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
May 19th, 2019
Lucilius sat staring at an outline for a project he was planning to undertake. He was watching his godson for the day but the young boy was fast asleep in a corner of the room among his toys. Worried about all the details of the project, Lucilius had decided to sit down and organize his thoughts, but each time he wrote some pointers about some aspect of the project, it spawned a whole new species of details and his anxiety about the project blossomed further. Within no time he had half a piece of paper filled with half-ideas growing and ballooning, cramping in smaller and smaller print against the edges and corners.
In frustration, Lucilius crumpled the piece of paper and threw it into a waste basket. He watched it sit there for a moment, regretting the action, thinking how he’d probably need everything he’d written, when he heard a sound.
Lucilius looked across the room to see his godson stirring from his sleep. The boy had rolled against the wall and as he was waking, the young boy’s foot tangled with a chord plugged into a nearby electrical outlet. Before Lucilius even realized, the boy yanked on the chord as he struggled to stand up, and a lamp on the other side of the room fell, turning it on, and instantly it cast light across the room towards the little boy and printed his small shadow on the wall near him. The boy was still sleepily disentangling himself, and once free, he noticed the dark shadow near him on the wall.
The boy startled and shrieked. He raised his hands in alarm and then grew even more frightened as the shadow followed suit, raising it’s shadowy limbs. The young boy shrieked again, backing away from the shadow, towards the fallen light, making the shadow grow bigger and bigger against the wall. The boy squealed in terror and fell backwards just in front of the lamp, making the shadow instantly double in size and changing into a strange mutated and monstrous shape.
The poor boy cowered at the shadow and gathered himself into a tight ball, crying.
Lucilius knelt by the boy and pulled him up into his arms, reassuring the boy, telling him that everything was alright. The boy sobbed louder into his godfather’s arms. Lucilius cradled the boy and after a few minutes, the exhausted boy settled, breathing heavily from the whole affair.
Lucilius’ gaze wandered to their combined shadow that covered nearly the whole far wall. He stood up with the boy still in his arms and slowly walked towards the wall. The shadow tightened, growing darker and smaller, finer lines sucking in where the hazy darkness resolved. Lucilius stood just before the wall, studying the clear line of his shadow’s edge, and then looked over at the waste basket where the crumpled sheet of brainstorming for his project lay discarded.
May 18th, 2019
The practice of mining, that old sort of mining, the one we imagine when we think of prospectors sifting for gold, is a ripe analogy for process in many of the endeavors we undertake.
Prospectors often sifted or dug through massive amounts of useless material before finding a profitable and shiny strain of gold.
But there was never any guarantee that any particular direction of digging would lead to fortune. And so too in many other parts of life. Sometimes, we are just digging holes.
Perhaps some lessons can be garnered from such seemingly useless endeavors, such as an exercise of sustained and focused effort, but perhaps the most useful lesson is knowing when to abandon the effort. This tendency to keep going even when it seems that giving up would be better is often referred to as the ‘sunk-cost’ fallacy.
‘Giving up’ is such a shamed and taboo concept, and perhaps for very good reason, but as with many concepts and beliefs, we import it into places where it does us a great disservice.
Giving up on all effort is a genuinely sad occurrence, and if shame and taboo can work effectively to keep a person from giving up all effort, then perhaps the price is worth it.
But giving up effort on a single endeavor often carries the same weight, shame, and forbiddance that is more appropriately attributed to giving up on everything.
Knowing when to abandon the mine and strike out in new directions is the art of the Pivot.
We often mistake a needed pivot for ‘giving up’, and pivoting is in a sense giving up. But it’s giving up on an unproductive direction in favor of a more productive direction.
Pivoting, or ‘giving up on a small and local level’ is how we simultaneously keep from giving up all effort and save ourselves from wasting time in poor directions.
The way to keep this compass needle healthy is to always assume that one’s direction is off by some margin and needs correcting.
May 17th, 2019
As public conversation trickles into new and strange spaces thanks to the proliferation of digital portals, questions pop up about how to keep our conversation healthy. Much discourse seems to lack generosity, thoughtfulness, empathy and ultimately: effective results.
In many cases conversation seems to function as an avenue for narcissism. We merely wait for our own turn to talk in order to hear our own voice, while only blithely addressing the topic addressed in the same manner by a companion in dialogue.
The word ‘converse’ might as well be ‘contra-verse’. Two verses or perspectives that lack any kind of fruitful synergy.
The word converse has etymological roots meaning ‘to turn around’.
The implication here seems to be persuasion. We converse in order to persuade another of our point. Considering how rare an effective instance of persuasion seems to be, the imaginary word contra-verse (meaning, roughly contrary verses) seems to be more appropriate.
There remains a useful juxtaposition to highlight the problems with modern conversation in a more intuitive way.
We need only ask what are the differences and similarities between:
The two concepts as practices surely inspire a totally different flavor in the mind.
The chief difference is easy to spot: in an interview the focus and concentration is one person thoughts, ideas and point of view. In a conversation the focus is more diffuse, or rather, it mostly flip-flops between one person’s point of view and the other person’s point of view. The definitions differentiated here contain an important point: rarely in conversation are both people focusing on the same point of view.
In an interview, however, the focus of both people is consistently unified on the topic of one person’s point of view. Certainly there are disingenuous interviewers who have an agenda and seek to create gotchya-interviews which intend to make a person look like a fool, but then this sort of aim betrays our working definition of an interview. In such a case the interviewer is focused on a secret point of view that is whipped out when the person being interviewed has created a linguistic space that can be flipped into their own undoing.
Without a secret agenda, an interview seeks to explore another person’s point of view in the most honest and generous way possible, generating questions that allow the person in focus to further extrapolate on points and perspectives raised.
Now realize how rarely this kind of focus exists in conversation. Usually, a conversation entails two people trying in vain to get the other person to generously explore the perspective they prattle on about.
For those who are thoroughly exhausted by the contentious and fruitless merry-go-round of ineffective conversation, it may be an interesting experiment and possibly an invaluable tool to make a practice of viewing conversations as an interviewer – to ask questions and explore another’s perspective, no matter how repulsive.
Not only does this give us a fuller picture of who we are dealing with, but it may even present the opportunity for our companion in dialogue to realize new truths about their own perspective, truths unavailable because they’d never been able to ask themselves a set of questions flavored by a wholly different perspective, namely: our own.
This episode references Episode 390: Question about the Question
May 16th, 2019
Is a signal a part of the sign? or is the sign the signal?
What exactly is the best way of thinking about these two similar words – so similar in fact that one contains the other with a simple addition of a couple letters.
Signs can be good or bad, in that each is a valid indication of whether or not we are going in the right direction. Both are equally valid and ideally – in a world where we don’t take things personally – equally informative with regards to what our next move should be.
A good and bad signal, on the other hand is a totally different issue. A good signal means that we are receiving information. This information can be good or bad, but it is information nonetheless, whereas a bad signal is not bad information, it’s simply the absence of a connection – an absence of our access to information altogether.
A bad sign is far better than a bad signal, because a bad signal means we are essentially flying blind, whereas a bad sign can be used to figure out where to go next.
A sign is an instance of the signal.
Good signs, bad signs, as long as we are actually getting signs, it means we still have a signal. Finding that signal in the first place is the often difficult part. Often we fly around blind for a while before we actually find a useful sign that indicates a signal has a possibility of being established.
And when that one sign comes along, it’s often akin to waving around the old school T.V. antennae and momentarily getting a flash of the show we seek to watch but then failing to replicate the exact positions of the antennae. But with one small sign, our determination often has much greater longevity because now we know something might actually be there to find. We need only continue our search and zero in when more signs start to pop up.
Often however, the efforts behind that first initial phase of flying blind in search of some signal go cold before we ever actually hit upon any one single meaningful sign.
One aspect of learning is to simply get some sort of meaningful feedback from reality. Nothing is more demoralizing to the spirit than to make an effort only to see nothing perceptible respond.
A person who understands how to maximize their efforts to learn looks for the quickest way to get any kind of result whatsoever. This result is a validation of personal agency, and beyond actually having a full command of the subject, the adept and conscious learner knows this perceptible result is mainly achieved in order to stoke the emotional fuel behind the efforts to learn something new. Remember, a bad sign is better than no signal at all. This is why an obsession with planning things and more particularly the notion that we can some how perfectly plan the future is such a mistake. When we finally do take action in line with such plans, it is almost never going to establish a connection to the signal we need in order to make progress.
In the beginning, the name of the game is simply to keep going and not quit. Once we get far enough along to actually have something to work with, or rather… once we get far enough along to actually have a signal established, than the name of the game changes to fine-tuning and further exploration.
But that first stage is all about establishing a signal - looking for meaningful signs and seeing if they correlate to the same useful signal that we can then use to evolve our strategy, iterate our plans and take quicker tighter actions in order to move faster towards a future we can sculpt with the design of our dreams.
May 15th, 2019
This is a fairly bland statement. It carries no detail, utilizes none of the intricacies of language that can illuminate nuance. While some generalizations are harmless in their lack of specificity, the lack of real communication in a statement like it Hurts can cause actual problems simply because the word ‘hurt’ in this case has more than one meaning.
Is the pain an indication of an injury that is developing or is the pain just pain that we complain about?
The difference couldn’t be more important. It’s a type of mental skill that requires training to reliably tell the difference between the two. Knowing this difference inevitably requires experiencing both types of pain. However, if we’ve gone long enough without experiencing the type of pain that indicates that real damage is about to happen, or is currently happening, than the difference fades without memory and any pain potentially becomes a cause for crying out even if it’s indicating nothing serious.
Not only is it a mental skill to be sensitive to the differences between these two types of pain, but it’s a further mental skill to appropriately down-regulate how important the non-consequential pain is.
Or put another way: no one whines when they are under immediate threat of injury. We send out true signals of alarm based on a survival instinct.
Recognizing that we whine or have the urge to do so is the first step in gaining the mental skill of not letting such petty pain get in the way of our progress.
Many people get stuck in a vicious cycle of complaint that is predicated –presumably- on the pleasurable feedback that sympathy from others creates. However, in order to illicit the same amount of sympathy on the second time round, the cause for sympathy has to be greater, and so our complaints grow more hyperbolic and our pain is described as more intense.
It’s a tenant and practice within stoicism to recognize this tendency within the mind and process it more productively.
At the end of the day, one type of pain that we describe as ‘hurt’ is an important signal that should direct us to change course immediately so as to avoid real damage, and the other type of pain that we describe as ‘hurt’ is most likely a sign that we should continue and push through in order to gain the fruits available beyond such trials.
Exercise is perhaps the best example to elucidate the difference between these two types of hurt. With proper form and weight that is manageable for our physique we should only encounter the type of pain that is worth pushing through. If however we have poor form or attempt weight that is far beyond our ability, the type of pain we experience can be very serious and should be avoided at all costs. We need only push a limb in a direction it is not built to go – like an arm being pushed up behind the back – to get a relatively harmless taste of what that serious pain feels like.
Learning this difference in a physical way extends to the nonphysical endeavors that we undertake. Without physical damage to the body, there is nothing that the mind cannot push through for future benefit. If it feels as though that is not the case, than we have ourselves fooled, and we are mistaking one type of harmless hurt for the other more serious type of hurt. Few things are more confusing or limiting than mixing up these two types of hurt. Mistaking one for the other – in either direction – both carry serious deleterious effects.
Mistaking pain we can actually push through for pain that causes damage ensures that we never Level-up and the chance that our life gets better is left to the whims of fate. This is a hugely limiting mistake, but one that can be corrected.
Mistaking hurt that indicates real damage for hurt that we can push through – on the other hand – is the worse mistake because we are casually open to irrevocable damage.
Like any and all mental skills, knowing the difference between these two types of pain and knowing how to communicate that difference to ourselves in order to push through the superficial pain and pivot before the serious pain inflicts it’s whole result – knowing these differences requires practice.