What “The Nothing Alternative” Can Teach You About Consistent Reading

Hi and welcome back!

I hope your daily reading time is anchored nicely to one of your everyday habits now. How’s that reading time of yours? Has it gone up yet?

Don’t fret, this is all just beginning – and today we’re looking at how you can make your reading consistent.

This lesson has it all – a date with Barney Stinson, a frustrated Raymond Chandler (author of The Big Sleep), Stoicism and even a special surprise: our first expert guest lecturer stops by.

Let’s get started with Lesson 6!

Barney Stinson’s First Second Date

“Sooo, this was fun. Can I call you, or?”

For the first time in his life, Barney Stinson asked for a second date. Across the table in the lovely 1920s style diner sat Nora, one of Robin’s co-workers, and likely the first girl to ever give Barney Stinson a hard time – let alone match his intellect.

“Barney, you’re funny, handsome and really quite clever. But you’re also a sociopath.”

The two had spent the previous two hours listing and listening to all the lies Barney had ever told to get laid – not what most people would call a fun evening, but a necessary spree of honesty nonetheless.

“Well, I count three pros and one con, so…“

“How do you still think you have a chance with me?”

“Because you sat here all night? You could’ve left right away, but you didn’t. Look, Nora, all those lies – that’s the old me. But I swear to you, I am trying to change. You make me want to change.”

“How do I know that’s not a lie?”

“I’ll prove it. I will prove how serious I am. I will NOT leave this diner until I get a second date with you.”

“Good-bye, Barney.”

“I’m not kidding! This is a 24-hour diner. I’ll stay here forever, if I have to– and I will!”

Nora can barely hear Barney’s last words as the door closes behind her. She’s gone.

The waitress passes Barney’s table with a questioning look on her face and a menu in her hand.

“Just water for me. Thanks.”

She rolls her eyes and walks away.


Before I reveal the ending of this story and how it’ll help you read more consistently, I’d like to introduce you to someone.

He’s a good friend of mine, the author of The Will of Heroes, the most dedicated willpower researcher I know and the creator of Willpowered.co. His name is Colin Robertson and today, he’ll tell you a second story to help you understand today’s principle and experiment.

Take it away Colin!


Raymond Chandler was appalled with his lack of progress.

The famous author of The Big Sleep just spent the entire day working, yet he made no progress on his book!

Then Chandler realized the root of his problem. He wasn’t really being productive, he was just making himself feel good about procrastinating because he was filling his time with other work.

Instead of writing, he read the newspaper, read works by other authors, wrote letters, and did many other positive things. This made it feel like he was being productive, even though no actual writing was getting done.

So he imposed disciplinary measures.

He forced himself to sit down and focus on his writing without getting distracted. But for some reason, this tactic didn’t work either! The more he tried to focus, the more his mind wandered!

Why couldn’t he just focus?


After Chandler realized that he could not force himself to focus on writing, he decided that he would allow his mind the freedom to do nothing.

He selected a period of time where he had the choice to write, or do nothing. He could get lost in thought, look out the window or stand on his head. But he could not do any other positive work.

As a result, his mind did not feel imprisoned by having to do focused work, but it also realized that doing nothing is boring.

Part of the reason why the brain is motivated to procrastinate is because it hates being bored. But with the nothing alternative, now the boring option was to do nothing and the enjoyable option was to write.

It sounds simple, but this gentle push is incredibly effective for allowing your brain to focus and tune out distractions.

Note: This was an edited excerpt of one of Colin’s articles called “How to Achieve Deep Focus by Using the Nothing Alternative” – I highly recommend you read it.


“Oh! Ow! My neck!”

Barney groans as he wakes up in the tiny booth of the 24-hour diner. His neck hurts. He’s already been there for nine hours. Ted, Robin, Marshall and Lily stop by to get breakfast.

“I mean…call me crazy, but I’m gonna stay here until I get that girl back.”

After almost 24 hours at the diner, Barney starts blinking as he slowly rises from yet another nap. On his second glimpse his eyes widen. In front of him stands Nora, smiling.

He smiles back. He’s tired. But his persistence has paid off. Thanks to leaving himself no retreat Barney Stinson is about to embark on an entirely new path in life – his first second date.

The Box Principle

Okay now that’s all great and romantic, but what’s the point?

I think the lesson both of these stories share is about 2000 years old. Remember the examples of Gandhi and Edison from the last lesson, thanks to which we found out that weaknesses can actually be strengths, if you have the right perspective?

The principle behind the Nothing Alternative is very similar. It is an idea from ancient Stoicism, in which you follow just one rule to determine your behavior: focus on what you can control.

Gandhi didn’t control the British government in the 1930s and Edison couldn’t control the flames that burned down his lab. What they could control were their reactions to these things.

In the two stories above, Barney and Raymond Chandler acted like Stoics too. They even took it  a step further than Edison and Gandhi.

Both of these men realized that in order to better focus on what they can control, they first had to give up a lot of the control they already had.

There’s a very popular quote that tells you to “think outside the box” or even “think like there is no box.”

This is helpful when you’re trying to come up with new ideas, but when you want to execute one, it’s a lot easier to stay inside the box – but it has to be the right size. The only way to think inside the right-sized box is to build it yourself.

That’s why today’s principle is called:

The Box Principle

Here’s what it says: Reduce the number of things you can control to make the right choices more obvious.

Of course you want to read before bed at night. But when your iPad lies on your nightstand or your TV is in your bedroom, you just have too many options to pick the right one.

Your box is too big!

The Nothing Alternative makes it very simple to focus on what you can control, because it reduces your options so much that the right choice becomes really obvious.

What The Box Principle allows you to do is to trade control for consistency.

So how can you apply the Nothing Alternative to your reading?

The D.E.A.R. Experiment

In Lesson 4 you picked a daily reading time. Lesson 5 showed you how you can trigger yourself to actually start. Today’s experiment is about making sure you finish.

Someone recently told me that at their children’s school, they had introduced something called D.E.A.R. time – Drop Everything And Read.

Today, the second your daily reading trigger goes off, drop everything and read.

Give yourself no retreat. Reduce your other options to zero. Read – or do nothing.

That means if you’ve decided to read from 7:00 to 7:30 AM, it’d be better to do nothing – nothing at all – and just sit in your kitchen, than to do anything else but read.

A few tips to make this easier:

  1. If you’re reading an actual book (hard copy or paperback), go somewhere without internet access, like your basement, for example. Leave your phone in another room.

  2. If you’re using an ebook reader, like a Kindle, set it to airplane mode. Also try to go somewhere without internet access. Only keep one or two books on it at a time.

  3. If you want to read blog or books you only have on your computer, print a few pages or chapters ahead of time, so you can take those somewhere quiet as well. Or use an app like Pocket or Instapaper to save them, sync them and then turn off Wifi.

  4. Try avoiding reading on your phone or laptop altogether, as it’s too easy to get distracted, even with airplane mode and other software hacks.

That’s all there is to it.

Bonus: You should have something to dig your eyes into by now, but in case you don’t or want to experiment, you can download the 22 free bonus books that come with this course and print a few chapters for your D.E.A.R. time today by sharing the course with a friend.

Closing The Chapter

Sometimes getting a second date is as simple as not leaving after the first one ends. Sometimes all it takes to cure writer’s block is a few hours of standing around and being bored.

Today you learned that sometimes you have to trade control for consistency. Using The Box Principle enables you to build your own, right-sized box by reducing what you can control to make the right choice the most obvious one.

The Nothing Alternative is the perfect tool to implement this principle into your reading habit and make it consistent.

Design your environment to have as few options as possible during your D.E.A.R. time, and you’re set up for a solid chunk of quiet, undistracted reading – every day.

Now go make Raymond Chandler proud. And Barney Stinson. And me. We’re counting on you!

The last lesson will be in your inbox in 2 days. It’s the most important one. We’ll steal something from Warren Buffett (which he’ll be very happy about), learn a valuable lesson about reading from a bunch of video games, and you’ll be introduced to a scientist with an almost unpronounceable name.

Rooting for your reading,

PS: Here is our table of contents with the previous lessons.


PS: Share this 7 lesson email course with a friend now and I’ll send you a hand-curated collection of 22 free books, both fiction and non-fiction, some of which you can’t get anywhere else for free!