Do you get me meaning?

And one of my goals as the communicator is to make it as easy as possible for you to get the meaning I’m intending to convey.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/language-not-just-code/

The article also has a tidy explanation of irony. Irony (humor, sarcasm and many other linguistic forms) work so well because they are very powerful. A few words said and heard in person can transfer large ideas. The article goes all the way to mentioning our “power to attribute mental states to others.” A subtle and, frankly, amazing power of projection. My mental state, plus your mental state, plus my saying some words, should have gotten you to this other mental state. Heady stuff.

If I wrote, “That was fun.” you’re pretty sure those three words were only part of what the speaker was trying to convey. By default, we have to go with the literal interpretation, but feel we’ve been gypped. We feel the urge to skip back a few lines looking for hints to reveal the rest of the meaning meant to be conveyed. We are accustomed to having to write much more to get the same job done. I have to write: Then, with a wry smile, “That was fun.”

Which is all very interesting. But today, the question I have is: Wait. How did I ever get good at this insanely complex process without ever having anyone explicitly tell me anything about it?

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Sometimes I weep

What focus means is saying no to something that you, with every bone in your body, you think is a phenomenal idea and you wake up thinking about it, but you say no to it because you’re focusing on something else.

~ Jonny Ive from, https://fs.blog/focus-to-win/

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I have a lot of ideas. (Perhaps your experience is similar?) For most of my life I thought all of my ideas where good ones. Sure, there were some insane bicycle accidents and spectacular snow-tubing disasters, but in the minutes following an incident, I still thought it was a good idea. Poorly planned, poorly executed, or both, sure. But life seemed to be an endless parade of good ideas each affording an opportunity to grab life by the choose-your-own-metaphor. In hindsight, I think it was all simply poor—or, if I’m honest, a complete absence of—impulse control.

In recent years it has become apparent my time on Earth is limited. (Perhaps your experience is similar?) These days that stream of ideas continues. What if I installed a motion-activated auto-targeting water sprinkler filled with Capsaicin-laced water to keep the squirrels away? (Yes, really.) …and okay, well, the ideas don’t all seem like good ideas anymore. Fine. I’m cool with having limited time, limited resources, and possibly some added social awareness.

But every once in a while, I have an idea which is blindingly awesome. Even if I have one such idea only once in a while, that still means I have more than I can try, and then I have to choose. I have to choose some, and say no to others.

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Time amplifies

The small choices we make on a daily basis either work for us or against us. One choice puts time on your side. The other ensures it’s working against you. Time amplifies what you feed it.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/small-steps-giant-leaps/

I don’t truly know if I’m unique. For me, the only way I can manage to feel as if I’ve enough time in my day is if I’m ruthless with myself about not giving my time away. I’ve spent so many decades feeling harried and busy… only to realize, duh, I did that to myself. I’ve spent so many dark days simply wanting some peace… only to realize, duh, all this craziness, I chose that. Somehow, I managed to slowly let this same idea Parrish mentions seep into my bones. Now I feel like I’m able to relax and simply experience being, through most of my days. Sometimes, I even take naps. My 25-year-old self would be horrified.

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Three habits

The thing about really deep learning is it actually changes the structure of your brain. You are breaking an old pathway and creating a new neurological pathway. […] The three habits I’ve talked about—seeing in systems, taking multiple perspectives and asking different questions. Those are the natural habits of people who are farther along in this adult development path. If we can encourage ourselves to develop some of those patterns in ourselves, and we can be learning those things in ways that create new neural networks, then suddenly, we are living our way into these more advanced forms of development as we are just going about our daily lives.

~ Jennifer Garvey Berger from ~1h 13m into, The Mental Habits of Effective Leaders with; transcript edited for clarity; https://fs.blog/knowledge-project-podcast/jennifer-garvey-berger/

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This episode from Shane Parrish’s, The Knowledge Project, podcast is excellent. About two-thirds of the way through the 90 minutes, they start going really deep into mental habits including specifics of how to change one’s mindset. The title of the episode could well be expanded to, …of Effective People.

I’ve been asked how it is that I do what I do, in podcast conversations. Here Berger and Parrish have explained it; Frankly, I better understand how I do it, now having listened to Berger. These three habits she points out are the magic that I use to power my conversations. I’ve always had the habit—my parents would say, “to a fault”—of asking good questions. About 35 years ago, when I became immersed in engineering, physics, computers, and the Internet I perfected the habit—here I would say, “to a fault”—of thinking in systems. And 10 years ago, as I began my journey rediscovering my personal movement, I realized the magnificent knowledge and experience available to me through others’ perspectives.

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Better questions

Sounds like we’re losing our grit. We’ve been brought up to think we’re so smart and clever and that we don’t have to work hard for anything that we just give up when we come against a tough problem. The main difference between innovators and the rest of us is that innovators ask more and better questions.

~ Shane Parrish

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Bonding through movement

Today, a growing percentage of people find themselves alienated from any particular community, without strong bonds to any discernible group. Loneliness is on the rise. More people live alone, remain single or childless, move to new geographical locations on a regular basis, and otherwise fail to develop close ties. This is a shift that is unprecedented in human history.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2020/04/muscular-bonding/

My pull-quote feels pretty obvious. What’s interesting is where Parrish goes in this article. There’s a lot of research and discussion around what happens to us—mentally and physically—when we move together. It’s not simply, “hey that was fun.” There’s a durable bonding that happens when humans move together.

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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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Not in a vacuum

It can be easy to look at great geniuses like Newton and imagine that their ideas and work came solely out of their minds, that they spun it from their own thoughts—that they were true originals. But that is rarely the case.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2020/04/shoulders-of-giants/

There’s a perennial discussion around creativity that gets described various ways: “Steal like an artist.” “Repurpose what’s been done before.” “Creating new from the old.” I like Parrish’s point, (in the article but not the quote above,) that “geniuses” first mastered the best that others had to offer. Then they go onward and farther to create something new.

If the only thing someone has ever done is sample and remix others’ work… meh. But if someone has mastered some field—art, math, music, whatever—and then recombines and extends, (or pares down or transmogrifies)… then, ok. My distinction feels very close to the, No true Scotsman, logic fallacy, and yet I think it’s a useful distinction.

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Chesterton’s Fence

As simple as Chesterton’s Fence is as a principle, it teaches us an important lesson. Many of the problems we face in life occur when we intervene with systems without an awareness of what the consequences could be. We can easily forget that this applies to subtraction as much as to addition.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2020/03/chestertons-fence/

I’m going to ‘fess up and say that I don’t recall ever hearing of “Chesterton’s Fence.” If you too just went, “who’s what?” then do check out that article.

That said, I’m nervously thinking everything about it—his fence, that article—seems obvious to me. Not simple, but obvious. Any time I find myself with such thinking, rather than stand on my megalomaniac soap box and yell at “those kids”, I instead begin searching for a clear reason for why I know, what I am claiming seems obvious.

In this case, the knowledge comes from learning systems thinking. Somewhere along my way I learned to think about everything as systems of things. I’m always trying to see how this thing is related to, dependent on, and causative of, some other things. Somewhere along my way I found Chesterton’s fence, (but the fence system didn’t include long-term planning for owner identification and so the fence I apparently found wasn’t labeled.)

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How you play

If life is a game, how do you play it? The answer will have a huge impact on your choices, your satisfaction, and how you achieve success.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2020/02/finite-and-infinite-games/

There are of course some games simply not worth playing. (For example, Global Thermonucler War, which is, “[a] strange game. The only winning move is not to play.“) For most of my life I’ve thought of games as something I first decided to do—”let’s play a game!”—and then sorted out what sort of game—board games, tag, charades, etc.. Even sports games worked this way; “I feel like playing baseball…” and then round up my friends, or “I feel like getting good at baseball and playing a lot…” and then join a league. In all the cases, the game itself was the point.

Then, back around 40 when I was busy rediscovering movement, I realized that one could start by having a goal, or an idea one wanted to explore, and then one could deploy games as the vehicle for accomplishing that. On the one hand, it’s still fun to simply play for play’s sake, but it’s empowering to have fun playing while intentionally accomplishing something of your own choosing.

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The library

If you think of your mind as a library, three things should concern you. […] There is no point having a repository of knowledge in your mind if you can’t find and apply its contents (see multiplicative systems).

~ Shane Parrish from, https://medium.com/personal-growth/what-you-spend-time-reading-changes-your-brain-ee2ab4f2aa17#.20s36rpb7

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Don’t panic it’s not simply a catalog of library metaphors. There are great points about being intentional about what you choose to put into your brain, what your brain is good at doing, the utility and danger—which I humorously typo’d as “dander”—of filters, and more. I’m going to go in a different direction here however: Rather than trying to figure out how to assess the library of my mind, I’ve been trying to more often let people see what it’s doing. As I’ve said many times, this blog itself is a form of me working “with the garage door up.” …and I regularly reread these blog posts myself to make sure the thoughts still look reasonable after some time sitting on the digital shelf.

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Physical it’s not

This phenomenon—winning or losing something in your mind before you win or lose it in reality—is what tennis player and coach W. Timothy Gallwey first called “the Inner Game” in his book The Inner Game of Tennis. Gallwey wrote the book in the 1970s when people viewed sport as a purely physical matter. Athletes focused on their muscles, not their mindsets. Today, we know that psychology is in fact of the utmost importance.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2020/01/inner-game-of-tennis/

Somewhere I saw a great interview with Gallwey. (Try TouYube?) Some of the insights from his work—for example, that psychology is critical to success in sports—now seem obvious. But 50 years ago, this was not only “not obvious” but was literally unheard of. (Insert my peewee-baseball story from the late 70s. *shudder*) There’s a lot more worth gleaning from Gallwey’s work. Positive thinking doesn’t work! Worse, it’s a hinderance as bad as negative thinking. *gasp* This insight is also 50-years old, but from my conversations with athletes, it doesn’t appear that it’s percolated as thoroughly.

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Diffuse thinking

Although diffuse thinking comes in the guise of a break from focus, our minds are still working. Often, it’s only after we switch away from this mode that we realize our brains were indeed working for us. Moving into diffuse mode can be a very brief phenomenon, such as when we briefly stare into the distance before returning to work.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/focused-diffuse-thinking/

It is a most interesting mode of thinking. Even after protracted wondering, it’s not clear to me what exactly is the list of things necessary to intentionally slip into the mode of thinking. So I’ll start with some things that will prevent me, every time: Being exhausted or even very-tired will prevent my diffuse thinking. Because settling in, physically and mentally, is also how I go to sleep. Being overly energetic will prevent my diffuse thinking. It’s as if the mind is the driver atop the elephant, and the elephant must be in the mood to follow, not in the mood to frolic or smash.

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What do you know

Read that title in the Petulant Voice. (There are the 1st-person, 2nd-person, Narrator, Author, etc. voices; I’ve always thought failure to formally recognize Petulant Voice was a major literary oversight.)

Reasoned skepticism and disagreement are essential to progress and democracy. The problem is that most of what’s happening isn’t reasoned skepticism. It’s the adult equivalent of a two-year-old throwing a tantrum.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2019/02/distrust-intellectual-authority/

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As in this article, the majority of what I’ve read—in the 32 years I’ve been reading stuff on the Internet—has been about the skeptic in the skepticism/disagreement relationships. But the responsibility is actually with the side claiming authority.

Always.

Because that’s the moral high road. (The high road is always less crowded.) If one wants to hold oneself out as an authority, then one is responsible for reaching down and helping others up. (Also, is “Tortured” a recognized voice?) One is not responsible for the skeptics whose attention you do not have. But one is responsible for those whose attention you do have; Those skeptics see you. There’s your chance to do good work.

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Sapiens

About 70,000 or so years ago, our DNA showed a mutation (Harari claims we don’t know quite why) which allowed us to make a leap that no other species, human or otherwise, was able to make. We began to cooperate flexibly, in large groups, with an extremely complex and versatile language. If there is a secret to our success—and remember, success in nature is survival—It was that our brains developed to communicate.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2019/01/yuval-noah-harari-dominate-earth/

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Sapiens by Y N Hurari has been on my to-read pile for ages. It’s currently aged its way to the no-seriously-I’m-not-kidding pile of books that are near my desk. The run-of-the-mill to-read pile is several bookcases that live in another room.

And the clock is ticking. The weeks—if one lives to 76, one gets 4,000 weeks—tick by and my collection of to-listen-to podcast episodes (I’ve given up; There are no shows that I subscribe to, pretending I’ll listen to every episode) and my to-read books continues to grow. I need to stop screwing around trying to do things and make a living, and instead get back to listening and reading. Chicken and egg problem, that is.

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Change is good

Total efficiency constrains us. We become super invested in maintaining the status quo because that is where we excel. Innovation is a threat. Change is terrifying. Being perfect at something is dangerous if it’s the only thing you can do.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2019/01/getting-ahead-inefficient/

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Change is good. (Although, Don Draper’s comment stands, making a different point.) Today I’m making a big change to some of my personal routines. I want different results than I’m currently getting… or pessimistic-me would say, I want some results rather than the none I’m currently getting. I’m not going to dive into what exactly I’m changing.

Instead, I want to touch on the how I’m changing things. I imagined a blank slate— a day with nothing. Then, what’s something I’d like to do? Okay, let’s put that into my day, (or week, month, life, etc..) Then, what’s something I keep “falling into?” …some habit that I see repeating, which I want to avoid. Okay, put something in which blocks that habit. One might have some non-negotiable blocks. (I’ll point out that those are not truly non-negotiable. They’re just costly to change.) Okay, I’ll put those back into my day.

The hard part is not putting too much back in. It’s the same as with packing my bag for a trip. I set out what I want to take. Then I pack the bag. I assess the degree of over-stuffage. (Notice the verb “to lug” lies within “luggage.”) Next, I unpack the bag, and reduce things. Finally, I repack the bag.

So, when is the last time you dumped out your luggage?

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Spacing effect

This is where the spacing effect comes in. It’s a wildly useful phenomenon: we are better able to recall information and concepts if we learn them in multiple, spread-out sessions. We can leverage this effect by using spaced repetition to slowly learn almost anything.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/spacing-effect/

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It’s funny how ideas percolate in the brain. This article and another one, (back on the 29th, which is further down in this weekly email,) passed through my radar within a couple of weeks. (I can tell because my general digital reading pile is a FIFO queue.) They were read a few times, but again in relative closeness in time. And they both ended up making the cut to be blog posts.

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Information loss

Our lack of perfect information about the world gives rise to all of probability theory, and its usefulness. We know now that the future is inherently unpredictable because not all variables can be known and even the smallest error imaginable in our data very quickly throws off our predictions. The best we can do is estimate the future by generating realistic, useful probabilities.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2018/05/probabilistic-thinking/

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It’s a good article—of course, why would I link you to something I think you should not read?

To be fair, I skimmed it. But all I could think about was this one graduate course I took on Chaos Theory. It sounds like it should be a Star Trek episode. (Star Trek: The Next Generation was in its initial airing at the time.) But it was really an eye-opening class. Here’s this simple idea, called Chaos. And it explains a whole lot of how the universe works. Over-simplified, Chaos is when it is not possible to predict the future state of a system beyond some short timeframe. Somehow, information about the system is lost as time moves forward. (For example, this physical system of a pendulum, hanging from a pendulum… how hard could that be?)

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Via negativa

Like nature, which removes mistakes to progress, you can remove things to not only survive but thrive. (This is one of the ways we can apply via negativa, an important mental model.)

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/what-holds-people-back/

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It’s a semi-interesting, but short, article. But this bit about via negativa made me down-shift. Because I’d never heard that little latin phrase. I wrote a blog post about how not to mess up endings of conversations… and then went directly to a bookmark on that Parrish article and realized that via negativa was exactly what I had just been writing about.

Via negativa is simply the idea of improving by studying what one should not do. Addition by subtracting one might even say.

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Empathy and compassion

With emotional empathy, you actually experience a weaker degree of what somebody else feels. Researchers in recent years have been able to show that empathic responses of pain occur in the same area of the brain where real pain is experienced.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2017/12/against-empathy/

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It seems obvious to me that being empathic is helpful since it suggests where to direct one’s compassion. However, is it necessary to be empathic in order to be compassionate?

Without compassion is empathy beneficial? Without compassion might empathy actually be harmful?

Why is my mission creating better conversations to spread understanding and compassion?

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