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
March 22nd, 2019
When a shot in the dark doesn’t pan out with a bulls‘eye, it’s easy to say “I have no luck.” Or even worse statements that degrade our sense of ability or possibility to improve in some way.
Every action that we take is at most an estimated guess of execution. There are factors of randomness that we cannot even label that intercede in all sorts of ways. A problem that can help be a solution if highlighted is that we do not recognize the smaller slips of ability to be in the same category as big misses. For example: typos. We all make typos, whether texting or typing with all ten fingers, our ability to get the right letter down every time is remarkably low. But it’s of little matter. We think almost nothing of it and hit the delete key and rectify the situation with the correct key. It’s only when we make a similar mistake several times in quick succession when we actually notice what’s going on and perhaps sigh with aggravation and double down our concentration in order to keep from wasting so much time doing the wrong thing.
Few of us really remember learning to type, or better yet, learning to read. The first few stabs at this process were bound to be pathetic at best – more of an endurance test with regards to frustration rather than a test of actual or desired ability. But we are so quick to forget such perpetual challenge and quicker still to forget the fact that we are near-constantly making mistakes with the abilities that we have the most practice in.
Mere walking is another example: how few days pass us by with out a trip, a stumble, a quickly-saved fall?
We all have these missteps – both literal and figurative – to inform us with a gentler, less ruthless view of our chances of success, and yet when we try something new and fail at first, how quickly we throw the whole endeavor out the window, claiming no luck and no ability.
Rectifying this cognitive dissonance can go a long way to aiding our chances and our efforts when it comes to new frontiers.
Imagine, for a moment, starting some new venture and getting slapped with some brand of failure. Imagine reacting to such development in the same way we react to making a typo. Without second thought, taking a few steps back and then retaking those new steps forward with clearer intention. With no big emotional upheaval, no depression-delay, only a sort of mechanical retry.
We can close our eyes for a moment and fast-forward to the end of our life and sum up its different parts, like some kind of tally at the end of a game and ask: how much time was spent being aggravated, frustrated and dejected over some first or second effort? Hours and days and weeks and perhaps months and even years sum up before our eyes.
Was the time well spent?
We can imagine another tally just below, recording how much time and effort it took for our very next attempt to result in some breakthrough.
How embarrassing would it be to see that number amount to far less and realize just how much time was wasted agonizing over nearly nothing. It was agonizing for frustration’s sake.
We can Pause to think about emotions – especially the negative ones – as Divas: always wanting to get back in the lime light, always hogging the time once they have the light.
Instead we can refocus on the present and take thoughtful heed of the ubiquitous and relatively harmless nature of failure and gladly welcome such phenomenon when it appears again during our next endeavor.
At the very least, failure signals that we have started.
The trick is only to continue. Lessons abound in failure if we do not let ourselves get wrapped up in the emotional minutiae of our own heads. By listening closely to those details of reality that signal some failure, we can be a little more thoughtful with the next chance we take.
In fact, if we act with more information, than our effort becomes less of a chance and more of a thoughtful action. Naturally there is always some large slice of chance when we try anything, as we can see when we simply try to type a word and fail to do so, but the mere fact that we can slowly shift the balance and have more thoughtful actions land effectively over time rather than not is a powerful fact that can be tread, axel and engine for our motivation. If this weren’t true than none of us would be anywhere. This post would have amounted to little less than a pile of incoherence and no one would be equipped with the ability to understand what actually did come about here.
Each letter of each word, like each thing we say and each action we take in life, was an instant of taking a thoughtful stab at chance and seeing it work out. As a matter of fact there turned out to be dozens of typos during the writing of this post, but such failure never warrants giving up. We need only take a few steps back, pivot a little and continue on.
March 21st, 2019
A failure to understand often occurs due to some missing detail. When, for example, we engage with a brand new subject, there can often seem to be so many details that a larger context seems impossible to construct. However, with enough details discovered, their web of relationships unearthed, we begin to approach that large context, like building a mosaic, or wondering about the trunk and main branches of a tree that are hidden by thick leaves.
Peeling back a leaf gives small amount of insight into what lies beneath, but this is nothing compared to a tree in winter, stripped of all it’s leaves, leaving only its wooden structure to be seen.
Our insta-culture provides too much pressure for things to happen quickly, near instantly, but learning works more like a caterpillar on the leaves of a subject. Luckily we need not devour the whole tree of a subject and return it to a winter-like state in order to understand something. Usually we need only remove the leaves on a few main branches in order to peer deeply into the structure of a subject, and with that understanding we can extrapolate far more efficiently and quickly to other details that grow out from the core axioms of any given subject.
While these leaps of understanding require a consistent, munching effort. We can easily still be befuddled by one leaf, one detail we have ignored, have not investigated, or which simply stands in the way of the internal view we’ve already created.
If we’ve spent significant time with a subject and still fail to grasp the context that allows us to exercise abilities within that domain, than we’re most likely missing a few key details, or string of details. The learning has been a kind of patchwork, all the individual details separated by voids of unknown, like leaves blocking a larger view.
It’s these details we should endeavor to undertake a hunt for, having faith that if other people can understand such a subject, than we too can, if only we discover the pieces missing in our mind.
The devil against our understanding is in these details..
March 20th, 2019
In general, each person has a vague and hazy idea of who they are. A more circumspect person might include who they would like to become and spend some time thinking about the aspects of their current self that need some work. A retrospective person might be able to look back on the process they’ve gone through to become who they currently find themselves to be.
One strange opportunity that some technologies offer is the ability to get a new mirror to look in.
To understand this we can think of the first moment in history when someone was able to place two mirrors at angles so that they can see the back of their own head. It’s difficult to think of this sort of opportunity occurring in the natural world, but easy to imagine the inventor of the portable mirror to have that first bizarre day of fun discovering all those new perspectives. It’s entertaining to imagine the copper smiths of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia putting two mirrors in parallel and witnessing that strange phenomenon of having one’s head repeat to infinity. Doubtless they wondered if they’d discovered another dimension.
These mirrors, whether we talk about the polished copper of Mesopotamia or the modern mirror invented by Justus von Liebig are a kind of technology, and it’s the most literal example of getting a new perspective on one’s self.
We can see an evolving growth of this perspective via innovations in technology when we think of the film camera. Never before had humans been able to literally see exactly how they looked and sounded in the immediate past.
These examples are quite literal with regards to perspective, they involve actually seeing our body, whereas other areas of technology are providing less intuitive perspectives.
There are, for example, continuous glucose monitors which can give a moment-by-moment measure of blood sugar. This presents another perspective on what is going on when we contemplate the phenomenon of the self.
(Some may like to differentiate the self as some sort of soul that is separate from the body in some way, but this idea need not take away from the current line of thinking in any way.)
There also exists monitors for tracking sleep patterns, brain activity and all sorts of things that occur within the body.
One important caveat to these technologies is that if they are not used, then the information they might provide need not even be considered possible. Meaning: just because it exists doesn’t mean its actually useful unless its actually being used. This is hopefully eye-rollingly obvious. However, we need only consider one of our oldest technologies and it’s lack of use to see how much opportunity sifts through the fingers of our life.
Descartes famously said: I think therefore I am.
Overlooking the many problems people have found in this statement over the years, we can make the simple observation that, often people don’t even know what they think about a given topic.
We need only think of the mere existence of phrases like “I don’t know” or “I’ll have to think about that.” to find the simplest and most troubling problem in Descartes declaration.
If we don’t know what we think about a given topic, do we cease to exist in relation to it? This is a silly train of thought to ride and puts us at risk of losing sight of the more important point which lies in the opposite direction, which is namely the answer to this question:
If I don’t know what I think about something, how do I find out?
While many of us are quite likely to sit quietly and stew unproductively like some ruminating herbivore – and this is a conscious stab at the general uselessness of such behavior – others are likely to employ the strategy of talking it out, finding a friend and having a discussion, bouncing the topic off someone else’s mind – so to speak.
We might wonder if this is simply an excuse to socialize and create a feeling of progress on the topic. The ubiquitous hate for the business meeting is perhaps the clearest signal to evidence this possibility. Whereas those who seek out a friend to discuss personal life are being a bit more true to the urge of simply wanting company and interaction.
This isn’t to say that such situations can’t be useful, but merely to point out that the likelihood is low.
These strategies depend on our most powerful technology, that of language, but there is perhaps an iteration of this technology that is far more efficient and powerful when it comes to figuring out exactly what we think about a given topic:
If Descartes’ declaration could be worded with a little more specificity, we might imagine an addendum:
I think therefore I am, and I write to know my thoughts.
Ponder for a moment all that has been written by the human race. Certainly much of it is useful and reports important facts about our shared physical world. But we might wonder: how much of our written content is more an exploration of the author’s own mind?
While school has become incredibly adept and efficient with the task of sterilizing the act and practice of writing to the extent that people lump it into a similar category with ‘chores’, writing as a technology remains to be a tool that can sharpen endlessly in our quest to know ourselves.
It can be better than any movie or novel or entertainment that we might fill our free time with, for the simple and symmetrical reason that one doesn’t know exactly what they’ll think and write next, just as novels and T.V. shows keep us in suspense for what will happen next. Except when we are creating the story or the concept through writing, it simultaneously creates a record of who we are and how we know ourselves.
March 19th, 2019
New difficulties are bound to spring up. Progress might even be defined as the rate at which we can gobble up these difficulties that lie on the path to our goals.
Many of us react to these new difficulties in similar ways. We roll our eyes, we groan, we ignore them, we get frustrated, angry and even bitter. We essentially invoke that ancient image of the toddler stamping their feet and having a tantrum.
On the other hand, some people have discovered and developed a kind of super power response to such needling details. Some people take delight in such difficulties. Such a response might seem mildly psychotic to a person who has no accessible benchmark for such a perspective.
A possible remedy is to think of games. Those played by the youngest children are very easy: like putting a star shaped object into a star-shaped hole. For a young child we can imagine this is good for pattern recognition, but for an adult, this task would be inane and boring. The game is too easy. But present the same adult with a more difficult game? Intrigue and enjoyment are more likely to arise and perhaps provoke a sense of curiosity.
This tension between difficulty and curiosity is an invaluable waypoint in the process of becoming a more effective person and less triggered.
We can think back on our own recent history and ask: do small difficulties make me angry and frustrated? Or am I more likely to be curious about such things?
In such questions lie an important caveat: if such difficulties are too simple, and merely represent a procedural repetition in our job or life, than we are perhaps playing a game that is too simple for the mind we find ourselves equipped with. If such is the case, then it’s time to Level-Up and go find a more challenging game, one in which the inevitable difficulties can be used as fodder for curiosity.
On the other hand, there are aspects of living that are impervious to such game-switching. There are things that we as humans have to do on a regular basis that cannot be swapped out for more interesting tasks. And here in lies the mirror complement of the above caveat: we can further ask if there’s any way we can tinker with our perspective to change our relationship to frustration during the times we have to deal with such simplistic difficulties.
We can take something as simple as doing the dishes, or folding laundry. While some people can actually pay their way out of such tasks, the vast majority have to engage in this kind of activity from time to time. Just as a more difficult game requires stretches of perspective and recombined ideas, our more mundane tasks still offer a similar opportunity. Here a practice like Mindfulness can be invaluable, and while a full discussion of the topic will be left for another time, we can still phrase the useful difficulty in a simple way, we can wonder: how well-tuned is my ability to focus on the task at hand?
Am I always lost thinking about the past or thinking about the future? Or can I leave the past and the future where they are and walk the Tightrope of the moment in the present and simply enjoy being alive, regardless of what I am doing?
This is an important difficulty that besets all people, and yet little training or exercise is undertaken to address such difficulty. While it generally requires some study and a healthy amount of practice, it is well within reach to develop the on-command ability to take delight in the moment, no matter which moment. Such an ability is another superpower, especially in today’s hyper-saturated distracting environment that appears hell-bent on convincing the common person that their life is pathetic when compared to others. Not only does such a mindful ability clear such useless obstacles, but it opens up the space to teach ourselves that first mentioned superpower: the ability to take delight in difficulties as opposed to simply getting angry. By observing, noting, and taking careful heed of our default reactions to different issues as they arise in life, we can slowly but steadily edit those defaults and eventually rebuild a perspective so that when irritating trifles arise, we either respond with delight and curiosity or we take the opportunity to simply enjoy being alive.
March 18th, 2019
The word detriment, from Latin, via Old French, means ‘wear away’. We might think of the erosion of a coastline, or – perhaps – we might think of the erosion of a waistline for someone who has diligently undertaken a course of exercise and nutrition. Detriment refers definitively to damage, but damage also breaks into ‘loss’ and ‘hurt’. Certainly in the specific frame of health, we can say that it’s not exactly comfortable to lose weight. It hurts to work-out if we are unaccustomed to such and it certainly hurts to hold ourselves back from temptation, both of which result in a beneficial loss.
We can also envision the sculptor chiseling away at a block of marble, surrounded by a pile of detritus. The work of art is not complete until everything has been removed to reveal what the artist has in mind. And here we can differentiate between hurt and harm. Though the two words seem inherently bound in that hurt always leads to harm, we can suss out a categorical shift. If the sculptor keeps chiseling away too hard and cracks the sculpture in half, then of course harm has occurred. And yet, with a thoughtful approach to health, we can endure much hurt while exercising while keeping ourselves safe from actual harm.
Detriment need not be destruction, but merely a way to clean up what has grown through natural processes.
This tension and turn-taking between growth and detriment can be seen in all sorts of situations. As in the biological example of growing, eating and the pairing back the fat, the trend is also apparent in seemingly unrelated areas, such as: searching for an answer.
We google a question and a list of possible sources that may hold our answer pop up. We open up a few links in different tabs, and after much time researching, we might find our browser has grown slow because we’ve opened up dozens and dozens of pages in our adventure down some interesting rabbit hole. After stepping back, we look through all the opened pages and exit all those that didn’t prove helpful – cutting the fat, in the browser-sense.
Through this toggle of expansion and detriment we discover and create the future, whether this be a business or merely an idea, but our rhetoric and behavior suffers from a categorical barrier that keeps concepts like detriment in a negative category and growth in a positive category.
We must remember that tumors grow and that bad ideas can whither away.
Just as hurt does not always lead to real harm, we must keep in mind that the borders between our categories truly have a semi-permeable nature. And in fact, some of these categorical borders may benefit from their own degradation, while other borders perhaps need some growth. Such a process is occurring all the time within language as connotations expand and take over denotations. While such a process is inevitably a cultural one, the individual also experiences the same process on a personal level. The difference is that the individual can Pause and take a mindful, thoughtful perspective on this process and in so doing discover new helpful ways of thinking that can in turn lead to beneficial behaviors.
We can mindfully entertain more helpful ideas and do away with concepts that are no longer serving us well, regardless of what the culture at large tries to dictate, and this may be the most fundamental invocation of that popular advice to ‘go your own way’.
Such general advice may even be a subtle example of these mechanisms of growth and detriment on a large scale. We grow together, but we often benefit immensely when someone splits off from the herd to go investigate something on their own.