Wrapped Thoughts

On “The Obstacle Is The Way”

An amazing new book by Ryan Holiday.

Excerpt:

No. No excuses. No exceptions. No way around it: It’s on yeouWe don’t have the luxury of running away. Of hiding. Because we have something very specific we’re trying to do. We have an obstacle we have to lean into and transform.

No one is coming to save you. And if we’d like to go where we claim we want to go - to accomplish what we claim are our goals - there is only one way. And that’s to meet our problems with the right action.

Therefore, we can always (and only) greet our obtsacles:
- with energy
- with persistence
- with a coherent and deliberate process
- with iteration and resilience
- with pragmatism
- with strategic vision
- with craftiness and savvy
- with an eye for opportunity and pivotal moments

Are you ready to get to work?

On Experiential Waters

I’ve been having this thought: there is this side of life that happens at big events that you really don’t see elsewhere. Partially because there’s never that many people focused on a single thing anywhere else. But it also is sort of like peeling back the veil for a lot of different things: human emotion, acceptance, care, etc. There is this mask a lot of people wear and they take it off at places like that, or any place that they can have fun and feel like they can be themselves. But that emotion also happens around certain friends, where you feel accepted. There are these things we have to do all day - errands, deal with money, deal with work, etc. And then completely opposite of that there is this part of life where you dive deeply into the water. That water is usually conversation, experience, or connection, but it also happens at places like burning man. For most of my teenage years and early twenties when we were traveling around, now that i think back on it (but not aware of at the time) it seems like we were in search of that feeling. Wondering how deep we could dive into life, and see how soaked we would be when we got out. I’m not sure we ever figured it out consciously, but now that i think back i feel the answer is there was/is no limit. And I feel having friends that share in this search is possibly the most meaningful type of friendship. I love how more and more people these days are on this path. What’s odd also is saying these things brings about images of people experiencing life in the way they always tell us is the most vivid. But it can happen in any format. The depth of the water is equally infinite, you just pick and choose which pools to jump into then plunge to the bottom. And it is amazing because near the bottom the emotions we feel are so much more powerful than anything else. It is even that way with, for example, playing music with friends. After minute 5 or 10 of playing a jam song with friends you will start to get this feeling in your stomach that wants you to stop, basically the same feeling that happens when you have to push through anything. And then if you do keep going you get this amazing emotion that is hard to describe. It’s why Phish plays for as long as they do, it’s the reason Trey gets on stage. Because he loves the connection and the feeling that he gets. It’s almost like pure happiness, but it only happens on the other side of the wall. If you keep going, if you keep pushing through barriers and boundaries, and if you love the people around you and what you are experiencing with them. 

On the Side of Serenity

One thing that has really been hanging me up lately is how much emphasis people put on the power of affirmations, without regard for physiological effects. In my opinion it’s all about the physiology behind your passions and feelings. You can stand and say “I’m happy I’m happy” all day long, but until you truly feel happiness you won’t be happy. You can’t trick your heart. You can trick your mind, but don’t be fooled as it plays the trick right back making you think that is the depth of its care. To really feel things and experience changes you have to believe in what you’re saying, you have to feel it, you have to yell it and sing it (or at least be ready to).

Many years ago there was a great MIT study where they found people’s emotions were easily changed. But not how you’d expect. Not with a thought, but instead with breath. They found the quickest way to reset your emotional state was to breathe out all the air you have and let that sit for a moment. Then take in another breath. It’s funny because we take it for granted (or rather our ego does) but they found that every individual emotion produces an almost imperceptible change in breathing patterns. And to break that flow is the easiest way to get back to baseline. And the whole point of knowing that isn’t so much to negate negative feelings (although that is one), its really to see how you feel at that baseline state. You will only experience it for a fraction of a second each time you do it, but that is truly your benchmark for personal happiness. Depending on how hard it is to tell how you feel there you may be able to figure out how much work you have to do as an individual. But at least now we can see serenity - it only lies on the other side of our breath.

On the Human Spirit

Something that’s fascinated me recently is the pervasiveness of the human spirit.  For instance, we might all face downtrodden behavior, horrible people, greedy looks, or inhumane behavior - but in the end we all prevail.  We don’t all prevail in the sense of success, fortune, or happiness, we all prevail with the human spirit.  We move the spirit with us through time.  We prevail at being, at having emotions, at having incapabilities and being and accepting those as we live.  We prevail at justice, and wrongdoing, at godliness, and at passion.  Some prevail at abuse, drugs, felonious behavior - but that doesn’t make them any less prevalent.  The human spirit lives through us all and as we dance, so to it dances, on the edge of our bodies - watching our energy as we walk the world.  It reflects with our energy, and accepts our duality.  It doesn’t care what color we are or where we came from, it only cares about understanding and reflection.  A reflection of us, and a reflection of the power within.  A reflection of all the good deeds and beautiful moments that have ever existed, a reflection of the wonder in the curiosity of nature, a reflection of the steadfastness of those whose opinions were more right than wrong.  And as long as we are here, so to will the human spirit.  And for that, I am the most grateful.  

On Contextualizing a Balanced Life

We often take for granted things that we don’t exactly know fully.  In some cases, that is our abilities.  And in others, it’s our inabilities.  To that point, I’ve found that the most compelling thing to do is to rest on your laurels, even though we don’t really like to do so theoretically.  The fact is, we simply all love to be comfortable.  We love to do things that make us happy and feel comforted, but ironically doing so keeps us locked within our shell and stops our ability to be comfortable.  We can eat instead of work on a new idea, because that is comfortable and we feel like ourselves again.   Because the fact is, we lose ourselves every time we start an idea, or jump into unknown waters, and one thing we all do to fix that is compensate.  

For instance If you take just 2 risks today that make you feel very challenged, perhaps even slightly threatened (subconsciously even), then later in the evening you may have some ice cream instead of that challenging vegetable based meal you want to have to get healthy.  Why?  because Ice cream is familiar, pasta is familiar, these foods you love because you eat a lot of are familiar.  All the things that you normally do are familiar to you.  And you fall into that trap that our minds provide, and so do I.  If I do x it is okay that I did y, because of x.   But I am less concerned with the fact that we do this justification in our heads; I am more concerned with the actions and thoughts that lead up to the need for that justification.  In my opinion justification after the fact is one thing, but the thought that happens to get you there is something entirely different.  We can’t always challenge ourselves.  We can’t always feel threatened, let our ego feel threatened, or simply be emerged in the unknown 24/7.  Some people live that way, and that is great for them, but the large majority of us can’t do that.  We need some sort of filtering mechanism and homely comforts to balance us out.  We need that structure and understanding to be able to put everything else in focus, and that is perfectly reasonable and fine.  And here’s where the answer to the problem we didn’t realize we had comes into play.  We all need to make sure that our homely comforts and structure that we use to put everything else in focus/perspective/context is something we really enjoy and feel happy doing, even potentially so for the rest of our lives.  No guilt allowed, no unhappiness or depression allowed.  If you are doing things that are causing those states, they aren’t truly homely comforts - they are lazy versions of self-pity.  For instance, If that homely comfort is ice cream, then you may feel balanced eating chips later - because Ice cream is WAY worse than chips (you assume).  But if your comfort is forcibly some nice delicious vegan meal, (which you can develop over time - not magically), then you may feel balanced having nothing but veggies or lean protein for a few days, and you wouldn’t DARE contextualize chips as part of that decision process.  Your balance and perspective and context changes based upon your current situation, and we all seem to forget that - or at least don’t see moment to moment enough to realize that there is a corollary effect to that and what we are doing.  Don’t get caught in the trap of contextual mediocrity, and certainly don’t get caught in an unbalanced spiral causing you to be more unbalanced as you go, and it can be as easy as being mindful.  Be mindful in the future.  Be mindful now, and try to create that inner space in order to have a moment to breathe and consider your actions.  It can even be as simple as changing one small comfort at a time.  I think one of the big things we all underestimate is the power of small changes.  So be there for yourself, and take your own future in your hands.  Take responsibility, and anything’s possible.  

Never stop, never give up, and never let yourself down.  You made a promise to yourself the day you were born, … do you really want to break that?  

On Focus, and How to Keep It

on-focus-and-how-to-get-it

Image attributed to the amazing vramak on Flickr.
"That’s been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. " - Steve Jobs

One of the most important questions I was ever asked was “What do you do for a living?”. Not because it made me want to answer it citing a lengthy resume, but in fact the very opposite, it made me think about what I focus on daily. Because to me, what we do for a living is what we put our attention on - and to some that’s our jobs, but to others, it’s our passions. It’s what we really truly care about and what we want to think about. That’s what I do for a living, but what I do 9-5 is very different. What I do 9-5 is a passion of mine, but is it ‘the’ passion? Perhaps not. So how do we balance that? Can we balance that? How do we preserve our attention on things we truly care about in a world of disruption? The answers to all these questions started with the realization that the quantified self is somethig that I really needed to look into. I heard things like, “With self tracking not only can you identify and prevent certain diseases with things like blood testing, but you can increase productivity using mini-tests or trials.” And that was all I needed, especially being more interested in the physical human machine that was fascinating to me. I started spiraling into the movement and using the principles therein to track things like Sleep, Diet (slow-carb), Workouts, Productive times, and even all the way down to Focus and Attention. It got so granular that I was able to identify key things that have thrown me off for years with regards to getting meaningful work done, but that I had never fully grasped. The feeling of being focused has a strange misconception in our lives, simply because harder than it is to perceive, it is to keep. And that is primarily due to our habitually instantaneous culture (in my opinion). People will have you consider a thousand different reasons for losing focus. I don’t say that to discredit the multitude of reasons, I say that to show you the importance of testing and tracking. Each person is individual and very different. Track for yourself what makes a difference, and then execute against that. To some people it may be that they are entirely too unable to multi-task, while for others it may be that they have too much caffeine - which can be a huge deterrent to focused thought. I realize that in order to get you interested I have to show you the methods, results, the why, and then an actionable takeaway - so let’s do all that now.


The Method:

Everyday keep a journal’d list (or single piece of paper) that has the following items on it:

The General Rules:
This is the important part, and where the experimentation comes into play. Dedicate at least one task a day (one medium to semi-large task) to single-focusing and one to multi-tasking. Then track your sub-items and keep them very detailed. In order to get meaningful results I recommend using the same task for both activities. I love writing as a method to track focus, because it is a great single tasking activity and it lends itself well to this method (as it required concentration). Pick an hour stretch of time to write a story. Make up a story if you have to, it doesn’t matter what it is - the point here is the outcome. Then do it first from beginning to completion for the entire hour all the way through. The Multi-tasking Rules:


The most important part of this section of the experiment is to designate scheduled multi-tasking times so that it would be more or less like real life distractions (which is impossible if you are observing yourself, hence our pre-defining). Set a timer, kitchen timer, computer timer, what-have-you for 3-5 minute interruptions. On each ding, ring, or gong like noise you are to check Facebook or Twitter (your preference) for 3 minutes and then check your favorite news site for another 1 minute. I prefer to have people check Facebook as opposed to Twitter though here, because it has more intensive consequences on our time and attention (but again, that is personal opinion). Once you have successfully multi-tasked and read Facebook for 3 minutes or so and your favorite website for 1 minute, jump right back into writing. Get right back to it - and then get distracted again 3 - 5 minutes later. The overall goal isn’t to just show “how much more you can write if you don’t check Facebook,” It’s actually to monitor your energy levels. If you are anything like me, then by the end of the multi-tasking portion of this experiment you will have a noticeable decline in energy. Because remember focus begets attention and attention begets energy.


The Results:

For me, and the people I’ve tested this on, the results were profound. The amount of energy they had after a day of 100% single-tasking was incredibly high. Compare that with a day of nothing but distractions and lack of focus, and they are almost a miserable heaping pile of depression towards the end. Of course this isn’t going to be everyone’s result, but it seems to be the case most often. Expand this experiment, and try it for an entire day, use both techniques, invent your own techniques. You have the entire world at your fingertips and an unlimited amount of text files to keep notes in of your progress. There is no reason you shouldn’t be tracking all of the things. I have read accounts of people who have tracked their sleep for over 10 years, to then finally figure out why they had insomnia. It is a very powerful tool, and depending on how much you are willing to throw at it, it can certainly help you in the allotted time you give it.


The Why:

As we’ve alluded to thus far, true focus isn’t just attention (read; solely), it is rather the preservation of energy. Again, remember, this is why we are doing these exercises to essentially get all the way to the root of the problem - lack of energy preservation. If you want to be more productive doing anything that is the reason you are not. If you only came here for one sentence it’s this: Single focus on tasks, and it’ll domino all the way down to energy preservation. Let’s dive into exactly what we mean by energy preservation though. We all get that burn out feeling, or that feeling of lethargy where we just don’t care about anything anymore. We’ve lost ‘it’. People often refer to it as a magical spark, which makes sense because it takes a lot of energy (that by definition if you are at this point you wouldn’t have) to see what’s causing it. And I certainly took 24 years to realize this as well, so I’m not any different - far from it. In fact, I have been notoriously horrible with remaining focused and even more importantly energized (mentally) for the past 6 months or so. My energy levels have been deteriorating so dramatically that I found myself in a completely scrambled state of affairs. I had to do something to fix it. I didn’t care about being tired, or being exhausted physically - those were normal states. What wasn’t normal (to me), was being so incredibly mentally drained, and lethargic. I lacked -any- ambition. And I tried a lot of things to fix it. I tried coffee, tea, physical excercise, and even diet changes but none of them helped me regain that energy I had just a year ago. Then I got more desperate and I tried to mimick what I had done before in those years. I rewatched the same inspirational videos, and podcasts, redid the same activities and danced (but not enough). I found that to help dramatically, but it didn’t help me PRESERVE that energy. It helped me when I needed it, like a adrenalin shot in the arm, but I needed a constant source of it, and that just wasn’t cutting it. But this method that I showed here, really showed me how I can preserve it. That is what I do now, and it has helped immeasurably.


The Takeaways:

The ability for you to be distracted should now be almost zero, and remember doing all these things are fine if you are the exception to the rule, but most of us sadly aren’t. And if you are of the mindset: “Well, I’m commuting anyway and have to sit still for over 30 minutes - mine as well check Facebook the whole time.” That is fine, but think about it this way - you could do that or you could realize that it is a brilliant time to extend focus

any time that you have, especially sitting still, you should use it to extend focus rather than losing it

Therefore preserving energy instead of losing it. To give you an idea of how detrimental the simplest slip up can be, today for instance, I’ve checked email and facebook once completely unecesarily (Well perhaps facebook 3 times). And I am already totally burnt out, and those all happened within a timespan of 3 minutes (before which I was of a rather normal energy level). That’s how much of an effect the smallest mental drop out can cause, so be very careful with how you allocate it. Nobody is perfect, and nobody is asking you to be, but what is being asked of you is to be aware of the fact that you have the choice to be anything you want in life. The difference between you and Michael Jordan? You and Richard Branson? You and Steve Jobs? Focus. This day has presented a challenge: to focus, and accomplish your goals. Do you want to be sailing the Greek Islands, or skydiving high above Fiji? Well, it’s up to you to do it - nobody else.

On the Higgs Boson

"CERN’s Higgs boson discovery passes peer review, becomes actual science" - Sebastian Anthony via this article.

This is monumental for science, and science geeks alike. I hope to see an increase in science fiction around this mythical particle, and will be quite disappointed should such a thing not happen. But no this is definitely an amazing discovery. For the first time we have observed the particle that actually gives mass, well… mass. It is pretty brilliant in theory, and now that we have peer reviewed experimentation of it who knows what it will lead to. I am excited.

On Quantum Teleportation

When researchers quantum teleport a photon, they aren’t making it disappear and reappear like on Star Trek. Instead, the information contained in the photon’s quantum state is transmitted from one photon to another through quantum entanglement – without actually travelling the intervening distance. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that information is travelling instantaneously. That’s because the transfer of information occurs when the sender measures the quantum state of their photon. That causes the receiver’s entangled photon to instantly change.” - Alex Knapp via this article.

This is a thing. A great big fascinating thing.

On Opportunity

Opportunity is everywhere.  It overwhelms us  everyday, because let’s be honest, it is overwhelming.  Among other things it gets us asking things like “How do we know what is an opportunity that we want to take?”, or “How do we know which opportunity to choose from the masses of things we are involved with day to day?”  These are all serious and pertinent questions, that if we don’t get answered at some point throughout our lives then we may not deduce opportunities correctly.  So then the real question becomes how do we position ourselves to understand what is right and wasn’t isn’t right to do?  Well, that is a hard question to answer.  Before I say anything about that I should probably address what I mean by opportunity.  I don’t just mean the opportunity that refers to someone showing up on your doorstep and saying “Hey you are amazing, want to be x?!”  Rather I am referring to the various avenues the brain can go down on a day to day basis, and the friendships you can generate, the opportunities that arise, and the daily education we embark on.  We can’t do everything, so what do we do?  Well, what are your values?  What religion are you?  Don’t overcomplicate it, and just ask yourself the most important questions, because that is how easy it should be to decide on what to accept or do.  But for some reason it isn’t, for some reason it is muddled.  Life is complex, there is no denying it.  Easy answers don’t lead to easy questions.  That’s for sure.  

We still have to decide.  We still have to figure it out.  So what do we do?  We experiment.  That is the most important part of all of this.  Get out there and experiment.  Become a part of important works, and act on every hobby you can imagine.  Deduce what is important to you, and then use that deduction to figure out what opportunities are important to you.  If getting married isn’t important to you, then don’t do it.  Same with anything.  Be honest.  Be real.  There is less room for bullshit in our world everyday, so don’t fill it up.  Live who you truly are, and use opportunity to help you get there.  

On Blocking and Starting

Starting is the hardest thing there is, bar none.  I don’t care if it is a project, homework, or a corporate business plan; it is always difficult.  It is so difficult that typically people don’t start at all.  They follow down the road of procrastination and that leads them to not getting meaningful work accomplished.  I’ve certainly talked about doing meaningful work on this blog before, and I stand by what I’ve said.  I’ve also certainly talked about fiddling, and how it can be detrimental and helpful to productivity all at the same time - again, which I stand by.  But aside from all that I think we just need to start things more often. 

To give you an example on what holds me up here are some of the common blocks I have: living off the todo list, starting things, writing in general (I know right?), and project scope.  The most important of which being the first, and I’ll tell you why.  Often times we can have one or two tasks that block us and we don’t even realize it.  There may be one or two things that just totally stop us from accomplishing anything else that day, and it can be a minor thing at that.  We may feel guilty about not having it completed (which leads to more procrastination), or we could feel that we are going to never finish it because the project hasn’t been broken down appropriately.  Or it could be anything in between.  These are massive problems, and if there was a real task system out there it would have a little check box that says, “Is this task blocking you?”, and once you checked it - it would disappear until you turned on your computer the next morning.  Unfortunately that doesn’t exist in personal productivity systems, typically.  So what I propose is that you create it.  If you see a task that is blocking you just check it off as completed, and then circle back to it later.  This will save you a lot of headache in the long run.

Another small tip is to use verbs and nouns appropriately.  Figure out if you are a noun or verb guy (Ie, “wash dishes” vs “dishes”), and then swim into that as hard as you can.  If a task is blocking you consider its wording.  For instance, if it is a phone call, change it to email, if it is an email - change it to phone call.  Manipulate your lists and don’t let them manipulate you.