It’s impossible to please everyone. The question is whether you’re disappointing the right people.~ Adam Grant
It’s impossible to please everyone. The question is whether you’re disappointing the right people.~ Adam Grant
The happiness of most people is not ruined by great catastrophes or fatal errors, but by the repetition of slowly destructive little things.~ Ernest Dimnet
Richard Hamming was a mathematician who worked at Bell Labs during the 1940s-1970s. He had a habit of sitting down with scientists in other fields and asking them “What are the important problems of your field?” After they explained their field’s most important open problem, he would ask them: why aren’t you working on that?~ “CFAR!Duncan” from, https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/RafYaSYQ2uLmYgwhk/appendix-hamming-questions
Ouch! I wonder if Hamming got punched in the face a lot? That’s a link to an appendix that doesn’t have an attributed person as the author. But if you can see past all that, it’s a series of eight prompts which really cut through my bullshit. “Why am I not working on that?” …well, actually, I am trying to work on that. Unfortunately, I’m also dividing my efforts in too many other directions simultaneously.
Maybe that’s just me though?
I’m not trying to sound like Mr. Smiley Positive Guy. That guy ignores the hard truth. That guy thinks a positive attitude will solve problems. It won’t. But neither will dwelling on the problem. No. Accept reality, but focus on the solution. Take that issue, take that setback, take that problem, and turn it into something good. Go forward. And, if you’re part of a team, that attitude will spread throughout.~ Jocko Willink
When we have a bit of time to relax, we tend to spend time on activities that provide us with a quick dopamine hit. This is especially the case when we spend our downtime in the digital world. The key to relaxation is to invest in strategies that make your mind less stimulated. Usually this means spending more time in the analog world.~ Chris Bailey from, https://chrisbailey.com/the-key-to-relaxation-how-to-relax/
That analog world can be outside moving or inside doing some yoga, sipping coffee, reading, or spending time with people physically present. The more time I can spend in the analog world, the better my life is.
I have a lot of hard-learned knowledge around what works for me in the morning, and I urge you to experiment to find out what works for you. For years I’ve been using the word “surfacing” to refer to that moment when I transition from simply being myself, to engaging with the world through technology. Surfacing is a submarine reference; Like a submarine, at some point each morning—sometimes after Noon—I sneak up to periscope depth and without making a ripple on the surface I peek to see what in the world might be close at hand. I know that once I break the surface, my life that day changes. One moment, I’m out of sight being self-directed (not necessarily selfish, but rather directing myself) and the next moment there’s an endless world vying for my attention.
My point is not that there’s something wrong with the world. (There is, but that’s not my point.) My point is that the world is simply present. It is ever-present. It’s not the world’s responsibility to not bother me. It is my responsibility to choose. I must choose when to engage and when to be the void. I must choose how to be present for those to whom I am beholden, and I must choose to not waste my energies on everything else. Because there is literally an infinite amount of everything else and chasing that is a fool’s errand.
Marty is a death camp survivor. He’s got the tattoo. He never speaks about the experience directly (I only know through my friend Pablo, who originally introduced me to Marty) but he’ll make remarks from time to time whose gist is, “Appreciate life. Never complain. Work hard and do your best.”
Marty has one other mantra: “Talent is bullshit.”~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2022/07/talent-is-b-s/
It’s worth reading simply because Pressfield wrote it; He doesn’t write that much on his blog and so I make time to read it all. Marty (who is a fictionalized version of a real person Pressfield knew) consuls a tidy, four points. I was gut-punched to realize that while I excel at the last two, “Work hard and do your best,” and I suck at the first two, “Appreciate life. Never complain.” The complaining bit I have made reasonable progress on. These days I don’t often complain, and when I do complain I am able to see it’s ridiculous indignation at its core. But that first one, “Appreciate life,”… yikes! I seriously suck at that.
I get the impression, reading about his method, that what he’s doing with all the “awareness” and “fine focus” activities is pre-loading information into his unconscious mind so that, at the critical moment, he can respond automatically.
It is not possible to “decide” what to do about a ball coming at you at 90mph. What you can do is make sure your mind is pump-primed with all the available context cues, with the highest signal to noise possible, and then act.~ Matt Webb from, https://interconnected.org/home/2022/07/01/focus
I’ll admit that I wound up following Webb’s links about Cricket (the game, not Jiminy.) It’s worth the click just for that. All the while as I was reading Webb’s article, I was thinking this feels like an intentional application of our brain’s power of salience detection; “hacking our salience power” I would say. Our brains only work by ignoring everything—except for a small rounding error’s worth—that our senses detect. Sometimes, a thing or two appear to be salient, and they rise to level of our conscious awareness. Noticing when that happens, and sharing what you’ve noticed, is one way to ask great questions.
Worrying is impossible without attachment. No one worries about the weather on Saturn, because no one is counting on the weather to be a certain way. The time we spend worrying is actually time we’re spending trying to control something that is out of our control. Time invested in something that is within our control is called work. That’s where our most productive focus lies.~ Seth Godin
Our “surface area of concern”—the number of events we pay attention to on a regular basis—has expanded alongside technology. This is not an inherently negative thing, but becomes one when it adds chronic stress, leads us to burnout, and affects our mental health.~ Chris Bailey from, https://alifeofproductivity.com/your-surface-area-of-concern/
This is a precise and powerful way to describe something which lies at the root of many other phrases: Information overload, multi-tasking (as a way to fail), and spreading our attention too thin (as another way to fail), are just three examples. I’ve long since decided that I do not need to have an opinion on most things, and that frees me from feeling I need to notice as many things as possible.
For many years—but explicitly I have 3 years of journal entries where this is glaring—I’ve lamented wanting to spend more time on some specific things. And yet my days slip past doing other things. I’m not talking about things which get planned—a day at the beach, dinner at someone’s house, or weekend work in the yard. No, I’m talking about that, “where the hell did today go?” stuff. If you like visuals: The glass jar that I filled slowly all day with the sand of small things, only to realize at day’s end that there’s no way to put these larger rocks in. Ever. Because every tomorrow is like today. Dammit.
About a week ago I decided—memento mori, ya’ know—it’s time to flip that shit over. For several years now, I’ve been starting with pretty consistent morning routine. After that, I have four things that I want to do, and I’ve been doing those next. Sometimes that means I don’t touch anything else—not my phone, not my email, not other people, not bills, not even voicemail from roofers—until 4 in the afternoon. It sounds crazy, I know. Guess what? Every day I look at those four things and go: Shazam! Progress! …and it turns out that I then go on to pour in a ton of sand too—return that call [from yesterday], mow the lawn, run an errand, interact with people, etc..
The world expects that its requests will be accepted. That assignments, lunch dates, new projects, and even favors will get a yes. […] It’s just a small ask, the person thinks. Responding or reacting to incoming asks becomes the narration of your days, instead of the generous work of making your own contribution.~ Seth Godin
When we try to do it all and have it all, we find ourselves making trade-offs at the margins that we would never take on as our intentional strategy. When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people—our bosses, our colleagues, our clients, and even our families—will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.~ Greg McKeown
In the last year, I’ve been regularly returning to my personal mission. It’s a blazing beacon on the horizon. Every time I am aware that I should make a choice, I can honestly say this choice right here is in service of my mission. (The corollary of course is that those times when I’m not aware that I’m making a choice, my mission doesn’t help me at all.)
And I do literally mean all the things are in service of my mission. My choices about my commitments to people, family responsibilities, taxes, friendships, volunteer work, rest, relaxation, food, and many more things are all intentional choices now made in service of my mission. All those things, which others might say seem to be off-mission, are in fact making me a functioning, decent person who is then able to pursue a mission. There’s a whole suite of things that people incorrectly talk about as “home” life, (or “personal” life, or sometimes just “life”,) which they need to balance against “work” life. No. No no. No no no. I tried splitting my universe into work and life and that’s simply not reality.
There’s only “life” time. Stare unflinching at those choices that seem to be on the margins, for they too are just as much important choices about your life.
When we try to do it all and have it all, we find ourselves making trade-offs at the margins that we would never take on as our intentional strategy. When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people—our bosses, our colleagues, our clients, and even our families—will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.
I think we often get distracted by, well, life, or social media, or whatever. At the end of the day, we can see that we haven’t really moved the needle on what we truly care about. Women out there in particular know this is true. How do you keep the main thing the main thing?
The practice is simply this: pause to consider what you’d like to focus on.
I’m great at focusing, but am weaker at intentionally choosing what I’m focusing on. I’ve no idea when I realized I was weaker at the latter point. While it’s clear I have a lot of habits and behaviors which work well to help me deal with the weakness, I cannot recall if those developed simply by trial and error.
One habit which works well to avoid disaster is dump it out of my brain into an outline. An emergency spillway prevents complete failure of a dam, but if water ever goes over the emergency spillway, something is terribly wrong. That’s me and brain-dump outlining. I flip my 40-minute sand timer and start a fresh outline, saving it to my computer desktop. (Aside: There is never anything on my computer desktop.) As I’m outlining, panic often nips at my heels. Eventually, I get most everything down. I find long strings of knock-down-doable domino tasks. And I usually find at least one Big Question buried in there.
And then I close the document. It’s cathartic. It’s as if, having written it down, it’s in some sense done.
Problem identification is always a sound investment of time, money, and energy. It feels uncomfortable to spend time and resources trying to figure out exactly what the problem is—we want to jump to fixing way too fast. Most of use are plagued with action bias and really struggle to stay in problem identification. I’ve found that getting clear about what’s wrong and why it’s a problem is the best investment you can make at home or work.
This is super important. Everybody’s impatient at a macro [level], and just so patient at a micro [level], wasting your days worrying about years. I’m not worried about my years, because I’m squeezing [everything] out of my seconds, let alone my days. It’s going to work out.
Concentrate every minute … on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can—if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.
We are always falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.
The truth is that there is no relationship between importance and urgency. Those are two attributes entirely separate from one another. So I’ve taken steps to disabuse myself.
I love the word disabusing. It makes it so clear: I am the source of my problems. Most of the urgency comes from my own false sense of urgency. Sure, some things are urgent—hey, dial 911. But I really wish I had learned this lesson long long ago.
One might even say that I have been abusing myself for quiet some time.
I’m not certain, but this probably will only make sense if you are a certain age, and grew up in a house with a garage. It doesn’t need to have been “dad’s garage,” nor a space dedicated to fixing things, nor even sheltered an automobile. No, it only matters that you grew up in a house with a garage.
There’s magic in having an indoor space with a concrete floor. A floor that clearly has taken a beating, and is ready for more abuse. A space with a slightly different sort of door dividing it from the soft and people-oriented rest of the house. A space where things were maybe a little less organized, but definitely were more out in plain sight. Maybe there was some sort of workbench? Maybe some tools. Maybe a lot of tools? Regardless, pretty much all the “where should we put this?” stuff wound up in the garage. Painting something? Garage. Taking something part? Not on the carpet! …in the garage. Fixing your bike? New wheels on your skate board? You get the idea. You either know what I’m talking about, or you don’t.
Did you do, whatever you did, with the garage door open, or closed? Weather permitting, throwing open that garage door was an invitation to the world—but hopefully, only the nice neighbors—to saunter up and at least watch. Turns out, that’s literally “showing your work.” A huge part of what I’m doing these days is working where I can be seen. There’s collateral recognition of course, but mostly it’s just scratching an itch to toss things on a workbench and throw open the ‘ol garage door.
If you know what I’m talking about, you can even hear that door opening.