Just one good idea

I believe the standard how-to book contains too much new stuff for a human brain to take on board once, or at least it does for my brain. Implementing a single habit – flossing before bed, for example – is something most people can do if they’re really focusing on it, but even that is hard. Converting your workday into the full-bore Pomodoro system, or (God help you) the GTD system, represents a dozen or more habits that all have to come online more or less at the same time.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/06/how-to-get-things-done-when-you-have-trouble-getting-things-done/

This is an unusual post from Cain. It is very much nuts-and-bolts material—ending in a pitch for a book of his own—rather than his usual philosophical pontifications. To his observation quoted above I’d like to add the following: If I am able to find just one good idea in a book which I can implement, then I get very excited.

For example, one can read many books and come away with new ideas. (Man’s Search for Meaning, or Leaves of Grass, spring to mind as examples.) But the vast majority of books do not contain actionable things that can be implemented to make a difference in your life. An idea like, “be the change you want to see in the world,” is sublime. But how—be specific in your thinking here—do I do that? There are many examples: “Practice gratitude.” How, exactly? And compare that to the same idea, in actionable form: “Begin each day by writing down three things for which you are grateful.”

I’m not trying to denigrate great ideas. I’m trying to explain my sheer delight when I do find a great idea which is readily attemptable. Many of those actionable ideas still fall by the wayside, but a few of them have really stuck and served me well.

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Embracing all the moments

I’m starting to see the unifying principle behind all the philosophies that really appeal to me (e.g. Buddhism, Stoicism, Arnold Schwarzenegger). They view all of life’s moments as having equal value, at least where it counts, and what counts is your skill in embracing the moments that make up your life.

It’s a genius idea, possibly the smartest thing human beings ever came up with. Embracing all moments as a rule transforms every day into precisely what you’re looking for: an interesting variety of experiences, every one of which offers you what you value, regardless of what happens in particular.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/05/when-all-moments-have-equal-value/

In addition to the sources listed by Cain, I’d add Jerzey Gregorek.

To me, this is all about mindfulness. Practicing being aware of each moment is a terrific way to swim in the joy of life. All the struggle and worry comes from my setting expectations—reasonable or otherwise makes no difference—which are always frustrated by the vast complexity of reality.

I’m fond of the Chinese proverb: “If things are going badly, relax, they won’t last. If things are going well, relax, they won’t last.” It’s of course super-helpful to be reminded to relax. But it’s far more helpful to be reminded that there’s really no difference between the “going badly” and “going well” parts, which brings me again to Cain’s point.

Choose what at first appears to be the harder path, because it is—as you soon discover—actually the easier path.

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The balance of no-balance

There was no sense of trying to balance my desire for doing good and useful things with my desire for comfort and pleasure. I let the good and useful always outrank the pleasurable and comfortable. Operating this way entailed a fair amount of physical discomfort, but it felt far more emotionally comfortable than trying to manage two competing sets of values.

And here’s the interesting part: pleasure and comfort arose constantly anyway. I enjoyed them when they did, with no sense of tradeoff or guilt. However, I didn’t do anything just because it was pleasurable or comfortable, and ironically that made for a much more pleasant and comfortable existence.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/04/the-ancient-art-of-using-time-well/

I have a few reminders that are variations of the idea that I cause all the problems I experience. The more I let that idea seep in, the better things seem to get. It takes energy to balance; balancing priorities, balancing goals, balancing time-frames of planning, balancing rationalization versus guilt, balancing energy levels, balancing responsibilities, balancing gratification versus delay, …

Try this: find something to balance on. Something pretty easy. A 2×4 laid on its wide side, or stood on it’s narrow edge. A curb. A railing if you dare. Get a stopwatch and balance (your toes/heel go along the thing you’re on, not perched like a bird) for 30 minutes. No music, no walking forward or backward, no doing anything else. Shift to the other foot when one side is tired. If you fall off, don’t chide yourself. Simple get back on. Practice being kind to yourself as you do this.

Balancing takes tremendous energy.

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How to save the world

As we leave childhood, we unwittingly dial down our imagination and our ambition, because an ancient and out-of-touch part of our minds tells us they are dangerous. Creativity suffers, and so do our prospects for personal greatness and happiness. […] The purpose of this book is to illustrate this great discrepancy — between what is normal and what is possible — and give you some stepping stones to begin crossing the rift.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/on-becoming-an-individual-or-how-to-save-the-world/

Ignore me. Click the link.

…you’re still here, why? Seriously the entire point of this post is simply so I can link to Cain’s post, and the sublime 46 page PDF attached to it.

Go. Go now!

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slip:8i.

The great ability

Depending on how willing a person is to take this experiment seriously, they will at some point discover why human beings have made such a big deal of the Great Ability. To the degree you can meet experience exactly as it is, without resentment, it ceases to cause you suffering and drive your behavior.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2020/09/the-inner-superpower-that-makes-us-human/

Unless you live under a rock—or “lived” under a rock since you’re not now under a rock; Welcome to the Internet! :)

Unless you live under a rock you’ve heard about “mindfulness practice” and “meditation” and probably “Metta” and maybe “one-point” and “zen” for sure. Cain hits it right out of the part, without even swinging, just by setting it out clearly. Every single time I realize I’m not currently exercising the great ability, I immediately pull myself back to it.

Now if only I could realize it more frequently.

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Tracking without judging

What has worked better is tracking behavior without particularly striving to change it. Rather than drawing a “good enough” line and striving to meet it, you commit only to tracking the relevant numbers -– dollars spent, calories consumed, miles walked, pages read. What you discover is that simply knowing this data changes what you want to do, so that you’re not constantly fighting with yourself. You don’t need to depend on winning endless should/shouldn’t battles in order to change.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2020/08/the-myth-of-grit-and-determination/

I believe this is true with one important caveat: The value you are tracking must be close to the actions. Allow me to explain…

If you track your weight, this will have little effect: When I pick up a cupcake, the scale is nowhere near—if I could think, “don’t eat the cupcake because weight loss,” then I wouldn’t be tracking my weight trying to affect my weight loss. But, “if I read for a few minutes now I can then mark off—right now—that I did some reading today. So, tracking, “ate more veggies,” works… or, “did something active,”…

Anyway, that’s been my experience. ymmv :)

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Intention

Here’s my uneducated hypothesis: the childhood politics of trying can leave adults with the habit of sometimes engaging in tasks without a real intention to complete them.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2020/07/dont-try-intend/

My attention has been drawn to “intention.” I’ve now read and heard, from several sources I consider fonts of great information, that intention is the key to having your efforts yield what you actually want. I’ve started trying to figure out what actually is my intention in conversations, blog posts (meta!) emails, coaching, etc.. I’m definitely onboard the intention bandwagon.

There’s a fine hair to split—in my opinion—regarding what exactly does setting, (and then remembering and staying true to,) one’s intention accomplish? Let that sink in for a second. When we talk about intention, we’re talking about something I decide in my mind before I take action. What exactly is that historical decision supposed to do? I don’t think it creates motivation, nor does it sustain motivation I get from somewhere else.

I think it is simply a compass. Once I’m neck-deep in the swamp of doing the thing and the alligators are sliding from the banks into the glassy water… it gets hard to remember why I was draining the swamp. (Feel free to craft your own metaphor if you don’t like my alligator-laden negativi-tea.) A glance at my compass— A glance at my intention instantly reminds me: Alligators be damned, I was intending to … and by George I shall so endeavor!

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Fine tuned indeed

It seems almost paranormal, but I think it’s just more of nature’s evolutionary fine-tuning. Being such social mammals, it would make sense for us to have an uncanny sensitivity for detecting, another person’s sentiments toward us, even when they’re not advertising them.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2020/05/how-to-get-rich-in-the-kindness-economy/

In recent years I’ve elevated my perception of the subtleties of interpersonal communication—everything beyond the spoken word—from one of those, “I don’t know how I do that,” skills to be something I explicitly practice and notice in others. This is one of the things which makes great actors and actresses: Their ability to produce all the subtleties makes them feel very real to the majority of people who do not detect subtleties consciously. (They of course feel very real to me too. I’m saying I now better understand why and what cues are causing me to feel that way.) This is a super-power. Once you are reasonably competent at detecting what is affecting you, you can then use that information intentionally.

There’s been an enormous amount of discussion recently about facial expression, masks, posture, and intention. In effect, a huge number of people are getting a crash master-course in using and detecting all this subtlety.

I think that bodes well for all of us.

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Nameless joys

That particular experience—abundant warmth and dryness with dampness at the fringes, and a well-earned touch of fatigue—is exactly the same feeling I had as a kid every time I came in from playing in the snow. It still summons images of snowball fights, toboggan rides, and the ribbon of exposed grass you make when you roll up a snowman-ball.

~ David Cain from https://www.raptitude.com/2019/10/a-million-nameless-joys-await/

Anybody else feel like looking back at all the ones I can think of seems almost inappropriately decadent? The more I thought about it, the more I came up with, until I started to think, “maybe I should become monastic for at least a short while, since I seem to have been gorging myself on joy.”

haha no

More seriously, his idea of the intersection—a Venn diagram as he put it—of place, time, and culture leading to unique moments of joy, is a succinct description of what I love about traveling; I’m not trying to escape from “here,” but rather I’m trying to see what’s outside my normally tiny Venn diagram.

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I am the crowd

This moment of forgetting always begins with a thought that you’re somehow different, morally speaking, than the rest of the crowd. That guy didn’t signal when he changed lanes. I always signal. That car could’ve made the light—I would’ve been quicker. I am always very efficient with overhead bin space.

~ David Cain, from http://www.raptitude.com/2017/12/the-crowd/

It’s been a long time since I‘ve gotten upset about crowds (of any sort.) But there was a time when stuck in traffic, or held up by a crowd, etc. really pushed my buttons.

Now I just feel sympathy for everyone who is in the crowd, (as I am as well,) but who doesn’t yet realize it.

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