Our sense of what’s possible

The people we’re surrounded by limit or expand our sense of what is possible.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/people/relationships/sunday-firesides-relationships-over-willpower/

That’s a perfect turn of phrase from McKay. I love to find myself exposed to new people; those moments where I think, “that’s interesting!” are like single-serving sized friends (with hat tip to Chuck Palahniuk).

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Not so easy

The answer depends on whether he recognizes that though he may have subdued his external obstacles and enemies, he must overcome psychological foes — depression, anomie, angst — which are no less formidable for their ethereality. He must embrace the fact that though this world may be thoroughly charted, explored, and technologized, there remains one last territory to conquer — himself.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/advice/sunday-firesides-mans-last-great-conquest-himself/

I would argue that all the external conquering and subduing was the easy part. That existential dread? That’s not so easy. The first part of solving that problem is of course realizing it is a problem for oneself. Yeah, I’m working on that.

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You’ll know it when you experience it

Yet while the application and discussion of burnout has greatly expanded, what burnout is, exactly, and what causes it has remained stubbornly difficult to pin down. There is no clinical definition of burnout, no universally agreed upon yardstick for what constitutes it, no official diagnostic checklist as to its symptoms.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/career-wealth/career/a-counterintuitive-cure-for-burnout/

McKay draws our attention to a feature of burnout that spans all the various types of people, epochs, living situations, employment and work where we see burnout: Sameness. Monotony. Repetition without variety. This is clearly a feature of what causes me to burnout. I don’t think it’s sufficient to cause me to burnout, but it’s definitely necessary.

If I can change this feature, for whatever-it-is that I’m approaching burnout with, I can avert the catastrophe. When burnout approaches, I’ve tried planning, thinking that wrangling with the process to reduce the cognitive load might help. I’ve thought that better planning—break this huge long thing into manageable steps—would give me space and energy to recharge. But this never works. The long slog which I can clearly see, after I do a bunch of planning, simply makes the onset of burnout accelerate.

Instead, if I figure out how to bring novelty into the mix, that seems to always work. (I say “seems” because, although I cannot think of case where it did not work, I’m a pragmatist.) Often this works if I simply find the aspect of whatever-it-is which represents the biggest amount of work, and delete that. Whatever-it-is was going to slump to non-existence anyway, when I burnout, so I may as well cut to the chase. I find that having stripped away something that I thought was essential, whatever-it-was turns out to contain a little nugget of, “huhn, that’s interesting.”

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One reason why I journal

When we conjure up what it will be like to start a new practice, form a new habit, knock an item off a bucket list, we see the fun but not the work. We see an image in which all the drudgery has been edited out, and only the montage of rewards left in.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/advice/sunday-firesides-do-you-like-the-idea-more-than-the-reality/

Great points from McKay. I often enjoy inverting problems like the one he’s describing. Let’s say I thought a lot about the idea and the reality and decided far in the past to start something—for example, a daily podcast of me reading quotes. Then the inversion of the problem McKay is writing about would be to figure out, in the present, if my current experience of the reality matches what I expected the reality to be, back when I made the decision. Because, if I don’t do that, how do I get better at making the idea/reality choice McKay is discussing?

This is one reason I journal. For every project (and much more) in the last decade I’ve journaled about it. An idea begins to appear repeatedly in my journal entries. Sometimes it grows into my laying out the expected reality—the work this is going to require, the physical and emotional costs, the expected outcome(s), the rewards, etc.. Then I regularly reread my old journal entries and see how much of an idiot I was. ;)

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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/

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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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