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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lim

MF 399 : Lessons from Cobra Kai season 5, a course on happiness, and the power of the notes app

Updated: Sep 23, 2022

Today, John covers Cobra Kai season 5 and takeaways you can apply in your own content creation, Yale's course on happiness, and secret features of the iPhone's notes app. More at

Moving Forward is also available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon Music.

The wisdom of Cobra Kai season 5 that you can apply in your life

Cobra Kai recently debuted its fifth season and I admit I was a little worried whether the show was running out of steam. Building a franchise is a mammoth undertaking, especially when built upon a property that was never intended to be one. Unlike the Marvel franchise, the first Karate Kid film was never envisioned as a stage one of a larger universe. However, when that film became a huge sleeper hit, the appetite was there for more stories and the studio obliged with three more sequels. While I love all of the films, objectively speaking, they experienced diminishing returns in quality with signs of franchise fatigue. By the time the third sequel, The Next Karate Kid, came out in 1994, I didn't bother seeing it in theaters, and based on the box office numbers not many people did.

That's why when Cobra Kai debuted in 2018, it was like an unexpected breath of fresh air. The show benefited by being in the hands of creators who are experienced filmmakers and diehard fans of the original movies.

Moreover, they did something really smart. They didn't simply wait and see what would happen with the first season to plan the next chapter. They mapped out the entire arc of the show: beginning-middle-end. They envisioned the broad strokes of where the story would go, and when and how the OG film characters would be brought back into the series. They took their time and put their focus on the story rather than misuse the nostalgia and cheapen the legacy.

All of this brings me back to season 5. As with season 1, my fears were overblown. Season 5 is a staggering achievement in storytelling, writing, acting, and mythology building. The payoffs, surprises, and introduction of new characters and reintroduction of old characters are all well earned. Whereas the original films and the first four seasons are parables about fathers-and-sons, season 5 is ostensibly about family, both nuclear and extended.

Moreover, this is confident storytelling at its finest. You can tell the creators have a plan, an arc, and this is why the show continues to maintain its strong record of telling a tale that's worthy of your attention and eyeballs. The creators have said in many interviews, some dating back to before season 1, that they have the entire show mapped out. This, I believe, is why Cobra Kai succeeds whereas many shows and films run on too long past their due date.

The lesson here is clear. The more you plan with a big picture in mind, the more you see things from a 10,000 foot view, the easier it will be to fill in the chapters that will get you to the finish line. I believe this is a valuable lesson in storytelling that can be applied in many areas of your life.

Recently, I coached a friend and her colleague on starting a podcast. I started with my most important lesson: the exit. Plan out the end before you start: how many episodes, seasons, etc. To me, this is more important than the technology and having the right microphone. Having a roadmap of your beginning-middle-end will give you direction, focus, and keep you on track when podcasting is no longer a "shiny new object." It will give you motivation to crank out another episode when you're not quite feeling it. The tricky thing about a podcast is that it's very easy to start one. Staying on course, however, requires something more than the allure of speaking into a mic and having your show broadcast on Apple or Spotify.

This mindset can also help you in your career or business. Transitioning from jobs or advancing within organizations is part of your story. Your career can be seen as chapters or seasons of a show. Each one contributes to a larger narrative. In 2022, it's more likely you will change jobs or start a new business than stay with one company for your entire career. Thus, it's vital to have a bigger picture to guide you in making important decisions.

Whether it's content creation, writing, podcasting or your career, we can all take a page from Cobra Kai's playbook and map out arcs that will take us to bigger and better places.

Cobra Kai is now available on Netflix

My Cobra Kai's season rankings

  1. Season 4

  2. Season 3

  3. Season 5 (almost tied with Season 3)

  4. Season 1

  5. Season 2

Happiness in a course?

Recently, I've been in a period of transition. From finishing my new book to migrating my podcast to moving back home after a two-year sojourn helping my dad during the pandemic. It's been a lot to process and part of me has been struggling with all of the changes. As such, I wanted to explore mindfulness. As I discussed on episode 288, meditation has become an important of balance and improving my overall health and mood.

About a month ago, I saw an article post online about a so-called "happiness" course offered by Yale University. The course is available for free online through Coursera and has been cited as one of its most popular offerings. I made a mental note of it, setting a reminder to take a look into it. I put it off for a few weeks but once Labor Day weekend arrived, I decided to give it a try.

The course's actual title is "The Science of Well Being." It is a 10 week course made up of video lectures, weekly exercises, and supplemental readings. It's self-paced so you can spread it out according to your schedule. Better yet, this course is currently (as of the time of this blog) offered for free (there is a paid version if you want a certificate, otherwise the free version provides access to all of the lectures and exercises).

I'm about halfway through the class, going at about two sessions per week and so far, I'm really enjoying it. I'll share one of the big learnings that has reshaped the way I look at happiness, both from a day-to-day perspective and a larger philosophical one.

Hedonic Adaptation

This is a big concept covered in the early lectures. The idea is that we often measure happiness in terms of acquisition: be it a new material possession (eg the latest iPhone or new car) to a new relationship or job. While all of these things can and do bring happiness, we're wired to adapt to them very quickly. In the case of a new gadget it might be a few weeks. For a marriage, it might be two years. Regardless, our brains adapt to these new acquisitions or milestones causing them to become part of our "normal." This is what scientists call "hedonic adaptation." When that happens, the happiness they bring wanes. As a result, we're often left feeling let down or in search of the next dopamine hit.

The course explores several ways to combat this phenomenon:

  1. Since happiness is fleeting but objects are not, put your emphasis on collecting experiences over things. Experiences can range from travel to coffee with a friend.

  2. Since these experiences are temporal, we gain greater happiness in the moment and carry fond memories once they are over.

  3. With respect to objects and milestones, you can re-engage their happiness inducing effects by reliving the moment you first acquired or achieved them. Spend 8 minutes doing this as vividly as possible. This will reignite the feelings you had when they were new.

  4. Another way you can do this is what Professor Laurie Santos calls the It's a Wonderful Life exercise. In the movie, It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) is going through a rut. He believes that his life is meaningless. On Christmas Eve, an angel visits George to show him what things would be like if he were never born only to reveal that he has made a significant impact in many people's lives. To that end, take a moment to imagine your life without that object or special person in your life. The sense of loss will improve or rekindle the happiness, especially with long-term relationships.

There are many interesting facets and exercises tied to happiness and well-being covered in this course. I highly recommend you check out.

"The Science of Well Being" is currently available for free on Coursera (with a paid option if you want to earn a certficate).

The note is mightier than the sword (and the pen)

Back in episode 338, I shared my two favorite productivity apps, including the Notes app on the iPhone. In addition to serving as an on-the-go scratch pad, you can use the Notes app for creating simple charts with rows and columns and checklists. You can also scan documents into .pdf format.

When you open the notes app, you'll see a toolbar above your virtual keyboard. From there, you will see options to create a chart, adjust the font, create a list, mark up note, and scan a document.

The notes app in action.

To scan a document:

  1. Click the camera icon.

  2. Choose scan documents.

  3. Hold the phone over the document.

  4. Align the yellow border around the document and wait for the app to snap a photo (or click the button to capture the image).

  5. Tip: place your document against a dark background.

  6. This will import the document as a scanned image into your note.

  7. From there, you can export it as a .pdf file.

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