Hell Yeah or No (Book Summary)

Book Summary: Hell Yeah or No by Derek Sivers

Table of Contents

The Book in Three Sentences

In this book summary of Hell Yeah or No, you’ll learn a series of life lessons aimed at people who feel overwhelmed. The book is divided into different sections: changing perspective, what’s worth doing, fixing faulty thinking, and saying yes. Derek Sivers compiled lessons similar to “hell yeah or no” in a short, thought-provoking book.

Hell Yeah or No Summary

After starting, growing, and selling his company, Sivers couldn’t do the one thing he had been doing for years. He started thinking about “what’s worth doing, fixing faulty thinking, and making things happen.”

Updating Identity

What if you didn’t need money or attention?

What if we had so much money and praise that we didn’t need anything? In that case, what would you continue doing and what would you stop doing? Who would you be?

You don’t have to be local

You can focus locally, on your community. This is not useful to the world. Or you can focus globally, which is not useful to the community.

Action, not words, reveals our real values

Regardless of what you say, your actions reveal the truth. Your actions show you what you really want. You can 1) Stop lying to yourself and admit your priorities. 2) Start doing what you’re saying and see if you want it.

Keep earning your title, or it expires

Don’t call yourself something you’re not. Success comes from doing, not saying.

Why are you doing?

Why are you doing what you’re doing? Pursue what you actually want, not what others convinced you that you want. Optimize for the goal you chose and let go of the others. If you try to do a little bit of everything, you’ll be in conflict with yourself. First, you need to admit what you want, then you need to pursue it. People are always going to tell you you’re wrong. Some will always say you’re wrong.

Imitate we are an imperfect mirror

Your imitation will turn out different from the original anyway and it can appeal to an entirely new audience.

Loving what I used to hate

Don’t say you like or dislike something, you might change your mind soon. Old opinions shouldn’t define our future selves.

The public you is not you

When people talk about you on the internet, they’re talking about an online representation of you. You can’t take online criticism (or praise) seriously.

Character predicts your future

What matters most is the direction you’re headed. Your actions predict future success (or failure)

Fish don’t know they’re in water

We’re so immersed in our culture we don’t even see it as such. Remember that your culture isn’t right or wrong, it’s just one of many options.

Are you present-focused or future-focused?

Present-focused people pursue immediate gratification. Future-focused people delay gratification. Both mindsets are necessary. The former to enjoy life and the latter to get more profound happiness or a sense of achievement.

Small actions change your self-identity

Getting successful starts with a little action and then escalates from there.

Saying No

If you’re not feeling “hell yeah”, then say no

Don’t surround yourself with mediocrity because you’ll miss out on the great. Say yes to less. If your reaction to something isn’t “hell yeah” say no. Say no to almost everything. Saying no makes the act of saying yes more powerful. “Hell yeah or no” is a decision to stop deciding. Your answer to all distractions should be “no” by default”. By saying yes to one thing, you can say no to all the others.

Art is useless and so am I

Art is useless. If it wasn’t, it would be a tool. The same goes for you. You don’t have to be useful all the time. Do things that are useless to others, but that you love.

I’m a very slow thinker

Your first reaction to a question is usually outdated, an excuse not to think about an updated version.

Tilting my mirror (motivation is delicate)

A simple tweak makes a big difference between doing something or not. When something affects your drive, adjust the environment.

Quitting something you love

Quit something you love because you might be dependent. Something you love also makes you comfortable.

How will this game end?

When the game starts, you think short-term and make mistakes you only realize long-term. Before starting something, think about how it could end.

Solitary socialite

This is being physically on your own, but extremely social at the same time.

Getting out of a bad state of mind

How to get out of a bad state of mind:

  1. Ask yourself what’s wrong right now
  2. Observe now. Act later. Wait to take action. The longer you want, the smarter you’ll get.
  3. Raise standards. Say no to anything less than great.
  4. Focus on my goal.
  5. Do all the necessary stuff. Going through mundane stuff makes you realize you’re life’s fine.

Making Things Happen

There’s no speed limit

When doing something, you don’t have to follow the standard pace. If you’re motivated enough, you can choose a more intense pace instead and finish earlier than most.

Relax for the same result

Take the same path but more relaxed. The result will be pretty much the same, but you’re more likely to enjoy the experience.


The best, happiest, and most productive moments revolve around being disconnected. No internet, no phone, no TV, no people. Just solitude. To create, distractions like technology are obstacles. To be more successful, disconnect. That’s rare and valuable nowadays. Consuming the same stuff everyone’s consuming gives you no competitive edge. If you want to stand out, focus.

Unlikely places and untangled goals

You associate certain places with certain activities, but you can usually do them for free and at home. The same goes not only for locations, but languages, education, hobbies, and so on. Stop combining goals with old mental associations.

When you’re extremely unmotivated

When you’re extremely unmotivated, do dull tasks you’ve been postponing for ages.

Think like a bronze medalist, not silver

On a podium, the silver medalist is comparing himself to the gold medalist. Instead, the bronze medalist is glad he’s won anything at all. “Your happiness depends on when you’re focusing”. Instead of comparing yourself to a better situation, compare yourself to a worse one. Don’t buy the best thing, buy the good enough. Think and don’t feel the pressure to keep up.

Imagining lots of tedious steps? Or one fun step?

If we love something, it looks simple, like one fun step. If we hate doing something, it looks hard, like many tedious steps. When you think about doing something and you see it as a series of tedious steps, maybe you don’t like it as much as you think you do.

Procrastination hack: change “and” to “or”

When you have a list of conditions before you do something change “and” to “or”. There are always more than two options: great insight comes from opening your mind to more options.

Beware of advice

When someone gives you advice, they’re talking about themselves. They can’t know everything about you. You’re the only one who knows what to do.

Switch strategies

At first, you should say yes to everything. Focus your energy on one thing. Then, you learn to say “hell yeah or no”.

Don’t be a donkey

Think long-term. Focus on one thing at a time.

Changing perspective

Assume you’re below average

If you do, you listen more, ask more questions, and you admit you’re still learning.

Everything is my fault

Think of everything as your fault. This is better than forgiveness. If you forgive someone, you blame the other person and you’re the victim. This gives you control and a chance to learn from your mistakes.

I love being wrong

Being wrong is great because it gives you the opportunity to learn. Being lost means going somewhere unexpected.

Singing the counter melody

Provide a counter melody to compensate for something, to complement a popular opinion.

What are the odds of that?

See everything as a coincidence.

Two three four ONE, two three four ONE

Sometimes we take things as facts, but they make more sense if they were the opposite.

232 sand dollars

Sometimes the excitement comes from finding something, not keeping it.

My favorite fable

Sivers’s favorite fable is the one about a man and a horse.

What’s worth doing?

Obvious to you. Amazing to others

Think that what’s obvious to you, might seem genius to someone else. Don’t hide something from the world just because it seems obvious.

Happy, smart, and useful

When making life decisions, consider:

  • What makes you happy?
  • What’s smart?
  • What’s useful to others?

How to do what you love and make good money

  • Have a well-paying job.
  • Pursue art for love, not money.

What do you hate not doing?

What bothers you if you don’t do it enough?

You don’t need confidence, just contribution

After selling his company, the author started learning. He felt paralyzed because he didn’t know as much as he thought. He learned that:

  • Learning without doing is wasted.
  • It isn’t about him.
  • The work is the point, and his work is unique. If someone finds his work useful, it should be done.

Let pedestrians define the walkways

Don’t make walkways, wait for a year and look where the grass has worn away. Then pave those paths. In other words, make decisions as late as possible.

Don’t start a business until people are asking you to

Never start a business without an idea. “Find real people whose problem you can solve”. Don’t announce anything, don’t choose a name, and don’t make a website or an app. You need to be free to change or ditch the idea. Prove a demand. Start your business as late as possible.

Parenting: Who is it really for?

Sivers spent 30 hours with his child since he was born. One-on-one, giving him full attention. The parenting you do is always for yourself. These are some of the things Sivers did with his child:

  • He cultivated a long attention span. Whatever the child’s doing, that’s the most important thing. You do it as long as possible.
  • He entered his world. Phone off. Computer off.
  • Broadens his inputs. Play in different places doing everything he can. He listened to varied music. Reads for an hour. Watches movies from start to finish with no interruptions.

OK Milt, I’ll start writing again

Time’s limited. Time we spend on a thing is time not spent on another thing.

Fixing faulty thinking


What you learned in the past, you might have to unlearn now.

  1. Doubt what you know
  2. Stop the habit of thinking you know it
  3. Require truth that it’s true today. Let it go.

In order to be wise, not only do you need to add, but you also need to subtract.


Sometimes regardless of how much you add, you’ll never get where you want to be. Have a narrow focus, and protect yourself against time-wasters. Say no.

Smart people don’t think others are stupid

Being smart means thinking things through. Being stupid means avoiding thinking by jumping to conclusions.

The mirror

It’s about you, not them: all that matters are the ideas, not the person behind them. 

Assume men and women are the same

To compensate for your tendency to exaggerate the differences between men and women, assume they’re the same.

Moving for good

To get smarter, you need something different. Sometimes you can do this from the comfort of your home, but to do it more effectively, you should move across the world. Commit to that choice. Eventually, you’ll realize your beliefs were wrong. They were an expression of the culture where you grew up.

Learning the lesson, not the example

Don’t focus on the example. Use it as a metaphor and apply the lesson to your context.

Overcompensate to compensate

To make a significant change, be extreme. Overcompensate. Eventually, things will balance themselves out and they’ll become the new normal.

Projecting meaning

As an artist, do something so that other people create meaning that wasn’t intended. This is useful to memorize but beautiful at the same time. Nothing has meaning, yet we project meaning onto things all the same.

Saying Yes

After fifteen years of practice

Sivers wanted to sing so he practiced for fifteen years to achieve it. When someone does something that feels natural, that person probably practiced for years too.

Goals shape the present, not the future

Do you have a goal you’ve been putting off? Let it go. Had it been a good goal, you would have done something already. A good goal makes you think about doing it one day. A bad goal paralyzes you to the point that you don’t know where or how to start.

Seeking inspiration?

Inspiration means to breathe in. Don’t forget to breathe out too. Breathing in means consuming something that’s inspirational. Breathing out means creating something with it. Nothing is inspiring unless you do something with it. Inspiration is not information. Inspiration is creating something with it.

Possible futures

Create a folder called “possible futures”. Each plan is one of many possible futures that might happen or not. This encourages you to daydream just for the sake of it.

If you think you haven’t found your passion…

Using terms like “passion” and “purpose” is dangerous. Just notice what excites you and what scares you.

Whatever scares you, go do it

Once you do it, you’re no longer scared.

Further Reading

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