Sometimes, things go sideways. For example, let's say you write a blog post, and it accidentally gets permanently deleted while in draft form (very specific, I know).
You want to get angry. You do get angry. You want a source of blame outside of yourself... so you go looking for one.
Sometimes, the lesson is to take the time and learn the lesson.
Maybe, you make the decision to write your future blog posts on a more secure platform with an autosave feature. That way, you don't have to face the same problem again.
You take a small, seemingly insignificant step instead of berating yourself for losing (yet another) post.
But you don’t let it stop you from showing up.
What tiny step can you take that might help you avoid a future loss, or save you time in the long run?
For many people, learning ends when they finish school or get good enough at their job to be successful enough (if not before).
They may continue to experience situations that challenge them, and they might adopt new practices here and there, but generally the desire to continually learn and grow gets replaced by the desire to appear competent, capable, and above reproach.
This represents a finite learning mindset. It is a very safe place to approach the world from.
The risk of appearing completely foolish or wildly inaccurate is greatly reduced. However, real growth only happens when there is something on the line. The best gymnasts still fall, the greatest musicians still miss notes and forget lyrics, and the finest authors still come out with books that disappoint.
Sometimes, a safe approach is best. You don't want pilots, Uber drivers or your mechanic to be on the bleeding edge. You want assurances of reliability and security.
But when it comes to music, art, friendships, love, and many careers, risk-taking, courage, and the immense desire to learn from mistakes are not only warranted, they are vital.
I recently started carrying a Judo white belt with me on my travels. It is now one of my prized possessions. To me, it symbolizes a willingness to start new things, to fail forward, to fall and get up again.
In Zen Buddhism, this idea is called Beginner's Mind. It involves learning without pre-conceived notions of one's pre-existing capability.
But I think the idea of infinite learning means more than merely being open to learning as though one were a novice.
Newly acquired skills, improvements, and applied ideas lead to a ripple effect. Improving your mindset to perform at 3x efficiency does not only make you 3 times as efficient for as long as you employ that mindset.
It also means that you encounter dead-ends and refine the path you are taking more quickly, which means learning faster, sooner, and better. An insight learned and acted on quickly can mean life or death to a company, a project, or a relationship.
Infinite learning is continuously learning, applying new learning to all domains of interest, and using that learning towards practical ends. It means going cross-disciplinary. It means sacrificing the stability of being right and foregoing the ability to rest on your accomplishments.
From a perspective of infinite learning, there is no arbitrary finish line, no conclusive victory or defeat. There is only growth, learning, and the highest, noblest purpose imaginable.
What can you achieve from a position of infinite learning?
It is a rare privilege to have 14 days entirely to yourself, with few (if any) external obligations. This prolonged block of time is a hunk of clay that you can sculpt into the work of your choosing.
Now is a good time to question yourself, your identity, your values, and your goals.
Who are you, really? What is the narrating mind saying about your past, present and future? Where are you headed?
What can you do with this time to sharpen your skills? Further your growth? Challenge yourself?
If, according to Carol Dweck, an individual's true potential is unknowable, what stories about your own limitations have you been unwittingly perpetuating?
It is Christmas day, and I am currently in quarantine: reading, questioning, journalling, writing blog posts and re-watching Batman Begins. I am discovering (and recreating) who I am, and I hope that you get the chance to do so as well.
Transforming one's mindset is empowering; taking action in ways that align with that mindset makes you unstoppable.
It's not who you are underneath; it's what you do that defines you.
What if we don't need 10,000 books to fill entire rooms in our house?
What if all we needed were a few really exceptional books that spoke to us? Books that we could re-read again and again?
Naturally, I am a hypocrite. I say these things after recently carrying a gym bag filled to the brim with 40 pounds of unread books I couldn't leave behind (after a recent move) through airport security.
The bag was flagged by the security agent (she was a lovely, soft-spoken older women) and I spent a few minutes chatting with her about the book titles/subjects, and her daughter's interest in reading. The best part was, she didn't find any dope.
Still, I left more books behind than I took with me. That must stand for something. I won't even mention my trip to the bookstore almost immediately after landing...
In 2019, more than 1.6 million books were published. If you started speed reading at 400 words per minute right now and never took breaks, it would only take you 456 years to read them all.
Of course, a bunch of those books are trash. You could narrow it down to the top 1,000 and only read those, which would take a sleepless 104 days. Actually, that doesn't make reading 1,000 new books sound all that bad...
What was my point again?
Oh yes, narrowing down one's book collection.
You could keep only the best of the best, the books that you have given 5 stars. The rest you could donate to a school, a library, or someone who writes and maintains a blog.
For me, that would mean keeping books like 100 Years of Solitude or Atomic Habits (the book I have gifted most to friends and family), and donating books like Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase.
Fundamentally, I am calling for no less than a minimalist book revolution.
As the Taiwanese writer Lu Ka-shiang once said:
“The love for books is the same as that for friends, you might not need a lot of books, but why do you keep flipping through pages and purchasing new ones? That is because you are fearful of missing a friend in the world that is worth knowing in your life.”
It is certainly okay to go out and make new friends, but you wouldn't keep thousands of your friends locked up at night in your living room.
You don't need a lot of friends. You don't need a lot of books.
I want to make a list of the most indispensable books I own. Books I will never dispense with. Books that capture the beauty and magic of language and story in a way that few other books can.
What books are on that list for you?
Which books can you let go of, and feel lighter for having done so?
Nothing says “natural ability" and “innate talent" quite like the piano. Seeing skilled pianists often supports the mistaken, fixed-mindset view that some people are born brilliant, and others simply live in their shadows.
Take Mozart, a supreme example of precocious genius. You've likely heard the stories of young Wolfgang writing minuets when he was 6, and his first symphony at 8.
We like to assume that he had some deeply ingrained ability that accounted for his wild accomplishments. No doubt, he had a disposition towards learning and some degree of natural musical endowment.
But the picture is incomplete without accounting for Mozart's father, Leopold, who made it his life's work to nurture and develop his son's talent through rigorous instruction.
There is also the considerable length of time it took between Mozart composing his first work and composing more celebrated pieces of music. In the highly influential book Mindset, Carol Dweck writes:
“Mozart labored for more than ten years until he produced any work that we admire today. Before then, his compositions were not that original or interesting. Actually, they were often patched-together chunks taken from other composers".
A year ago, I became fascinated with the piano. I knew nothing about it. I am a long-time drummer, and a friend of mine referred to it as “88 tuned drums".
I started with the C major scale, and fumbled around with chords. Then, I started to learn parts of songs. Each day, I'd carve out 20 minutes and practice. I began layering my new skills and discoveries. It was exhilarating.
But, there were setbacks.
I'd play a part I had practiced 20 times and still make mistakes, making one of my favourite songs sound terrible in the process.
I took on songs that were far too challenging, and gave up in frustration.
The fixed mindset part of my brain went to town. Thoughts like “you will never be good at this", “You didn't start young", and “you are a failure" cropped up again and again.
But I struggled through. I kept up the unshakeable habit of showing up, and eked out just enough progress to feel occasionally satisfied.
And now, I get to play keyboard and communicate through the language of keys and chords with my musician friends, and the learning cycle has accelerated.
But most important of all, I have learned that I can learn nearly anything I put my mind to, and I am empowered to take on new challenges. Piano taught me the value of a growth mindset for learning.
What is something you've always wanted to learn, but thought you could never get better at? Start learning it, even if its on your own, and use it to hone the most important part of your learning toolkit: your mindset.
I am terrified of flying. Strangely enough, it wasn't always so. I used to fly with few, if any, concerns, and was thrilled by the novelty of it.
Somewhere along the line, my excitement at the prospect of travelling to new places gave way to an underlying phobia of heights. Now, every time I am in a plane and experience turbulence, my palms flood with sweat and I white-knuckle the arm rest, believing somewhere in the reptilian part of my brain that taking these nervous actions will exert some kind of influence over the situation.
I have tried meditation, breathing exercise, and distracting myself in every conceivable way. Nothing has worked. Except Valium. That definitely works.
And perhaps that anxiety and dread is okay. I could sedate myself or otherwise deaden myself, but the truth is, there is something empowering about facing situations, such as flying, that terrify me.
In those moments of fear, I am on the tightrope. The deep, unconscious realization (which naturally flies in the face of all statistics) that this could be the end, that I might not live to see another day, revivifies me. It draws me out of the hum of everyday existence and into the light and glow of precious human-ness.
Ryan Holiday evokes the voice of Seneca to make this attitude clear:
“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” —Seneca
Now, I lean in to the discomfort and fear. I push through it. I come out the other side having conquered it. It may be a small victory, but it is a victory nonetheless.
What if I wrote with that same intensity and animation? What if I treated each day, or even each moment, as if it were as precious as those few minutes of turbulence, of psychological uncertainty?
What if you or I decided to become anti-fragile? Yes, I believe we get to decide. What if we became stronger by standing up (or sitting down, in this particular case) to face the adversities and uncertainties that life seems to serve up so regularly?
How about it? What obstacles, setbacks, sufferings, or misfortunes can make you stronger, more resilient, more alive?
There are plenty to choose from: COVID, isolation, family or work struggles, money issues. These all suck. Some can be fixed and changed, others can't. But they can make you stronger. If you decide.
Tools can be used for a variety of purposes beyond their conventional uses. A hammer is also a paperweight, or a weapon, or a decorative art piece.
This principle applies to ideas as well. Problems that seem to only have one glaring answer may in fact have alternative (and often far more ideal) solutions.
Once a choice or concept is crystallized, it becomes very hard to imagine other possibilities.
I believe that one of the best ways to keep the doors open to creative and divergent thinking is to consider the perspectives of others that you respect and trust. Listening with the intention of working towards continual improvement and touching on deep truths is a great way to override a fixed mindset.
If you feel compelled to quit your job, and you are a linchpin to your organization, it might be possible to propose a remote work arrangement or alternative work agreement.
If you are stuck choosing between two jobs, travel plans or long-term goals, perhaps there is a way to have both (this might not work too well with romantic partners).
There are no hard and fast rules about what you can and can't accomplish.
Many limitations are only there because we believe they are there.
Destroy those limitations with the hammer of playful thinking. In the words of a true master:
“You think that's air you're breathing now?"
Being on the brink of momentous changes, I am deeply inspired by this Steve Jobs quote:
“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something ... almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose."
What are you going to do today?
Is it what you would want to do if this was the last day of your life?
How can you bring yourself closer to having that ideal day?
Does your ideal arise out of a receiving mindset, or a giving mindset?
Getting a degree from a prestigious school. Securing a high-paying job. Getting married to the ideal partner. Earning a million (+) dollars.
So often, we frame our lives in finite, winnable terms. Evolutionarily, it makes sense. Hunting and gathering is a finite game. Either you succeed, or you fail. Through this lens, failure is distressing in the most ideal of iterations.
But there is another type of game that we often play: the infinite game.
When playing an infinite game, there are no immediate winners or losers. It is not zero-sum. Playing an infinite game requires a shift away from hustling others and winning at all costs.
The predictors of success in the infinite game are: trust, compassion, resilience, and envisioning an ideal future with the intent of moving towards it by building it, one brick at a time.
When playing infinite games, it is important to seek out other like-minded people who are on the same infinite playing field. In the words of Naval Ravikant, play long-term games with long-term people.
Personally, I've spent a lot of time pivoting between disciplines, goals, and belief systems. I've learned a lot in the process. But each time I packed up my things and went to go hang up another shingle, I lost a lot of credibility, trust and momentum.
Playing short-term games was exciting, but I shot myself in the foot repeatedly.
Don't shot yourself in the foot.
Play long-term games, and infinite games, with like-minded people.
In an infinite game, there is no end, and no finish line.