Here’s my interview with Nick Wignall where he shares his work habits, routines, and guiding principles for life.
I connected with Nick Wignall back in 2019 via my newsletter and I've been following his work ever since. He's been consistently writing about psychology, emotional intelligence, and personal growth, making him one of the most popular writers on Medium.
Who’s Nick Wignall?
Nick Wignall is a psychologist and writer living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In addition to his work as a psychologist, Nick runs a popular blog and newsletter about the emotional side of personal growth at NickWignall.com.
He also teaches an intensive 5-week masterclass on the same topic several times a year called Mood Mastery.
What Are the Most Influential Habits in Your Life?
I try to exercise 4-5 times per week, usually some form of HIIT.
I love long-distance running but with a young family and a lot of work demands, it’s hard to find the time these days. I think of exercise as the master habit—partly because it has so many positive downstream effects from better sleep and moods to more clarity and focus in my work. But also because it just seems to make other habits easier to maintain.
I’m not sure what the mechanism is (increased self-confidence, maybe?) but exercising consistently makes it much easier for me to meditate regularly, write consistently, and even seems to improve the likelihood that I do smaller chores and obligations around the house like taking out the trash more consistently.
Mindfulness meditation is another important habit that has had a pretty profound impact on my life. I don’t do it for many of the common reasons like stress reduction, better sleep, lower anxiety, etc. Instead, I think of it as a way to spend quality time with my mind.
As a psychologist, I believe it’s important to cultivate a healthy and friendly relationship with your mind—thoughts, feelings, beliefs, expectations, moods, etc. And like any relationship, your relationship with yourself won’t improve unless you make quality time for it.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the ways I make time to be alone with my mind and build a better relationship with myself.
How Do You Set Goals and Manage Time?
I don’t like complicated time management and productivity systems.
95% of my time management is done with two legal pads on my desk:
1. One big one contains a running list of things I would like to do generally, loosely organized by topic (e.g. blog, housework, podcast, etc.). As ideas come to me I put them down there and then I remove them as things get done.
2. I also have a smaller notepad where I track daily to-dos. Typically, each afternoon before I leave work, I jot down a handful of the most important things I want to get done the next day so that when I sit down to work the next morning I can get right to those high-priority items. Once those are done, I usually review my bigger list and add a few items to the daily one.
Can You Describe Your Work Process and Thinking Behind It?
I tend to only work on things I find enjoyable and meaningful and have a pretty easy time turning down or saying no to things that other people might see as important but I just don’t find very interesting.
I guess I’m just sort of selfish in a sense. The upside is that motivation and focus are rarely problems for me. If I start writing an article and find it uninteresting I just stop and do something else. If I’m reading a book and the introduction is already boring, I have no problem quitting it and moving on.
A lot of this flows from being pretty clear about my personal values—what I find meaningful, important, and enjoyable.
When you are clear on what matters, and align your work with that, a lot of things just kind of fall into place.
Like, I don’t feel like I need big systems or methodologies to stay productive because I tend to only work on things that are intrinsically interesting and motivating.
Similarly, if I find myself procrastinating, I don’t get down on myself for it. Instead, I interpret it as a sign that I should be working on something more interesting and meaningful.
How Do You Train Your Body and Mind?
Like I mentioned earlier, consistent exercise and mindfulness meditation are probably my most important habits for staying healthy physically and mentally. Outside of those two, I wouldn’t say I do a lot of deliberate training.
How Do You Meet and Connect with People?
Twitter’s been a great way to meet people and build relationships online. Also, having a podcast and reaching out to people to come on the show as guests has been a cool way to at least start building relationships with people—including some of my “intellectual heroes” whom I never would have imagined getting to actually know.
Offline, I’m not sure I’m a great person to ask this of because I don’t really have much of a deliberate strategy or approach to meeting people and making friends. I’m a pretty curious person by nature, so I guess I just enjoy meeting and getting to know people because almost everybody is pretty interesting if you are willing to make space to get to know them.
Since having kids, I’ve realized that connecting with new people is far less of a priority than fostering my current relationships with my wife and daughters. And my big rule-of-thumb there is just quality time. Like, if you spend lots of easy, unstructured time with people, relationships tend to grow and mature on their own. I try to just be available with my family and kind of trust that the intimacy and depth of the relationship will grow from there.
What Are Your Sleeping Rituals?
Most nights my wife and I will watch a show or part of a movie from about 8:00 PM (after we put the girls to sleep) to 9:00. I’m in bed by 9:15 PM or so most nights, I read a little Sherlock Holmes on my phone, and usually fall asleep by 9:30 PM at the latest (sometimes I don’t even make it past the first page of what I’m reading.
I wake up at 5:00 AM almost every morning.
Like everyone, I occasionally have not-so-great nights of sleep, but I don’t make much of them, trusting that if I don’t sleep well one night my body is going to be that much more sleepy the next night.
I occasionally sleep in on a Saturday or Sunday morning, but for the most part, I’ve found that a consistent wake-up time is the backbone of a healthy sleep routine.
What Are Your Investing Habits?
I know very little about finance and investing.
I contribute some money each month to a personal retirement fund and college funds for each of my kids which are housed in pretty broad and conservative index funds. In general, I’d rather pay off my mortgage faster or invest extra money into my business or myself rather than put too much into markets and higher-risk vehicles.
What's One Question That Helped You Understand the World Better?
Whenever I see someone doing something I consider dumb, irrational, mean, or unjust, the question I like to ask myself is:
“What pain might this behavior be aimed at alleviating?”
Not only does this help me understand people and the world better, but I think it helps me be more compassionate with others and calm within myself as well.
I don’t always remember to do it. But when I do, it always feels like a much more humane way of responding to upsetting things.
It was something one of my first therapy supervisors suggested to me early in my training in graduate school.
What Books, People, Experiences Shaped Your Thinking?
When I was getting ready to go away to college, a family friend gave me probably the most helpful piece of advice I’ve ever received:
“Don’t choose classes because the subject looks interesting. Figure out who the best professors are and take whatever classes they offer, regardless of the subject.”
This turned out to be great advice for college. But it’s much more broadly applicable in life: Develop a nose for thoughtful, interesting people and hitch your wagon to them even if what they’re doing seems strange or uninteresting at first.
Many of the best decisions in my life came from following this advice to bet on people over ideas.
Maybe this sounds trite, but when you surround yourself with great people—spouse, business partner, friends, etc.—good things tend to happen.
My capacity for thinking clearly and making good decisions is incredibly limited. But I can hedge against this by finding and keeping good people close.