The arbiter of truth

What is the arbiter of truth? Some things might be unknowable, and some questions might be unanswerable. But for everything else, what is the arbiter of truth?

The really big questions— Why are we here? What’s the meaning of life? The really big questions may not have answers. But for everything else, what is the arbiter of truth?

How do you decide if you have the correct answer to a question?

How do you decide what to do next? You just finished something and time is marching on; what will you do with the next moment?

How do you decide what to not do? Suppose some topic interests you; how do you decide how much time you should spend on it?

Difficult questions, certainly. Can you think of any questions which are more important than these?

If not, what are you doing to work on finding answers to these questions?

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Self-improvement

If you’re the sort of person for whom success in life means stepping outside the comfort zone that your parents and high school counselor charted out for you, if you’re willing to explore spaces of consciousness and relationships that other people warn you about, if you compare yourself only to who you were yesterday and not to who someone else is today…

~ Jacobian from, https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/8xLtE3BwgegJ7WBbf/is-rationalist-self-improvement-real

Wait. Wat?! Some people think self-improvement isn’t real?

I mean, if you are not using your rational faculties to improve yourself… Honestly, that’s redundant; How could one improve oneself without using rationality? I suppose one could just make random changes, (which seems to be what a lot of people do,) but as soon as you observe and reflect, then you are engaging your rationality. To be human is to be all the things the animals are, and to have the ability to be—to various degrees at various times—rational.

There’s a reason I really like the three words: Observation. Reflection. Efficacy.

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A new year’s question?

Instead of the usual resolution for a new year…

What is a new question you could ask yourself?

A completely new question. One you’ve never challenged yourself with before. Some question you’ve never previously considered.

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Once things click

It is amazing how obvious things are once you figure them out. Something I struggle to understand, can instantly be glaringly obvious once some final, little piece clicks into place. Small things, big things, click, click, click.

Question: Which is better, to be at the click part marveling at how clear something is, or to be in the puzzling part doing the work?

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Leverage

In sum, there isn’t a clear ladder of actions a person can progress through, with easy unimportant ones at the bottom, and hard important ones at the top. There will be hard-for-you unimportant actions, and easy-for-you important actions. The last thing you should do if you come across a hard-for-you unimportant action is stop looking for other things to do.

~ Katja Grace, from https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/pmifMjht6Y4dBPhqF/skill-and-leverage

One variation of this is, “a messy desk shows an organized mind.” It’s not important that I do everything perfectly, have everything organized, and have no loose ends. In fact, that’s patently impossible. What matters is that I figure out what should be done perfectly, what should be organized and which loose ends should be tied up. Got it.

I’m currently spending a lot of time reflecting on being comfortable with some imperfectly done things, some disorganized things, and some loose ends. Not trying to complete nor eliminate those things, but rather, simply being comfortable with those things, in those states.

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Reflection

What makes this moment so precarious is that most of us are unconscious, in the event, both of our aspiration and of our Resistance. We’re asleep. We know only that we feel bad. Something’s wrong. We’re restless, we’re bored, we’re angry; we’re seeking something grand but don’t know where to look 

~ Steven Pressfield, from https://stevenpressfield.com/2011/05/resistance-and-addiction/

These days, the skill of reflection is on my mind. I’ve become convinced that discovery, reflection, and efficacy are the three stepping stones to self-actualization. It seems to me that the way out of the Gordian knot presented by Pressfield is via reflection.

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Focus on what’s before you

And when you’re distracted? See what’s distracting you and choose, mindfully, what’s most important in that moment. Maybe what’s distracting you is worth your time after all.

But where your energy goes is where you’re going.

~ Hugh MacCleod from https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2017/06/27/how-to-stay-focused-at-work/

Slowly I changed how I interact will waiters, how I reply to email, how I use my phone (note particularly that I use it and it never uses me,) how I chop wood, how I show up for video calls, how I walk, and so on, and so forth…

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Goals versus aspirations

A distinction I’ve been making in recent years:

A goal is something specific. It will be clear when the goal is achieved. For me, goals should always be the classic specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time dependent, sort of SMART goals.

An aspiration is something directional. It will be clear when progress is made in the direction dictated by the aspiration.

The more goals I set, the worse my life becomes. I set great goals… big challenging, self-stretching goals. They pile on like dead weight and drag me down. Lose 10 pounds. Read an hour a day. …and so on.

Aspirations, being open-ended, don’t feel so daunting. Provided the aspirations lead to actual action, then I don’t need to worry about tomorrow. I can simply do the things—today, now—which are guided by my aspirations. Be someone who moves. Be exposed to lots of fresh ideas. Be someone who helps others. Be someone who creates value. Be someone whose mind works well.

What aspirations do you have?

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Did I mention I gave up coffee?

They even offered some decent life strategies: look at everything, pick up anything you can, avoid wizards, and always haggle for jetpacks.

~ Peter Welch, from http://stilldrinking.org/coffee-is-hard

The quote has nothing to do with what I’m writing today. The only relation is the word coffee. That said, you should totally go read Welch’s piece. You should totally go read everything he’s written; it’s generally awesome and often downright alarming. I digress.

On a Sunday morning–June 23, 2019 to be exact–with a congratulatory high-five, I gave up my morning coffee. I’d been thinking about doing so for months. Truth be told, the catalyst that day was to support a particular lady’s efforts wrestling with migraine headaches. With a brave, “huzzah!” my fate was sealed.

There’s a song by Frank Sinatra, “Hallelujah, I lover her so,” which begins with a telling verse:

Let me tell ’bout a gal I know
She’s my baby and she lives next door
Every morning ‘fore the sun comes up
She brings my coffee in my favorite cup
That’s why I know, yes, I know
Hallelujah, I just love her so

Setting aside the completely wacked concept of your girlfriend living next door and bringing you coffee before dawn. (1969 America. amiright?) I want to just draw attention to the coffee being how he knows he loves her. That’s just wrooong.

Over a few decades we had settled into a morning routine that started with the coffee maker. As anyone everywhere will tell you, if you drink coffee every morning it just becomes the neutral baseline, and without it, things aren’t happy-land. Occasionally, obtaining the morning drug hit would be a challenge leading to un-happy-land.

But mostly, it just meant getting out of the freakin’ bed was rough. …and like the addict I was, I went to the drug quickly.

Is it easier to get up now? Absolutely.

Do I spring out of bed like a happy rabbit? Absolutely NOT. But it’s better. I still need a bit of time to wake up fully–which I do via some morning stretching and movement.

Do I still drink it? Absolutely. Anytime I go anywhere, and I find myself near a real coffee shop . . . hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.

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Movers Mindset Three Words

In each of our podcasts, we ask guests to pick three words to define their practice. Choosing the three words to describe your practice has turned out to be a much more interesting and intriguing part of the conversation than we had initially anticipated.

The word practice, for example, goes beyond movement and often evokes broader images and ideas that reflect an approach to life. The idea that parkour and movement techniques in general are more than just physical has always been behind Movers Mindset. This is why we focus on ideas and reflection, for example, rather than on flashy videos of daring movement. The deeper dive into the mindset of movers is where the real magic happens.

We decided to do some introspection and pick three words that describe our practice. It was a challenge because reducing your practice to three words can seem like you are saying that the practice is nothing more than these three words, so you try to pick broad, powerful words to make sure you cover everything. Really, however, when you pick words that are too broad and too sweeping, you wind up not really saying anything specific that is unique to you. On the other hand, if you try to pick overly specific words, they may describe only one tiny part of your practice and give the impression that the scope of your focus is too narrow.

Picking three words is a challenge that we give to our guests, so it’s fair that we do it too. We found that capturing the essence of our practice in three words required a lot of introspection, and the act of choosing three words wound up being empowering. By going through the process, we now understand our practice more explicitly and are better prepared to describe it to other people. It’s not that we did not know the path we were following before, but now the path is clearer. It is easier to determine if a new project is consistent with our practice and vision, and this helps guide our choices in the overall direction of Movers Mindset. In general, we found the exercise to be challenging and highly worthwhile.  If you want the extra boost yourself, picking three words to describe your own practice is a good way to get started. It is a great way to discover things about yourself and about your relationship to the world.

This leads us to the first word, discovery. We wanted a word that involved starting with reality, with what we know about the world and about ourselves. We rejected observation because it is not active enough.  It has connotations of just sitting back and watching, listening, and taking the world in through your senses, but in a passive way.  We also did not want a word like imagination or invention as our starting point, because these involve creating things. 

Generations ago when Benjamin Franklin confronted that fearsomely powerful storm driven on by his even more powerful desire to know—a desire that pushed him beyond the limits of anything humans had ever done—he was driven by the urge to discover, the urge to take action to learn what it was and what made it work. Franklin discovered that lightning was a form of electricity, but Edison invented the lightbulb. Discovery always comes first. Franklin pushed past the millennia of fear, the millennia of cowering primitive people who saw lightning as the tool and province of the gods—never to be understood, grasped, or controlled by humans. He uncovered or discovered its secret. By learning what it was, he took the tool of the gods and made it his own. He was not the first to discover facts about electricity, but his actions symbolize the process and the principle: boldly looking at reality, uncovering its secrets, and moving them from the realm of mystery and superstition to our realm of understanding and science.

Discovery is an active process involving interacting or experimenting with reality. You may not discover that you are great at painting, cooking, or singing until you try and observe the results. Often you will discover that you need more practice or that you need to master specific skills and techniques. However, without action, you cannot discover your strengths to move you forward or discover any weaknesses to be overcome. Discovery involves the honest looking at reality and the identification and understanding of what reality tells you. Your opinions, wishes, feelings, do not matter at this stage.  What matters is that you observe to the best of your ability, that you experiment, and that you see—with as much honesty and focus as you can muster—all that reality has to offer.

Discovery is not the end of the game; it is only the beginning. The second step in the process leads us to our second word: reflection. Discovery means you have learned something about reality and yourself. What should you do with that information? What does it mean? What do you do next? The answer is that you must think about what you learned. Why didn’t we pick the word thinking instead of reflection? Thinking is too broad in meaning for our context. While we are big advocates of thinking in general and recognize it as the key to every successful human endeavor—without exception, our practice involves a particular type of thinking that is tied directly to reality and the facts we have uncovered about it. Reflection captures this meaning. A clear reflection in a mirror involves the accurate reproduction of reality.

As we think about things, we want to be careful that we do not go off course, that we do not imagine things that are not real or ignore things that are. We want to make sure that our thinking accurately reflects those facts about reality that we have discovered. Reflection is a type of careful thinking that takes each idea and connects it specifically to some fact about reality that we have discovered. There is nothing in your head to automatically guarantee that your thinking is correct. It is easy to go off course. It is easy to deceive yourself. It is easy to make the mistake that an early failure at a complex movement means that you will never master it. Reflection can protect you from such errors. If you fail in your first attempt, that is a fact, a part of reality that you cannot deny. So, the idea that you failed is valid; it corresponds to a fact you discovered. However, the idea that you will be bad at this every time you try is imaginary; you made it up. There is no discovery in reality, no fact in reality that corresponds to the notion that you will always fail. There is no reason to believe or to accept your imagined ideas when they do not reflect reality.

Reflection, then, is a type of self-check, a way of making sure that your ideas are validated by reality. Imagination can give you ideas about what you want to validate through discovery and reflection, but it leads to useful information only when the idea is tested. If you imagine you will always be bad at something, start testing your idea. Practice. Practice again and again. Discover if you get better or if you continue to be bad at it. Reflect on your progress honestly. If after a period of regular practice, you find that you still are no good at it, there is at least a possibility that you are right. Your conclusion has some support. But if you are much better now than you were when you started, that improvement supports the idea that you will eventually—with continued practice and diligence—get good at it.

Reflection also means holding a mirror up to yourself. Why do you like certain things? What makes you feel happy, successful, powerful or disappointed and sad? Why do you think you are good at something? How did you develop those skills? Reflecting on your strengths and understanding what worked for you previously helps you grow. Reflecting on the things that scare you and hold you back helps you develop the strengths you need to overcome those worries. When you reflect on your emotions, you discover ideas or premises that are the foundation of those emotions. This means you have the opportunity to reflect on those ideas and premises and test them against reality. Are they true or false? Do they correspond to reality or contradict it?

These two questions–Are your ideas true or false? Do your ideas correspond to reality or contradict it?–ask the same thing. Reality is the standard of right and wrong, of true and false. By actively reflecting about your ideas, your discoveries, your thoughts, and your feelings, you will eventually eliminate all contradictions from your entire life. You will reach a state where you see reality, and yourself in it, with full clarity and full understanding. The world has rules by which it behaves. Things act in a particular way. If you drop something, it falls. If you touch a fire, it hurts. If you act according to these rules, you will be successful. If you ignore the rules either by failing to discover them or by evasion, you fail. Acting in accordance with the rules of reality gives you a sense of self-confidence in your own ability. This leads us to our last word that captures this self-confidence: efficacy.

After practicing discovery and reflection again and again, you realize through experience that the world is knowable. You learn that you can discover it, learn its rules, and apply them successfully. You know that you have the power to validate your results along the way and correct any errors. Reflection gives you confidence that what you have discovered, is correct; your knowledge and conclusions are valid. Given enough time and effort, you know that you can reach any rational goal, understand any process, and check and refine your results thoroughly until you have the confidence of certainty. This mental state, where you know you can meet any challenge, learn anything, develop any skill, solve any problem is efficacy.

Efficacy is the power to produce a desired effect. Recognition of your own efficacy means that you have recognized your own potential for continued success and growth. Your choices of actions at this point are not based on concerns about current limits of your ability or understanding. Instead, your choices are guided by what skills, practices, and accomplishments will give you the most enjoyment, make your life better, increase your skills, or broaden your knowledge. Your experience in life changes from asking “What can I do?” to asking “What should I do to make my life the best it can be?”

The ancient Greeks had a word for this process of reaching your full potential: eudaimonia. We did not pick that as one of our three words, in part because it is even more obscure than efficacy, but eudaimonia was in the running. Aristotle wrote most extensively about eudaimonia, but it was important to many Greek philosophers. It is difficult to translate, because the concepts leading up to it are not yet widely understood in our culture. Few people today recognize that by understanding the rules of reality, validating them, and putting them into practice consistently, success is almost guaranteed—barring error or misfortune. Eudaimonia integrates these ideas into a process of living your best life. It is a continuous process of self-actualization where all the best conditions are in place: happiness, morality, meaning, purpose, the fulfilling of our special, unique potentials as humans. Efficacy is necessary to have the confidence to work toward eudaimonia.

We also picked efficacy over eudaimonia because to English speakers eudaimonia sounds like a final state like happiness. Eudaimonia is more than just a final condition. It is the process of human flourishing. It is the process of doing those things that best help you function well as a human being at the highest level. Our other two words, discovery and reflection are both active processes, and we want to focus on the active process of developing and recognizing efficacy.

Efficacy includes both being effective and recognizing that you are effective; it describes a self-aware competence in action. Eudaimonia is the goal, but recognizing and developing your own efficacy is how you get there and stay there. Efficacy empowers you to even greater achievements that expand your potential to ever higher levels.

Finally, Movers Mindset wanted three words that reflected our practice in terms of its essentials, but if those three words were adopted by others, they would still help them find the path to success. The words had to capture the ideas of action and thinking, doing and learning–the Mover and the Mindset. They had to wrap up our process and philosophy in a way that captures who we are and provides value to our audience. We think that discovery and reflection applied iteratively–again and again–building on previous knowledge and success leads to continued growth. Repeated experience with success leads to a recognition of efficacy where you understand that you have potential to be successful in almost anything.

Activities that involve continuous improvements are often described as mastery practices. Mastery practices involve continuous improvement through discovery, reflection, and active practice with full recognition of efficacy. While mastery practices range from focused practices like law, medicine, Parkour, Aikido, plumbing or carpentry, the most important mastery practice is living your own life to the fullest–reaching your full potential–eudaimonia. Since your full potential requires continuous improvement, it is important to develop the mindset–the set of ideas–that allows for this unceasing movement toward greater success and well-being. Discovery of this process, reflection to hone its accuracy, and development of efficacy are the steps that each individual must undertake independently.

Although your own path is unique, the principles involved are universal and can be learned from others. A goal of Movers Mindset is to bring these principles to light in an accessible way that encourages discovery and reflection while demonstrating and promoting efficacy in each individual. While you still have to walk the path on your own, under your own power and by your own effort, Movers Mindset hopes to make the path a little clearer.

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