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
February 5th, 2019
Zig Ziglar originally came up with the concept of linking Motivation with Bathing. He’s quoted from his numerous programs saying:
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”
It raises a valid point: motivating emotions that impel us to do productive things ebb.
Note for a moment the etymological similarities between the two words: motivation and emotion.
Both reference motion, or movement. If we are motivated enough, we actually do something, and e-motions might be described in much the same way. Often motivation is couched in terms of a particular emotion, as in motivated by anger or motivated by love.
Etymologically, motivated by emotion is somewhat a redundant concept.
Zig Ziglar recognized the feeble longevity of any given instance of an emotion and his somewhat jocular comparison to bathing draws out the realization that emotions that lead to productive ends need to be cultivated. We might even think of practicing these emotions or training with them.
While humorous, bathing is a somewhat passive analogy. We might instead compare it to something more active, like running.
In the simple way that you are not actually running unless you are running, we are not actually motivated unless we have started doing the actual activity we are motivated to work on.
And this perhaps hints at the problem. We imagine some kind of overwhelming positive feeling that is separate from actually doing the thing we wish to do. We might ask, are we merely looking to feel that emotional high that we associate with the word motivation, or do we genuinely wish to see the object of our imagination come to life?
We should perhaps not separate the emotion from the actual activity. We might in fact think about detouring around the need for such a motivational high all together and just start doing the tiniest, easiest little aspect of the goal we have in mind.
The analogy with running becomes even more helpful here. When we are sprinting we cannot actually stop instantly. The act of running creates a physical momentum. Each sprint carries us halfway into the next one and unlike walking or bathing, we actually need a span of time and space in order to slow down our efforts and come to a complete stop.
We have all experienced this kind of motivation: when we are deep in the work of a project and suddenly some alternate obligation comes time and we need to stop what we are doing but curse the timing because we are on a roll. Our actions towards a goal have momentum even if we are standing still.
Like any daily practice, whether it be sleep or meditation or physical exercise, or even breathing, we might benefit from imagining just how far and fast a project will develop if we work on it every single day. Even if it’s just a little bit. That next easiest piece of the puzzle.
What could you do right now, in the next minute to pull that dream a little more into reality?
February 4th, 2019
Most all of us have had the singular experience of being totally engrossed in a book or a movie or even watching a theatrical play and realizing with a kind of dread that the experience is about to end. We can even crave for such experiences to linger longer, and so we might put down the book for a restless amount of time. Of course such a strategy is unavailable for a movie or a play.
We might for a moment juxtapose this with the destination vacation where the journey of getting to the destination is generally the worst part. Everyone looks forward to the destination and simply endures the journey to get to the destination. The journey of a book, movie or play could not be more antithetical to the destination vacation.
This is the difference between a journey-centric view of any goal or experience and a destination-centric view.
The journey-centric approach carries a much higher probability of enjoyment, accomplishment and a far more efficient mode of learning than the destination-centric approach.
Just think for a moment of an experience we do not have often enough: when we begin to explore a new skill, or medium and find that we love it so much that we do not look at the process as some kind of laborious learning as in school, but instead find that we can’t wait to get back to it. It’s as if we are playing. With the unselfconscious abandon of a child. Interest and curiosity guide our mindset as opposed to the all-to-often-encountered drudgery of memorization and rote activity under duress of new bullshit job or educational program.
We can see the destination-centric mode of thinking reflected in many of the institutions through which we try to operate in society. Corporations tempt prospective employees not only with a sense of security in pay and benefits but also with the potential to systematically rise through a well-defined structural hierarchy. The myth goes that if one simply works hard, then one will rise like cream to the top – the destination as it were. This lure works despite the increasing competition as one rises and the often superficial reasons why people get promoted. (A harmless example is the correlation found between a person’s height and their high position in a corporation.)
Government carries the same structural lure, with the corporation’s CEO being analogous to the President or Prime Minister. It’s quite impossible to imagine any senator or representative being completely devoid of fantasies of rising to the top position of power. And yet the probability of such happening is severely limited by time and availability, despite all the other countless unknown factors that determine such promotions.
Education is perhaps most entrenched with regard to the destination-centric mode of thinking. Rising high in any given discipline of the educational world seems more probable and perhaps it is because there is a ceiling that everyone in the education system can theoretically reach together. The highest position in the education system is not a university bureaucrat, but that of a famous and well published professor. At first glance this seems to be less destination-centric than the governmental or corporate path because the chances of actually reaching the destination are higher due to a wider berth of positions at the top. But such a conclusion itself is destination-centric. If we compare the journey of the corporate, governmental and the educational, none of them are as clear cut and well defined as the educational path. The process of becoming a professor is incredibly well-defined as opposed to the path to becoming a CEO or becoming some singularly high-ranking government official. Ironically, the institution of education requires the least amount of practical creativity in order to rise to a high and well-respected position. And yet, wouldn’t we want the educational system to be well-tuned for generating creative and innovative individuals? Perhaps this takes a step towards explaining why such incredibly successful and innovative people like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk dropped out of such systems.
Enough planned travelling will bestow the realization upon the traveler that the best trips have no destination. Travelling is a verb. Destination is a noun. Even in this simple difference we can glimpse the mistake. We are unwise to aim for something so concrete. We are best to feel our way forward on the fly in order to have an experience that is fulfilling.
In order to feel our way forward on the journey of life, we must balance a keenly defined sense of discomfort with priorities that bring us a sense of joy and fulfillment.
Most destination vacations are taken out of a kind of desperation to escape one’s circumstance, either due to the drudgery of some bullshit job, or the drudgery of a routine life that does not provide enough emotional sustenance. Destination vacations are falsely seen as a breath of fresh air, when in reality, such a view is a reflection of mistakes propagating in the direction and activities of regular life.
The pessimistic view of the movement of life is that life is work and work is routine and the combination is a kind of hell that we must endure.
The optimistic view is that life still requires work and work requires a kind of routine, but the definition and interpretation of those words are far more liberating: Imagine for a moment the dancer having the discipline to practice everyday, or the writer to write everyday or the painter to draw everyday, or the coder to build everyday. All such skills require a working routine and practice in order to maintain, advance and produce. The continual practice of such skills is likewise uncomfortable but the difference is that at the end of such days, the process of such practice also produces a satisfying sense of fulfillment and that the day was well spent.
The key difference between these two interpretations of work and routine is that one produces new content or experience by exploring the unknown, and the other does not. This concept is more fully explored in Episode 145 entitled Why Are Games Fun? Both the creative life and the life resigned to the drudgery of an uninteresting job both require uncomfortable rules and routine, but they engage with the unknown in totally different ways. One explores the unknown, the other is generally a strategy for avoiding it.
The difference is reflected once more here with the journey-centric view vs. the destination-centric view.
It’s clear, whether with travelling or choosing a direction in life, we are better to cast off any idea of a concrete destination or station and feel our way forward based on the present circumstances. The traditional lures might seem like comforting targets to aim for, but what is the point if we do not feel fulfilled in the process of getting there?
While the destination-centric mindset may have been more applicable in the past, it will continue to be of decreasing help as we move forward. Technological innovation will only make tomorrow more uncertain with regards to our potential place and function. Whereas in the past the idea of tomorrow may have seemed like a reliable and fixed given, it is quickly freeing itself from that ossification, stretching as it were, and we had best start looking at tomorrow as a kind of dance partner, one that changes as we do, responds as we act, and can enable us to enjoy – if we so choose - the process of exploring the greatest unknown, one with no destination: the future.
February 3rd, 2019
Lucilius once played a video game where each level was much the same. It had a start and a set time limit before each level was over. But each level was just slightly shorter than the last.
During each level much the same task was required but the ease with which it was accomplished depended much on what happened during the previous level.
If the time during each level was spent as fully engaged as possible, then the next level became slightly easier. This was important because each level became progressively shorter while the ease of tasks, if maintained, accelerated, allowing for more abilities to be expressed in less time.
While the last level of the game was the shortest of all, Lucilius seemed to achieve as much as he’d done in all the other levels combined.
When he played again he decided to tarry in the tasks, letting the goals of each level slip past the time limits, the next level starting relentlessly - the difficulty of each growing larger and larger till the levels were too short to gain again an upper hand, and all was lost.
When he restarted the game a third time, he found that he did not start back at zero but was handicapped at the tasks with the same level of difficulty he’d degenerated to in the last game. He tried to work extra hard to make up for the lost time, but before he felt he could make any progress, the levels were ending faster and faster until the third game was done.
The same happened with the fourth and fifth games with only marginal and frustrating improvements.
When the screen lit up with the intro screen for the next round an idea came into his head:
Just as the intro screen faded and the first level came into view Lucilius hit the PAUSE button. He leaned in close to the screen and studied what his first move would be. Then he toggled the controls in that direction and quickly tapped the PAUSE button. The game reacted and Lucilius hit the PAUSE button once more. He studied how the game had reacted and figured out his next move, toggled the controls and then tapped the PAUSE button one more time. He kept on in this painstaking manner until he had the first level completed.
Lucilius smiled at the screen, certain he’d outsmarted the game, but then Lucilius woke up. He found himself lying on a couch in a friend’s apartment. Pizza boxes strewn across a coffee table and the glow of a T.V. looping an intro to some video game. As happens so often he completely forgot his video game dream upon waking, remembering instead where things had left off the night before.
His friend walked into the room in a daze, noticing Lucilius awake and mumbled, ‘what’s up’.
Lucilius watched as his friend sat back in front of the glowing screen and picked up a controller. Lucilius sat up, rubbed his face and then reached out for his own controller, but froze in the action. He looked at his hand just about to touch the controller and PAUSED just long enough to wonder what he was doing.
This episode of Tinkered Thinking references Episode 23: Pause.
February 2nd, 2019
There exists a category of words that sits right between synonym and antonym. These consist of interesting pairs that in some sense have the exact same definition but completely contrary meanings.
A silly name that might apply here is rivalnym. Composed of both the word parts rival + nym. Meaning literally rival word. A rival is defined as someone who has the same objective but is in competition for that objective.
Episode 3 of Tinkered Thinking looked at one set of these rivalnyms:
Determined and Stubborn. They both indicate something steadfast about a person’s point of view or behavior. But one is negative and the other is positive. The difference is dictated by an outside perspective and whether or not that third-person perspective approves of the goal of such behavior or point of view. If we like someone’s goal we think of them as determined. If we don’t, we’re likely to think of the person as being stubborn.
Another pair of words that might qualify as rivalnyms are:
Nervous and Excited.
With the word nervous, what exactly is the word literally referring to? Nerves. And what is happening to them? They are excited. Play this question game in reverse starting at the word ‘excited’ and it works symmetrically. What is excited when we feel excited? Inevitably it boils down to excited nerves.
And yet we use one of these words to imply something positive and the other to indicate the negative version of the same circumstance.
Rivalnyms are perhaps the simplest linguistic examples that demonstrate subjectivity, or how our perspective dictates our identification and categorization of a situation. The mere phenomenon that we’ve created nearly identical words with polar opposite uses should serve as a warning and a guide that our discourse is utterly dominated by an emotional slant.
However, being aware of this subtle category of words can help us be more cognizant while speaking, in order to notice what degree and kind of emotion our point of view is operating through.
The most important Rivalnyms and the perennial pair of concepts around which this discourse circles is
While we might approach the connection of these two words from a variety of angles, one important facet of this pair is that we can appropriately define them as
reactions to the unknown.
When we come across a problem to which we do not readily see an answer, how do we react? With confusion and the concurrent feelings of frustration and aggravation?
Or do we respond with curiosity.
It’s imperative not to see rivalnyms as mutually exclusive. For example we might initially react with confusion and then invoke curiosity in order to move forward through that confusion. We might look at one of the previous examples and realize that likewise we can start off seeing a person as stubborn and later change our position and reinterpret the same person’s efforts as determination. This change might conveniently arrive when the observed person in question finally achieves some goal we didn’t approve of and the difference is more positive than we expected. Our language about the person likewise changes.
We might start off an activity feeling nervous and worried and as we relax or gain proficiency, that same nervousness is now interpreted as positive excitement.
The core concept at the heart of a rivalnym pair is seeing that they are in fact the same thing, and our inclination to identify with one more than the other can be a choice. Often, however, we don’t even realize there is a choice until we actually notice these subtle shifts in the way we experience things. Such revelations deserve a new root in our mind, a new word to equip our mind with the ability to question.
Beset by some obstacle or problem, we can focus on our perspective, our feeling, our effort and behavior and ask? Is this the best way to move forward? Or is there some better rivalnymic way that I can switch to in order to make progress?
February 1st, 2019
Once upon a time the direction ‘Don’t be Evil’ was a part of Google’s code of conduct. It was removed and replaced with a much more positive sounding dictate: “Do the right thing.”
While these might seem like synonymous statements, they are not and the important way in which they differ is that one is more about focus and the other is more about awareness.
The dictate: do the right thing. Is all about focusing on doing what you think is good.
This seems like a fairly innocuous strategy that can produce some good. The problem comes when we misidentify what is good. Anyone with even a modicum of circumspection can look back on some passage of their life and identify a train of actions that were undertaken because they were deemed of good worth, but in retrospect had disastrous effects because our idea of what was good was perhaps skewed or misguided.
Deeyah Kahn has made a couple documentaries that explore extreme differences between people in terms of identity, primarily with regards to religion and ideology. One of these documentaries entitled “Jihad: a story of others” has an extended interview with an individual who used to be part of a radical faction that took violent action against those deemed enemies. By the time of the filming and interview, this individual has completely changed. But what exactly in such an individual’s mental framework changes? Why would such a person take such an action in the first place?
For the simple and uncomplicated reason that such a course of action was deemed good.
The word good could not be more ambiguous. It’s as useless as the word natural, which means vastly different things to different people because of their differences. Just compare for a moment how the word ‘sky’ pretty much means the same thing to everyone. Few people look at the ground and claim it to be the sky.
But the word good when regarded across a spectrum of enemies flip-flops depending on which person or perspective we identify with. This is a very dangerous phenomenon because it enables people to undertake actions that are potentially counter-productive to our species in the name of what’s ‘good’.
The original dictate: don’t be Evil. Initiates a much more important perspective and process.
While doing the right thing or the good thing is all about focusing on actually doing something. Don’t be Evil is all about a larger awareness.
Don’t be evil is a larger ask. It includes the prescription to do the right thing, but it goes beyond that. It requires that someone also be aware of what the bad thing is. This is a far more difficult task. It requires imagining things from more points of view in order to root out possible negative ramifications that our actions might have.
Don’t be Evil screens for false positives. Do the right thing opens the door to any well-disguised evil.
This is Google’s mistake, and the mistake of every good intention that paved a way to hell.
To broaden this scope for a moment, we can ponder what this means for the individual. To do the right thing effectively means, keep your head down and keep working towards your goal. Don’t be evil on the other hand asks the individual to lift their eyes, look around and take stock of the whole situation. It asks the individual to imaginatively place themselves in the shoes of many others who might perceive or experience our actions as evil. The individual who is concerned with avoiding that evil action becomes mindful that such a possibility exists, and while this might slide towards over-caution if taken too far, in measured balance it creates of habit of checking the results of our actions more often to see what effect they’ve had. For even the most circumspect individual cannot predict the future, but one who is constantly aware of the larger situation and the effect actions are having is far less likely to pave a way to hell. Unlike regretful Oppenheimer who put a nose to the grindstone and kept going until the work couldn’t be undone.