Or soon every day will have gone by

… and soon the day has gone by and we wonder what we did with the day.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/interstitial/

I marked this for “read later” back in December 2021, and am just getting around to reading it. I know that many—most? all?—of the amazing coincidences I find in my life arise from my innate, monkey-brain drive to see patterns and causation where none actually exists. I don’t care. It’s a nice coincidence that I’ve just gotten around to reading this, while in the past couple of weeks I’ve been simplifying and focusing on a small number of things that I want to be working on.

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Surface area of concern

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..

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Deliberate practice

Deliberate practice is the key to expert performance in writing, teaching, sports, programming, music, medicine, therapy, chess, business, and more. But there’s more to it than 10,000 hours. Read to learn how to accelerate learning, overcome…

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/deliberate-practice-guide/

I was dubious at their title, but this article—a tiny book actually—is exquisite. With an estimated reading time of 43 minutes, there’s a lot in there. For example, it mentions…

There is a place, right on the edge of your ability, where you learn best and fastest. It’s called the sweet spot.…The underlying pattern is the same: Seek out ways to stretch yourself. Play on the edges of your competence. As Albert Einstein said, “One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.”

The key word is ‘barely.’

~ Daniel Coyle

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Has anyone read the book, The Little Book of Talent, by Daniel Coyle?

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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.

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Entering this moment

To be in any kind of balance state, especially if it’s new is incredibly valuable to bring you into this moment, because the moment is in constant change. That’s why we call it infinite, right? You can’t grab hold of it and then be there. The second you’re there, it’s gone and you’re in the next one, and that’s this awake kind of living. Balance is the fastest way to enter into that space.

~ Thomas Droge from, Body work, writing, and parkour culture

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Like waves crashing on the beach

It isn’t clear why you’ve been sent back. Maybe it was a cosmic accounting error, or a boon from a playful God. All you know is that you’re here again, walking the earth, having been inexplicably returned to the temporary and mysterious state of Being Alive.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/06/how-to-remember-youre-alive/

But first, pardon me while I get a song stuck in your head… like, all-day stuck.

She could hear the cars roll by
Out on 441
Like waves crashin’ on the beach
And for one desperate moment there
He crept back in her memory
God it’s so painful
Something that’s so close
And still so far out of reach

~ Tom Petty, but you knew that

Tom Petty died in 2017—I hope that wasn’t a spoiler. It seems, based on my quick search, that his last public performance included this as the last song he performed. omg the feels. Stop, go watch that entire 7-minute video. If that doesn’t move you…

There’s a moment late in the video where the jumbo-screen behind them says, “without YOU, there’d be no US” — or something close to that second part, it’s obscured. I think that points to something exceptional about TPatHB. Forty years, and grateful for the experience of that specific night.

Now, reread the pull-quote and then read Cain’s suggested practice.

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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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Recovery is key

Not only do most deliberate practitioners not spend all day at it, they also devote a lot of time to recuperation and recovery. They sleep as much as their bodies need. They nap if necessary. They take frequent, refreshing breaks. Most of us understand that rest is necessary after physical activity. But we can underestimate its importance after mental activity, too. Deliberate practice needs to be sustainable for the long term. How long a person keeps at a skill is often far more important than how many hours a day they spend on it.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2021/04/deliberate-practice-guide/

I’m going to trot out a rare: HOLY CRAP! Because that post is a small book on deliberate practice. If you’re only up for some skimming, click through and smash-scroll to the summary and book list at the bottom of that post.

Then I’m going to briefly stride over one of my fave soap boxes: Sleep.

…and settle onto pointing out that I make a deliberate practice out of working on writing these blog posts. I’ve been working, (off-and-on, one break involved some lawn mowing,) for four hours this morning from that one Parrish post. I’ve read it, blogged [this] about it, posted about it in another community, captured a few quotes, learned more about the Oddyssey, and wrote a blog post about a common Homer quote.

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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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