Knowing when to quit

I’m often told my people in my family that I should eat more kale. The reasons are that it’s a “super food” packed with nutrients.

I’ve also read about the benefits of taking cold showers.

There are 2 problems with these recommendations. I don’t like either the taste or texture of kale. I’ve taken cold showers and I end up cold. (To be fair, there is a short burst of energy).

In contrast to these, on the day I focus on my upper body at the gym, I make myself do Jacobs Ladder. It’s boring.

Why do I make myself go on the ladder, but refuse to eat kale and take cold showers? It’s about knowing when to quit. A big part of daily improvement and refinement is doing activities we’d rather not be doing. These help to build tolerance and patience. Self-improvement is full of recommendations and hints and systems. People swear by them and tell us about all the things we’re missing because we don’t adopt a certain habit, or eat a certain diet.

The problem is that if you spend your time on things you don’t enjoy, you’ll be miserable. The idea of adopting habits to get to a better place is the core of self-improvement. If you’re miserable, that runs counter to this idea. It also increases the chance you’ll give up.

Learning how to say no, learning how to quit something that’s not working is as important as learning to do something you don’t enjoy at first. You need to find something that works. I don’t like kale, but I do like quinoa. I don’t take full cold showers, but I do rinse off with cold water.

Learning to adapt an idea to fit your desires, interests, and lifestyle is a very useful skill. You can continue on the path to a better place while reducing the amount of will power you use to get there. We only have so much will power. We need to protect it.

Break the chain

You make a commitment to waking up 10 minutes earlier to meditate. That’s a small change to your daily routine. One day, your daughter gets sick and causes to stay up half the night. Then, a few days later, a power outage prevents your alarm from going off. A few days later, you drink a little too much and sleep through the alarm. Before you know it, you’ve given up on your commitment.


When talk about building new habits, repetition is a key element. Yet, beyond repetition, there’s a tendency to create a ritual. The same time, the same place, the conditions day in and out. As many who have tried, and failed, know, this doesn’t work. Life is not some perfect circle that always turns the same way. Interruptions, illness, disappointments, poor choices are not exceptions, but expectations.


Repetition is important to building good habits, but so are resilience and adaptability. We need former to keep the commitment despite the setbacks. We need the latter to be able to respond to the daily changes of life. Can’t meditate for 10 minutes in the morning? How about during a break at lunch? Or at night, before going to bed. The goal, after all, is to meditate. The time of the day is not important in the beginning.


It’s like this blog. Many people recommend long form, niche articles. Yet as people like John Gruber, Seth Godin, and Rohan prove in their excellent blogs, there’s also room for shorter articles. The goal here is to write for 10 minutes. I have several niches I’d like to explore. Topics such as machine learning, executive management and leadership, technology. Those are currently beyond what I’m willing to invest.
For now, 10 minutes a day is the building block to a better blog.

The power of automation

A significant point of debate in the 2016 United States presidential election was the loss of various blue collar jobs. One narrative is that globalist economic policies, such as free trade agreements, have caused companies to move these position overseas where labor is cheaper. Another narrative is that these jobs are being replaced by automation. Machines don’t get tired, they have the same level of performance, and they never are rude. They will break down, of course, but then companies can hire someone to fix them.


Automation, like many technological advances, has the power to cause a Luddite reaction. People tend to talk about the limitations of machinery much more than the benefits. Greater automation means a worker can spend his time on more valuable tasks, such as planning and design. At a company I recently worked at, the pitch for automating various networking tasks was that it allows senior networking engineers more time to design and analyze networks as well as train junior engineers.


We must implement automation wisely. More machines mean less need to for workers, so people will be out of a job. What are we do about this?

On one hand, greater financial literacy is needed so people aren’t so reliant on living paycheck to paycheck. That require us to tackle both retirement, health care, and education, since those are most peoples’ biggest expenses.


We need more than financial stability, we also need to rethink what we mean by leisure. We translate the words skole and otium as leisure. Skole forms the basis or the word school. The meaning is clear, the classical Greeks, who’s philosophy and politics formed the bedrock of Western civilization considered leisure a time for a person to be free of obligation and to engage in meaningful activities that build skills and increase.


Less Facebook, more books.

Humility

When was the last time you thought about humility? Building on my previous post about the Internet, it seems that humility is a skill that’s been lost with the advent of the Internet. Perhaps some people believe humility is meekness. Perhaps some people believe humility is a weakness. It is neither. Humility requires something neither of those two does: self-confidence.

It takes confidence to tell someone “I don’t know”. It takes confidence to tell someone, “I disagree, but I’d like to hear more”. It takes confidence to tell someone, “This idea may not solve everything, but it will solve some things. What do you have in mind?” As humility comes from a Latin word meaning grounded, it’s the state where you can acknowledge and use your strengths, while at the same time, understand your weaknesses. Humility is the counter balance to pride. Pride lifts up and emboldens, while humility grounds. We need both.

Too much pride leads to arrogance and hubris, too much humility is meekness. The former causes you to get carried away, the latter causes you to go unnoticed.

With the in-your-face, I’m-always-right views expressed on the Internet, humility’s importance has never been clearer. We should all ask ourselves if we’re being humble. It’s a mindset and a skill that leads to life long happiness.

Content Marketing

We blame the Internet for many things. Decreasing attention spans, susceptibility to misinformation, widespread pornography. The internet is not to blame for these. Often blamed, technology is rarely the culprit. Technology serves only to enhance many aspects of our humanity. If we have poor attention spans, it’s not because we spend time on Imgur and Reddit. It’s because those sites play into our existing conditions.


One of the aspects that the internet has enabled is content marketing. We’ve all seen these. We’re looking for help with a topic, so we take to Google and we find a great article detailing a solution. Our curiosity invites us to look around. We discover the author has a program, a system, designed to suit our needs, and we’re sold. The more time we spend on the site, the more we’re exposed to other authors. The more we’ve become enrapt in the cult of personality. Content marketers, like all marketers, do need to be pushy to get our attention. The various channels on the Internet (YouTube, email, blogs), allow them to be extra pushy. These people have built a cult of personality with followers.


This is no different that standard marketing. Look at the people who only wear Nike shoes, only drives BMWs, only use Apple products. The issue is that the Internet takes these aspects, tribes, as we call them, and enhances both the positives and the negatives.


Tribes are great because they can improve and strengthen members. They can give a sense of community and shared purpose. They can also be negative because they can seek out to silence dissenting view. To put down the Other. To reduce thinking.
The next time you’re looking at a site that has a community based on a content marketing site, remember, these people are trying to extract value from you. Put some healthy distance yourself.

Things worth protecting


In our lives, there are many things we know we need to protect. Our family, our friends, our home, our money, etc. These are tangible things. We can see the impact of our care.

But what of the intangible things? Things like sleep, attention, and emotions? These are things that seem to be under assault.


It’s almost a badge of honor to say, “I’m tired.” Or, “I’ve worked so much, I’m exhausted”. Yet, lack of sleep decreases congnitive functioning and increases weight gain.

Our attention is another thing that we seem to give away without much thought. “I’m busy!” we say. How many people have the TV on while looking at Facebook? Yet, attention is a precious gift. There’s an enormous productivity boost when you devote your attention to a single task. People around you feel like you care when you give them your undivided attention. It is only through deep, unwavering focus that people can develop mastering in skills or deep knowledge in a topic.


Our emotional state, too, is precious. People are angry everywhere. They push it in our face. People may light of depression and mental illness. “It’s only in your head” is a common statement. Yet, stress and depression have a lasting physical impact. We’re more suspecible to disease.


Thinking too is under assault. Social media and culture assault our ability to sit and use our brains. Yet, without good critical thinking skills, we fall victim to fake news ad charlatans. Without planning and strategy, we drift along through life. Without reflect and introspection, we never learn from our past and we never understand our reactions to the world around us.


We should be be more mindful of these things in the coming months. We should strive to protect our sleep, our attention, our thoughts, and our emotions as much as we seek to protect our homes, our families, and our assets. Many things in upcoming year are out of our control. Let’s focus on the things that are.

Dealing with disappointment

 

Unless you’re being malicious, you never set out to disappoint people. Yet, it happens. It’s usually due to mismanaged expectations and poor communication. How do you handle it? You need to make some time and reflect on what happened. You need to make some time to resolve to improve on the areas you can influence. The more important thing you can do is to let yourself feel the disappointment.

None of us like to disappoint. It shows we’re not quite as capable as we want others (and ourselves) to believe. It’s a vulnerability, a weakness. We try to avoid negative feelings. We try to blame others, find a way to avoid the pain, and forget about the whole thing. Feel them we must, though, if we want to make lasting change. I liken it to swimming. As an adult, we may avoid swimming in a pool or lake because it’s cold. In our minds, we build up the water to be the Arctic ocean, full of ice. We tiptoe into it, trying to “condition” ourselves.

The best way to deal with this is to dive in head first. Not mindlessly, of course. We should make sure our valuables are safe and that we have extra clothing and towels. Once we’ve prepared, we should jump right in and take on the water headfirst. In most cases, the water is only cool, and after the initial shock, we acclimate quickly.

The same goes for negative feelings. We create a quiet place, away from others. We have a notebook ready, we have tissues ready, and we have a pillow ready. Then, we dive right into those feelings. Like the pool, once the initial discomfort has passed over, we’re ready for the important work: what’s next?

Protecting your work

You wake up in the morning; for no reason at all, you’re upset. Nothing bad happened yesterday or last night, but you’re still feeling angry. Is it free floating anger, or is a sign of some deep, lasting discontentment. You don’t know. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is staying true to the course. Keeping your habits and your work going. You get up, you do what you need to do. You read. You write. You meditate. You exercise. You pay the anger no heed.

Often, the appropriate reaction to a negative emotion is to ignore it. It’s like handling a child’s temper tantrum. Once the child is safe, you left him to cry, whine, scream, and yell, all the while you go on about your business. Left to its own, the tantrum will dissipate once the child realizes he’s not getting anything. There are, of course, times when no matter what, the anger won’t go away. It sits in the back of your mind, festering. When that happens, you do need to sit down, reflect on the situation, and decide what to do. This is only after you’ve done your work. (Bear in mind, if your anger is preventing you from doing your work, or your anger is about your work, then it might be prudent to take action on the situation now. Ignoring stuck tires won’t free them.).
The point of this is to protect your work (or your habits). A key to building habits and doing good work is consistency. Showing up, regardless of how you feel. Giving your best even though you feel your worst. The work you need to do, the habits you want to build, should be done regardless of whatever fleeting emotions you feel. An excellent book, called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield goes into much greater detail on this subject, but his message is the one I’m echoing here: do your work.

The only way to achieve is through showing, through consistency. Weathering the negative emotions will help anchor you for the inevitable upswing.

Staying Positive

 

If you’re like me, you approach 2017 with some trepidation. I’m not afraid to discuss politics. It’s no bother for me to state the actions to Republican party have taken and will take will prove disastrous for this country. They will take years to recover from if we can even recover from them. A part of me views the 2016 election as the election in which the values of freedom, liberty, truth and justice were finally excised from the American political theater.

Despite that, my job still needs to get done, I need to raise my children, pay my bills, and my house needs to maintained. Furthermore, Final Fantasy XI is still running, and there’s still a set of books on my desk that need to read. In other words, despite the challenges that we face, life continues. Operating under a sense of dread and fear is counterproductive. It’s like walking under water, it hampers your actions and slows you down. The only thing to do is to stay positive. That’s the sign of a resilient mind; not allowing the external situations of life from hampering you too much for too long.

The same attitude goes for making small changes to your habits. You slip up, forget to read, you fall asleep rather than meditating. You “break the chain”. You can decide to let that failure end your attempts. You can decide that failure and set backs are a part of the process. You can decide to adjust your system to handle those setbacks. Very rarely does a plan or a process gets executed without an issue. Rather than assume it will assume it won’t, and resolve to course corrections as needed. The ability to recover and stay forward thinking is the most important habit you can learn.

Sticker Shock and Resolutions

The new year is typically the time for resolutions. For most people, it involves losing weight. As someone who has lost around 100 pounds, I can tell you losing weight is the easy part; keeping it off is harder. I’ve kept it off for close to a decade now. I did it not by a resolution, but small changes. I measured what I ate. I ate more vegetables, less bread, and red meat. I changed my workout routines, and I weigh myself daily. The “resolution” didn’t happen in the new year, but rather in the fall, when I realized I was tired of being overweight compared to my brother in law.

It wasn’t a big event, it was a slow realization, followed by a resolution, followed by a series of small, daily, and maintainable changes. People look at the new year as a time for a change, but any time in the year is a time for a change. A resolution is great, but unless you follow it up with SMART goals, it will remain a resolution and not a result. So, whether you want to read more, write more, weigh less, gain control of you money, focus less on the goal, and more on the process.

Another thing that may happen this time of year is sticker shock. I recently had this as I experienced for the first time the tax cost of self-employment. Perhaps for some people, this will happen when the cost of gifts start rolling in; it’s easy to overspend on the holidays without thinking. This is especially true with the easy access to credit cards. Then the bill comes in. Do you get angry? Or, like above, do you resolve to make a change and then implement a process. Connecting the new year and sticker shocker may seem a bit tenuous, but ultimately, both times are great chances to develop a new process.

Trust the process. It’s been proven to be the only thing that works for making real, effective change in life. A resolution without a process will never become a result.