Campfire, marshmallows and conversation

Many moon ago, Movers Mindset had a weekly team meeting with 5 people. It was simply a video call to socialize. Work-related discussion was allowed, but mostly we were just talking about training, sharing instagram videos, discussing news and events in our sports and its surrounds, … that sort of stuff. Just hanging out with people who have a shared interest.

From the start we knew we didn’t want to record those calls. That suddenly makes everything too permanent; You have to show up looking not-insane, and you automatically hold back some of your energy to be on the safe side. But we also felt that we were losing something by having no artifact at all. Much of what we were discussing and sharing in the team call would be of interest to others— but we didn’t want non-team-members attending our private call. Thus, no recording. The meeting gave us what we needed, and that was good enough.

Time passed. (And many great team meetings were had.)

One day, as I sat around wondering how to make the already-great calls even better, my mind drifted as it so often does. It wandered back to the 80s/90s and I thought of the seemingly endless hours I’d spent on text-based chat with people in far off places. Stuck underground in some computer lab, (for real,) I’d open a text window and visit some distant friend. It was real-time interaction, but in a restricted medium; Restricted, at the time, because that’s all we had. But still, it was magical to have real-time access to other people. It felt so much more alive than bullentin boards (the online kind), Usenet, and email. Still wondering how to make our team meetings better, I recalled this once-in-a-lifetime experience I had.

It went like this…

A group of friends had all being doing Parkour together for several years. To be clear: We found ourselves doing Parkour together, and wound up a group of friends through countless shared experiences. (Ask me in person and I’ll tell ya’ some stories.) Two of the group eventually got married. The fellow ended up deployed to Afghanistan in a intelligence role with special forces. (I may have the details wrong, sue me.) Suffice it to say: Half a world away from everyone, and while not physically in immenent danger, his day-to-day surroundings drove him to depression. One day he apparently reached the cliff’s edge and in a fit of frustration he sent a message to a dozen-or-so of us, (which included his wife,) with an enormous brain dump of his current state.

He’d sent a Facebook Messenger direct-message—apparently one of the few channels he was permitted. This wall of text arrives in my phone, with a bright and cheery *ding* I suddenly have this giant message from my good friend. I was delighted to hear from him, but all of it was news to me, and frankly none of it was good. Then, two magical things happened:

We promised that we’d do pushups immediately when he wrote to us, if he promised to never miss a day. It had a terrifically witty name—which I’m not sharing because then I’d have to tell you his first name. Every day, around 2pm my time—but it was unpredictable—*ding* and I’d end up doing pushups right in the middle of the super market. Literally. Once I got caught driving, and pulled over to the side of the road to do my pushups, and message back, done! It didn’t take us long before those of us on the dm-list were racing to see who could reply, “done!” first. Our far away friend became a sort of evil pushup assigning drill Sargeant. But there’s a twist. On day one, we all did 1 pushup. On day 2, we did 2. Then 3. Then 4… And yes, we were somewhere above 100 by the end of his deployment. (Spoiler: He returned home safely.) He repeatedly told us that every day he pretty much spent the entire day planning his daily entry in the back of his mind, and day-dreaming about making us all suffer the next number of pushups. Somehow, we small band of merry idiots managed to create a small daily dose of inspiration for our far away friend. (We all got pretty good at pushups too.)

The second piece of magic happened because we were all there for it in real time. We’d each do our pushups—as the numbers got stupid-large, you’d do them in sets and start reporting your reps in real-time. And somehow, the entire thing became performance art. Soon, we were having our friend pick an “animal of the day”, and it had to be different each day. Finished our pushups, we’d try to find and share funny photos, making up our own silly captions. We tried constantly to Rick Roll each other. We did anything we could think of to make our friend, and each other, laugh. Because we were doing this at the end of our friend’s day, he’d eventually “call it” when he was ready for sleep, and we’d all drop off. Years later, we still have in-circle nicknames for each other, and inside jokes that make me giggle even now as I’m typing.

One day, after it was over, I realized how special it had all been. I opened up Messenger on my desktop browser, and I tried to scroll back through the thousands of messages. I wanted to screenshot it all and somehow make a book to give just to those who were involved. But my browser crashed from all the images, animated GIFs, etc before I got even halfway.

Now, back to those weekly meetings I wanted to improve…

Having that story about our far away friend flash through my mind was the spark I needed! In our team meetings, I wanted to capture some of that ephemeral, asynchronous-messaging based, magic. I wanted our cool meeting to somehow also be a little bit performance art that left us with something that others could enjoy, (and even find useful.) My “campfires” ideas was born.

Campfire, marshmallows and conversation! The MM team gets together occasionally in a sort of free-form discussion that’s not quite a chat, and not quite a discussion. It’s a cross between instant chat and performance art.

Each week, as before, we had a completely ephemeral video call. But at the same time, in real time, we would all co-create a long Google Doc. That sounds silly—it is. And it’s hard to do as things move around in the document. But it feels like instant messaging. At the end of the set time, we ended the call, and I simply copy-n-pasted the contents into a Discourse thread.

We eventually stopped doing them as the team shrank. But if you want to see what they were, they’re all still there, in https://forum.moversmindset.com/c/campfires/37 — they still make me smile, and I’m so glad we did them.

What—you might wonder—makes we write all this up now?

I’m bringing back this beloved idea as: Campfires in the Podcaster Community.

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Whimsy

This is Cathy Forest coming to you live from a big pile of primevial ooze for the running of the classic, Human Race. It’s the top of the Precambrian Era and …

~ The Frantics from, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTiVXayjotw

It’s 2 minutes and 18 seconds of audio, and is completely G-rated. If it doesn’t make you laugh, there’s something wrong with you. I first heard this in 1986—which, alarmingly, I figured out because someone has put the Doctor Demento Show’s play-lists online. So as I was hunting for this, I first discovered when I’d heard it, which just made me want to hear it that much more. Share the heck out of it, make it go viral and make the world a better place through laughter.

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Iterative

This is the iterative method of purpose exploration. You try a mini-version of something for a couple weeks. Maybe longer. And keep doing this until you hit on something.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/well-lived-life/

What do you think of the common advice, “follow your passion!” (Or sometimes it’s, “follow your bliss!”)

It’s utter crap. If I knew what my passion, (or “bliss”,) was, well no shit! …that would make it easy. The hard part is figuring out what I’m passionate about. The impossible—literally not something you can do in a lifetime—part is figuring out what my one, true passion is.

The advice I find useful is to follow my interests [discovery], find things I’m passionate about [via reflection], and then pursue them [efficacy]. It’s critical that I build in some feedback to reality-check what I’m doing—my commitments to others, my morals, my values—to make sure I’m not off on narcissistic navel navigation. But an interative approach is the best way to live the actual purpose life.

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A mover’s mindset

It’s become clear, that somewhen in the last few years, I’ve lost a certain spark— some urge that used to be the initial impetus that got me moving. Out. And about. Moving and playing. It’s probably, simply age.

Efficacy is the power to produce a desired effect. Recognition of your own efficacy means that you have recognized your own potential for continued success and growth. Your choices of actions at this point are not based on concerns about current limits of your ability or understanding. Instead, your choices are guided by what skills, practices, and accomplishments will give you the most enjoyment, make your life better, increase your skills, or broaden your knowledge. Your experience in life changes from asking “What can I do?” to asking “What should I do to make my life the best it can be?”

~ From https://forum.moversmindset.com/t/discovery-reflection-efficacy/614

Where once I used to simply begin each day, and sooner or later I’d realize I’m doing something active, now I find that most days were going by without doing something active. I don’t like that trend. I went over everything in my environment and, quite honestly, little has changed—certainly nothing that would have sabotaged my being active. If the problem isn’t without, then it must be within.

And so, I’ve made a small change: What am I doing tomorrow? …then make a plan for that to happen.

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This might get personal

these nine principles for interviewing people about tender, personal, tough subjects are tactics that are helpful in any hard conversation. You want to be clear about your objectives for the conversation, to be prepared to listen closely and actively, to prepare the person you are talking to for a different, deeper sort of exchange. You need to respect the dignity of the person you’re talking with, and respect yourself enough to speak up when you disagree.

~ Anna Sale from, https://transom.org/2021/treat-an-interview-like-a-relationship/

Whether or not you’re doing recorded conversations with guests, there’s a bunch of great advice in that article. I’m particularly drawn to Sale’s point about how her interviews are enabled by the fact that she is creating a relationship with the guest. In any conversation, everything we do either builds up, or tears down, a relationship bit by bit.

In any conversation, it’s my experience that the more intentional I am, the better it goes. Part of that is intentional listening; listening primarily to understand. Another part is being mindful of the other person; deploying empathy and compassion. Another part is keeping sight of where you are headed, and also where it is not possible to get to; knowing what to stretch for and what to let pass is critical.

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Skepticism and cynicism

The result of this kind of influence is twofold: one is a skepticism and cynicism towards everything which is said or printed, while the other is a childish belief in anything that a person is told with authority. This combination of cynicism and naïveté is very typical of the modern individual. Its essential result is to discourage him from doing his own thinking and deciding.

~ Erich Fromm from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/erich-fromm-think-originally-in-the-modern-age/

Philosophical Skepticism, “is a family of philosophical views that question the possibility of knowledge.” (That’s a quote from the Wikipedia entry. If you want to go deeper, try the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry for Skepticism.)

As far as I understand it—your mileage may vary—Fromm, in that quote, wasn’t condemning philosophical skepticism. Rather, and I agree, let’s all condemn the little-s-skepticism; the naivete driven, disbelieve everything, skepticism that turns away from anything it doesn’t understand.

I prefer to turn towards just about anything I don’t yet understand. (See: “Oh. That’s interesting…”) I’m am frequently asking myself: “What is true, and how do I know it’s true?”

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Forward. Backward. Preferred. Dis-preferred.

Like any good algebraist, he is made to think sometimes in a forward fashion and sometimes in reverse; and so he learns when to concentrate mostly on what he wants to happen and also when to concentrate mostly on avoiding what he does not want to happen.

~ Charlie Munger from, https://fs.blog/2016/04/crashing-planes-mungers-system/

That item from a list of six elements, originally from the best pilot education program in existence, made me realize there’s this thing that I do. For me it’s such an intuitive, automatic thing, but it occurs to me to share it to make it explicit.

Let’s begin by thinking about planning and learning. (I’m done. You are now thinking about planning and learning. :) Next, we’ll trot out three magnificently useful, relative adverbs: how, when and why. Six sublime questions instantly appear:

How do I plan?
When do I plan?
Why do I plan?
How do I learn?
When do I learn?
Why do I learn?

I’ve certainly spent a lot of time thinking about those questions. For example, I’ve a bunch of blog posts about knowledge systems that came from thinking about, “how do I learn?” I could spend all my time thinking about those six questions. Exploring those questions, understanding myself, and learning in general, are fine projects to spend time on. But it’s tough to get started. Each of those questions is a deep, Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole.

What I want to share is how to use a different framework to flip the entire process over. I want to share my way of making progress on those fine projects without intentionally working on them. Things happen. Thoughts arise. (Your experience may be similar to mine?) The following framework will take anything—happenings or thoughts—and guide it into being deep work on those six questions.

Simply ask:

Forward or backward in time: Is the event in the future or past? Am I thinking about the future or past?

And…

Prefer or dis-prefer: Do I prefer or dis-prefer the event? Do I prefer or dis-prefer what I’m thinking?

For me, the act of examining something—an event, a thought—in the light of those questions, (forward/backward? preferred/dis-preferred?,) leads me to learning about one, and sometimes several, of those six, big questions.

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No too hot. Not too cold.

Self-motivated, self-starting individuals are incredibly motivated to find their weaknesses. It’s not far-fetched to say that some of us actually seek to make ourselves perfect — rational, calculating beings making the right type of decisions at just the right times. But we’ve learned from Star Trek; we don’t look to eliminate emotion either and turn ourselves into Mr. Spock. We want just the right amount of emotion in our lives.

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2016/03/five-percent-better/

Here’s the two-pronged approach which has been working for me:

First, I remind myself to resist my innate urge to make things worse. Don’t add energy to emotions themselves, nor to things which cause emotions. Emotions are real. We are emotional beings. Emotions get their due. And no more. If things are going badly: relax, they won’t last. If things are going well: relax, they won’t last.

Second, I take note of—literally in my journal—things which cause me to be emotional. It turns out that sometimes I can simply eliminate chronic causes. My goal isn’t to remove all the causes; That’d be a stoopid plan. But sometimes a pain in my foot is simply caused by a stone in my shoe, and is easily removed.

Those could be summarized as, “reminding myself, and taking note.” Those two things are always possible, and always easy. The hard part is remembering to do them. But if I simply—as in: gently, and with self-kindness—do those two things when I do remember, they slowly become habitual. I can’t say I even understand what, “…just right,” would be. But I know for sure what, “just right,” is not.

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You had me at ‘bacon’

One of the central conceits of the “man’s natural state” argument is that if we go back to some point in time, we’ll find it. We’ll finally come across the state of being where man lived totally in harmony with each other and with nature; eating the perfect diet for health, worshipping the correct gods, having sex in the natural and acceptable way. And besides studying religious texts, the tool that’s most frequently employed is the study of ancient, “pre-historic” man and woman. We hope that, by going back far enough, we’ll hit some arbitrary Point of Naturalness. That’s partially the approach used, for example, by the Paleo movement which has become such a popular force in nutrition. We evolved to eat bacon, right?

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2016/03/the-false-allure-of-a-natural-state-of-man/

I have avoided—I’ve no idea how—the rabbit hole of, “what is natural [for a human being’s flourishing]?” I have limited time, (I suggest doublechecking, as yours may also be limited,) and I’m really only interested in, “what is best for this human being’s flourishing?” I don’t care if we evolved to eat bacon. I do care how I feel after I eat bacon. …after I eat different types of bacon. …after I consider the monetary cost of buying bacon. …after I assess the environmental cost/footprint of eating bacon. …after I assess the societal aspects of bacon.

Sorry. All this talk of bacon. I lost my train of thought. Oh, right—

For a short span of several decades, I have complete control over my thoughts. At no time do I have absolute control over anything beyond my thoughts. (I have pretty reliable control over many things—movement of my hands for example. But even that control is not absolute. See: Disease, accidents, etc. At any moment, my preferences related to all the things beyond my thoughts, can easily be frustrated.) So the only thing that makes sense is to discover, reflect and then exercise what efficacy I have at any give moment: What do I know? How do I know it? What decision should I make now/today, given what I know? How would I find where my unknown unknowns are?

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Free time?

In his free time, …

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2016/03/prolific-mr-asimov/

I mean, I knew Asimov wrote a lot. But it turns out I had no clue how much. I’ve read a bunch of his science fiction back in the day, but I’ve never read any of his other writings, and there’s no way I ever will. And really, that’s ok. Because trying to be a “completist” leads to a lot of wasted time. Instead, a little of this, some of that, a dash of variety, and some spice of life. Festina lente.

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