I won't lie. I am a world-record holder in changing my mind, and the undisputed heavyweight champion of indecision. I agonize endlessly over choices, flip-flop back and forth a million times, and end up causing myself—and those close to me—much undue stress and uncertainty.
For example, should I move to another city or stay where I am? Switch careers? Rent or buy a house? Go on a date with that ultra-wealthy, supermodel? Adopt a dozen pet eels?
Some of these questions likely have no clear, objective answer.
However, I have recently stumbled across a life-changing idea that promises to radically reshape my decision-making process—and hopefully yours as well—when it comes to formerly stubborn, complex dilemmas.
The idea comes from philosophy, and is called the incommensurability of values.
What in blue blazes does that mean?
In plain language, this means that values aren't like scientific or mathematical problems. You can't just measure them out, count them up and come up with an equation of greater than (<), equal to (=) or less than (>).
Because, values don't work that way. They are subjective, and always will be—to some degree at least.
For as long as I can remember, I have been looking for external, objective reasons to justify my choices. There has always been a neatness, a solidity to those reasons that felt compelling—not only to myself, but to others, when I used them to persuade and influence others to my way of thinking.
The real trick to making those momentous, life-altering decisions is to realize that we can —and do — come up with our own reasons in support of the choices that align with our values.
As Ruth Chang remarks, we can "become the authors of our own lives". When decisions seem difficult, we can list our values, create connections between them and our potential alternatives, and use our agency to decide who we want to be.
For example, my core values are courage, compassion, community, patience, and hard work.
I can run a choice—let's say between becoming a stockbroker or a writer—past the filter of my values, and the choice not only becomes easier, but becomes integrated into my identity.
What hard choice(s) are you currently struggling with? How can you decide on/use your values to clarify which alternative works best for you!
And definitely check out Ruth Chang's Ted Talk if you haven't yet. It is where I first encountered the idea of incommensurability. Don't be concerned: it is accessible and inspiring!
Naturally, I don't mean one's house and bank account, or one's investments and collection of antique haunted dolls(that's a thing, right?).
Assets, outside of a strictly financial context, can denote things of value and utility. Donald Trump understood this when he proclaimed that "my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart."
While being, like really smart may come in handy, there are two even more foundational assets that are scarce, non-renewable, and vital to one's success and fulfilment.
Let's start with #1: time.
It is constantly and irrevocably passing. A minute spent is spent forever. As Jim Rohn said: "time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time."
Time's finitude doesn't merely add to its preciousness, it is what makes it precious in the first place.
And yet, many of us—I know I am included in this camp—spend our time frivolously, with little recognition of the immense value of these dwindling minutes and hours. We stare at our phones all day, come up with ten thousand reasons to postpone our most important duties until the clock strikes freedom-o'clock, and take 90-minute calls from old acquaintances who drunkenly whinge about uncontrollable problems.
If we spent our money in this haphazard way—repeatedly losing 100 dollar bills in parking lots, ordering several of Dr. Ho's patented neck comforters and never using them—we would quickly take notice and change our behaviours.
At least, I'd like to think so.
So, what's the solution? How can we make the best use of our precious, rapidly depleting time on this earth? Here are some strategies that can help you decide.
Eliminate all the extraneous projects, phone calls, mindless web browsing, and other time-sucks from your life. Wherever possible, simplify. Make a list of all the ways you spend your time, and choose the 2-3 most important things to focus on. Alternatively, make a list of all your goals, and employ the Warren Buffet goal selection strategy.
Another strategy is to decide what tasks are most important to you, and start with the most important ones first each day. That way, if things get in the way of your to-do list later on in the day, you have still accomplished what matters most to you.
Once you have established a clear, ordered list of priorities, share it with others. Be vocal about what is most pressing to you.
And remind yourself of it daily, ideally through a visual medium (like a poster) or even notifications on your phone. When you find yourself mindlessly swiping through Instagram or haphazardly peeling paint from the walls, a reminder of your values can help you get yourself back on track.
As Peter Drucker once said, "there is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all".
Get Used to Saying "No"
The power of no should never be underestimated.
Politely but firmly declining invitations, phone calls, projects, job offers, product pitches and relentless Hare Krishnas that are not inextricably tied to your values and purpose will help you guard your time, and direct your energy towards the things that are.
It would be helpful to heed the wisdom of Bishop T. D. Jacobs: think of yourself as a precious commodity. Reserve your energy for your highest and best use.
Is your highest and best use serving/being with your family? Is it working on a novel? Is it coming up with a technological breakthrough? Is it making inspirational films?
Almost everything else should be a no. A compassionate, assertive, thoughtful no with a clear underlying reason provided.
"I'm sorry, but I have other obligations x and y to attend to right now, and I don't have time for a meeting/phone call/conversation. Thanks for understanding."
If you are someone who—like me—has trouble saying no to all sorts of requests, try thinking of the money analogy from before. If this person asked you for $100, what would you say then?
Or, take a leaf out of Captain Rex Kramer's book and say no with gusto.
"What gets measured, gets managed". Another Peter Drucker quote to pick at. Everyone is familiar with the concept of time management, but few people consider the greatest tool for managing time.
Time measurement. It just doesn't have the same ring to it.
I find that tracking down what I plan to do, and then what I actually do, in discrete half-hour chunks is a terrific way to discover how many holes there are in the leaky ship that is my daily schedule.
I highly recommend it. I learned how much time I spend off-task, how difficult it is to follow a set schedule—even for 24 hours—and where I was being busy, but not really working.
Of course, you don't have to follow your schedule like clockwork. Life is full of unexpected opportunities that don't fit neatly into word processor boxes on a computer.
I personally use plain old vanilla Excel, although there are free resources like this schedule that you can use to jot down the events for the week.
And then there are apps. RescueTime tracks your computer or phone usage, which you can monitor from a dashboard window. Toggl helps you keep track of projects and time spent planning.
There are plenty of ways of keeping track of how we spend our time. What matters is finding the one that works for you.
* * *
On to #2: Attention.
Without the ability to focus and pay attention, time alone won't help us move closer to our goals.
We need to be able to zero in on tasks and details, separate the signal from the noise and develop the willpower and discipline to avoid the distractions and temptations that compete for our awareness.
And the good news is, our minds can be trained to do deep work and develop sustained attention. The bad news is, it's an uphill climb. But it's worth it!
My own decade-long meditation practice has helped me develop increased concentration, grapple with the effects of ADD and depression, and improve my ability to remain—mostly—present and calm.
There is recent research which confirms that mindfulness meditation is effective for boosting concentration—especially for those who are just beginning.
What I like most about mindfulness is that it is a meta-skill; you can bring the benefits of increased focus and awareness to just about any discipline, hobby or activity.
Sports? It can help you perform better. Playing music? It can help increase expression and reduce anxiety. Relationships? It can help there too.
Whatever you want to achieve, making time for meditation every day can lead to some pretty dramatic results.
For getting started, I suggest Jon Kabat-Zinn's guided meditation, or this daily mindfulness video.
Apps like Headspace can be helpful and fun, but are not needed.
Email alerts. Text message pings. News update sounds. They all bombard us with demands for our attention. After a long day, when decision fatigue has set in, we don't even think. We just react to the buzzing and the beeping.
Seth Godin put it perfectly on his blog a few days ago, in a post titled The Pinging:
The training has been going on for years. We're caught in a Pavlovian game in which we're the product, not the organizers. Someone else is ringing the bell, and it's been happening for so long we don't even realize how deeply the hooks have been set."
A social media notification isn't merely a distraction. Even ignoring it hijacks your brain. Whatever work, focus, or peak productivity you are in the middle of is lost.
Don't be like Pavlov's dog. It's better to live and work on your own terms. Ditch the notifications, and use your newfound attentional resources on the things that matter most.
Design Your Environment
The rooms and spaces in our homes say a lot about our behaviours and where we expend our attention.
A few simple questions can make the relationship between interior design and individual actions quite clear: what 5-10 objects stand out most in this room? What functions do those objects serve? What activities is the room centred around? What do people spend most of their time doing in this room?
A spare, orderly white room with a simple pine desk that is adorned only with a book-marked novel, a black leather journal and a fountain pen will promote markedly different behaviours than a stuffy room filled with boxes of belongings, two TVs and a massive couch.
You can reclaim a lot of your time and attention by simply designing your environment with intention and clarity of purpose.
Make your space conform to your desired activities—not the other way around— and you will be moving with the headwind of the space, instead of resisting it's influence.
* * *
Hopefully, some of these tactics can help you make the most out of your two greatest assets in life. Of course, there are plenty of other ways to hone your time management and attention skills.
What do you think is most important?
Which of the strategies I have outlined works the best for you?
I find it so remarkable that the inky, scribbled symbols a person has arranged—just so—to be set down on paper, whether thousands of years ago or just yesterday, can so radically change our perspectives, points of view, and life paths.
It boggles the mind. It is also why I chose writing as a part of my life's purpose.
In an email correspondence between economist Tyler Cowen and bestselling author Ryan Holiday, Cowen comments on the power that some books have to produce a "view quake".
Of course, not all books have this power. In fact, such books are likely the exception to the rule. The ones that do produce momentous, seismic shifts in our thinking are worth cherishing, and re-reading.
I decided to make a list of 5 books that have rocked my world. After having read them, I will never be the same again—in a good way, of course. I hope that they rock your world too.
#1: Mindset by Carol Dweck
This isn't the most elegantly crafted book. It isn't going to be winning any prizes for style or sophistication. And yet, at the heart of this book is an earth-shatteringly transformative idea: our mindset determines, to a great extent, our self-esteem, how much we learn, and how good we can get.
When I read it, I felt as though a light switch had been turned on. I had been sitting in a dark room of fixed-mindset thinking my whole life. I had seen mistakes as a failure on my part, as weighing in on who I was as a person.
In order to preserve the "smart" designation that my parents had given to me, I had to do well right away. Errors meant I wasn't a natural. So, I became outcome-oriented. Instead of challenging myself and stretching the limits of my capabilities, I spent lots of time in my comfort zone.
At music school, this looked like "practicing" rudiments and drum patterns I had already learned, and avoiding everything else. At university, this meant focusing on parts of a lecture I already knew (which reinforced my sense of being intelligent) instead of looking for questions and areas of uncertainty.
I kept searching for the one "thing" that I would be great at, instead of working towards becoming great at one thing.
As Carol Dweck writes in Mindset: "Becoming is better than being".
If you haven't done so already, read this book. It will relieve you of any mistaken assumptions you may have about your limitations as a human being.
#2: Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Man's Search For Meaning has the distinction of being the book I have read the most times. This book can easily be read in a day, and contains some of the most vital wisdom I've encountered about finding purpose and meaning in the most dire of circumstances.
Much of the book recounts the horrific experiences of being a prisoner in concentration camps, including Auschwitz, during WWII.
He soon discovered upon entering these death camps that those who maintained a will to live, through the preservation of meaning and purpose in their lives, often survived unimaginable suffering, whereas many of those who gave up hope and a sense of purpose could no longer go on.
For Frankl, there were 3 possible sources of meaning in life: one's work/mission, caring for others, and courage in the face of suffering.
Man's Search For Meaning offers readers a roadmap towards a meaningful life, and is something that I wish I had read much earlier.
One of his deepest insights is on best way to approach accomplishing great things:
"Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself."
#3: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This is an eloquent masterwork of a novel, and is one of my all-time favourite works of fiction. Translator Gregory Rabassa has done an extraordinary job capturing the whimsical beauty of the prose and the profound textures of magic realism.
For those unfamiliar, the novel follows the Buendia family across generations and their relationship with the mythical town of Macondo.
The book is a supreme exemplar of detailed world-building, and reading it means being immersed in a dreamlike universe where flowers rain from the sky, trails of blood tell stories of murder, generations pass by in a single sentence and ice is a mystical substance waiting to be discovered.
My favourite line that has stayed with me long after many of the details and descriptions have faded: "dominant obsessions can prevail against death".
No other book I have ever read comes close to the evocative, imaginative tour-de-force that is One Hundred Years of Solitude.
#4: Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make A Difference by William MacAskill
If having a mission in life makes things more meaningful, this book is like meaning rocket-fuel. I first heard about Effective Altruism through philosopher Peter Singer, and later discovered this groundbreaking book by William MacAskill.
In a nutshell, it has given me a passionate long-term focus for making the most out of my charitable donations, and made me value my time more considerably.
The book begins by outlining the key problem that plagues many charities today: prioritizing visibility and reputation over efficacy. MacAskill introduces Effective Altruism and demonstrates how it can help people make better decisions about where to contribute, focus on the most neglected ares (instead of the ones that garner the attention of celebrities and the media) and even save lives in the process.
A must read for anyone who is unsure about how to best make a difference, or who is looking for a direction and wants to make a positive impact.
#5: Atomic Habits by James Clear
Okay, I will shut up about this book. I promise. Soon. But, this post is all about view quaking books, and this one is as groundbreaking as they come.
Imagine a book that revolutionizes every area of your life. This is that book.
It explains why habits are the ultimate life hack, reveals why goals are overrated, uncovers the secrets for developing and keeping good habits, and puts forth an achievable systems mindset that will transform your life.
And if that isn't enough, it is written in a remarkably clear, concise and elegant way that could serve exceptionally well as a prototype for any aspiring writer.
Clear also has all kinds of free material on his website that is of the same super-high quality, and could be a great place to start reading.
My favorite quote from the book:
"Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity."
I hope you find 1 (or more) of these 5 books inspiring and life-changing!
Unity - January 20th, 2021
It's connection. It's humility. It's recognizing your position as an irreplaceable part of the whole.
We have way more in common than we might think. Still, divisiveness can come in so many forms — some overt, some sneaky.
We can quell these illusory divisions. We can do this by seeking the truth, by understanding our shared humanity, by becoming aware of each other's suffering and grace.
The stoics conceived of our experience through the analogy of the dog and the cart. We, as individuals, are represented by the dog, who is tied to the cart, which represents fate.
As Gregory Hays writes in his introduction to his translation of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius:
"If the dog refuses to run along with the [cart] he will be dragged by it, yet the choice remains his: to run or to be dragged."
Whether you like it or not, the wagon continues to move. It always will.
We can run with it, and realize that even our opponents must face the same hard choices.
In fact, the political polarization right now is the result of a fundamental misconception. The dichotomy is not between liberal and conservative. It is, as Steve Jobs declares in his biography, between the constructive and the destructive.
And, we can make all that is constructive be what St. Augustine called the common object of our love.
We can do this by coming together. By setting our differences aside. By focusing on our interconnectedness.
in Nuu-chah-nulth culture, there is a saying. Heshook-ish Tsawalk. Everything is one.
We've heard the same ideas couched in different words today:
"With unity, we can do great things."
What We've Lost, and Why it Matters
It can be easy to let our thoughts wander to dark places, allow time to pass by unused and put important things off until tomorrow. We get mired down in the extraneous and the uncontrollable: politics, headlines, empty entertainment.
Our brains, after all, are predisposed to negativity. Our attention is drawn to it, like an addict to his next fix.
However, we can reclaim our attention, and our ability to do deep, meaningful work. We can conjure up new thoughts and build/strengthen new neural pathways that shift our perspective in positive ways.
In Book 3 of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, he writes:
Don't waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people—unless it affects the common good. It will keep you from doing anything useful. You'll be too preoccupied with what so-and-so is doing, and why, and what they're saying, and what they're thinking [...] you need to avoid certain things in your train of thought: everything random, everything irrelevant."
So many have of us have lost our ability to shepherd our thinking, to impose our own filters on it, and to see pessimistic thoughts, media, and gossip for what they are: junk-food for your brain.
We've temporarily let go of the reins. It's okay, it happens. But we can (and should) pick them up again. And steer a course towards a happier, more optimistic mind.
It begins with awareness: of speech, thoughts, actions, and habits. It also begins with asking the right questions: are these thoughts helpful? Are the words that I am speaking guided by compassion? What intimations of light and goodness can I find, if I looked hard enough, in this person/event/situation?
What can I do to be more grateful today?
You affect people more than you may think. You are part of a network, and your moods, states, and behaviours touch many people—including those you don't even know.
Like you would the muscles of your body, you can strengthen your gratitude, your attention, your awareness of the good things in life. But only if you want to.
You can do it for yourself. You can do it for others.
But whatever you do, don't miss out on focusing in on the things that make life great.
I loved reading Tribe of Mentors. The whole time, I felt like a fly bouncing between walls, witnessing excellence. For the book, Tim Ferriss got more than 100 experts in a variety of fields to answer the same 11 well-crafted, thought-provoking questions.
Reading the responses, I got to know some of my heroes—Naval Ravikant, Gary Vaynerchuk, Ray Dalio, David Lynch— in a much more nuanced way.
And I believe there is a clear reason for why the book works so well.
Not all questions are created equal. Some are deep, some are shallow. Some produce scripted responses, some are impossible to answer, and then there are these questions: unique yet specific, quirky yet accessible.
Over the holidays, I got to ask some of my family members a few of them, and it was a lot of fun having them come up with their own answers. It was my own eagerness to offer answers (which I could barely contain) that made me realize that I should write them down and share them.
Disclaimer: I am not a "mentor", nor do I consider myself to be of the same calibre as the legendary icons interviewed in the book. That won't stop me—and you(?)— from having fun answering them!
Q#1: What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
Atomic Habits by James Clear. I have gifted this book to multiple family members and friends. It is worth its weight in gold. It has changed my life radically by helping me develop tools for improving at anything and authoring my identity in a way that supports my deepest ambitions.
Before I read the book, I was a wandering mess. After reading it, I became a more focused writer, musician, and athlete.
Q#2: What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? My readers love specifics like brand and model, where you found it, etc.
A Moleskine ruled journal, and a Mala prayer bead bracelet from the Taipei City Mall. The Moleskine got me into the practice of daily journaling, which has fundamentally changed the way I interface with the world. Putting on the Mala bracelet signals my transformation into a confident, decisive writer.
Q#3: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
I taught for one term in a remote First Nations community in BC, Canada, and then resigned. I learned so much in that time about my purpose and direction in life. The way that I interact with people has changed drastically from living there.
It was an experience that taught me to smile and wave at everyone. I vanquished a lot of fear, and built up a lot of courage that will serve me well, wherever I go. I also learned that my environment is a direct contributor to my successes and failures, and I can do a lot to control and shape it.
Q#4: If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)
"Live all you can; it's a mistake not to." - Henry James
Death is a work-in-progress.
So many people—myself included—end up living, for a while at least, a pale shadow of a life; it could be for weeks, months, or years at a time. We accept our lot, and our courage and zest for living shrivels up like a month-old flower. If this quote was on a giant billboard and woke one person up who was sleepwalking through life and instilled in them a sense of urgency, then it would all be worth it.
Q#5: What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)
An Alesis Recital digital keyboard. It helped me realize that I can learn nearly anything—even if I am a total beginner—with hard work, deliberate practice and tons of patience.
Q#6: What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
Word savouring. When I read an elegantly, or even verbosely, written phrase or paragraph, I will often pause, go back and read the word (or words) that ignited my logophilia. I will read them out loud, slowly, and lean into each crisp syllable.
They can be familiar or unfamiliar words, as long as they are exotic, mesmerizing, and charged with mellifluous (there's one) sounds or provocative meanings.
I will also see how many such words I can collect and recollect from a night's worth of reading (last night: stonewalling, bravura, incredulity).
Doctors were perplexed at first, but most of them have agreed that I am fine.
Q#7: In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
I started valuing the simple act of showing up. Related to this is an injunction I picked up from James Clear: Never miss twice. Making sure to show up for the things I care about and not break stride has made me more consistent than ever before, and I've developed skills more rapidly that I ever thought possible. I wrote a poem every day for a year, worked out almost every day for a year and have gone from not knowing how to play the piano to being able to play a variety of songs.
Never underestimate the power of showing up.
Q#8: What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?
Don't chase money for its own sake; down that path lies chronic dissatisfaction. Find something that you would feel okay working at forever, and find a mission, a cause, that you feel is worth working for. There are lots of problems in the world: pick one or two and work vigorously to solve (or mitigate) them. Always remember: other people matter.
Ignore any advice that is untested, or that comes from stodgy, unhappy people.
Q#9: What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
"Student X is unable to perform at Y level because of learning differences, challenges, or behavioural matters." This is pure fixed-mindset thinking. Believing in every student's vast potential for improvement and acting in accordance with that belief is what shows students that they can learn (nearly) anything.
Q#10: In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?
I'm still very bad at saying no, but I think I've gotten a bit better. Time is one of my most precious resources, and I try to do everything I can to protect it. Recently, I have felt comfortable saying no to requests for unproductive hang-out time with friends, and have clearly defined boundaries for solitary time.
The problem is, every time I change environments, I backtrack and become hyper-agreeable again. This area of my life is a work in progress.
Q#11: When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)
I take a few deep, slow breaths through my nose and ask myself: "what can I learn from this?" and "how can I use this experience to develop my patience muscle?"
I might also repeat the sentence: "if patience were easy, it wouldn't be a virtue."
If none of that works, I pace or stretch or do something physical.
If that doesn't work, crying hysterically is always an option!
"Just watch me"
In early October of 1970, Canada was facing a terrorist insurrection akin to what happened last week at Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Two major political figures were kidnapped, and one of them was murdered. Thousands of people marched in the streets in support of the FLQ, an organization that threatened the democracy and safety of the public, and went so far as to bomb the Montreal Stock Exchange, injuring 27 people.
Pierre Trudeau, the Prime Minister at the time, was faced with what some might consider a hard choice: take drastic, immediate measures which would limit the freedoms of Canadian citizens, or allow a paramilitary organization to run amok and cause more bloodshed.
Trudeau didn't see it as a hard choice.
In a now infamous offhand interview with a CBC reporter, Trudeau proclaimed that "it is more important to keep law and order in this society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don't like the looks of a soldier's helmet." [emphasis added]
When the reporter asked him how far he was willing to go to keep law and order, he cheekily said:
"just watch me."
Just watch me. I love it. Three words that exude defiance, courage, a strong will, and indomitability.
There will always be detractors. Non-believers. Cynics. Those who tell you what you really should be doing.
And, who knows, they may be half-right.
But, if it's what you want, if it's what you believe to be right for you, you can stand up to those people. Even if you are uncertain in your abilities.
When you start piling up the evidence of your self-efficacy, you know that you have the potential to make almost anything happen.
When they ask you how you will do it, you can tell them: "just watch me".
And then back it up with actions, every day, that move you closer to what it is you really want.
Finding your "why"
"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why." - Mark Twain
If someone were to ask you right now, point blank, the simple question: "why are you here?", what would you say? Would the answer come quickly, clearly, without hesitation? Or would you need to reflect, consider the various strands of your life, and possibly defer an answer?
I've spent a lot of time in that second camp, uncertain about what the best answer to the question might be. I've also spent a lot of time searching for the right answer.
I found the answer, my answer, on the other side of a breakdown. It took a confrontation with everything I didn't want in life to clearly define what I do want.
I was living the deferred life plan. I was putting off my "why" so that I could make ends meet, while hoping to work on what truly mattered to me sometime in the future.
Randy Komisar, the author of The Monk and the Riddle, captures this dilemma perfectly:
“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all- the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.”
But, what if you don't know what you want? How do you find your "why"? How do you know it is the right "why"?
What worked for me: reflecting on my suffering and hardships. Painful experiences contain important life lessons. In difficult moments, I have discovered the power of asking: "what can I learn from this?"
Remember: Batman turned his biggest fear into his power and his identity.
So, if you are wondering where to start, start there. Make a list of the hard moments. Write about what makes you suffer and struggle. Write about the suffering and struggle you want to avoid at all costs. Then, write about what kind of suffering and struggle you would most want to face. Because there will be both. You can always count on that.
As Mark Manson puts it: "what shit sandwich do you want to eat?"
Ask yourself: what could I do forever? What things would I never stop working on?
And then, whatever it is, work on it. Deliberately. Purposefully. As if today could very well be the last time you do that thing.
Why am I here? To write, to work on myself, and to serve others.
Why are you here?
"Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do" - Steve Jobs
At the beginning of 1997, Apple was a mess. Walter Isaacson writes:
"The company was churning out multiple versions of each product because of bureaucratic momentum and to satisfy the whims of the retailers. "It was insanity," Schiller recalled. "Tons of products, most of them crap, done by deluded teams." Apple had a dozen versions of the Macintosh, each with a different confusing number, ranging from 1400 to 9600."
When Steve Jobs returned to the company, he slashed redundant product lines to free up time and engineers in order to focus on only four products: the Power Mac G3, the Powerbook G3, the iMac and the iBook.
He was acting on the motto of industrial designer Dieter Rams: Weniger aber besser. Less but better.
The principle of simplicity, of less but better, brings clarity. It eliminates worry. It frees up cognitive resources to focus on improvement over surveillance.
What will you decide to do? What will you decide to not do? How can you do less, but better?
Repetition is essential.
Great golfers practice their swing until they are able to perform at a desired level, and then they keep practicing. Great students study until they know the material, and they double the time they spend studying. Great athletes don’t just walk away for a week after a workout. They get their reps in, again and again.
Of course, the quality and accuracy of those reps matters.
Repeating the wrong things leads to minimal to no improvements. Students who repeat rote learning don’t do as well as students who use strategies to actively understand and think through material.
I have played many games of chess, but I haven’t really improved over many years of play. Why is that? Am I just not inherently good at the game?
“Poppycock”, I say.
I’ve merely been repeating the same mistakes.
In How We Think, John Dewey proclaims that:
“We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.”
To improve at chess requires analyzing games, questioning moves and reflecting on possible moves.
Playing games is necessary, but reflection is where the real learning happens.
The Queen’s Gambit actually does a good job of conveying this attitude of reflective learning. Harmon, Beltik and Benny Watts and company are always working on puzzles, problems and scrutinizing previous games.
Incidentally, here is what the Queen’s Gambit move actually looks like:
I wrote about the therapeutic powers of journaling recently. I truly believe that journaling is one of the best ways to reflect on experiences, grapple with problems and catalyze learning.
Some final questions to consider: