Book review – The Will to Change

The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

By Bell Hooks


The Will to Change by Bell Hooks was an important book for me. During the past few months I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about gender equality, feminism, love, sexuality and masculinity. This book helped me tremendously on this path.

The book starts by recognising the existence of male suffering and its sad consequences on society. Hooks provides practical advice to help us men out of this suffering. By doing so, the author becomes a model for her own thesis: in order to end patriarchy and change society for the better, men and women need to work together. Men must be willing to change and learn the art of love, and women must accompany them on this difficult journey.

This review tries to be a summary of The Will to Change, based around six key topics that are logically related to one another.

1. The need to end Patriarchy

The central concept of The Will to Change is patriarchy. Here is Hooks’ definition:

Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.

The strength of Hooks’ thinking lies in recognising males as victims of patriarchy:

To indoctrinate boys into the rules of patriarchy, we force them to feel pain and to deny their feelings.

The logical way to stop male pain is then to end patriarchy:

To end male pain, to respond effectively to male crisis, we have to name the problem. We have to both acknowledge that the problem is patriarchy and work to end patriarchy.

Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation.

Ending patriarchy would increase the well being of our society as a whole:

Life has shown me that any time a single male dares to transgress patriarchal boundaries in order to love, the lives of women, men, and children are fundamentally changed for the better.

2. Men’s longing for love and psychic self-mutilation

The following quotes explain how men’s suffering originates from forced acts of “psychic self-mutilation”. This was a hard but instructive read for me as I could easily relate my personal experiences. Hooks knows that we men must first identify and understand our pain in order to address it.

The reality is that men are hurting and that the whole culture responds to them by saying, “Please do not tell us what you feel”.

The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves.

Asked to give up the true self in order to realise the patriarchal ideal, boys learn self-betrayal early and are rewarded for these acts of soul murder.

When males are required to wear the mask of a false self, their capacity to live fully and freely is severely diminished. They cannot experience joy and they can never truly love.

The truth we do not tell is that men are longing for love.

Forbidden to express their longing for love, men suffer and find shelter in addictions:

Even though they have been socialised to create and maintain false selves, most men remember the true self that once existed. And it is that memory of loss, — coupled with rage at the world, which encouraged the surrender of the self — that engenders depression. This suffering […] leads many men to addiction […].

Men victims of patriarchy develop two common addictions. Personally, I went through both of them for many years, at various level, without being aware of it.

Addiction to work (workaholism)

The following quote about workaholism was quite enlightening for me:

Workaholism is the most common addiction in men because it is usually rewarded and not taken seriously as detrimental to their emotional well-being.

Hooks uses a insights on workaholism borrowed from Zukav and Francis (authors of The Heart of the Soul: Emotional Awareness): 

Zukav and Francis describe workaholism as a flight from emotions: “It is a drug that is as effective as the most powerful anaesthetic… workaholism is a deep sleep. It is a self-induced trance that temporarily keeps painful emotions away from your awareness.”

Hooks explicits the inherent contradiction of workaholism:

If the intention behind the work is to seek recognition and power […] then you are setting yourself apart from others as a way of trying to feel connected to them.

– Dean Ornish, Love and Survival

This thinking on workaholism helped me to validate a recent learning: work should always be part of life, and never life itself.

Addiction to sex

Realising how men’s addiction to sex works and its consequences helped me understand how anger and violence can germinate within men’s mind and end up hurting others (especially women) psychologically and/or physically. On a personal plan, it helped me understand the contradictions I was facing and the mistakes I did when interacting with women in the context of actual or would-be romantic relationships:

Sex, then, becomes for most men a way of self solacing. It is not about connecting to someone else, but rather about releasing their own pain.

Hooks gives an insightful note about how linguistics tells a lot about male’s alienated conception of sex. Quoting Robert Jensen:

To fuck a woman is to have sex with her. To fuck someone in another context… means to hurt or cheat a person. […] That we live in a world in which people continue to use the same word for sex and violence, and then resist the notion that sex is routinely violent and claim to be outraged when sex becomes overtly violent, is testament to the power of patriarchy.

The next quote helped me to better differentiate what I would call healthy or responsible pornography compared to the type of pornography I feel guilty about watching: patriarchal pornography:

Often men use perverse sexual fantasy (particularly the consumption of patriarchal pornography) as a hiding place for depression and grief.

Finally, hooks hints at an alternative way that can be followed by men:

While masses of men continue to use patriarchal sex and pornography to numb themselves, many men are weary of numbing and are trying to find a way to reclaim selfhood.

3. Learning the art of loving

Men are longing for love. But “Men cannot love if they are not taught the art of loving”. But what is love? Hooks gives the following definition:

Working with men who wanted to know love, I have advised them to think about it as a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust.

Learning the art of loving requires an active attitude by men. Our society must make time for this activity:

Working men must make time to get in touch with their emotional selves if they are to become men of feeling.

In order to know love, men must go beyond the barriers of patriarchy:

Love cannot coexist with domination.

Men need to find an alternative way of thinking and living their sexuality:

Many men fear  learning to love because they cannot imagine a sexuality beyond the patriarchal model.

“In loving sexual intimacy, sexual partners are not interchangeable. They are unique in their histories, aptitudes, struggles, and joys. they know each other and care for each other. […] They use physical intimacy to deepen their emotional intimacy. […] They are committed to growing together.”

– Zukav and Francis

Hooks insists on the fact that men shouldn’t be afraid to engage in the quest for love by fear of not pleasing to women:

Men are on the path to love when they chose to become emotionally aware. […] Women want men to be more emotionally aware.

4. Healing men’s wound by the practice of integrity

Hooks explains that “the practice of intimacy is healing“:

“When we love someone and feel loved by them, somehow along the way our suffering subsides, our deepest wounds begin healing, our hearts start to feel safe enough to be vulnerable and open a little wider. We begin experiencing our own emotions and the feelings of those around us.”

– Dean Ornish, Love and Survival

The following quote shows the responsibility of women partners in helping or preventing men from healing:

“To heal, men must learn to feel again. They must learn to break the silence, to speak the pain. Often men, to speak the pain, first turn to the women in their lives and are refused a hearing.

Hooks uses the concept of integrity to show how men can heal the wound caused by the splitting of their soul:

This wound in the male spirit, caused by learned acts of splitting, disassociation and disconnection, can only be healed by the practice of integrity.

Hooks borrows a definition of integrity:

Integrity means being whole, unbroken, undivided. It describes a person who has united the different parts of his or her personality, so that there is no longer a split in the soul.

– Rabbi Harold Kushner, Living a life that matters

I found the next quote helpful to give us ideas about many areas in which we can try and grow our integrity by working on reducing our obsession with sex:

Obsession with sex can be healed when we reclaim all the essential aspects of the human experience that we have learned to manage without: our affinity for one another, caring connections with people of all ages and backgrounds and genders, sensual enjoyments of our bodies, passionate self-expression, exhilarating desire, tender love for ourselves and for another, vulnerability, help with our difficulties, gentle rest, getting and staying close with may people in many kinds of relationships.

– Bearman, Why Men Are So Obsessed With Sex

This last powerful quote is my favorite:

A culture of healing that empowers males to change is in the making. Healing does not take place in isolation. Men who love and men who long to love know this. We need to stand by them, with open hearts and open arms. We need to stand ready to hold them, offering love that can shelter their wounded spirits as they seek to find their way home, as they exercise the will to change.

5. Feminist masculinity

One of the first revolutionary acts of visionary feminism must be to restore maleness and masculinity as an ethical biological category divorced from the dominator model.

In my understanding, feminist masculinity is the new ideal of maleness that needs to be celebrated so that man can become who they are outside of the patriarchal model.

Here are three quotes about feminist masculinity. I found the first one particularly instructive:

Feminist masculinity presupposes that it is enough for males to be to have value, that they do not have to “do”, to “perform”, to be affirmed and loved.

Feminist masculinity defines strength as one’s capacity to be responsible for self and others.

Feminist masculinity would have as its chief constituents integrity, self-love, emotional awareness, assertiveness, and relational skill, including the capacity to be empathic, autonomous and connected. 

6. Reimagine family as a place for resistance

What can we do as individuals to help undermining the fundamentals of patriarchy? Hooks gives a clear answer:

Since we have yet to end patriarchal culture, our struggles to end domination must begin where we live, in the communities we call home.

If we are to create a culture in which all men can learn to love, we must first reimagine family in all its diverse forms as a place of resistance.

To create the culture that will enable boys to love, we must see the family as having as its primary function the giving of love.

As we’ve seen in part two, boys are assaulted by patriarchy since their youngest age. Hooks gives extra advice about how to help our boys:

Progressive parents who strive to be vigilant about the mass media their boys have access to must constantly intervene and offer teachings to counter the patriarchal pedagogy that is deemed “normal”.

To truly protect and honour the emotional lives of boys we must challenge patriarchal culture. And until that culture changes, we must create the subcultures, the sanctuaries where boys can learn to be who they are uniquely, without being forced to conform to patriarchal masculine visions.

Caring fathers with bold strength and integrity shield the open, tender hearts of their sons, protecting them from patriarchy’s hardhearted assaults. 

Let’s finish this review with this quote full of hope for men ready to exercise the will to change:

Ultimately the men who choose against violence, against death, do so because they want to live fully and well, because they want to know love. These are men who are true heroes, the men whose lives we need to know about, honour, and remember.

What I used to eat and the start of my nutrition revolution

From January 2017 to June 2018 I was working like a machine on a personal project and I gave little thought to what I was eating. My diet was composed almost exclusively of:

  • breakfast: a cup of coffee and some nutella spread on some of those Swedish crackers (wasa), or some muesli with milk
  • eating outside once a day: pizzas, sushis, salads, burger-king, often in take-away
  • very basic home cooking: pastas/rice with pesto or tomato sauce, pork chops, chicken breasts, beef steaks, frozen vegetables or veggie mixes and sashimi
  • snacks composed of cookies or milk chocolate

Looking backwards from where I am now, a few points (pretty obvious for most people) stand out about this diet:

  • Not healthy: lack of diversity, fast food, processed food, quite ‘greasy’, not organic
  • Produces tons of wastes from the packagings and boxes
  • Not environmental-friendly
  • Almost no fruits and very low on vegetables
  • Quite pricy
  • Not considering animal suffering (spoiler alert for my current experience with veganism)

From an external point of view though, I wasn’t looking that bad. I had been eating in a very healthy way since I was a child (thanks mom!) and I always exercise a lot. I can’t tell how exactly this diet impacted my health but I’m pretty sure it played a critical role in the depressive state I was in, as well as in the apparition of a few weird body symptoms that I’m not sure I want to talk about here.

In late June 2018 I realised that it was time for a change. OK, some friends rightly suggested that I needed, I quote, a proper food education. I don’t know if it sounds rude, but they were right (many thanks to them!). So I decided to start a personal nutrition revolution. And there came the porridge, and the very first step from getting back to reality and out of depression.


Keeping up with the flow

On July 4th 2018 I experienced for the first time a conscious flow situation. I was climbing at the bouldering gym and I was enjoying the climb in a very unique way. Everything felt easy. I felt in total control of my body and mind. The moves came naturally. I was focused on nothing else but the climb. It was a kind of ecstatic trance in which I was feeling at the top of my capacities, truly alive and absorbed in the moment.

I was working on a 7b+ project that I had been trying for already 3 sessions (about 20-25 tries). Suddenly I felt that this was the moment. I set up my phone to record the attempt, and the project was completed:

2018, July 4th, 11:02 AM

After this success I continued my session and I was still feeling pretty good. I felt so in control that I tried to redo on camera a 7c problem that I had succeeded only once (after many tries) and that I failed many other times since: the move in the middle is quite demanding for me and requires great coordination. Nevertheless, the attempt resulted in one of my smoothest send ever:

2018, July 4th, 11:18 AM

I was so hyped that I left my phone at the same place to try and record another 7b+ project that I had tried many times without success. And to my surprise, this one worked as well (although there was quite some struggle!). At this point I was not believing what was happening.

2018, July 4th, 11:21 AM

Those three success happened within twenty minutes. I was very confused. After the session the word flow came to me to express this feeling. It is only later that I discovered that flow is a concept used in psychology to describe this exact sort of situation. Here is a definition from wikipedia:

The mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.

This concept of flow was named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975. In his book on the topic (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience), Csíkszentmihályi uses many descriptions of ‘flow’ situations coming from rock-climbers and chess players. As both a rock-climber and a chess player, this reading was for me a revelation.

Since that day I started learning about what flow is and how to reproduce this mental state in various situations of the everyday life (other hobbies, work, household tasks, interactions with people, etc.). Doing so tremendously improved my quality of life.

How coaching other climbers improved my climbing and my life

As soon as I started to genuinely care about  helping my friends to become better climbers and doing research for this purpose, I learnt many useful things that tremendously improved both my own climbing and quality of life. A key reading for me was the article Train Like a Pro in which an apprentice climber describes his experience when training with Coach Sjong, the so called Climbing Sensei.

“Nearly everything Sjong says is eye-opening and brilliant. He changes your entire perspective on climbing technique five times per session. He is indeed, a sensei.”

Coaching is a skill

I used to misunderstand what being a good coach means. To me, it was obvious that if I was a better climber (if that means anything at all), I would be able to give useful advice to someone climbing on lower grades. This happens to be completely wrong. I might be a rather good climber but I used to be a terrible coach.

What happened is that I realised that the way I was coaching people was close to simply showing off. For example, I used to rely too much on showing the moves myself or giving away answers too quickly. I don’t think this approach was truly beneficial to anyone. The new approach I use now is much more satisfying, efficient and fun. It can be described as follow:

  • Start from understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the climber. Has they climbed before? What kind of climbing (indoor/outdoor, lead-climbing, bouldering, etc.) How do they do in terms of strength, power, balance, technique, flexibility, finger strength, overall fitness? How motivated are they to make progress?
  • Learn to know them as a person. Build an authentic relationship and understand their fears, personality or mental images that might impact their climbing as well as the relation between coach and apprentice.
  • Design personalised exercises to allow them discovering new situations, new problems and work on their weaknesses.
  • Be a good observer and guide. Observe them climbing, listen to their observations and ask them questions such as ‘what happened there?’ or ‘what do you think you could do differently?’ to guide them and allow them to develop their own thinking.
  • Try and avoid showing moves or giving away answers too quickly. This is similar to the Eastern way of teaching calligraphy, martial arts, philosophy, etc.
  • Don’t assume that you know everything. I can learn things to improve my own climbing even from a complete beginner.
  • Victory checks, or any friendly sign between climbers or coach and apprentice are a good way to celebrate achievements (like toping a problem). It rapidly becomes a ritual and it brings everybody a little more into the ‘pack’ or the climbing community. As a coach, I try to give more values to those checks by only giving or accepting them when people genuinely did something beyond their usual comfort zone.

Bouldering outdoors near Stockholm. Credits to Alice De Schutter

There’s nothing wrong with not being a pro

I used to feel a little uncomfortable or even envious when comparing myself to pro-climbers. Those people enjoy climbing so much that they are able to devote their life to it and even do it for a living. Why can’t I do the same? This was obviously a childish reasoning and I now understand two things.

First, I have many hobbies and other priorities in life and I’m much happier spending time doing many things instead of focusing on climbing only. I also doubt that I would be able to survive for a long-time if I had to live from my climbing skills!

Second, I don’t have to ‘be a pro’ (whatever that means) to enjoy climbing for what is is. The only purpose of climbing is climbing. I like climbing, and that’s the only thing that matters. I can continue making progress (or not!) and enjoying the feeling of climbing without having to devote my life to it.

The funny thing is that because of this barrier I had in my mind before, I used to be always a little shy when talking to climbers way stronger than me. Now that I understand that ‘there is nothing wrong with not being a pro’, I’m actually having good times with really good climbers (and pros!) at the different gyms I’m climbing at. And I’m learning a lot from them.

Focusing on the outcome is not a good strategy

Here is a quote from the article mentioned in the introduction:

“Leading 5.11a isn’t a goal. It’s an outcome. The goal is to address your weaknesses. If we are successful, the outcome will be climbing 5.11a. You can achieve the outcome without reaching your goals or vice versa, but you’ll grow more as a climber in the long term if you achieve your goals.” – Coach Sjong

It doesn’t seem like much at first but this was actually huge for me. So much so that I started applying this to my own life and realised I was definitely focusing too much on fame, money or personal achievements. Now I know that by focusing on achieving my own goals, I’m growing more as a human.

The weakest link principle

This is related to the previous point (the goal is to address your weaknesses). I found that this principle makes a lot of sense in climbing since it’s very easy to understand in the context of this sport.

In bouldering, the aim is to complete a problem by climbing to the top. You either succeed or fail. There is no in-between possibility. So the feedback is objective and immediate.

What makes bouldering so interesting is that there are always many ways in which a problem can be solved. Different people will come up with different ideas of move order or moves that might all result in a success. As everybody has different natural strengths and preferences, the natural tendency is to rely on their main strength to solve problems. For example, I used to over-use mu upper-body strength to power through problems.

The issue with this approach is that different problems are oriented towards specific skills that, if used correctly, will make the climb easier and much more efficient. For example, powering through a technical problem on a positive wall with small footholds isn’t a really good idea. And this is were the ‘weakest link principle’ comes into play. I can increase my overall climbing level tremendously if I focus on my weaknesses.

A small change in your weakest areas will have a great effect on overall performance, while a significant improvement in the strongest areas will have a much smaller effect. For this reason, maximizing improvement requires discovering your weakest areas and targeting them as your top training priorities.” – Coach Sjong

Here is a list of different skills required to be a balanced climber, ordered by my personal situation. Since I started focusing on my weaknesses, a lot changed in my climbing.

  • Power (Although there is nothing as too much power.)
  • Analysis / Creativity (Being colour-blind forces me to think a little…)
  • Technique (I used to underestimate the importance of feet placement for a long time. Coaching other climbers is helpful to better understand concepts that have already became habits but can still be made more efficient.)
  • Finger strength (I started to train it this week for the first time, but it was already quite good since I started climbing at an early age.)
  • Flexibility (Now stretching in the morning and after sessions. Also working on the split.)
  • Focus / mental (This introspection work is helping a lot.)
  • Nutrition (How to eat in a more healthy way or what to eat to recover after sessions. Cooking a selecting healthy food is has become a new hobby!)
  • Stamina (I should do more lead-climbing and activities such as running or swimming. But this is not that useful for bouldering.)

Applying the same principle to my life, I’m now focusing more on vital activities that I haven’t been too much concerned about until then, such as cooking, helping others, learning practical things (such as how to do household tasks or gardening), expressing my feeling, observe and care about nature, cultivating friendship, etc. And as in climbing, I can see promising results.


With this new goal of addressing weaknesses in mind, training became a lot more fun. I started doing research on specific exercises or routines that I can do to improve on specific areas. For example I’m currently training my finger strength.

Training is very satisfying because I can easily measure my progress by taking notes of my performance session after session. Moreover improvements are noticeable when going back to the climbing wall.

Warm up and stretching is essential

I used to underestimate the importance of warming up and stretching before and after the sessions. A good warm up tremendously improve my quality of climbing. I’m a lot more precise on my footwork and I feel my body in a much different way, getting in flow situations a lot more easilySimilarly, stretching after sessions is key to recover faster, reduce the risk of injuries and being able to do more sessions per week.

In my personal life a parallel can be drawn with the importance of having a morning and night routine.

Balance is everything

Here is another quote from the conversation between Coach Sjong and his student:

“What do you think footwork is?”

“Using your legs to move your body up the wall?”

“Incorrect. Your knees move your body up and down. Your feet and your toes manage your hips. […] You can use your toes to pull your hips into the wall. You can pivot your feet to swing your hips into a different position. Our hips are roughly our center of gravity. Our center of gravity controls our balance. Balance is everything.”

Every bouldering problem can be solved using a myriad of different approaches using different skillsets. But no matter what the approach is, balance is the common factor. You can’t climb to the top if you are not balanced or if you lose your balance.

I find this advice to be of inestimable value when applied to life in general. Everybody is free to live the life they want to have and become who they want to be. All I need to do is to find the correct balance. This concept is also related to the concept of harmony (thinking about the constant balance between Yin and Yang energies, for example).

First try at commenting a chess game while playing live

For quite some time I’ve been following chess commentators on Youtube (John BartholomewChessNetwork and Agadmator are my favourite).

Watching chess videos is sometimes more convenient than reading chess books. Yes, it’s more passive than actively reading and going through the moves on a chessboard. But the nice thing with live commentary is that you can listen to the player’s thoughts live.

I believe recording those videos is also very helpful for the authors to improve their own understanding of how they play the game. So today I challenged myself made my own live commentary while playing a 15+5 game on

NOTE: The audio quality is quite terrible, especially during the first two minutes. I’m currently recording with the embedded mic of a MacbookAir. Any advice on how to improve audio in future videos is welcome.

There will probably more videos of this type in the future:

  • It’s a good way to improve my understanding about how I think when playing chess.
  • I can listen to myself speaking in English and try to catch grammar or pronunciation mistakes that I wasn’t aware of.
  • This prevents me from spending too much time playing chess online. Recording one game is quite demanding in terms of mental energy.
  • It’s quite fun to do!

Climbing background and mental plateau

First a little bit of background.

I started climbing when I was 9 years old. Although I competed in regional and national competitions (lead-climbing) in France when I was a teenager, I went out of the competitions around 16 and gave up climbing for about three years between 2009 and 2012 because of studies, study-related travels and a shoulder injury.

In 2012 I slowly went back to climbing as a simple hobby. Today I focus almost exclusively on bouldering for several personal reasons: I find it more convival, funnier and more convenient to fit in my time-schedule (I can climb alone). Last but not least the indoor bouldering problems are easier to memorise than longer routes in case I have issues with the colour of the holds. Yep, I’m colourblind, but sadly enough I don’t qualify as a disabled athlete so I won’t be able to compete in the upcoming Olympics, in which climbing will be featured for the first time! RIP my career as a pro climber, and kudos

In 2017 I arrived in Stockholm and discovered a wonderful climbing gym via Eric Karlsson’s Youtube Bouldering channel (probably the best Youtube channel about bouldering at the moment). As a newcomer in a foreign country, I was excited to be able to continue this hobby and meet new fellow rock-climbers. Between January 2017 and June 2018, I climbed on average twice a week, with various level of dedication.

During that period I made some decent progress. My max-level used to be 7a+/7b (quotation used in Klättercentret, the leading climbing-gym franchise in Stockholm, which are said to be quite overrated. But it’s still useful for measuring individual progress). In early 2018 I had for objective to complete my first 7c. This actually happened sooner than expected, right in January. Since then I managed to complete about ten 7c, most of them during the past weeks.

I could definitely see some progress but there was two issues. First, this progress mostly came from a brute-force approach, without much thinking about how or why I was improving. Second, I was becoming more and more pessimistic regarding my ability to keep making progress, for several reasons:

  • The 7c+ grade seemed way beyond my reach.
  • I was feeling that I was progressing mainly due to an increase of power, which has always be my main strength. But power on its own is not enough (although there is no such thing as too much power!).
  • I believed that only ‘professionals’ or full-time climber could climb harder.
  • I was realising that I would have to start training at the gym, and I didn’t like the idea.
  • I was depressed (ok, this might as well be the main reason).

A few weeks down the road, I found answers to all those issues and I realise that what happened is that I had hit a mental plateau.

The answer to go beyond this plateau came when I started to invest time and genuine attention in coaching my friends at a beginner/intermediate level. With the performance of my friends in mind, I started talking to other people and doing some research about training and how to become better at climbing. In the end I discovered ideas that not only made me a better coach, but also improved my own climbing skills, as well as my general attitude towards life.

Why I like programming

By programming I mainly mean ‘web development’ as this is what I’ve mostly been doing.

I like programming because …

  • it is a mix of writing, reading, logic and art.
  • it involves personal decision making, group working and constructive feedback loops with other developers, people with different roles and users.
  • it is linked to many other disciplines or activities such as design, psychology, project management, entrepreneurship, game design …
  • it solves real-world problems.
  • it requires to constantly learn new things and better ways to do things.
  • it is a ‘hard skill’.
  • it can be used to do jobs that pay relatively well.
  • I can see the direct result of my work.
  • it is a craft that doesn’t requires me to be in a specific location. All I need is a computer and possibly an Internet connection.
  • it requires to be 100% focused on the task. When I am in this situation, I feel like anything can be done and I’m committed to do everything it takes to get it done.
  • it’s deeply satisfying to learn new concepts or understand how a piece of code works and slowly feel that everything comes together and becomes a ‘second nature’. In the good days, I think about the problems I have during the night, and when I reach the computer in the morning I know exactly what needs to be done. In those moments the coding part is almost automatic.

How to learn to learn new things

The short answer is that (like everything else!), you learn how to learn new things by learning new things! Yeah, I know it’s, confusing (or trivial?) but it will hopefully make sense soon.

Pick up anything you like and learn it!

If you want to learn how to draw, you need to pick up something to draw (let’s say animals). The more you draw animals, the better you become at drawing animals, and it will then be easier to learn how to draw other things, like human faces (I know, humans are animals too but that’s not the point).

Now, if you want to learn how to learn, you need to pick up something to learn (let’s say drawing). The more you learn how to draw, the better you become at drawing, and it will then be easier to learn how to learn something else.

Get your feet wet and cold

The first thing I do is to pick something I really want to learn. Usually it is something that I would like to do or that I find challenging. It’s actually best if I can identify areas where I’m clearly behind the average. For example, I know that I’m rather good at intellectual tasks, but I also know (because people told me!) that I’m quite ignorant in practical, day-to-day tasks. This is why I’m currently learning how to take care of plants, how to clean my apartment or how to cook better meals for others and myself. Realising what I’m bad at is a pleasant activity in itself.

When selecting the thing I want to learn, I am really open. It can be anything. I have no shame. I recently learnt how to clean my fridge and freezer. I also learnt that buying a mat and installing it at the doorway is a good way to avoid dirt spreading everywhere in my apartment when I invite friend over (I told you I have very low practical skills). The only limit is my imagination and ability to break my self-esteem and make fun of myself. It doesn’t have to be a “useful” skill. The whole point is that by learning something, I understand better the process of learning, and this makes it easier to learn other things.

For example, when learning how to clean my freezer, I realised that some chunks of ice had coagulated under the shelves. Since the first step of cleaning a freezer was to turn it off (because my dad told me, I couldn’t figure it out myself), everything was starting to melt down, and soon a lot of water was starting to accumulate at the bottom of the freezer. I figured out (by myself!) that I should take the chunks out before they melt and fall (I know, that’s pretty smart). So I started taking them with my fingers one by one (that’s not so smart). It was a long and very inefficient process. At this point you have to realise that more and more ice was melting down, and a large pool of water was starting to form out of the freezer. As I was barefoot, it started to be quite cold, which made the situation even more dramatic. But soon I had a brilliant idea: if I take a bucket and place it under the chunks, I could then shake the shelve and make everything drop at once in the bucket, without getting my feet wet.

Why am I telling this story? First, because this solution might sound trivial to anyone more experienced in cleaning a freezer or more experience in cleaning the household. But it wasn’t obvious for me, and this is what matters. I’m my mind, this was a big win. So the level of the activity doesn’t matter to actually enjoy the process of learning something. And the whole idea is to make learning an enjoyable process.

Now, how did I came up with this brilliant solution? Because I used to play Minecraft, the popular sandbox-game that dominates on Youtube in the gaming category. Minecraft is actually a good game to develop one’s creativity and ability to solve practical problems. It’s also a good game to learn how to create automatic and ultra efficient magma-based slaughtering machines that are ridiculously more powerful than the ones of our glorious modern meat industry, but maybe the developers (or the gods?) weren’t expecting the players (or us, sapiens) to do this. Still, in Minecraft, when you dig a block of sand above you (this game is all about digging and collecting blocks), it is destroyed and all the other blocks of sand above it are freely falling down, waiting for you to continue digging them one by one, if you’re not already dead because they felt on you. Luckily there is a glitch that allows you to destroy all the block of sands at once and collect all of them: you have to place a torch under the blocks of sand. I knew this because I saw a Youtube video explaining how to do this. Is this another weird rule of Minecraft’s physic or a bug exploit, I don’t know. But this is what I had in mind: cleaning the freezer is like digging sand blocks in Minecraft: you can put something under and everything falls in nice and clean at once.

What practical advice can we take from this story?

  • Select something and take some time to try it on your own.
  • Do your own research about how to do it (tutorials, books).
  • If possible, find a coach or someone who has done it before.
  • At the same time that you learn new theoretical concepts, try and do the thing yourself. In my experience, I need to actively study, understand and assimilate individual concepts that I weren’t even aware of at the beginning. Once identified, I need to experience them, again and again. Then they will start to feel more natural, and in the end everything becomes linked together.
  • The last step is to ask for feedback, if the feedback isn’t already obvious.

On this subject the book Peakis quite enlightening. If I remember well, it mostly come to the points mentioned above. It’s a little more scientific reading though.

Making progress at something by doing something else

One last thing: by learning different things, you learn not only how to learn better, but you also unlock new ways of understanding things that you have already been learning. In my case, studying mathematics helped for studying Western philosophy. Learning about the relation between body and mind tremendously improved my rock-climbing abilities (as well as many other things like cooking, writing or just being creative). My experiences in programming, gaming and business management helped me to realise and solve my rampant addiction to Facebook and to my phone, which used to cause a high level of anxiety in my life. Physics helped me master cup-and-ball (hurray, best challenge ever).

Things I like to do


  • Make fun of myself
  • Challenge and surprise myself
  • Realise how ignorant I am
  • Climbing
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Programming
  • Learn languages
  • Handwriting (notes, letters, calligraphy…)
  • Chess
  • Role-playing games
  • Solving problems and thinking
  • Helping others
  • Walking in nature
  • Selecting good food, cooking and sharing meals
  • Meet people
  • Witness or create authentic moments or things
  • Have authentic discussions

There is no failure

From February 2017 to June 2018 I worked on a project called ChineseMe, an online method to help people learning Chinese.

This had to be a success. I have an MBA from Peking University and a MSc in Economics and Management from ESSEC Business school. I studied Chinese since I was 14. I learnt web development as a hobby since 2014. I’ve read books, followed classes, met many entrepreneurs and discussed about every possible dimension about how to make an Internet-based business. In February 2017 I met a friend who is also passionate about Chinese language and was ready to finance the ChineseMe project and allow me to work on project full-time from Stockholm. I quit my job and went all-in, thinking that nothing could go wrong. I knew that most of the time, first-time entrepreneurs fail. But hey, what could go wrong? I was so well prepare and I had the best possible profile to make a breakthrough in the industry of online Chinese learning.

What happened next? Of course I failed. Big time. Or more exactly, the project was a fail. Believe it or not, I did almost all of the most common mistakes that you usually see in articles about entrepreneurship:

  • Focused on fame and results instead of caring for people
  • Released the first product way too late.
  • Over-complicated product.
  • No real differentiation.
  • No real market.

Even if I knew about those things, I was blind to them. This is another hint at one of my rule: I can only learn by experiencing it myself. At the end I was completely depressed, staying at home (I lived in the office) and not seeing a lot of people. How did this happened? I gave everything I had on the project, but I wasn’t doing it with my heart. I did it mostly for the adventure, because I wanted to show others that I could do it and because it seems to be the logical thing to do given my educational background. I didn’t truly do it to help people learning Chinese. If I cared about this that much, I would probably be a Chinese teacher. And I’m not.

What did I learn?

  • Do it. You will never be as prepared as now.
  • There is no failure. ChineseMe didn’t bring me money nor fame. But I learnt a lot about myself (precisely that I don’t and shouldn’t care about money nor fame).
  • Do not “create a startup” or “be an entrepreneur” because it sounds cool.
  • Do something that you like, and very likely, this will lead to something good. Money and fame are not ends to follow. They are just the potential outcome that may happen when someone does what they like. And even if it doesn’t happen, at least you’ve done something you like.
  • Ask yourself: do you see you doing this for the rest of your life? If the answer is no, don’t do it.
  • Do not think about what other will think. Do it for you.