A Brief Summary of Cal Newport’s Deep Reset

Cal Newport recently had an excellent feature on his podcast called “The Deep Reset”, which he dedicated 10-15 minutes at the beginning of a handful of episodes, beginning in December.

Below is a summary of the methodology and each step, based on the notes I took during each podcast. I’d highly recommend listening to each podcast for a more comprehensive description.


The Deep Reset is defined as the phenomenon that humans have faced throughout time when an acute challenge in the normal way of life triggers a positive transformation of self. In short, they go through a reset experience.

When acute stress (such as the COVID-19 pandemic) disrupts your normal routine, this clears room in psychological space to hear intimations from within about what really is important and what’s not. These intimations are easily obscured when going through life in a rote routine. They are numbed away through screens and social media.

Cal argues that now is a better time than ever to conduct such a reset, as many of us are going through this aforementioned time of acute stress.

Over the course of 4 podcast episodes, he suggested a 4 part process.

Part 1

The first step of the Deep Reset is to inject silence and solitude into your life. This will amplify what is important and what is not. If there is not ample silence in your life, you won’t be able to take the proper shifts in behavior.

Cal suggested the following 3 steps for this process:

1. Consolidate news consumption into 1-2 news sources for an entire month. Read a morning newspaper, listen to a daily news round-up podcast in the morning, etc. Once that is done, then no more news consumption for the day

2. Next, find a way to perform an activity that is useful for others, preferably local. Redirecting the energy taking from doom scrolling and applying it as a sacrifice to the community signals an important step to yourself from selfishness to selflessness. It could be offering to serve as a virtual Big Brother, helping tutor local kids during an era of distance learning, or even donating blood.

3. Lastly, find one non-trivia activity to do on a regular basis that improves and empowers yourself. This could be a new workout program, an online course to finally learn that language, or a crafting something manually.

Part 2

The second step in the Deep Reset is a technique called resonance sampling. First, Cal recommends classifying the major areas in life. His four buckets, which I like, are below:

• Craft (work and quality leisure)

• Constitution (health)

• Community (family, friends, etc.),

• Contemplation (reflection, matters of the soul).

With these areas identified, spend time finding examples of people prioritizing these buckets and what resonates with you. For example, if you want to improve the amount of time you spend on deep work during your job, Cal himself might the guy to sample.

If you’re interested in no-nonsense, discipline-driven fitness, Jocko Willink might be a fit.

Cast a wide net in each area and see what resonates with you. The silence cultivated in the previous step is key here.

Once you have found a few people in each bucket of life, capture your thoughts somewhere – it could be a Moleskin notebook, Evernote, or a simple TextEdit file. As long as you are purposefully sampling, taking notes, and listening to yourself in a more systematic matter.

Part 3

The next part of the Deep Reset focuses on taking action on what you’ve discovered in the previous steps. The natural tendency, Cal argues, is to just jump into concrete goals. You may be feeling inspiration to run a marathon or quite your job.

Cal recommends a slightly slower approach – setting objectives that are achievable and move the needle can be a challenging process.

Instead, perform what Cal calls the heaven and hell exercise. This exercise is two-fold. First, write down a description of what it is about your life that isn’t working and project that into the future. If you don’t reset these areas of your life, how will things get worse?

Next, write down a vision of what life could be if you acted on and improved these elements that resonate with you. Write this as a narrative – what does a day look like? A week?

From this foundation, you can then launch particular goals and themes. Now there’s less pressure for a particular goal to work. If it doesn’t, then you’re not back at ground zero, it’s just one of many different strategies and attacks that you’re deploying to get to the heaven narrative.

For example, if your ultimate goals is to get back into shape to play basketball with your teenage son this summer, doing a couch to 5K program might be a quarterly goal. If that doesn’t stick, then all is not lost. Perhaps you could join a Crossfit-style gym or play pick-up games at the local YMCA.

The heaven and hell narratives should be in a document that you review monthly or quarterly, depending on your preference. As you expose yourself to new ideas and continue to resonance sample, update this as needed. When you review it monthly or quarterly, detail out what you are actively working on to move away from hell towards heaven.

Then, each week as you build a weekly plan, look at the document to ensure that your weekly strategy is aligned with moving forward towards the heaven outcome.

Using the example above, once you’ve decided to join a Crossfit-style gym, part of the weekly plan might be: Spend 30 minutes on Monday and Tuesday morning researching gyms within 5 miles of my work. See if they are 1) open and 2) offering any New Year’s discounts. Plan on reviewing findings and making a decision by end of week.

Part 4

In the final step of the Deep Reset, Cal notes that trying to do too much at once is a recipe for nothing happening at all. While you want to focus on efforts that will be transformational, think sequential, not parallel.

When identifying a milestone for a particular area of life, make it concrete and if possible, have a physical component to the objective coupled with behavioral.

Cal notes that he’s seen that a focus on physical component of objective is often a springboard to the behavioral change.

For example, if you wanted to improve your bench, deadlift, and squat this year, the physical change could be that you are going to take your garage space and convert into a home gym. Then, you could follow Jocko Willinck’s (who you sampled in a previous step) workouts from his book, Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual, and do those 3x/week.

One final tip: It’s important to be radical and over the top. Converting the garage is over the top, but in a good way. It signals to yourself that you’re willing and able to make big changes and the momentum it generates will be really strong.

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