Eleven ways to really screw yourself up

Most things in life aren’t black and white. Overly dualistic thinking isn’t true to reality. Life is full of nuance. A goal can be worth pursuing even if it doesn’t garner the highest success; there are worthwhile things in both flawed people and flawed philosophies.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/the-11-cognitive-distortions-that-are-making-you-a-miserable-sob/

I’m not even sure how to classify this article for you. It’s short enough that you can just go glance at it. You’ll either shrug it off as simplistic (or possibly even offensive), or you’ll find the list of common cognitive mistakes useful. My pull-quote is indicative of the mistake of “splitting” thinking explained, not of the article overall. This mistake was—is still?—my biggest problem.

On the topics of depression and cognitive mistakes, from personal experience I recommend as useful Stoicism in general, and the more modern, (than the one McKay is referencing in the article above,) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple. To be fair, David Burns, the author of the book McKay is summarizing, was instrumental in bringing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy into the mainstream.

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Discipline

The end for self-discipline is personal improvement; the end for discipline lies beyond the self. This distinction helps explain why individuals can be incredibly self-disciplined and yet see very little external achievement as a result. Sure, they never miss a day writing in their journal and never lose their temper, but those displays of self-mastery don’t automatically lead to outward success.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/behavior/are-you-disciplined-or-just-self-disciplined/

There are lots of ways to talk about this distinction; the particular way described by McKay comes from an author he’s interviewed. I’d never thought about is as “discipline” versus “self-discipline.” I’d always thought of discipline as a thing, and then the “self-” prefix in “self-discipline” means that thing done to myself. And I’m not going to change how I use the words, “discipline,” and “self-discipline.” I see why they’re using “discipline” and “self-discipline.” I think I’d prefer to use, “inward-directed,” and, “outward-directed,” discipline. Everything I do to myself is self-discipline, but when my goal is to change myself, then it’s “inward-directed,” and when my goal is to change the world, then it’s “outward-directed.”

But the point of the distinction is very interesting. Do I actually have goals which are the, “why?” behind my self-discipline? Are those goals an appropriate mixture of inward- and outward-directed?

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Words matter

But it isn’t just institutions that are guilty of enervating the gems of our language.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/habits/143606/

A simple piece that makes a clear statement. I find that the less I talk, (and the less I write—for example, by not posting at all on any “social” media,) the less I have the urge to abuse words. So much, maybe even all(?), of my overwrought language was driven by desperate grasping to get people to like me. These days? The grasping is certainly no longer desperate, and my communication has vastly improved because of it.

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Systematic abandonment

To that end, Drucker recommends that executives routinely take part in “systematic abandonment.” Every few months, an executive should do a reevaluation of all the organization’s practices, looking at everything the organization is doing and deciding anew if the organization should stop or continue it.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/behavior/peter-druckers-question-for-eliminating-practices-that-no-longer-serve-you/

Drucker was writing explicitly in the context of business executives. McKay does a nice job of showing how those principles which serve executives so well, work equally well in one’s personal life. I didn’t have this process—this guiding principle from Drucker’s work—identified clearly in my head. But I have it firmly implanted into how I instinctively do things.

I’ve had more than one person make the joke, “Craig, how many clones do you have?!” (I like to jokingly reply, “Yes, I have several clones, but none of us can get the others to do anything we don’t want to do ourselves.”) I accomplish a lot. While I have a number of clear advantages—such as where I was lucky enough to start in the game of life, luck in biology, and luck in opportunities I was shown—those aren’t the truly magic ingredient. The magic ingredient is what I don’t do. It doesn’t matter what specifically it is that I don’t do; Each of us has to make those decisions for oneself. What does matter is that I am willing to regularly and often spend a prodigious amount of time examining what I am doing, and how I am doing it. And then ruthlessly cutting away things that I should stop doing.

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Vitality

Brett McKay: But how can men maintain that vitality, even when they have those responsibilities they have at home?

Vic Verdier: I personally use two strategies, if you want. The first one is very easy. It’s to read books, books and biographies, novels, books of adventures, books of people taking risk. I’m thinking Hemingway, Jack London, but also biographies of great leaders who took risks, and thanks to you, Brett, I learned more about Theodore Roosevelt and the way he reinvented himself all the time, challenging himself. And when you read those books, you realize that you don’t really have anything to lose by trying new things all the time. So that’s my first strategy, getting some inspiration from reading. The second strategy for me is to, on a weekly basis, to do some kind of self-assessment, meaning every week I’m thinking about my life and what I’m doing, and when I start to settle down, I know it’s time to do something different. Do you remember this movie, Groundhog Day, when Bill Murray is repeating the same day over and over again?

Brett McKay: Of course.

Vic Verdier: I think… If I live twice the same day, somehow I wasted one day. So I try to have some diversity in my life, and every time I think that I fall into some kind of routine, I know I have to explore something else or go somewhere else or do… Take another course or learn some new skills.

~ From https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/how-to-stay-fit-as-you-age/

slip:4c2he1c.

This wide-ranging conversation with Verdier touches on everything from his military and deep diving careers, to Parkour, MoveNat and general ways to stay fit and healthy. Worth a listen, and doubly-so if you’re a dude over 40. (Or know one.)

There’s an embedded player on that page, or find episode 704 of The Art of Manliness podcast, How to Keep Your Edge as You Get Older.

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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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Music or no?

Music and exercise were inseparable for me. That is, until this past year. I can’t remember the last time I had music playing in the background while I exercised. And, strangely enough, I’m digging the silence. Here’s why you might hit the off button on your audio player too.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/the-case-for-not-listening-to-music-when-you-work-out/

Two years ago I nearly became a runner. I was starting to run short distances pretty often. And I was always running with a specific music playlist.

But that’s the only activity I do with music— hiking, biking, rock-climbing… no music. Parkour? Absolutely not, because I need to hear the noises I’m making as part of the feedback. (Am I landing softly? What rhythms am I generating? How’s my breathing? AM I breathing?)

These days I’m doing everything—including driving long distances—in silence.

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Wrangling life’s admin tasks

Just as with job-related admin, “life admin” represents some of our least favorite, and most procrastinated on, to-dos. And yet completing them is essential to keeping our lives organized, functioning, and moving ahead.

~ Brett McKay from https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/how-to-better-manage-your-life-admin/

A couple years ago I simply threw my hands up in the air and picked one day of the week which I’ve literally labeled as my “admin” day. On that day each week, I tackle everything related to life admin. It’s awesome; Stuff gets done.

But even better than that: It frees me on the other six days of the week. During the other six days each week, whole swaths of things are trivially lobbed onto the pile for the next admin day.

Try this: Pick a day of the week to be admin day, and start lobbing stuff to that day. Laundry, housecleaning… hell, I don’t even open postal mail until admin day. Pay bills, schedule things, shopping, errands…

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Deeply held beliefs

This book is complicated and ambitious. But there’s one thread in particular that I think is worth underscoring. Crawford notes that the real problem with the current distracted state of our culture is not the prevalence of new distracting technologies. These are simply a reaction to a more fundamental reality: “[W]e are agnostic on the question of what is worth paying attention to — that is, what to value.” In the absence of strongly-held answers to this question our attention remains adrift and unclaimed — we cannot, therefore, be surprised that app-peddlers and sticky websites swooped in to aggressively feast on this abundant resource.

~ Cal Newport, from https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2016/07/15/from-descartes-to-pokemon-matthew-crawfords-quest-to-reclaim-our-attention/

Turns out Crawford was interviewed by Brett McKay, another person I’ve often quoted here. I’ve not yet listened but the episode is Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.

Originally I thought “social media” itself was the problem. Eventually it became clear to me that social media is the symptom. People want to be fed saccharine lives through their phones because they’ve never been taught that they need to consciously make decisions about what’s important to them.

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Scrutiny

Being asked to generate this kind of realistic solution requires letting go of the childlike fantasy in which one can have all upside and no downside. It requires really digging into an issue, developing a depth of understanding that goes beyond drive-by feedback. As the officer quoted above observed, by mandating that any critique be coupled with a counterproposal, Ike’s policy “made for more careful scrutiny and analysis.”

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/sunday-firesides-never-criticize-without-offering-an-alternative/

Not long ago I thought that this arrangement—requiring realistic solutions be provided when criticizing current ones—was unhealthy. I thought that it also led to people generally not speaking up when they saw a problem. But I now see that there are two different scenarios: raising issues and providing criticism.

“Always bring me problems,” is an important policy. It encourages people on a team to speak up when they see something they believe is a problem. The team then benefits from everyone’s perspectives, a culture of openness and honesty is created, and even when mistaken less-experienced people learn from their practice at assessment of problems. This is a different scenario than the one of criticism.

One of the hallmarks of constructive criticism is that it provide alternatives. In this scenario it is not sufficient to simply point out flaws or problems. To encourage deeper understanding each person must be challenged to find an alternate proposal. Doing so requires each person to understand the goal and the realities which constrain the possible courses of action. This type of constructive collaboration, where criticism is of the idea and not of the person, is where teams can really multiply the impact of the individuals’ efforts.

To put it as a spin on acting improvisation: Where improv instructs us to avoid, “no,” preferring, “yes, and….” Constructive criticism requires, “no, and….”

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