Reading Time: 4 minutes
We’ve had good days where one thing happens after another. Good or bad, things are happening. By the end of the day, you might be exhausted, but likely pleased with a rewarding feeling of a full and productive day. Of course, leaving a lot more yet to be accomplished.
Conversely, there are the days where you can’t even get started. This isn’t the kind of day full of interruptions and roadblocks. It is simply the day you can’t get yourself to move. You feel out of the game, head in a fog, a general apathy.
I find if I don’t do something about this (like this blog post), the feeling could last all day. Both are positive feedback loops: apathy leads to more apathy, action leads to more action. So, what’s been said about turning the tide? How do we inject something into the apathy loop to make it negative and become a positive action loop?
One tool is to use small steps, or minor victories, to stack up the positive momentum. Psychologically, these small wins can achieve similar feelings in us as bigger ones. Surely there are some things on your task list that you know can be wiped out without too much effort. Line them up, and get cracking. Now that the cobwebs have been cleaned out, tackle a larger task that you hadn’t been able to get yourself to move on earlier.
You might even structure each day like this depending on what works for you. I like bigger, tougher cognitive load in the morning when I’m fresh. But if you find a need to hack yourself into productivity each day, why not start with two easy wins and then move forward? Results build momentum.
The same technique can be applied to work, or habit building, and much more. In the book The Net and The Butterfly a section on Science of Small Wins says:
“Small wins fuel transformative changes by convincing people that bigger achievements are within their reach. And what that means for you is to start with small steps, steps so small they seem ludicrously easy. That helps you build success momentumThe Net and The Butterfly
It seems our brains aren’t very good at distinguishing big successes from small successes. Your successes don’t need to be big things, like cleaning your entire home. Just wiping out the bathroom sink, he explained, can help create success momentum if—and this is key—you feel you succeeded.”
Change Your Ruler
Are you measuring (judging) yourself based on productivity? Is this the right measurement? Busy isn’t always what you want to be, but we do want to get things done. We can try changing our frame of mind, and choose to measure results instead of questioning our productivity. Asking ourselves questions like: How can I be most effective today, right now, or with my current mood?
Efficiency can be thought of as doing things better, but being effective is doing the right things. There is a correct application for each.
Similar to how I’ve mentioned a bias for action in the past, there are tools one can use to, in a sense, force yourself to GO. I sometimes use a Pomodoro timer, essentially a 25-minute window where you focus on just one thing and nothing else. No phone, no email, etc. Then, you have a 5-minute break. Take a walk, refill your water, whatever. Then, onto the next block.
I wager doing this several times a day will make you more productive than average.
Focus on Now
Yeah, yeah, be present. But the future is hard to predict, sometimes fun to ponder, but largely a distraction. So, make your view smaller: what can you do right now to move X forward? In Thorndike’s book The Outsiders, several executives are profiled for their ways of thinking and managing. I liked this:
“My only plan is to keep coming to work each day,” said Henry Singleton, “I like to steer the boat each day rather than plan ahead way into the future.”The Outsiders
The outsiders seemed to spend less time on the future and more on the present. These are quite successful people within the confines of their work, so apply this where you want. I imagine the future is just too difficult to get right, and there is plenty to do now. Also, thinking and planning the future can have an anchoring effect, thereby making it more difficult to change plans (or surmise the correct plan when comparing to the original) in the future when the future happens to be one that was unforeseen.
Ok, so this is all about getting moving. Making action happen, and sustaining that action. One must ask: is action preferred? The answer to any good question is: it depends.
Sometimes the best course of action is inaction. We must be aware enough to know, and sharp enough to recognize when this is the case. Also from The Outsiders:
“There’s a joke in NBA commentary that people don’t like to trade with the San Antonio Spurs because that team has made so many good trades, people assume they’re on the wrong end of one with them. The Spurs, like the outsiders, are crocodilian. They wait, wait, wait, and then GO!The Outsiders
The crocodile does not pursue prey, it waits for it, and so did the outsiders. Warren Buffett describes his investing activity as “inactivity bordering on sloth.”
I’m not much of a sports guy, so it reminded me of all the practical jokes Feynman would play on his colleagues at Los Alamos. Impressive amount of patience and tactics went into laying the groundwork for some of his jokes and safecracking exploits.
I would add, don’t be afraid to go clean a mirror or wash some dishes or take a walk around the block. I like to go on a run or some other physical blood-pumping activity. Then, I’ll come back to the thing ailing me. This time, I wrote this post and gathered these notes from my reading.
Now, onto the thing I couldn’t make myself do earlier. Or maybe I’ll clean the toilet.
Reading Time: 3 minutesWe are constantly in search of what to do and how to do it. We want answers. We’d even like the steps provided. A detailed How-To. Maybe a shortcut.
Could you do it for me?
Some things we must do ourselves. We’ve mostly caught on to that at this point. But maybe we haven’t fully internalized it. We find comfort in being told. Prescribed.
Does this not cause you anxiety? Is this not what makes us zombies?
I’m the first one to check in on best practices, to compare notes with others, to cut my workload of the heavy lifting when I know I’m walking a path that has been well worn by others before me and I do not need reinvention.
However, certain things in life must simply be done. And it is usually those things that require us to listen. Many of us don’t know how. I’m guilty.
Open minds and a machete. Let’s cut a path.
When was the last time you felt elated? The kind of elation that brings a wave rushed across your body and you’re left thinking, knowing, you’ve got goosebumps?
When were you last so at sync with what you were doing you lost your sense of time?
Can you recall when your mind was verbally silent? Have you ever embraced silence?
The natural environment is wordless. Be inside it.
That elation. Was there a feeling of expansion? Recognize it. Know to follow it. Your body is speaking to you.
We sleep in a cell. Commute in a vessel. Work in a box.
When was the last time you embraced and experienced a sunrise outside of one of the above confinements?
Gaze on the horizon. Look deep into the stars. Feel the universe.
“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” ― Joseph Campbell
There are many paths. Most are presented to us. Some we learn about too late. Either way, people have already been, and that’s comforting. Have you read Robert Frost? This wisdom is not new.
But there is no guide for cutting your own path. It requires listening. Seeing the clues. Being open to their reception in the first place.
It requires a bravery that I sometimes doubt within myself. Then I get pissed that it’s me that is betraying myself.
I followed a sign in Nepal. It pointed us to the next bridge. The path was certainly the path less traveled. But, it was, according to the sign, the path towards the village we needed to get to. The path, steep and overgrown, eventually led to a rope bridge, high above a rushing cold, white, boulder-ridden river. Ropes fraying. What prayer flags had survived were bleached and frayed, the wooden slats hadn’t fared much better.
Shell and I kissed in encouragement as I went first. One of us on the bridge at a time. This thing was on its last leg.
A quarter way across Shell starts yelling. She spotted another bridge. A much newer one. We turn around and hike back up to the main path to source the other way across the gorge.
Listen. Iterate. Be open. You’ll mess up, like we did. But don’t fear.
Some of our ‘mess ups’ were the best part of our year. Sometimes I wish we had more.
Stop caring about impact and just be the best version of you possible, then you’ll naturally have an impact. – Naval
Retool your guidance system. One not geared by culture and expectation. Not shoulds and Have-tos. But by listening to your inner self.
What do you need most right now? Don’t intellectualize it. Take the breadcrumb, and build.
We fear feelings, but that fear means we fear life.
We think we will leap when we know the answers. But to get somewhere we need to leap far before answers are known.
Embrace the unknown awhile. Embrace the silence. The first clue may just find you.
Photo: A Night Under the Perseids | Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Inspiration: Boyd Varty
Reading Time: 6 minutesFirst, a quick aside: I wrote the majority of this during the MLK Day weekend. It seems more imperative this year than others of recent memory to remember and celebrate MLK for who he was and his mission. So before moving toward this essay, I’d like to present two things. A super uplifting tweet, when we could all use one. Also, the quote he ends this tweetstorm with:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
I’m thinking more acutely on this because of what I saw reported to have taken place where I grew up. I’m still processing this.
Now, onto the planned programming.
A trait that sets successful entrepreneurs ahead of others is a bias toward action. I’m failing to find the piece that had this stated in research, so you’ll have to take my word for it. This trait leads people to be statistically more successful as entrepreneurs because they will get up and do something about a given situation. I imagine the same would be said for many successful people in any organization.
This bias toward action is something Fred Wilson looks for when investing in an entrepreneur:
“I believe that in startups, like venture investing, the cost of making a bad decision is not nearly as great as the benefit of making a good one. So I like action oriented leaders.”
Fred unpacks this some:
- Perfect is the enemy of good.
- It isn’t the goal to just throw things at the wall hoping something sticks, there does need to be insight and strategy behind the action.
- Hiring more and more frequently means getting the very best people, but it also means firing people more often. A strong hire vastly outweighs the costs of a bad one.
You can make a bad decision and walk it back or fix it. But inaction or an act of omission can cripple you.
Is this advice of any use outside of business?
Of course, it is, and I think it is all intertangled. I’m reminded of, or sparked by, two other pieces. One which was written in the context of business, but is much more about life. And, one written in the context of relationships, but what is business, but relationships?
I’ve never read this column in the Wall Street Journal previously, but this entry I liked. There’s a paywall, but the broad ideas are below as it relates to your relationship with your significant other:
- Assume the Best
- Never take the negative assumption. Always assume your partner’s situation and intention are in your best interests. Haven’t gotten a call back in a while? Do not assume they are dead in a ditch or ignoring you to work late, or behaving badly without you.
- Prioritize Your A-Team
- A) Family and close friends. B) Friends and professional network. C) Acquaintances. The article argues to prioritize in that order, for your health.
- Mutual Spoilage
- A husband and wife team explain this as a friendly competition between themselves. They bias toward action: if they see dishes need doing, or garbage needs taking out. They go for it. They don’t mention it (no credit-taking is allowed). The only goal is to compound kind acts within the relationship on a daily basis. Everyone in the house benefits right down to the cat and dog.
- Be Easy to Love
- This one is all empathy. Walking in the other’s shoes. Taking their perspective. Which is difficult and why so many of us suck at it. It’s best for me to quote directly: “Hubby not a naturally romantic guy? Learn to recognize the ways in which he expresses his devotion and tell him out loud how much you appreciate it.” “Everyone is on a journey that only they can fully recognize,” Ms. Sylvester says. “Don’t make the mistake of filling in their gaps with your story.”
- Fuck It Bucket
- Not everything deserves your precious attention. Sad political news? Cubbies lost? Tragedy on the news you have no power in changing? – All these go to the Fuck It Bucket. You simply move on. The 81-year-old explained his method and added that he sorts his information, addressing issues that are important—his wife’s decline from Alzheimer’s or charity work, for example. Everything else? “F— it and into the bucket.”
My thoughts as it relates to the above:
- This is broadly applicable. Something you should practice not only with your partner but relationships at work too. By acting the opposite way, and worrying without need you are creating tension where there shouldn’t be. You are what you eat, you become what you tell yourself you are. If your narrative is always the worst of what your partner, coworker, manager, etc could be up to, you may just start believing it. You are setting a default. More on defaults soon.
- We all know people who need reminding of this, specifically when someone is on a chase. Sale of a company, big dissertation, etc. Easy to get wrapped up and forget what’s truly important.
- Sounds extreme at first, right? But imagine your household if this was how everyone behaved. I’m not a parent, but wouldn’t children take and follow these kinds of queues and defaults? At least until they’re teenagers? (I can hear many laughing at me)
- Is it too much to say this alone may be the biggest success predictor for a happy marriage? Self-awareness and active practice of empathy. I’d argue they’re huge predictors of success and happiness in all of life. So what’s holding you back from trying, from getting better? You might just see a behavior change in others by extending the olive branch or setting the example.
- Live and let live. Know what’s within your power and what isn’t. Stay present. Have your behavior speak for itself. Only somewhat related, I’m reminded of Tom Cruise playing Vincent in the movie Collateral at a pivotal and stressful moment: “Okay, look, here’s the deal. Man, you were gonna drive me around tonight, never be the wiser, but El Gordo got in front of a window, did his high dive, we’re into Plan B. Still breathing? Now we gotta make the best of it, improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, shit happens, I Ching, whatever man, we gotta roll with it.”
And for the bit written about business but applies broadly to life? Paul Graham has some incredible essays, some of which get very lengthy. This tight piece is perfect and short, leaving me no room but to leave it here for you.
A palliative care nurse called Bronnie Ware made a list of the biggest regrets of the dying. Her list seems plausible. I could see myself—can see myself—making at least 4 of these 5 mistakes.
If you had to compress them into a single piece of advice, it might be: don’t be a cog. The 5 regrets paint a portrait of post-industrial man, who shrinks himself into a shape that fits his circumstances, then turns dutifully till he stops.
The alarming thing is, the mistakes that produce these regrets are all errors of omission. You forget your dreams, ignore your family, suppress your feelings, neglect your friends, and forget to be happy. Errors of omission are a particularly dangerous type of mistake, because you make them by default.
I would like to avoid making these mistakes. But how do you avoid mistakes you make by default? Ideally you transform your life so it has other defaults. But it may not be possible to do that completely. As long as these mistakes happen by default, you probably have to be reminded not to make them. So I inverted the 5 regrets, yielding a list of 5 commands
Don’t ignore your dreams; don’t work too much; say what you think; cultivate friendships; be happy.
Which I then put at the top of the file I use as a todo list.
What are you omitting? What can you invert, or ask differently to achieve a better result? Are you biased towards action and can you make that behavior contagious? Will you let go of what you cannot change and only focus on what you can? Are you putting your best foot forward, even if it isn’t perfect?
Believing you’re not, will get you just that result. Thinking you’re unchangeable, will foster stillness. We do not live in a fixed world, nor are you a fixed being. Saying: “I was never a good _____.” Isn’t a workable excuse, especially if it is something you need or wish to be better at. You simply might have a tough path of practice ahead, but change is within you should you seek it. Want to be someone who defaults towards action? Start practicing. Make mistakes. Keep moving.
I’m thinking a lot about this post from Chenmark Capital as I consider what else to do with this one crazy life I have. The team at Chenmark also celebrates iteration, a bias towards action, they also read, think, and write frequently on what behaviors they have or are missing that will make them better at what they do. They left a life of New York City finance for trying something new and living in Portland, ME. They are looking at opportunities through different lenses than most. That differentiation and contrarianism, the asking of the inverse, and time spent working on thoughtful questions are all things I hold in high regard.
The photo above is from Florence, Italy in July. Behind me is an incredible and ancient cityscape at sunset. This is the inverse.
Thanks for reading
Reading Time: 8 minutesIn 2015 I posted a picture to Instagram taken at my old apartment on West 3rd Street in the village, affectionately known as the Blackhole for its ability to suck people into late night conversations or impromptu dance parties. My caption was “Farewell, Blackhole. Perhaps the most transformative place in my life.” The picture is of the four of us who were living there as we moved onto new phases of our lives.
I lived in that apartment for over five years. Sometimes with best friends, other times new friends, and a girlfriend. It was the apartment I lived in when I first moved to New York City and because of that, the apartment embodies all the experiences and challenges one goes through when moving to a new city: making a new life, working on a new career, and constantly meeting new people. I changed, I made mistakes, I grew, and with that, my goals in life evolved as well.
Those five years, the most transformative years in my life, are something I attach to that apartment. Some who lived there with me feel similarly about their experience and time there. This is not to say the Blackhole was a magical place, but more likely a function of our age and New York City itself. Sometimes it was rough, but in whole and in retrospect, incredibly positive.
Reflecting on 2017, but not yet removed enough from it, I am asking myself: Has this year been transformative?
Transformation only comes through challenge.
In the latter half of 2014, I started work at a new firm in a more senior position. Around this time I received a GMAT score I was finally pleased with, and I felt like new challenges were on the horizon. Something like a nice deep breath to me, I needed new challenges. The GMAT may have been challenging, but it was not rewarding unto itself. I left the Blackhole in 2015 to move into an apartment with my, then, girlfriend. I had recently submitted an application to Columbia Business School but did not yet know if I was to be invited for an interview.
A new apartment and living arrangements, a new job, and news on the line from a dream school (I hoped). So, where do 2015 and 2016 fit into this post about 2017?
They were total blurs, but more importantly, were years that compounded upon all the others.
Transformation didn’t stop with the Blackhole. Some days it felt as though it slowed, but in retrospect, there was no stopping the train. One sweltering morning in 2015 we were still unpacking the new apartment as I took the A Train to Morningside Heights to interview. I arrived in a sweat-soaked suit and left knowing I had my invitation. That is when the afterburners kicked on, late 2015. In 2016 I was quite unhelpful in planning a wedding, but that was going on too. It was a rewarding year, but a fast one. I am still in shock of my classmates who have children, gave birth, or had major structural changes to their employment during our time at Columbia, that is an entire dimension I did not have to grapple.
A long-held goal of furthering my education was finally realized as I graduated in May. One step along a path that I thought I had fairly well sorted out. It turned out to have taught me too much, and I have been flooded with ideas of what I wanted my next step to be. I was, however, quite certain I wanted a new step and totally new kind of challenge. With that, I resigned from a very good position with a very nice firm in New York. Shell and I had only one plan: to not renew our lease in order to go wander the world for a while. After graduation, we both knew some life upheaval was ahead of us as we contemplated a geographical change, and if we didn’t make time for an adventure now, it wouldn’t happen. We had the luxury of making a choice.
If the brain needs rest (diffuse mode vs focused mode) for information to be written to and analyzed by, the subconscious, then this might be my rest period. Perhaps through letting the mind escape from the routine I had been living it would work on the experiences of the past, and I might find some clarity for what I wanted in my future. I’m lucky, and quite grateful, for the opportunity to allow for such diffuse mode thinking, and having an amazing experience along the way. I wrestled with a deep fear that taking time off from the workforce would wither away at me personally, and trouble my future chances of employment and traditionally defined success. I continue to work on my irrational fears, and take solace in the many examples of successful people taking time off to regroup and reassess. Once you start looking, they are plentiful. Whether the time off was voluntary or involuntary, many will cite that time off as something of a game changer.
But with all my focus on the past and future, would we miss out on the most thrilling part of this year: the present? This is a tough discipline, and I also find it hard to explain. The vocabulary quickly moves towards the abstract, and it is not my mission to sell the present to you more than I already have in these two previous reflections. Suffice to say, I believe it is well worth your exploration. To solidify our own practice in the present we challenged ourselves with a ten-day course in Vipassana. If we didn’t know it before, we certainly know it now: it’s a minute by minute, lifelong practice.
I think we all know that 2017 will be looked back at as yet another transformational year for both myself and Shell. But, I cannot yet put in concrete terms how 2017 has been transformative. Perhaps one cannot see until one has moved outside of the transformation process itself.
For myself, I wanted to review what has taken place.
Major pillars of my life have shifted and changed, mostly under my own direction. Some painful, some freeing, some very much to-be-determined.
At the turn or opening of the year, I married Shell. A huge step in anyone’s life, I gave myself to her, as she gave herself to me. To put it in those kinds of terms. We are one now.
Since we started traveling we’ve spent nearly every minute together, so the whole we are one thing is unusually true in our circumstance. It’s been married life on steroids. No job, office, car, or other room in the house to escape to or to blame. You might think the traveling life is stress-free and everything the Instagram Influencers make it out to be. But, the planning, budgeting, and being in some unknown or difficult places present plenty of stress and challenge. We are outside the comforting routine of life in the states, with a different set of challenges and therefore a different set of life and learning experiences. We may be in those sweet years of being newlyweds, but we are both also unabashedly creatures of routine. This experience has, no doubt, strengthened us. It’s precisely what we asked for.
The challenges have been plenty, but also give life to the adventure: The crowded and unforgiving onslaught of India. The bone-piercing cold of night at Annapurna Base Camp. The poorly represented AirBnB that reeked of stale cigarettes that seeped into everything we own in Croatia. Sleeping with beetles in the Sahara. Driving into a pedestrian square in Germany. A brush with authorities in Serbia. Driving in Bosnia, generally. And that somewhat too frequent challenge of staying and sleeping in a place that makes you just itch all over. A constant reminder of the control one’s mind has over one’s body.
It is not as if we are unremunerated for these challenges, quite the contrary.
We’ve enjoyed the ancient and charming cities of Europe. Cheap and plentiful Barolos. Dove deep into the expansive history of the continent, and drove across parts of the Balkans that only a few people I know have been to. Rafted in Montenegro and Bosnia through some of the most pristine fresh waters in the world, and bathed on some of the most gorgeous Adriatic seas and coastlines.
We rode dromedaries into the Sahara and were presented unforgettable scenery and got to know some exuberant Berbers. We’ve explored the tight and discombobulating medinas of Marrakech and Fes, and the large open squares filled with snake charmers and other exotic peoples.
In Portugal, we ate many more Pastel de Natas than would be normally advisable, and by evening washed it all down with exquisite full-bodied red wines that presented no challenge to our budget. We got trapped in Spain thanks to the French, only to have benefitted with an unforgettable light show and new friends in Bilbao, and an amazing wine tour through Rioja with old friends and new.
We felt at home in London for more than a week as some friends generously opened their home to us and we took joy in cooking, and some semblance of a routine. We loved spending a good amount of time with people other than just the two of us and had evening conversations to look forward to. We also found ourselves exploring a major global city, something I had missed.
In the Himalaya, we trekked through scenery that remains in my memory to be utterly shocking in beauty and expanse, and we made some new friends along the way. I took it in while consuming The Snow Leopard and Seven Years in Tibet.
We challenged ourselves through India, seeing as much as we could through Rajasthan. Taking in ancient cities, touring palaces still housing princes today, humbly exploring the Taj Mahal, meanwhile eating everything we could throughout the country.
Up to the dazzling Golden Temple and explored the Sikh city of Amritsar, and experienced the nearby Wagah Border ceremony. Explored the village of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, watched the monks debate in the open halls of the temple. And, helped Tibetan refugees and monks learn English through conversation.
We’ve felt the afterglow of ten days of silence and intense meditation training with S. N. Goenka. Many people pay thousands of dollars for a similar experience. Whereas, Goenka has designed a no-frills and strict experience based on donations available the world over, removed from dogma and religious doctrine. Essentially, leaving nothing more than science and ancient technique. Lifelong wisdom, for the price you’d like to pay.
We spent the holidays in Malaysia, where they do a spectacular job of celebrating a consumerist Christmas. If it weren’t for the tropical climate, I think I would have been spectacularly homesick at this season. Somehow, I did not feel in the holiday mood. My knee-jerk reaction is to blame the climate, but I do wonder if it is simply lack of family and friends. Lack of the familiar and traditional that I’ve been able to count on for 30+ years. Last year’s Christmas was a tropical Hawaiian Christmas, and it was every bit of holiday feel and celebration for which I could ask.
We shot quickly through Singapore where we celebrated my birthday and our anniversary by way of the Sundown Soiree at The Fullerton Bay, and we got some quality FaceTime in with both families in Hilo and Portland. We celebrated New Years with friends from school who topped off their epic trip through Australia and New Zealand with us in Bali. Where we enjoyed our own private pool, scootered around the area, and explored all the eating Canggu could throw at us. We also shot off very illegal fireworks right there on the beach.
As one looked down the beach as it wrapped up at the southern tip of the island, all one could see were fireworks for miles. At the stroke of midnight, the fireworks at the seaside resort we were at were so intense it rained packing gravel on us. Easily one of the best New Years we’ve ever had. That’s a tall order considering our wedding was last year. This was topped off with a hiking tour that took us into the crater of Kawah Ijen to see where the sulfur miners still work today on Java, a panoramic is pictured above. The pre-dawn hike allows one to see the burning blue flames produced by the volcano and burning sulfur. All in, an epic end to 2017.
This year leaves me with more questions than answers. I think I’d be naive in saying there have been no answers, I simply think my field of vision is continuing to grow so quickly that I am not certain where to place my focus. This is a good to have problem, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I’m looking forward to compiling a post of materials I’ve enjoyed most over these past few months, in the hopes it will provide growth and fulfillment to someone else and serve as a reminder to myself where to dig for the clarity and motivation that I feel right now.
I’m terribly excited for our future.
The immediate: Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. The not so immediate: spending time with family and friends in Hawaii, Oregon, Indiana, and hopefully New York – Along with finding out just what we’ll do and where we’ll call home when we return stateside.
By the time we make it to Oregon, I’ll be an uncle x2. That’s pretty damn exciting.
Thanks for reading.
Reading Time: 2 minutesMike Dariano’s The Waiter’s Pad should be more widely read. I’m sure his readership has been growing heaps lately, but we’d all be wiser if more of us read his well-synthesized material. I was delighted as I read one of his year-in-review posts entitled Know Thyself. A nod to the plaque above The Oracle’s door, Temet Nosce?
During the Vipassana course I recently took part in, S. N. Goenka reminded us that we prefer to blame everyone or everything around us. If only my husband wouldn’t do this or that. If only so-and-so would realize she’s wrong. If this person or institution would just change…
We’re allergic to blaming ourselves. However, the reality is we are dealing in the realm of our own perceptions, so would it not be just possible, but probable, that the problem lies within? Or, more accurately, the solution lies within?
We all think we’re better drivers than we actually are. Self-awareness is no different. I wanted to think about how would one go about increasing self-awareness. Curiosity and vulnerability will be required. It is certain to expose your weaknesses. As Mike points out: your soft spots. But you must remain equanimous through the process. Here are some questions I asked myself:
- How often are you putting yourself in a new or blind situation?
- Later, are you evaluating your performance? (Non-judgmentally)
- How honest are these evaluations? (Objectivity)
- Do you spend any time crystalizing what was learned into a framework that can help change or better your behavior or performance the next time?
- Do you seek out the help/assessment of others to help further illuminate your blind spots and biases, to ensure your own assessment is correct? A cross-check of your own Observer.
One could argue that we must judge the outcome of each attempt to make a decision about how to proceed, but this is not true. Judgment brings a sense of right or wrong, good or bad with it. What we are doing here is objectively observing and analyzing the outcome of each attempt. – Thomas M. Sterner The Practicing Mind
Mike cites Richard Feynman: “you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
He closes with advice that was abundant in the Goenka’s nightly discourses at Vipassana:
“Equally important is a limited identity footprint. Suffering, said the Buddha, comes from attachment. Or colloquially, disappointment is when reality doesn’t meet your expectations. The idea is the same; don’t be attached to unimportant things.”
Marcus Aurelius urged similarly:
“When you are distressed by an external thing, it’s not the thing itself that troubles you, but only your judgment of it. And you can wipe this out at a moment’s notice.”
Stop the attachment. Stop the aversion. Be objective. Observe yourself not as yourself, but as an Observer.
From this self-awareness can blossom, the ability to walk in another’s shoes (empathy) will strengthen. There will be clarity, wisdom.
Tangentially, only then might we be able to tackle Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds. “Almost invariably, the positions we’re blind about are our own.”
Thanks for reading.
Photo: Porto, Portugal
Reading Time: 2 minutesStaying silent for ten days and focusing on one single thing for 12-14 hours of each of those ten days would, one would think, not leave much time for thinking and meandering through the corners of one’s brain. Alas, the brain, at least mine, craves distraction and moving from thought to thought quickly enough to have forgotten what I was even writing about here.
I saw the chief something officer of a large company in Silicon Valley tweet advice to his younger self, and I liked the idea and had pondered on it while I should have been meditating. Instead of 140 characters, or 280 now, I wanted to expand just a bit and see what seemed important to me. I had plenty of overlap with him, but we diverged too. I think we all try and compensate for our own past mistakes, and that, in part, informs lists such as these. Reading one wouldn’t be enough. Reading many would tell you just how common so many of our insecurities and mistakes are.
- Put others ahead of yourself, and make this the default behavior. This goes for family, friends, and further. Just like networking is about giving, so is every other relationship close or far. Need more?: Adam Grant’s Give and Take
- Know when to fight, know when to walk away/quit
- Read more, write more, and do both of those over most other choices in possible activities. These should have been prioritized over learning to work while young. Hard work will be needed throughout life but is hard to compound unless I’m cloned. Knowledge, gained through reading and instilled through writing, compounds through one’s life.
- If a course requires public speaking, take it every time. There’s no way to get better than by doing. And I struggle, still.
- Turn work and everyday life into play. You’ll learn exponentially more. To do this, failure is not evil – failure is one of the possible outcomes when experimenting and learning. If you take away the ability to make a mistake, you’ve taken away a life worth living. If you’re not allowed to have a wrong hypothesis, why make one at all?
- Ask questions at every opportunity, this way you’ll be asking better questions through the years and not afraid to ask the simple ones either.
- Memorizing is not learning, and effort matters. Learning and practice take toil and perseverance. If learning was easy, there would be more expert pianists in the world. Example: The best coders I know, learned the hard way – they removed the ability to cut and paste code and instead typed it out each time as they were learning new ideas and techniques.
- Find meditation, CBT, or whatever your tool is in controlling the inner-voice, early in life. Believe in yourself, know who you are, don’t talk down to yourself. Be your own best ally in thought and practice.
- Also, have that voice be honest. The above does not mean to sugar coat.
That’s what came out in ten minutes. If I sat longer, I’m sure something else would pop in and this would be refined some.
What would you tell yourself?
Photo: Riding Elevators in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia