Precision beats Speed

Communication via Feeling

As human beings we innately communicate through feeling. Language is a man made tool and therefore is imperfect by it’s very nature. There are feelings and sheadspaceituations that no words can describe, this is no more plainly evident than for a student of translation.

Slow Down

When we feel anxiety about being misunderstood by others we often have the unfortunate tendency to speed up and become more verbose. Unfortunately, this reaction is largely as ineffective as moving for the brakes when a car hits ice. In the moment it may seem counter intuitive, but we need to slow down, not speed up. Precision always beats speed.

I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead

– Mark Twain

As with most programmed reactions, there is no quick fix. The solutions are simple but not easy. Here is a solution for today:

Meditation

Meditation is simply a way of training ourselves to detach ourselves from our thoughts. The goal is to observe, not to suppress thoughts. When we observe we gain perspective and we realise just how ridiculous and meaningless most of our thoughts are. We also begin to see how a lot of our thoughts weren’t even originated by us to begin with. A good entry point into this field is through the HeadSpace app. The first ten days are free, so there really is nothing to lose other than a fear based overactive imagination.

 

The Contrarian Thinker

contrarianIn his book Zero to One, investor, entrepreneur and ex member of the PayPal Mafia, Peter Thiel talks about asking the contrarian questions. The only way to innovate is to create a new reality, and we can’t begin to create a new reality with old thinking habits. More of the same,
simply brings us more of the same, it is highly logical when we pause to think. One of his more interesting insights is the following question:

“If you have a 10 year plan and know how to get there, you have to ask why can’t you do this in 6 months?”

This may seem like a rather unusual question, and you are not alone in that assertion. However, he is using a classic tool of inversion, because most beliefs at their core are built on grains of sand. Therefore, let’s suspend disbelief and use the Socratic method, of asking 3 questions, to dissect his question.

1. What does a ‘reasonable’ 10 year plan look like to me?

2. Do I have solid underlying reasons for believing these assertions to be true?

If we are open and honest then we will see that our assertions and Peter Thiel’s questions are simply based on different mental models of reality. The third and final question is this:

3. Does my mental model of reality change as I evolve?

If we are tempted to answer No, then unless we move away from this temptation we will never have any understanding of a mind that can take a great question and use it as a framework for great action.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. – R. Buckminster Fuller

A Framework for Reading

Learn from our Past

We are growing up in a generation where information abounds and we have a feeling of being more ‘enlightened’ than any previous generation. Yet human nature has a nasty habit of deception. Fortunately,  we can learn from the lessons that history have taught us. The Stoic frameworks for living can help focus our attention on what truly matters to us, if we choose to read them.

Block out the white noise

We go to school to learn the art of reading. Reading enables us to understand the syntax and semantics behind the sequence of words. Reading is an extraordinary tool to add to any toolkit. However, additional tools are required for the modern man. We are living in the midst of a generation of ever expanding information, both trivial and profound. We need filters, and I’m not talking about the ones on our Instagram accounts.

Where good decisions come from

To make an informed decision requires a good education which in turn requires the ability to read. Yet there doesn’t appear to be frameworks for smart reading in mainstream education.

Education is not a means to start a life, education is a means of living.

Structured Reading

We need to construct frameworks to bring order to our reading. I found one such framework in the book Effortless Reading. Prior to reading this book, I was unaware of good frameworks for reading. The book emphasises the value of smart reading over speed reading. The golden nugget I mined from this book, and that I would like to share with you today, is this:

Divide your daily reading into three broad categories:

  1. Philosophy – Everybody should construct and own their life philosophy. This will evolve and improve over time, as we mature. A lack of a personal philosophy is evidence of a lack of ambition.
  2. ‘How To’ Books – Action speaks louder than words.
  3. Biography/ AutoBiography – These books give us an insight into the lives of the people we most respect and admire. It gives us an insight into how the person evolved. These books help us to relate to these people and put things in perspective. It will help give us the courage we need to present our best selves to the world.

 

 

Problem Solving with a Kaleidoscope

Like most children, I was fascinated when I had my first encounter with a Kaleidoscope. I can remember being mesmerised by the changing patterns and colours as I gently turned the wheel.  I couldn’t comprehend how a subtle shift could dramatically change the image before me, that’s what made it appear like ‘magic’ to me.

Fast forward to the present day and I am reminded of my friend when I encounter a problem that needs solving. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created the problem to begin with. This doesn’t mean we need other people to fight our battles and innovate for us. It just means that we need to become that little bit more resourceful. We don’t need to hire the handyman down the road to fix all our problems, sometimes we can go to the hardware store and purchase a screwdriver.

When all you have is a hammer then every problem appears to be a nail

I have read and heard a lot around mental models of the world. Different terminology is used but it all boils down to how we individually conceptualise the world around us. How two people can witness the same event and come away with completely opposing descriptions. I was listening to a podcast recently on the Art of Charm and I thought that James Clear provided a very accessible, practical description of how the ultra successful use mental models to navigate the modern world.

James Clear Mental Models – Episode 592

Here is a quote from Charlie Monger, right hand man to Warren Buffet, that demonstrates how he uses mental models to reframe problems:

“We all are learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire. You must force yourself to consider arguments on the other side.”

The good news is that, like a Kaleidoscope, it doesn’t take exceptional skill, talent, or dedication to start viewing the same thing through a different lens. The only shift that we need to make for today, is to change our default reaction when we hear a new idea. Instead of holding the attitude of ‘prove me wrong’, we can instead choose the attitude of ‘hmm I didn’t see things that way before, tell me more’.

Malcolm Gladwell and the fallacy of the Busy Mind

Responsibility is a dirty word. A tool of empowerment, has been turned into the enemy by an undisciplined mind.

Responsibility, while momentarily hard to take on the chin, is perpetually offering us a shot at redemption and fulfillment

I should learn French. I should start my own business. I should give back to society. I should feel a sense of meaning and fulfilment in my life by now, but I’m too busy…  Anthony Robbins said it best when he said;

We should, and should and should until we should all over ourselves

Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour rule in his book Outliers . Malcolm argues the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of correct practice in order to become elite in any field. If we are not tuned in, we can come away from the book with a sense of the enormity of the task at hand.  The book gives us a fleeting glimpse at the mechanics of greatness and takes it away from us, all in the same breath.

The courageous amongst us may throw caution to the wind, and try our hand at greatness. We may struggle on valiantly for weeks, maybe even months only to give in to the fallacy that greatness in a certain field is divinely handed down to a select few.

But, and this is a big but, there is still hope, and where there is hope there is a way, and where there is a way there is a question;

if I am an man/woman living an ‘average’ life, then why do I think I am too busy to take action on the things that actually matter?

 

How to find a Mentor who is worth a Damn – 3 Simple Questions

Self learning can be more accurately described as self directed learning. Nobody ever gets smarter without looking outside of themselves for knowledge. All throughout history even the greats had mentors; Socrates mentored Plato, Plato mentored Aristotle and Aristotle mentored Alexander the Great, even Einstein had numerous mentors. There is a well known saying that ‘those that can’t do, teach’, this may be well and true of certain teachers but when you meet a great teacher you realise that the antithesis, while rare, is also very much true;

Those who understand the art of doing, owe it to society to teach

In order to seek out and find these great souls, we need to turn the teacher/student dynamic on its head and begin with the question; how do I find a teacher who is worth a damn?

The progress of any student does not lie squarely on his or her shoulders. Learning ninety percent of the wrong stuff correctly still leaves us a terrible student. In order to learn ten percent of the right stuff, we owe it to ourselves to come prepared and good preparation comes in the form of asking good quality questions.

So here are 3 questions to ask a potential teacher:

  1. What did you waste most of your time on, that was not that important at all?
  2. What are the key fundamentals I need to grasp in this subject?
  3. Knowing what you know now, how would you plan out your first month?

 

 

Self Learning – A Peek Behind the Curtain.

Learning new things well, is linked to creating new neural pathways in the brain. Neuroplasticity of the brain is the reason that the old age adage – You can’t teach an old dog new tricks is largely untrue.

You can teach an old dogs new tricks

The degree to how well we learn something has a lot to do with how strong the new neural pathways we develop become. The downside is that it takes some important virtues such as self-discipline and patience to create a new neural pathway. The catch 22 is that some of us already seem to have strong neural pathways in place that associate pain to the aforementioned virtues. When push comes to shove, we are wired to prioritise movement away from pain, rather than movement towards pleasure, after all we have an animal side that needs to survive and propagate.

If you are content with things as they are then there is no need to read any further. However, if we want to better ourselves, then we must realise that we can’t find a solution to a problem with the same pathways that created it in the first place.

The old pathways simply need to be replaced in order for positive pathways to develop and emerge and solutions that start appearing. The good news is that the action of creating new positive pathways will help diminish the old connections in and of itself. As these pathways become weaker so does their power to bring us the results we don’t desire. This may be due in some part to the consistency bias in our brains. We are unable to hold onto two opposing viewpoints at the same point in time.

This all sounds very empowering but it also sounds overwhelming and like a lot of hard work? The fact I can’t solve a problem with my existing thinking makes me feel like I am trapped in a box, how then can I set myself free?

It is hard work but with hard work comes a ‘good’ life to be happy about. The answer we are looking for, lies in the fact that in order to solve a complex problem, the process begins at where simplicity begins. All good things come in 3’s so here are my 3 takeaways for today:

  1. Become aware of one bad habit you have that is constantly bringing you an undesired result.
  2. Think to yourself, what would be the polar opposite of this habit. e.g. if it is a thought, think to yourself what would be the opposite of this thought. If it is a behaviour, ask yourself what would be the opposite of this behaviour.
  3. Test this new thought or behaviour and see if there are any subtle positive changes to anything in your life.

The Importance of Continuous Learning

Learning is the process of improvement. The more we learn and educate ourselves the more tolerant we become and the happier and more stress free life becomes for us. Through the process of learning we can gradually take a step back in order to prioritise the things that truly matter.

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people – Eleanor Rosevelt.

The most invaluable experience we can acquire is through ‘trial and error’ but the key to trial and error is to make new mistakes. Failure is good when we learn from it, but too many mistakes can prove to be fatal and this is where the fear comes from. The best way to negate this problem is to make a conscious attempt to not repeat the mistakes made by other people in the past. History can have an awful habit of repeating itself when we are not careful. Nations will forever rise and fall with stoic and epicurean minds.

A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether.
Roy H Williams.

I look at reading as the manual to life, it should be common sense but, regrettably, that doesn’t seem to be the case. If I buy a table from IKEA, I have two choices; I can dive straight into assembling it or I can first read the manual and consult it from time to time throughout the process. If we don’t read the manual then we will leave a lot of things up to chance and ‘dumb luck’, and we will make a lot of unnecessary errors. We will hope that the table will look like how we intended and not unnervingly believe that it will. If we read the manual, and we are sufficiently talented, then the table will look the way we intend it to look. In a world where we are constantly looking for complexities, things can be made simple if we park our egos at the door and want them to be simple.

Deconstructing the ‘Magic Box’

The computer has been among the single biggest inventions of mankind. Moore’s law, where computer processors  have exponentially doubled in processing capacity every 18 months or so, has been the catalyst of change not only in IT but in every industry that IT affects.

In spite of all this, we sometimes still view the computer as a ‘magic box’ decades after it has become ubiquitous. Computers are ‘magic’ in the same way human beings can be viewed to be magic. Therefore, we don’t need a complete and perfect knowledge of them in order to begin to understand them.

The best way to begin to understand a computer is to establish a focal point. The best focal point to start with is to view the main components of a computer in line with what we are already familiar with.

The brain analogy

A computer is made up of four main components. The Computer Processor, RAM, the Hard Disk Drive and the Motherboard.

1. The Computer Processor 

This is where data is processed. It is the most important component of every computer.

The human brain can also be measured in processing power. The better we can process data, the smarter and quicker we will appear to other people.

It is the same with the computer, the better the processor the smoother everything  runs.

2. RAM (Random Access Memory)

This is the short term memory of the computer. It is memory that vanishes when you switch off a computer. RAM is quicker than any other memory. The more RAM, the quicker the computer will run. However, the efficacy of the RAM depends upon the other hardware you are dealing with. Therefore sometimes it doesn’t matter how much more RAM you add if the hardware isn’t good enough.

If we think of our own short term memory, it is often a lot sharper and quicker than our long term memory. We can remember a lot more detail in short term memory than in long term.

3. Hard Disk Drive (HDD)

The Hard Drive is the long term memory. It is where you save and store documents. This memory doesn’t disappear when you power off a computer.

It is like the long term memory of a brain that stores our important long term memories. These memories never go away even when we go to sleep. They are filed away for us to access at any point in time in the future.

4. Motherboard

The motherboard of a computer connects all the component parts together.

The motherboard is the same as the human back bone. The human back bone enables the brain to execute the commands it sends around the body. This is exactly what the motherboard does in a computer.

There are other parts to a computer including the Power Supply Unit (PSU) but these 4 parts are what I deem to be the essential parts.

There are a lot of fans in a computer. It is the fan boxes that often make the computer look a lot more complex than it actually is.

Breathing and Movement Classes

There are huge benefits to taking part in classes such as yoga and pilates. In classes that focus on breathing and movement we begin to develop how to move our bodies the way they were meant to be moved. We learn to focus more on our breathing.

Breathing is one of the things that is guaranteed in life. It is the most important thing that keeps us alive day after day. Yet knowing all this, the vast majority of the population take it for granted. Like breathing is not something that we should become aware of, that it is a God given right and we all do it perfectly without thinking.

Being stressed is as much a physiological process as it is psychological. The odd thing is, that in a world where mental health is gaining more and more ground, the physiological elements of stress seem to be largely ignored. We are told that talking helps, and it does, but we are not being told that there are classes out there that can  help regulate the physiological element of stress.

In body movement classes we can improve two invaluable skills. We can improve our breathing and our posture. These two outputs are interlinked. Good posture will lead to good breathing.

In stressful situations, like public speaking, planning begins long before we put pen to paper. We all get nervous, it’s natural, it lets us know that we are onto something, that we are venturing beyond our comfort zone. In stressful situations a lot of us will hyperventilate. This is why we will find ourselves out of breathe easily when we are under stress. Breathing and movement classes will help us to first become aware of our breathing and movement and then to improve upon it.

If we want to become fearless, take life on and develop our full potential then there is no better place to start than putting time into perfecting the skill that we use over 20,000 times each day.