WHAT IS THIS?
Daily, snackable writings and podcasts to spur changes in thinking.
A blueprint for building a better brain by slow, consistent, daily drops of influence.
The way we think is both our greatest tool - indeed our only tool - and very often it is also our biggest leash. We are only who we think we are. Our opportunities are also limited by who other people think we are. It stands to reason that if we’d like to change who we are, we must start with an effort to change our thinking. Read more here
January 15th, 2019
We’ve all heard that joke. Someone’s going for a jog and two friends look on. One looks at the other and says, “why would you run if nothing’s chasing you?”
The joke is to comfort the lazy, but it’s missing half the potential humor. For those who are able enough to jog, we can sprint when we need to. And perhaps it’s because we are running away from something, perhaps something is chasing us, or perhaps we are running towards something.
The jogger is literally running towards the spot where a healthier version of their body will be. This is the obvious reason for such exercise, along with any other benefits, both in terms of physical feeling and mental wellbeing.
But this image of sprinting towards something good or sprinting away from something bad can be a useful metaphor. Especially when the reasons are combined.
Why are you working so hard on that project?
Because of the reward that may await with the finish, and the potential for that reward to simultaneously usher in a new and better life and push back the current conditions we seek to escape.
This metaphor works for any goal, no matter how good we have it in life. With any goal we aren’t simply looking to achieve something, we are also trying to avoid a life were we didn’t take the chance.
This simple concept is at the root of what many people find themselves thinking about at the end of life. A simple experiment that is worth repeating on one’s own is to seek out people who are in the last decade of their life and ask them what if anything they regret.
Most all of them will have the same response: There’s little to nothing to regret, but many of them wish they’d taken more chances, attempted more things, chased after more goals.
This answer puts a subtle underscore beneath that monster that chases us while we sprint towards better things. This monster doesn’t catch up if we stand still. If we stop moving forward than it instantly appears. This is part of the reason why it’s more important to simply start when it comes to our potential plans instead of trying to over think those plans towards perfection. Valuable time is being lost. Life is instantly morphing into the one we wish we’d done more with. This gives us a reason to run even if we’re not sure what to run towards. Luckily we’ve evolved to think pretty well on our feet, and like athletes zigzagging and crisscrossing courts or fields, we can have faith that when we see a goal that feels worthy, we’ll be light-footed enough to pivot and take all our movement in the right direction.
This episode references Episode 72: Persevere Vs. Pivot.
January 14th, 2019
Thinking is our most powerful tool. But any tool needs a medium through which to function. And if thinking is the tool, then reality is the medium. Through language, visualization and conception, we can imagine all sorts of things that do not exist, and we can make abstract frameworks for the things that we see do exist. But, if thinking is left to it’s own devices, it can generate its own fantasy land where it’s potential usefulness rapidly declines.
Just as the body’s usefulness will decline if not protected by an immune system, so too does our mental health need a kind of immune system through which to introduce rigor and honing. Taking action based on our thinking is exactly this sort of immune system for belief systems, conceptual understandings and thinking in general.
We might think for a moment of the street side prophet who can talk ad infintum based on a conceptual world that they have. Is such a person generally open to conversation and taking in new information? If you’ve ever had enough curiosity to try and engage such a person, you’ve perhaps found the answer is no. Such an individual is far more interested in the attempt to impose their ideas on the outside world. In such a case, there is no longer an even two-way street between the conceptual world and the real world. Such a two-way street is imperative for the health of the conceptual world because it’s through our interaction with the real world that our conceptual world is updated, and from a more robustly constructed mental conception, we can take more efficient action that is more likely to result in our imagined goals.
When we sit in thought on any given plan or idea for too long, we are undermining our mental abilities by expecting far too much from them. It’s a useful rule to take the smallest possible action on any new plan or idea as soon as possible. The feedback from reality (if there is any) is a far more helpful guide about which direction we should think than the hopeless task of trying to imagine all sorts of branching possibilities.
This is why many tech products are introduced without much fine-tuning. While the initial use might be aggravating for many, the feedback from users help the creators pivot the product in the most useful direction. This feedback loop helps get a clunky version one to an incredibly useful version x far more efficiently than wasting time and money trying to guess what will be useful and building something for that imagined world of guessing.
But this feedback loop should apply to all our ideas. If curiosity directs our attention towards some novelty, we do best to take the cue and investigate it’s possibility in reality in stead of simply following curiosity down a rabbit hole into a fantastic, albeit unuseful wonderland. As much as that word ‘wonder’ is handed around like some kind of child superpower, it’s most useful in small quantities punctuated by action in the real world. Wonder can become like a virus in the mind and an idea or plan about what to do can become like an infinite loop. We just get stuck imagining something in the real world instead of actually finding out. Pushing these plans and ideas into the real world is like pushing a compound through the rigors of the immune system. If the plan or idea is useful, then the real world will give us some kind of positive feedback, much like the immune system distributes the constituents of healthy food, whereas the real world will let a bad idea fall flat, much like a virus being steamrolled by the power of the immune system.
The most practical piece here is to watch out for any kind of rumination. When thinking goes beyond imagining a couple different branching possibilities, it’s time to scrap the process of thinking and start translating a plan to test the idea into real action. Only then can an idea truly evolve in the healthiest way possible.
January 13th, 2019
Lucilius was looking out at a cascade of stars fading in a thin dark blue over the horizon as he stood at the helm of a fishing trawler. They had been steaming northeast for a day and would go another day before arriving at the fishing grounds where they would drop nets. The sea was calm and Lucilius coveted the cool quiet time.
The captain of the ship climbed up into the wheelhouse from below and handed Lucilius a fresh cup of coffee.
“Thanks,” Lucilius said.
“How goes?” the captain asked.
“Steady as,” Lucilius replied. “Beauty of a night.”
They stood in silence, watching the horizon warm, the faint light slowly spreading out across the water, stretching towards the ship.
The captain started up. “So yesterday, when we were pullin’ out I realized I left all the booze for this trip on the dock. Just totally forgot.” The captain laughed some, checking Lucilius’ reaction. He smiled but with a curious look.
“Oh, I always keep extra in my cabin, as a sort of back up. But shit, good thing none of the boys saw, cause that was a few hundred bucks, might as well just been poured down the drain.” He laughed, somewhat absurdly at his own mistake and Lucilius humored him by laughing along. “Eh, whaddya do? A little nick to the bottom line, it happens.”
Ernie, another fisherman came up and took over the helm from Lucilius and Lucilius stayed just long enough to see the sun split water and sky before going down below to get some sleep.
Several days later they were in the thick of routine, hauling nets, gutting and icing fish and working round the clock. Most all the crew was nursing a short reprieve in the galley, smoking cigarettes while huddled round mugs of coffee when the intercom blared into high volume.
The captain yelled through the intercom, making the speaker nearly short, twisting his curses as the crew went wide eyed at the captain’s anger.
Some gear had been left out of place on deck, one of the nets not completely rolled, some bycatch left in a trough.
All the crew looked around at each other, quickly realizing that the only one still asleep, Ernie, was the one who’d been on deck last with the job of cleaning up.
The captain kept going on, cursing them all out, and Lucilius could see his shipmates growing nervous and angry. Surely Ernie was awake by now, listening to the tirade of passive aggression the captain was shouting throughout the ship.
“Amazing,” the captain shouted. “I’m so proud of all of you.” Then the intercom clicked and it was silent save for the low drone of the huge caterpillar engine. A minute later Ernie came into the Galley and Lucilius watched as none of the shipmates even looked at the man, let alone acknowledge his presence. Lucilius watched Ernie fumble with a pack of cigarettes, give up and then head up a ladder to the wheelhouse to confront the captain. They could all dimly hear Ernie apologizing, trying to explain, but it seemed to land on deaf ears. During the next shift, the men left Ernie out of their talk, and Lucilius alone took up position next to Ernie, separating catch.
“Must of gotten a shit call from his old lady,” Lucilius said. Ernie smiled weakly.
“I was exhausted,” Ernie said. “Couldn’t sleep through those rollers the other night, and by the end of that shift, I could barely keep my eyes open.”
“It happens,” Lucilius said. Ernie smirked and through the shift Lucilius kept up the conversation, giving his friend some little comfort. And when their shift came to an end Ernie went down to the Galley and Lucilius decided to take his cigarette up in the wheelhouse with the captain. The two stood quietly as Lucilius clicked a lighter to life and made the cigarette end glow with a quick toke. The ship rocked and Lucilius glanced at the captain. The man’s face was set and unamused.
“Unbelievable,” the captain said slowly.
Lucilius raised an eyebrow. “What, Ernie’s messup?”
“Yea, just unbelievable. Just sloppy, so sloppy.”
“He was tired,” Lucilius defended.
“I don’t care. He left the deck a mess. It’s unacceptable.”
The two stood in silence for a moment. Lucilius dragged the cigarette, looked off at the southern horizon.
“How is it that you can make the honest mistake of leaving all the booze for the trip back at port, dock the pay for the catch to cover it, and you and I just laugh about it, but when it comes to Ernie being tired and leaving a few things out of place, you ream the whole crew out and make Ernie feel like some kind of leper when all he did was forget a few minor things, none of which lost us any money.” Lucilius glanced at the captain’s face. The man had a harder expression set now.
“Yea ok,” the captain said. And after a moment he asked. “Mind taking the helm, I’m gonna go apologize to Ernie.”
Lucilius took a long drag, looking at the captain, leaving him to hold the helm.
“You called out the guy in public, in front of his shipmates, but you’re gonna apologize in private?”
The captain stared a moment. Then left the helm, leaving Lucilius to take the wheel.
A week later when they were back in port Lucilius and Ernie left the ship for good.
January 12th, 2019
How useful are emotions?
Certainly they have incredible utility because they form the fuel and engine for everything we do.
The question is too vague however. We might for example ask how useful a tree is? In this case it’s perhaps more intuitive to follow up with a second question: useful for what? If we seek to build a table then certainly the tree is potentially very useful, but not in it’s current form. If however we see the tree’s utility as an entity that takes CO2 out of the atmosphere, then it is useful as is. What’s important to note here is that while the tree can be useful for many things, for some we need to convert that tree and put it through a process.
Likewise with emotions. All emotions provide us with the energy and impetus to actually do things.
Positive feelings of kinship and compassion perhaps need no conversion or processing, much like a tree seen as useful just being a tree.
But, we can think of far more difficult emotions like anger and frustration which rarely do us any good if we act upon these emotions in the form that we experience them. We generally lash out and create similar negative emotions in other people. We break things, undermine a project, damage relationships… all variety of things occur that we can very quickly come to regret.
This does not mean that the negative emotion cannot be useful. Like cutting a tree into slabs to make it more conducive to building a table, or shucking and roasting an ear of corn in order to eat, we can put our negative emotions through a process to convert them into more useful sources of energy and better reasons to take action.
This can be a mental energy to focus on a problem and think about it effectively in order to institute a solution.
This requires converting the stressful, negative emotion present into something that achieves a focused contemplation. Akin to peeling an orange, we get rid of what we don’t need, and what is left over is a sort of raw energy that we can use.
If we strip away the identity of an emotion, it’s negativeness –if you will, then what’s left over is simply a healthy amount of energy and a problem that needs solving. It becomes, in essence, two problems which can solve each other. The large amount of energy we need to expend can be spent actually solving the problem.
The problem is the reason we experience the hot emotion in the first place. But by shucking the emotion, removing the unuseful husk, we use that emotion like a fungible battery to power a calm laser-like focus to understand the constituent parts of the problem and enable us to see a real solution, as opposed to acting out on the negative emotion as fast as possible.
January 11th, 2019
We all drop the ball. No one is immune from making a mistake, whether they affect ourselves solely or those around us in a team or family. And often, emotions are quick to rise on any and all sides that might suffer as a result of such mistakes.
As a quick aside we might ask what function do emotions serve? While our lives, decisions and identity to a large degree seem to be woven of emotions, this question does not seem to be a particularly common ponderance, perhaps because they seem to make up everything about our experience. It’s akin to a fish wondering about water.
Whether positive or negative, whether effective or counter-productive, at their base, emotions simply impel us to do things, to take action and attempt to make things different. This is particularly salient after someone has made a mistake we find frustrating. Hot-tempered aggravation ignites and we immediately have the cause, direction and immense energy required to do something.
At this point, our wisest decision is to pause and simply regain calm. Anger is often referred to as a knife held by the blade. The tighter we hold on the more it simply injures us. Perhaps not as immediately as a knife, perhaps the wound is a long term circumstance, but it’s clear that anger rarely hands us the most effective option for solving problems.
If we merely pause before acting on such an emotion we can then convert the emotion to something more useful and turn this built-in adversary into a powerful asset. But this may not even be necessary.
When someone drops the ball, we need only ask one question that can potentially nullify the whole situation: Is this a one-off occurrence, or is this part of a pattern?
Even when we are the one who has dropped the ball, this question can perform a lot of good. If the mistake and occasion is a one-off occurrence, then there’s likely little to worry about. Most likely there was some extenuating circumstance that has had an influence or perhaps we’ve suffered a bout of mindlessness. All our vulnerable to such things. So when someone else drops the ball and it’s unusual, it’s not simply the benefit of the doubt to assume that something rare and unintended caused the mishap, it’s a matter of historical precedent and probability that this is the case. We can ask further questions to find out exactly what, but even that is not necessary because a single occurrence does not imply a problem – all it does it reaffirm the large complexity and noise of the world we live in.
If on the other hand the dropped ball is not an isolated instance, then there is perhaps a problem. If it is part of a pattern, then there is good cause to assume a problem actually exists. But the good thing about a pattern is that we can manipulate them. Since they are predictable, we can plan against them. And in so doing, solve the problem. We cannot however plan specifically for one-off events. Measures might be taken to lessen their effect, but every once in a while someone is going to have a sleepless night causing an exhaustion they cannot leave at the door, or all manner of problems that can perhaps not even be mitigated by some sort of super-human fortitude. In which case we should look at it as a minor blip in the wide scheme of things.
Everyone drops the ball, but to see it as larger than a blip is to lose focus and misapply a solution.
This is called iatrogenic. When the diagnosis or treatment actually causes the problem that was assumed to be present when in fact everything was fine.
The most important thing to wait for and notice when the ball is dropped is whether or not it rolls off afterwards, or if it’s caught after the bounce and the game can go on.