (1) often these fun & creative activities are nourishing and help you find the energy to tackle the important stuff (2) there may never come a time when all the important stuff is taken care of. So the only time you have is now.

This mirrors the development of the human race. We have adventured, explored, and created art long before we ever had our basic necessities of food, water, and shelter all comfortably met.

Beautiful things start out ugly

A lot of times when you start making something and it turns out ugly, it's easy to get stuck or abandon it. But remember that many beautiful things start out messy & ugly, and become wonderful slowly and iteratively.

Trust the blurry-to-sharp approach. Keep going, finish it, start over and make a better version, and keep going until you make something beautiful.

The only way out, is through

Sometimes you face a difficult task and your instinct is to avoid it. This makes sense, it is painful, and you don't want the pain.

But if it's something you have to do, then your choice to avoid it only means you're stuck with it for longer. Remember that the only way out is to just go through with it. That suddenly reverses it: if it's really unpleasant, you want to get it done first.

This is similar to Think about the end — it's easier to do the task once you realize where you will be a few hours later if you choose to avoid it (still stuck with the task) vs going through (done with it and feeling great).

Do it even if you don't feel like it

This is a particularly helpful tool when "Think about the end" fails. What if even the idea of accomplishing the goals isn't motivating right now?

You need to trust that either (1) you will start to feel better and excited about achieving the goal once you start to see some progress towards or you do get it, which is what usually happens or (2) you really aren't going to feel any better even if the thing is done.

(2) is still a better situation to be in. Perhaps the goal you accomplished gives you more freedom/money that can help you feel better later when you're ready, or maybe it helps someone else.

Do not indulge

My tendency to indulge has been a source of misery in my life, either in the form of binge-watching or stress eating. This is often very difficult to escape because it brings a transient and much-needed relief, but leaves me feeling worse than before, so I indulge once more, and so on.

Remember that choosing to indulge often means choosing to feel worse. Self care for me does not mean giving my body whatever it asks for. It means resisting destructive behavior and doing the things that bring lasting fulfillment, like exercise and intermittent fasting.

Don't do all the dishes at once

Scenario: there is a mountain of dishes. It sucks. Everything feels messy. You want to clean it all but you know it's going to take a lot of effort and you can't muster up all that energy right now.

And another day passes.

Consider: do just a few dishes and leave the rest for another time. Just give up on trying to clean everything tonight.

What ends up happening: doing the first few dishes gives you a newfound energy once you start to see progress, and most of the time you'll end up cleaning everything.

Applies to almost any kind of work. Just start.

Do one thing at a time

One problem that has plagued me my entire life getting too excited about a lot of things, overcommitting and underdelivering.

I've done my best work when I chewed off one thing at a time, was completely focused and committed on it until it was done, then moved on to the next time.

Do not hoard

I've always been terrified of using consumables in games. I always relied completely on melee attacks regardless of how powerful the items/arrows/spells were. In fact the more useful it is the less likely I was to do anything with it. The idea was if I consistently relied on these finite resources, I'll one day find myself without any and be stuck.

The problem was that this fear of running out meant I ended up never using them at all, which made my experience significantly harder and less fun. If you see opportunities to make your life easier/better, you should seize them now. Keep moving forward. Trust you'll find more in the future.

Applies to ideas too. Don't worry about using up your "best ideas", you'll get more as you create & put them out there!

Trust yourself – you're not stupid

I used to trust others a lot. If an expert said something, I trusted it, even if it didn't make complete sense, because, hey, I don't know everything about the world, and they probably know something I don't.

I think this stemmed from a lack of faith in my own abilities. I didn't trust that the conclusions I'd come up with were as valid as others. I accepted that I could see something for myself, and be sure of it, but still be wrong, still be missing something.

If you know something, and you've researched it and have proof of it, then you're probably right. The worst that can happen is someone corrects you if you are indeed missing something. Otherwise, no matter how smarter or how much of an expert they seem, they could very well be wrong.

Good people can do bad things

Another way to think of this is that you are not your ideas. Just because you came up with something that turns out to be dumb doesn't mean you're dumb (similarly, just because you've said smart things in the past, doesn't mean everything you say is trusted to be "smart").

This is important to remember, on one hand so you don't feel shackled by a negative past, and on the other hand, so you don't coast on transient success. It's a freeing thought to keep in mind.

Take action to improve your mood

You are not a machine. Trying to power through a bad mood or wallowing in your despair are not good choices.

Go for a bike ride or a swim. Read an inspiring book, talk to someone or play a game. Write down inspiring experiences and refer back to them when you're lacking motivation.

You don't have a lot of time

It's easy to put off work that doesn't have a deadline. What's one more day if it's a side project you've been contemplating for years? Time always moves faster than you think, and before you know it the semester/summer/your-life will be over.

The work you do is rarely the end, but it opens up many more doors and opportunities to pursue. The sooner you finish it the more exciting things will be.