And speaking of cognitive biases

Confirmation bias is one of my faves. You know, where you suddenly notice all the other cars like yours when you buy one, or spot coincidences from which you draw an [erroneous] causal conclusion. I know right? Screw you cobbled-together-brain! But this coincidence can’t just be a coincidence:

I’ve been reading-around my copy of The Daily Stoic for about 5 years now. Each page of the book is for a specific date. I long-ago got sick of lugging the book around, so I photographed every page, and loaded them into my personal productivity software. For five years, I’ve had annually repeating todos with the day’s image attached. (Yes, it was a few hours of work to set up 365 todo’s, with “recurs every year on the same date,” and an attached image. Yes, it was absolutely worth it.) So every year, on the same date, the same photo of the same page of the Daily Stoic comes up for me to read. (Craig-level crazy: The image for February 29 is attached to the todo for February 28 and I read it every year.) Finally, you need to know that only a small percentage of the Daily Stoic entries quote from Marcus Aurelius’s, Meditations.

Recently, I bought a fresh, hardcover of my favorite translation of Aurelius’s Meditations. (My paperback copy of this same translation is mangled and marked up, and the typography isn’t as spiffy.) I photographed each page, and set it on recurring todos. This was slightly more complicated because it’s not a page-for-each-date. I simply counted the images and made the todo’s recur that often. So each day a page comes up, but it’s not the same page on the same date each year. (There are 139 pages of content, so I’m reading Meditations 2+ times per calendar year.) For added complexity, the modern book is comprised of Aurelius’s 12 original books; Each was a long scroll on which he wrote entries in sequence. What’s on each page of the modern book is simply determined by book layout: It might be Aurelius’s original book 4, entries 11 and 12, or it might have part of an entry continued from the previous page, or an entry which is cut short that runs to the next page. Sure, it’s messy to try to read a book a-page-a-day if it wasn’t designed that way, but it works, and I get to visit Marcus each day.

That’s the setup. Here’s the coincidence…

Today I hit a Daily Stoic entry that quotes Meditations. The page that’s up for reading in my sequence from Meditations, CONTAINS THE QUOTED PASSAGE.

o_O

After looking around suspiciously… “Am I on Candid Camera?” After looking up suspiciously… I decided I better blog about this.

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slip:4a123.

Forget all that

I get it. This might all seem like a bit much. I was intimidated by journaling too. And people, I find, tend to intimidate themselves about it: What’s the best way to do it? What’s the best journal? What time? How much?

Man, forget all that. There’s no right way to do it.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/the-most-important-thing-you-can-do-each-morning/

We all try to share things with others—hey look! Blogging. We share stories, books, images, music, songs, and suggestions, (where to go, what to do, etc.,) hoping, if I can be so generous, that what we share will provide some guidance, enjoyment, hope, or what else we know not. Whether or not the things we share land… whether they stick, have the desired affect, or any positive affect at all… we’ve no way to know that.

But what might happen if we tried to share things with our future selves?

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Deciding is the easy part

So recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to use it less. About how to get the benefits from the technology without all the downsides.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/a-radical-guide-to-spending-less-time-on-your-phone/

Hey, thanks for deciding to receive this not-so-little email from me each week.

Did you notice how easy it was to decide to get this additional, new interruption? My web site is friendly, the form is friendly, dear Friend all you have to do is put your email in this form . . . But if you decide to leave this weekly email? Well, first you have to have one of the emails in front of you, then scroll down and find the unsubscribe link at the bottom, click that, etc. It’s not much harder than joining, but it is just a little bit harder.

Let’s say you decide—after reading Holiday’s post or this post or that post—to clear the home screen of your phone, (not the lock screen, but the first screen you see after unlocking.) Have you tried to do that? It’s difficult. First you have to manually move those apps, one by one, to other pages… Then you have to keep up with that if your phone throws new apps on that nice clean screen. You have to change how you launch apps; If you simply swipe and find the app, well, that’s going to become a new default habit: Unlock-phone-and-swipe-right will be muscle-memory in a day. To make the blank home-screen useful, you have to also get in the habit of using your phone’s search to launch exactly the app you opened the phone for in the first place. But that is quickly learned by your phone. You have to go in and adjust search settings so that when the search input is blank, it doesn’t suggest the apps you often use. Otherwise the search screen will become just another screen of app icons you’ll tap on via muscle-memory. The phone is designed to try to help, so it’ll feed you a new habit. Then a notification pops up. And you want to disable those, so you have to dive into settings… And get used to telling apps, “no notifications” when they first ask. And then something will break… like suddenly Google Maps can’t use “Siri” so it doesn’t work in Car Play. (Me: “Wait. Wat?”)

It’s not just with fiddly phones. Decide you don’t want to watch Netflix. …but, movie date-night with the spouse is a legit thing we want to do now and then. Decide you want to only own one car. Decide you want to grow some food in a garden. Decide you want to make a few new friends. Decide you don’t want your phone ringing.

My friends, deciding is the easy part. The hard part is doing the really complicated, detail-oriented, 57-step planning, and 2 hours of fiddling, (or days of labor or thousands of dollars in expense,) figuring out how to make the change, how to keep the change in place, and even how to figure out in advance what things depend on the thing you’re deciding to change.

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Anything of consequence

Creating anything of consequence or magnitude requires deliberate, incremental and consistent work. At the beginning, these efforts might not look like they are amounting to much. But with time, they accumulate and then compound on each other. Whether it’s a book or a business or an anthill or a stalagmite, from humble beginnings come impressive outcomes.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/all-you-need-are-a-few-small-wins-every-day/

Sometimes I manage to remember that lesson.

…usually that my remembering happens during my morning routine. I won’t bore you with the specifics, but: I regularly read things which spur the sorts of thinking I’d like to do more of; I spend time writing in, and re-reading, my journals; time reading good-old printed-on-dead-trees books; time thinking about how to create some thing I’m building; lots of thinking and jotting in outlines.

Things take me vastly more time and work than it appears from the outside.

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Tranquility

Of course, Odysseus isn’t unique. He is us. He’s the human condition in a nutshell. As Blaise Pascal put it, “all of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room.” Because we cannot be happy, because we can’t just be, we waste years of our life.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/can-you-be-still/

Holiday puts forward an interesting theory, (and, in my opinion a correct one,) that Odysseus is a tragic figure. Odysseus is doomed by his inability to see his own fatal flaw.

Given that I can be tenacious when tenacity seems needed… Enduring when endurance seems needed… Focused… I’ve been wondering: Can I be still? Quiescent? Tranquil, even, when those would be appropriate?

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Something sustainable

What we need is something sustainable. Something balanced. Something deliberate without being forced. Purposeful without being obsessed with productivity. We need something like a great Saturday—or one of those Mondays where you’re not sure if it’s part of a three-day weekend, resulting in just enough work that it’s productive, but not so much that it’s a chore.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/you-could-have-today-instead-you-choose-tomorrow/

Sustainable. Yeah, I’ve no idea what that means.

It occurs to me to make a note to have, “…but holy crap did he get a lot done!” put on my tombstone.

And I’m instantly reminded of my favorite de-motivational poster: “It could be that the purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others.”

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Fear of missing out

The constant interruptions and distractions of our society are, to me, the opposite of philosophy. Getting caught up in minutiae. Getting caught up in things that don’t matter. Getting caught up in things that are designed to exploit and antagonize us and our emotions.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/stop-watching-the-news/

The way out from the chaos is to first convince yourself that you are in chaos, and to then decide you don’t like the current situation.

It will not work for you to try taking a hiatus from all the distractions. If you try, (just some “for examples” here,) to put your phone down during dinner, or to have a no-internet weekend with your partner, or no internet-surfing in the bedroom, etc., these small diversions from your normal existence will be uncomfortable. So of course you won’t want that small discomfort to grow larger! And there you go; that’s the exact opposite of how you would expand the tranquility in your life. If—somehow—you deeply wanted more tranquility, then you would automatically do all those things I mentioned and many, many more.

The other day I drove to my favorite gym only to discover they were closed that day. It happens that this was announced on Facebook. (I’m not on Facebook.) This experience was not the least bit annoying to me. I drove 20 minutes each way. The ride was pleasant; Just like every other time I drive in a car because I long ago resolved the issues with myself which caused driving and riding in cars to be annoying. I did not begrudge that 40 minutes as “wasted,” and I simply went on to the next thing I wanted to do.

I’m not railing against Facebook. I’m pointing out that if you fix your life, Facebook no longer has an attraction for you.

You are not obligated to be constantly reachable.

You are not obligated to have an opinion on every topic someone might raise in conversation.

You are not obligated to help every other person you physically or virtually encounter.

What obligations do you have?

What do you truly desire?

What is the meaning of life?

Actually… are those even the right questions to ask oneself?

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Baked geese crap

Everything we do matters — whether it’s making smoothies to save up money or studying for the bar — even after we’ve already achieved the success we sought. Everything is a chance to do and be our best. Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires. Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing and wherever we are going, we owe it to ourselves, to our art, to the world to do it well. That’s our primary duty. And our obligation. When action is our priority, vanity falls away.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/how-you-do-anything/

I sometimes think back to a summer I spent working on a golf course. As a grounds keeper. These days, I’m still pretty fast with a string trimmer. A job string-trimming a golf course teaches certain skills. Every day that summer I hopped on my trusty red 10-speed bike—I think it was actually originally my mom’s bike—and ride… just for fun I Google’d it… 5 miles to work. I distinctly remember the coolish Pennsylvania mornings.

It just this moment occurs to me that my “the weather today will be…” prognostication skills are generally quite good. Probably something to do with riding a half hour while wondering if I was going to get roasted in the sun, soaked in the rain, or pleasantly browned.

Meanwhile I learned many things. About getting along with other people to greater or lesser degrees of success. About how laughter makes work lighter. And about good healthy, sweat labor. I already mentioned the string trimming. But my favorite was how we used to edge the sand traps. Every day—at least as far as I can remember—there’d be the same work to do; we’d simply advance our way around the course based on our boss’s early-morning directions on a whiteboard. “edge traps 8/9” for example… along with a few more. One guy was the greens keeper. His responsibility was just to mow the putting greens and tend that grass. Move the pins (the tall flags stand inside special metal cups set into the ground) periodically. Another guy—an aged adult, so he was probably like 38 at the time—was the fairway mower. Willie was his name. I remember his last name, but I don’t want anyone hunting him down. He’d drive a large farm-sized tractor pulling gang-mowers like a flock of geese behind him. All the grass was always cut with reel mowers.

Anyway. Sand traps. We used to edge them with a machete. You see, the edge of the trap, where the grass meets the sand, has interesting geometry. The lawn may not be level, it often was sloped or curving like a little hill. So the “cut” is not just, “hey yo, no blade of grass sticking out that way!” but also, a perpendicular (to the plane of the grass bed) curb of sod (the grass, roots carpet part) and dirt. A string trimmer just sort of beats things up into a rounded mess. With a machete—and a crap-ton of stooping, back-breaking, labor—you can cut everything in a perfect plane. It’s as if you made the perfect cut through layer cake, creating a smoothly undulating curb perimeter, angled perfectly. wack wack wack wack …we’d just walk around the trap backwards, walking on the grass. wack wack wack wack… fifty, maybe a hundred swings. Every sand trap is different. Then we’d clean the trap. Weed it, rake it, sift it, then shape the sand. When we moved on, there’d be not a single bit of anything besides sand in the trap. It’d be gorgeous.

Craftsmanship.

One day, “trim the lake” was on the board. Again. We’d just done that the other day. It was one of the most god-awful horrible jobs. It was basically a very big pond, with not much water flow, particularly mid-summer. The bottom was muck-tastically nasty with geese crap and—wait for it—9 gazillion golf balls making for treacherous footing. The weeds grew in the water. With a string trimmer you can actually trim a bit below the water level if you’re adamant about it. (As we were.) When doing this chore you had a choice: You could stroll into the water and muck to reach the weeds 6 feet out in the pond, or wreck your back, (I don’t care how young you are, this wrecks it,) straining all around the lake to reach out there with the trimmer. Regardless, in the heat of summer, those water-whatever weeds needed a wacking every few days.

On this day, I stood by the artificial rock weir that impounded the pond. I looked at my work boots, being well-shod to deal with the muck, but not so much for standing directly in the water to trim. I looked at the weir. I thought about having to sacrifice my back to reach the weeds. At the weir. I looked at my golf cart—we had the best ones. Special motors for hauling trailers and actual loads and extra batteries. And my we don’t screw around here double-string trimmer and gas can. My face shield. I looked back at the weir.

And I went for it.

I strolled into the stream, moved a bunch of rocks and pierced the maybe 2-foot tall weir… and drained the entire lake. Then I spun up my trimmer and… there are two ways to string trim: One way is a sort of judicious, scalpel wielding, if I twitch it leaves a mark that takes a week to grow away, and I’m going to have to clean up all the mess I make. And the other way is BANSHEE STYLE! I strolled into that disgusting muck and strode around the entire thing with the trimmer throttled wide open… non-stop… at like 6:30am. Muck, geese crap, golf balls, weeds… everything flying every which way… none of it on me of course because, duh, string-trimming guru.

Meanwhile, the sun crept higher.

I don’t know how long it took me. Not long. I don’t think I even had to refill the trimmer’s gas tank. But all the while, the sun started to bake the mud and muck.

Now the area (the general regional area I mean) had a lot of farms and you got used to all sort of smells. Pennsylvania smells (to me) like petrichor, and maybe a dash of cow or horse manure baking on a field. Us Pennsylvanians are all like, *yawn* “whatever bro’.” But baking geese crap and muck, as it turns out, is another thing.

Yes, when I finished trimming I reassembled the weir, but as I mentioned, the little creek’s flow rate was low, and it took all stinking-to-high-heaven day for that thing to fill submerging the muck. I was vindicated amongst the groundskeepers, including my boss who went to bat for me so I could keep my job, because we all freakin’ loved it. It looked awesome and stayed awesome for like TWO WEEKS!

But to my knowledge, no one ever did it again.

That was the first time I effectively closed an entire golf course.

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Scenes

Because they can only show scenes, …

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/sorry-an-epiphany-isnt-whats-going-to-change-your-life/

Check the following against your experience: Except for sleep, or fits of unconsciousness, my life is a perfectly seamless and continuous experience. It has no montages, elisions of time, “jump cuts,” nor cross fades. I’ve never experienced a rerun of any moment; every moment is the next moment found directly after that moment that was now, but is now just past.

From my point of view, every other person… every book… every movie… every image painting film story… I experience those in one, compressed form or another. I catch up with a friend over lunch; I get two weeks of their experience compressed into a thirty-second story. Rocky goes from zero to hero in a two-minute (I’m guessing) montage. That person experiences an entire year; I experience their birthday dinner.

Everything out there is a small scene from some real experience. Is it any wonder it’s difficult to understand?

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The Guilty, Crazy Secret

The bullshit— …well, it disappears for a fleeting second.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/the-guilty-crazy-secret-that-helps-me-write/

I have playlists for this exact thing. Hundreds of individual songs selected and shuffled, for very specific purposes.

Sometimes I go “hunting” to find new tracks for these lists; My Mac says my music library has 9,121 items, 26.5 days, 77.96 GB, and I have a “smart” playlist which grabs 250 least-recently played. It avoids some genres (like “Spoken Word” so it doesn’t pick out French lessons, etc) and it avoids any track I’ve one-starred (my way of saying omg no)… It’s basically an endless series of, “I forgot about that!” I often flip over to the original album, start from the front, and sometimes I add a track to one of my play lists.

What? Why? …best of both worlds. I have playlists that do what I need—hide the world, hide everything. And I’m continuously startled with delight by my tiny music collection.

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