What to do with twenty minutes

I recently realized I’ve wasted 23 years. Way back in 1990 a good friend gave me a CD of MCMXC A.D. by Enigma. It was mind bending, and remains so; to this day, I use it when I really need to zone out and not quite sleep, but rest. It’s an album which I have never once listened to a single track separately. I’ve only ever started at the front and gone straight through.

The other day, I thought: I should see what else Enigma (the brain child of Michael Cretu) may have done since 1990. Followed by my ordering all of the other seven albums. I buy the CDs used, and that means they tend to trickle to my doorstop over a few weeks. Oh. I’ve turned into a lunatic, listening to music far too loud in the house. I’ve recently done this with other artists and suddenly I’m up to my eyeballs in great (in my opinion) music.

So, why 23 years wasted? The Screen Behind the Mirror was released in 2000. I’ve therefore wasted 23 years worth of opportunities to play it.

Basically I had just aged myself by twenty minutes. Two virtual cigarettes, and not even a fading buzz to show for it. I learned nothing, gained nothing, made no friends, impacted the world not at all, did not improve my mood or my capacity to do anything useful. It was marginally enjoyable on some reptile-brain level, sure, but its ultimate result was only to bring me nearer to death. Using my phone like that was pure loss of life — like smoking, except without the benefits.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2023/02/most-phone-use-is-a-tragic-loss-of-life/

I’ve no idea if you like Enigma. (You can thank me later if you just discovered Enigma and do like it.) But there simply must be some music that you do like! …find which music it is, buy a copy of it in whatever medium you prefer, and spend that twenty minutes—and the next 23 years, if you’re lucky—leaning into that stuff.


What came before

I have several projects where there’s no end-game. (I’d argue all of my passion projects have no end-game.) The process of doing the creative work is the entire point. Do the thing, because doing the thing is some combination of “I enjoy it”, “I can rationalize the necessary parts I don’t enjoy” and “it’s making the world a better place.”

So you start. You do these trivial first actions, because they’re so stupidly easy, and then you’re working on the task. You’re inside the compound. You’re no longer trying to “get started.” Most of the resistance is gone, it’s clear enough what to do next, and it feels good to continue.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2023/01/the-right-now-list/

Rest. Reflect. Recalibrate. …was a wonder-filled takeaway from Trust Yourself by Melody Wilding. There was a little diagram of those three in a circle: Rest pointing to Reflect pointing to Recalibrate pointing to Rest. I am forever and ever imagining my projects as some sort of steady-state of affairs. Start the thing and then “just” do the thing. Forever. Forever? No. “What came before?” is, for me, the wrong question. How am I honestly feeling about whatever-it-is right now? That’s right. That just is. That’s how I am today. Okay, what comes next? Do I need to rest, reflect, or recalibrate?



I did not see that coming

I struggle a lot with processes. I struggle with not implementing all of the processes I imagine. I struggle with gauging if some process will have the desired outcome. I struggle with deciding if I’m fascinated with the process, with the outcome, or simply with novelty in itself. I struggle with knowing when to abandon a process; for something I do which had clear benefits in the past, but isn’t moving me forward right now, how long do I stick with that?

Humans have invented all sorts of practices like this, and their purpose is simply to put your mind somewhere outside of your normal, habitual ways of seeing, and discover what you come back with.

Nobody knows quite what insights and paradigm shifts will be produced by doing these practices, which is exactly why you do them.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/12/you-need-to-see-things-differently-to-do-things-differently/

Over the years I’ve come to terms with my struggles. That’s just the way it is (for me.) Year by year I find I’m increasingly okay with tossing stuff (figuratively and literally.) “Is this working?” seems too dumb to be useful, and yet it cuts as well as Occam’s Razor. Today, I’m downright comfortable with leaving many ideas and opportunities unexplored. “Life moves pretty fast.


Chatter and peace

Of late there’s been a marked reduction in the ‘ol mental chatter. I don’t know from where the chatter originates. Sometimes I notice there is chatter; sometimes I notice there is not. When there is chatter, I find it’s usually impossible to stop it in the moment, or even with hours of concerted effort.

If you’re ever able to step back from your own mental chatter, and listen to it with some critical distance, perhaps after a long meditation, or in one of those tired but insightful moments near the end of the day, you might find it indeed exhibits many of the characteristics of an extremely boring and self-absorbed person. It’s not that you yourself are this way — surely you don’t say everything that comes to mind. But the mind does.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/11/how-to-stop-thinking-too-much/

The only thing that works for me, to keep the chatter at bay, is to bite off far less than I think I can chew. Then spit half of it out the moment I realize I didn’t actually want it in the first place. My chatter is [I think?] always about something (or some things) specific. The only way to stop the chatter is to realize the thing is not worth doing, or to just do it. With finite time and energy there’s a limit to the “just do it” solution. In recent months I’ve been spending huge amounts of time talking myself into realizing many things are not worth doing. This too is a Sisyphean task, but I think it’s been working— at least if I judge by my perception of recent chatter.


Tasks, broken

Just like with a real egg, you only have to damage the task’s exterior a little bit in order to transform it, to make it ready for step two, and it doesn’t particularly matter where on its surface you do that. As soon as the egg is cracked, it becomes a different object — one that tells you what to do with it.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/08/how-to-get-started-when-you-just-cant-get-started/

Usually, I begin a task by envisioning what “done” looks like. It’s critical that I sit with that vision of done and be certain I want it in my life. I cannot do the majority of things I imagine tackling. Too often, my vision of done actually has me in a worse place: Becoming the sad maintainer of some complicated system is a common side effect of my imaginings.

If I’m buying into the vision though, there’s nothing like feeling you’ve taken a big bite out of the task. When working with others, I used to spend too much effort selling the vision. Which then leads to a lot of explanation of how we’ll get there. It turns out that if I’m supposed to be helping (or *gasp* leading) it’s better to get everyone involved doing. Doing something. Anything. Suddenly, it’s all hands on deck and we’re making light work out of the task. It’s much easier to course correct once we’re moving.


More present

A million years from now, when alien anthropologists begin gathering evidence about what humans were like, they will definitely want to dig up the Self-help and Spiritual/Religion sections of our bookstores and libraries. There they will find direct evidence of what we yearned for and struggled with.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/07/trying-to-be-more-present-isnt-enough/

For some reason ( <- sarcasm alert ) my mind went directly from my title, to More cowbell. Which I’m linking to, on the off-chance you’ve not seen it. But to Cain’s topic I’ll simply add that it’s really (really REALLY) clear to me that I am the source of all my stress, anxiety, and problems. Certainly, there are injuries and trauma in my past—oh the stories I’ll not tell. Every time I turn and face the strange (hat tip David Bowie, rest in piece) I find it’s all smoke and mirrors. Every. Single. Time that I stop, and ask myself: What exactly is the thing that I’m anxious about, wigged-out about, pissed-off about, and—yes this too is a problem—excited about… Be clear, Craig. Use “i” language. Then I simply do it, or I delete it from my life. Bliss. Calm presence. The sun comes out and my mouth makes that strange shape y’all call a “smile.”



This practice is one form of what Shinzen Young would call “Noting Gone.” (He uses gone as a noun here, a certain kind of sensation, rather than an adjective.) What you’re noting is the moment where a thing goes from being here in your awareness to being gone from it, and the feeling of that moment. It doesn’t matter what the thing is –- a fish, an LED light, a musical note, a shape formed by drooping power lines. It also doesn’t matter how it vanishes — by slipping beneath the surface, by turning off, by going silent, by exiting your field of vision. In all cases the this gone quality has the same feel. It is the unmistakable, mildly surreal sensation of a thing having vanished.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/06/the-vanishing-point/

This piece is a real splinter in my mind. I feel certain I’ve seen the “noting gone” concept before… but I can’t definitely find it. Perhaps I’m recalling that I read this very article, 6 months ago, AND marked it for reading later. So now I’m actually reading it a second time . . . It is definitely an unmistakable, mildly surreal sensation of a thing having vanished.

Also, in my quest to dig out the splinter, I searched for “gone” and got an interesting in itself set of posts.


Looking at new things

The third reason is that looking at new things, even if they’re just new streetcorners or deer trails, helps me recover a certain uncomplicated way of looking at things that used to be automatic when I was a kid.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/05/how-to-get-the-magic-back/

Just as I read this, it occurred to me that a big part of the “magic” of my experience with Art du Déplacement (aka parkour) came from the effect that Cain is describing. I’ve always felt that when I decide to “just go out” and try to train, there was always some component of magic missing. By myself, it always felt simply as if I was slogging away at “exercise.” When I’m invited by others to join them, quite often somewhere I’ve not previously been, there’s a lot of “looking at new things” that happens automatically. Randonautica (click through to Cain’s article) is clearly one way to force that novelty upon oneself.


A mythology around food

Reactions so far have been a combination of interest and concern. The prevailing belief does seem to be that humans require three meals every single day, and you deviate from this number at your peril – missing lunch or breakfast is survivable but worrisome, eating only dinner is masochistic, and eating nothing for a day is a sure sign of disordered eating or some other form of mental illness.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/04/the-myth-of-three-meals-a-day/

Most of the reactions I get are concern. I’ve zero interest however in what others think of how I eat. I’m still over-weight because I binge eat; I binge eat as a form of stress relief, and I’m okay with that. (It’s vastly better than other forms of stress relief which I am happy to remain free of.)

The really interesting affect of all my fasting is that it’s completely changed how I think about others’ eating. For a long time I would think judgmentally about others’ eating, and sometimes I’d even make the egregious error of voicing my opinions. But my fasting has taught me how annoying (and patently incorrect if I’m being honest) others’ opinions are about eating—and then “physician heal thy self!” I turned that into self-criticism about my thoughts regarding others’ eating. Not only do I no longer voice my opinions, I rarely even have thoughts about others’ eating habits. I didn’t simply learn to stop having an opinion, but I stopped thinking I know better.



Later, when the Doritos were reduced to crumbly fragments barely worth fishing out of the bag, I reflected on what had gone wrong, and remembered something I discovered years ago about resolutions but forget constantly.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/03/you-dont-need-a-promise-you-need-a-plan/

The other day, I finished off the remaining more–than–half of a can of Cool-Whip. To be clear: I mean that I ate it directly. It’s not terrible as far as things go. But it’s absolutely not the sort of “food” that I want to eat. It definitely doesn’t move me towards my goals. I knew I was going to do it, weeks ago when the can appeared in my refrigerator to be used with some dessert or other. I knew I was going to do it when the can went back in the fridge after dessert. Sure, it took a couple of weeks, but then after an entire day of being stressed out, things played out just as I knew they would. Cain has a plan. I should probably get a plan before the next can of Cool-Whip is left like a lamb for slaughter.



What we miss about our own beloved Good Old Days isn’t so much the material things they remind us of—wholesome 1980s sitcoms, or musty thrift-store sweaters—it’s the particular feelings those days gave us, feelings which are now impossible to experience.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/03/the-good-old-days-are-happening-now/

Cain rightly goes on to point out, that while we can’t feel those exact feelings again, there’s no reason we can’t—right this very instant—enjoy These Good Days. Ten years from now—presuming, of course—I can look back and think with a chuckle: Remember when I spent a couple years going really deep experimenting with knowledge systems. That was a fun exploration.


This I hope for you

This simplicity was disorienting in a way. Many times a day I would finish whatever activity I was doing, and realize there was nothing to do but consciously choose another activity and then do that. This is how I made my first bombshell discovery: I take out my phone every time I finish doing basically anything, knowing there will be new emails or mentions or some other dopaminergic prize to collect. I have been inserting an open-ended period of pointless dithering after every intentional task.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/02/what-i-learned-during-my-three-days-offline/

It is still uncommon for me to be without my phone. I have to admit that sometimes I carry it simply because I have a flat pince-nez stuck to the back of my phone. Recently it’s dawned on me that I have another, identical pair in a tiny flat case not stuck to my phone and I sometimes just carry those and not my phone. Regardless, you’ll never see me whip out my phone—unless we have a question, what’s the weather, where’s the nearest…, and so on. It’s a tool I sometimes use, like shoes.


The Internet

Ultimately, the goal is not to stop using the internet, or even minimize its use, but to put it back into a box in the basement where it belongs. The first step is to discover what I’m up against. If I find a way to make the internet small again, I’ll write a book about it so others can do it too.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/02/how-to-make-the-internet-small-again/

I’ve been beating this drum for years, (eg, here’s a search for “use you”.) I don’t want to put the Internet literally into a box and then stuff it in the basement. (Even setting aside that I don’t have a basement.) The Internet is nothing more than a tool. The Internet, but also TV, food, politics, religion, music, your car(s?), books, or even hoarding [sometimes misspelled “collecting”] things… one can have a dysfunctional relationship with anything. (Truth in blogging: My addiction is TV and snacking.)

Don’t think my little paragraphs here are meant to diminish what Cain wrote. Go read that, it’s better than what I’ve written here. Rather, my point is simply that we each need to figure out—for each of those things I listed above, and every other thing—are we using it, or are we letting it use us.


The second payment

But then, in order to make use of the thing, you must also pay a second price. This is the effort and initiative required to gain its benefits, and it can be much higher than the first price.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/01/everything-must-be-paid-for-twice/

This is such a clear and important point! I’ve never seen it put in just this way, but it will be forever how I talk about the true costs of things, experiences and opportunities. There’s what feels like a variation of Occam’s Razor here too: Even if you understand the second price, don’t buy things, (through payment of money, time, or allocation of storage space,) unless you are also ready and able to make the second payments. If not, leave those opportunities for someone else.


How to be productive

For me the pattern is now perfectly clear: the later I come at the task, the more time I’ll spend dancing around it before beginning in earnest. If I can make contact at an earlier hour, the urge to dance away from it is diminished, because I only have so many dance moves, and I’ll run out long before lunchtime.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/12/9-things-i-learned-about-productivity-this-year/

About once per year I trot out a, HOLY CRAP!

This entire article is jammed full of insights, only one of which did I quote above. I’d say that I have learned those same things. But absolutely I have not learned them in a single year. Where’s my time machine? I need to get this to my 16-year-old self.


A tiny commitment

To suddenly “go mindful” and try to be present all the time is about as easy as running a marathon when you’ve never even run around the block. Since most of us are not present the vast majority of the time, occasional stabs at “being in the moment” are quickly overrun by the colossal momentum of a lifetime of being lost in thought.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2010/03/how-to-make-mindfulness-a-habit-with-only-a-tiny-commitment/

There’s much worth reading on David Cain’s Raptitude website. For example, his How to walk across a parking lot, is one of the greatest things I’ve ever read. But the piece I’ve quoted from above stands out as a terrific “how to…” for working on mindfulness.

I’ve been actively working on first self-awareness, then self-assesment and finally mindfulness, for many years. (And writing about my journey as I’ve done so.) But mindfulness is still something that comes and goes for me.


Reaching the end isn’t the point

Much better is to rebuild the skill entirely with a different approach, one that directly addresses your perennial snags. Instead of slowly getting better at your familiar, limited way, you embrace the awkwardness of learning an unfamiliar but stronger method, as though you’ve never done the thing before at all.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/10/how-to-level-up-instead-of-plugging-away/

In the article Cain mentions spending as much as 10 minutes in reading one page as part of his larger anecdote from which he’s drawing this lesson. Sometimes it takes me a long time to find enough tranquility in my mind just to feel ready to read. I always have so many thing on the to-do and should-do lists. By the time I get enough of the urgent items beat back into the shadows, often, another days has passed with too little reading. I should do something about that…


This is the last time

There was, or will be, a last time for everything you do, from climbing a tree to changing a diaper, and living with a practiced awareness of that fact can make even the most routine day feel like it’s bursting with blessings. Of all the lasting takeaways from my periodic dives into Stoicism, this is the one that has enhanced my life the most.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/09/the-last-time-always-happens-now/

This is by far the most important thing I’ve learned in my several decades. I’ve written about this previously, try my “perspective” tag for some tastes, but this item bears endless repeating. Do it as if it is the last time. Think of it, in the moment, as if it is the last time. And for a bonus multiplier—but don’t do this too often or you get disappointed too—think about that thing you’re about to do, the same way. Tomorrow, when I ____ , that will be the last time I get to _____ .


Travel lightly

What if, instead, we could be flexible and travel through life lightly, flowing with changes?

~ David Cain from, https://zenhabits.net/flexible-travel/

You should interpret that sentence both in the physically traveling without too much physical stuff, and in the sense of traveling without too much mental baggage.

Traveling lightly—both without physical stuff and without mental baggage—will serve you well. Over the years, I’ve tried to explain my thinking around these points via blog posts: One series on physical practicalities and tips is, Travel Gear. And, another series about the mindset of traveling is called, Parkour Travel.


Where to start

I had a nice dinner conversation the other day wherein someone asked me to send them more information about Stoicism. I went looking for the perfect blog post to share, and couldn’t find one. So this is now it. ;)

There’s like a thousand things I could share. Don’t get snowed under by this stuff; Don’t try to read/do all of this…

The book I suggest starting with is The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday. This is a good book to just pick up each morning, spend 2 minutes reading, and move on.

If you want to read something which specifically explains Stoicism, I recommend A Guide to the Good Life: The ancient art of Stoic joy by W Irvine. This is an easy read that covers what the ancient Stoics wrote, and how their philosophy can be adapted to modern times.

There’s a good podcast interview with Irvine on a podcast called Philosophy Bites. It’s short episodes (~half hour) where the host and a guest talk about one topic in Philosophy. (There are ~500 episodes.) Irvine’s episode is a great introduction to what is Stoicism.


If you want to read blog posts, my site has a tag for Stoicism. The posts are going to be widely varied, and have lots of links to other things, (as well as all my posts being tagged to lead to other things within my blog.)

You can also dive into some people who sometimes write explicitly about Stoicism but whose work is just generally good to read. Here are links to the corresponding tags on my web site. You can skim/scroll/page through my blog posts to find an interesting place to jump into these other spaces…

David Cain writes a web site, Raptitude.

Leo Babauta writes a web site, Zen Habits.