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
December 6th, 2018
If some new sport akin to basketball or football were invented, there would automatically be some tiny percentage of the population that would be incredibly well suited to the game and thereby making them very good at it without the development of too much skill. Another way of illuminating this is by asking the question: “would LeBron James be as good at basketball if he were 4foot8?”
Most likely… not.
Much of human life can be rephrased and viewed as a kind of game. There is the corporate game of climbing that slippery pole of bureaucracy, which apparently feels more like a ladder for those with particular forms of psychopathy.
There is the game of Academia which is predicated mostly on publications and the reputation of those publications. The world of academia has some similarities to the corporate world when it comes to the closed gates and inefficiencies that seem to be inherent in most bureaucracies.
Then there is the game of chasing the Jones. This is an infinite game that is impossible to win, simply because it’s always possible to make just a little bit more money, and there will always be new and more expensive ways to display that wealth. This is a bad infinite game because it is fueled by external measurement: i.e. what the Jones’ have.
But not all infinite games are bad. Physical fitness is a positive example of an infinite game. You can always work on some aspect of your fitness. Always. Or take for example the all too prescient example of writing everyday. This is an infinite game merely for the fact that it is possible to write everyday without ever running out of things to write about. But the fuel for this engine has an internal source as opposed to an external one. This is an infinite game that adds satisfaction to life as opposed to constantly down regulating it’s own effects as making money does with chasing the Jones’.
The habit of writing everyday is also a game of one, which is perhaps even more important. No one else can compete in such a game which creates a field of play that is both unlimited and commanded by the one who plays. Such a field of possibility is actually quite scary to most people. Like sitting alone with one’s thoughts in silence for 10 minutes, or staring at a blank canvas and trying to think of something to paint. Many people shutter at such a prospect.
And yet, sadly enough, both of these circumstances would be welcome opportunities for children who are beyond the constant need to have their mother around.
It’s perhaps a valid argument that we’ve coddled our own minds back into a toddler state, seeking constant reassurance, constant pleasure, and fearing the wide open spaces of possibility that are a function of personal responsibility.
Perhaps so few people are willing to play a game of one because they fear the possibility of losing.
But just like jewels guarded by dragons
or freedom waiting beyond the wall
or even a sense of satisfaction waiting locked up in our own head,
We have to duel with the dragon or climb the wall, or face our own fears in order to get the goods.
Regardless of which game we are playing, we can be sure we are playing one.
The question is, does this game benefit you?
Or is it just using you?
Is it perhaps time to make your own board…
make your own rules….
December 5th, 2018
Solving any large problem or finding solutions almost always benefits from a reminder that all things are composite. Meaning, made of many parts that can be broken apart into smaller and smaller pieces. Even high level mathematics inevitably breaks down into elementary numbers and basic operators.
No matter how insurmountable a problem seems, we need only start by asking the questions that define the problem in a way that is more conducive to chipping.
We might start by asking, “if this problem could be defined as two things, what would those two things be?”
From here we can make a tree structure that might only extend to one or two nodes in other directions, but in others we’ll be able to redefine the subcategories of the problem right down to something that is small enough as to be actionable, or something we can investigate.
Think for a moment of how lightening branches out from a cloud. like the zigzagging fingers of an electric hand, the lightning is searching for a connection, often the ground. The lightning never needs all of these luminous and crackling fingers to reach the ground, just one touch. Such an occurrence might be reminiscent of the famous panel in the Sistine Chapel depicting the moment just before God and Adam touch fingertips.
In the arena of problem solving, our analogy of branching definitions extends beyond what we see with lightning. Chipping away at the composite until we have what might be labelled as the smallest necessary component of the problem which allows us to take some further action opens up other unknown or undefinable parts of the problem.
Just as lightning searches through the maze of air density, looking for the path of least resistance, we might think of a thief trying to break into a building. The thief looks for a weak spot, a vulnerability that can be leveraged and exploited.
So too with problems. Solving the whole of any problem is usually unrealistic for our minds. But we can needle the problem, and poke around for a point of entry where we can begin to make progress.
Curiosity naturally takes this route akin to lightning, but when we face an unenjoyable problem, often our motivation stalls. We need only remember the composite nature of any problem, and further remind ourselves that simply thinking of the right question can not only begin the process of chipping into a problem, but it can also evoke our natural curiosity.
We must remember this every time we get hung up. We must not be swayed by the sunk-cost of time spent investigating one angle of attack. We must ask another question, potentially a better question.
How else can I chip away at this problem?
This is another way of saying,
How can I grow my curiosity around this problem?
December 4th, 2018
It’s become a staple of many current identities to state conditions that the rest of the world must abide by.
An example of this is someone who says something along the lines of “I will not accept being bullied by anyone.”
“I will not accept discrimination.”
And such and so forth.
While the world would presumably be better without bullying or discrimination, it’s a bit silly to think that world is going to suddenly manifest without bullying and discrimination.
While these sound strong and empowering, they are so unrealistic as to evoke nothing but a yawn. Bullying does happen and whether it comes our way or not is not a choice that we can make and command the external world with. Same with discrimination and any other phenomenon that someone might find inconvenient, disagreeable, or offensive.
This is an incredibly unwise tactic because it’s nearly certain to fail. For someone who says “I will not accept being bullied”… what exactly does such a person do when the bullying comes their way? Presumably they stamp their feet aghast that the universe could have the gall to do such a thing.
What’s a better outlook?
Several examples come to mind.
Possibly one of the oldest and ballsy is related in the book of Job. Our man Job becomes the center of a wager between god and the devil. God essentially allows for the devil to ruin the man's life completely as a test of the man’s faith. In the end our man Job dishes out some disappointed words for his god when he finds out the truth of his circumstances.
A more contemporary, and probably accessible example is Casino Royal’s James Bond. Near the end of the movie, Bond is being tortured and makes a joke of the whole affair, enduring what must be an incredible amount of pain. There is an amazing lesson in such a perverse circumstance. Even in the most vulnerable possible situation, this character has a mind that cannot be invaded. His body matters little compared to his ability to have the last laugh.
Speaking of laughing, we might bring up the somewhat morbid musical Little Shop of Horrors. One micro story in the musical is that of a sadistic dentist who gets pleasure from inflicting pain. He meets his match when one day a masochist walks in having heard that the dentist dishes out just the sort of pain that he’s looking for. The sadistic dentist tries with all his skill to illicit a scream from the masochist, but the masochist literally gets the last laugh, as does 007 and our boy Job.
The best villains also reserve the right to the last laugh, which is what can make their influence so insidious.
The obvious one would be the Joker from the Batman series. No matter the pain he experiences or how his plans are thwarted, he can’t help but giggle.
Then of course there is the Predator from the first movie. At the very end he has been beaten, but the creature initializes a bomb strapped to his wrist and then invokes the right to the last laugh.
These heroes and villains all incorporate the same principle:
It’s simply impossible to get the best of someone who is going to genuinely laugh along with you.
This is taking the world as it comes but reserving the right to react on your own terms.
What kind of person do we want to be? The one who gets offended? or the one who is quite literally invincible. Who can have everything taken from them, their family, friends, even their body and life and will simply laugh in the face of such fate…
Instead of trying to fit the world into some kind of unrealistic box that must accord to our stipulations,
we might want to declare something like, “I reserve the right to manically laugh at absolutely anything and everything that happens to me.”
As creatures capable of such dispositional control, we’re better off in the open and unafraid. Even the machinations of malevolent gods can be toppled from their seats of power if only we can laugh right to the very end.
December 3rd, 2018
Gotta bite the bullet, as they say.
What this refers to specifically is dealing with the consequences of your beliefs or actions. Often these are unexpected and unpleasant consequences that we’d rather avoid.
And this is exactly what we’re more likely to do. We let that bill go unpaid, we ignore the second one, and so on and so forth. We let the first passive aggressive comment slide, we rationalize away unnecessarily angry behavior. We eat that tub of ice cream… for the second day in a row. The consequences of such actions or inactions add up.
But it’s never just one thing or one area where we make a mistake. We’re human, we’re almost perpetually making mistakes that compound and lead to consequences that don’t seem to indicate that we have much empathy for our future selves. This is what taking responsibility now instead of later really is…. empathy for our future self. The sooner we are willing to bite the bullet, the better off our future self is going to be.
But like said, we usually have a whole magazine of bullets we need to start chewing on, and lining them up like in a magazine is probably the best first step to efficiently getting all those bullets chewed.
Meaning, best to make a list of all the things that we’ve been avoiding that would be best served sooner rather than later.
We make grocery lists,
we make bucket lists,
why not make a bite-the-bullet list?
It certainly doesn’t seem fun to do, and the prospect of doing so might look like a situation ripe for a panic attack, but if we can write down the first logical step towards solving each one along with the consequence we must face, would this turn the negative list inside out?
The purpose of such a list is not to invoke stress, but to begin to deal with that stress. Solving life’s problems is by default not going to be without difficulty, but any problem inevitably has a series of steps and revelations that will lead to it’s solution.
Can we bite the bullets and make those first painful steps towards a better life?
Can we make a habit of biting the bullet, like a habit of chewing gum?
Best to bite the bullet and find out.
December 2nd, 2018
Lucilius was in line waiting to get a cup of coffee when he witnessed a truly unfortunate person. At the front of a line was a beautiful woman, dressed in fine clothes, sporting an impeccable face of paint and cursed for the moment with the most disgusted of facial expressions.
“This is bullshit,” the woman said. “I come everyday, how do you not keep it in stock? You know I’m going to be here. Why can’t you think of these things in advance?”
The woman was clearly upset and making the girl behind the cash register very nervous.
In that moment, Lucilius remembered an instance from a time long ago. Many centuries prior, Lucilius was bending over, water above his ankles, sticking small grassy seedlings of rice down into the water and ground below. Sweat gathered and soaked where his hat sat on his head and when a moment of tedious exhaustion overcame him, he stood up straight to help his aching back.
As he did he saw a fellow worker, a friend who was not supposed to work that day, trudging towards him, basket in hand.
Lucilius watched as the friend threw down the basket and clearly disgruntled, began to work, bending over with the seedlings, sticking them down into the paddy.
Lucilius looked back down to his own spot where the work remained to be continued. He finally noticed just how sour all his thoughts had gone that day. Not only was he exhausted by the course of his day but he felt exhausted and wasted at that point in his life. Aimless and as fruitless as a stone lodged in the branches of a coconut tree. He looked back at his friend and realized that they were both having a miserable day.
“What,” he wondered, “could he do to lift them both up?”
He thought of another worker who was often with them who was always having a bad day and never ceased to let everyone know. That worker Annaj, Lucilius knew, was simply always looking for sympathy, feeding on it like some ravenous parasite, always failing to see just how miserable it made everyone else.
“There must be a way,” Lucilius said out loud to himself, “for both of us to feel better.” And then an idea bounced into his head.
“Worth a try,” Lucilius said to himself, and then he turned and slogged off towards his friend.
“Lebca!” he called out when he was close enough. Lucilius’ friend Lebca looked up momentarily but kept at the work, angrily sticking the rice seedlings into the ground.
“Can see you’re doing about as well as me today. You ok?”
“I’m not having a good day,” Lebca said, not looking Lucilius in the face.
“Well, we’ve got the whole day to be here and do this work, and we’ve managed to do it while laughing and smiling before, so why not today?” Lucilius asked.
“Not a good day.”
“Ok,” Lucilius said, “Well, I got a game for you. It’s lame, but I want to see if it’ll work. You help me out?”
Lebca did not look up, just kept at it. “Yea, sure whatever you want.”
“Ok, here it is: I’m going to yell out something that I’m grateful for, and we will take turns, and the first person who can’t think of one loses.”
Lebca huffed a sarcastic breath, “hu, yea… ok.”
Lucilius turned and slogged back to his spot. Before starting he watched Lebca for another moment. “Best to let it marinate for a minute or two, I think,” he said to himself and then got back to work, sticking the green seedlings down into the water. After a few minutes he stood up again and looked over, seeing Lebca’s anger has mellowed with the work, the dreariness of it setting in, turning his movements to a slower, somber rhythm.
“I’m grateful you had to come to work Lebca. I was having just a miserable time here, much like you seem to be having a bad day, and when I looked up and saw you, I instantly felt just a little better. And so, thank you.”
Lebca halted in his work and looked at Lucilius. Lebca was struggling to maintain some kind of angry confusion, but his brow was softened. Lucilius went back to work, and waited. The minutes passed but finally it came.
“Grateful for you too Lucy,” Lebca grudgingly sighed.
Lucilius was not going to let the start, however small, go.
“I’m grateful that it’s not pissing cold rain, like it was last week when we were working.”
He saw the slightest nod of Lebca’s hat as the memory sank into them both. Lucilius kept at the planting, and waited.
“I’m grateful Annaj isn’t here.” They both laughed. It wasn’t the best, Lucilius figured, but it was better than nothing.
“Grateful I’m healthy, not sick and fat like our boss.” He saw Lebca nod slightly once more, and Lucilius knew then that he had momentum.
They kept at it, even once they were both feeling quite a bit better. Throughout the whole day they laughed and chatted, stumbling across new parts of their lives from the stories they told that added to the game.
Lucilius smiled, remembering that day long ago with Lebca. It was a game that could not sound more lame if you were in the headspace that needed it most. Lucilius knew this. But it had worked so smoothly, so effortlessly. He remembered as they finished the day trying to simply imagine what it had been like to feel so miserable before his friend had come to work. All of it was so vague and distant. So strange that it had felt so all encompassing.
The woman in the line for coffee was now waiting for some other beverage at the other end of the small counter. She was reading something on her phone, paused to look away as she rolled her eyes.
This episode is dedicated to a Monsieur Lopez. Cheers Brother.