Education Productivity

Optimizing Environments for Studying and Other Things

“There are nearly endless opportunities to improve each day and finding them largely boils down to being curious. People who are better, in the end, are usually curious in the beginning.” 

James Clear (Author of Atomic Habits)

“Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”

William A. Foster (United States Marine & Medal of Honor Recipient)

A huge part of being socialized is being able to regulate our emotions and there are tons of ways to do this. Exercise, diet, meditation, vices, art, work, etc. But the most effective way to regulate our emotions is to regulate our environment.

The best way to not be stressed is to stay away from stressful places.

The Best Study Environments

If you’ve read my other posts on studying, I frequently emphasize learning principles to design systems that work best for ourselves. One of the fundamental principles for creating the best study environments is known as State-dependent Learning. This is the idea that people can more easily recall information if their physical or mental state is the same as their time of encoding.

This suggests that our physical and mental states are influenced by our environment. For example, when students are in a classroom they may be feeling more alert and aware than at home which influences how they encode and recall.

When I was younger, I noticed that I was much better at math inside my math class than at home or anywhere else. In class, I was sharp as a tack but the second I was anywhere else, it took me more than twice as long to answer the same questions. I didn’t understand it then, but now I know that it was because I learned the material in that classroom, everything about the classroom became subconsciously associated with the material. When I took in all the stimuli from the classroom (i.e. decorations of the class or the arrangement of the chairs) I was able to fire the specific neural pathways faster because of all the cues affecting my internal state. I could still fire the same neural pathway at home, it just took a little more energy and time because I didn’t have all the external cues from the classroom (where I encoded the information) influencing my internal states or acting as anchors for recognition.

Implement Cues

When we’re getting started it’s nice to have a cue that lets us know when it’s time to get to work. Cues are the 1st stage of the habit cycle and are crucial in creating (or destroying) habits.

When I was in high school, I had a small study lamp that would click whenever I turned it on. Since I had so many days where I sat at that desk and did my homework, I created a subconscious connection between the click of the lamp and getting to work. It’s like once the lamp clicked, so did my mind and I was ready to study.

The click of the lamp was my cue to get started.

Now, the cue doesn’t have to be a click of a lamp. It can be anything really, as long as we associate it with studying or getting to work.

In college, I had a study playlist that would get me into full flow once it got going. After college, I created new playlists with different kinds of music. (Today, the Hamilton instrumentals have been keeping me on track). However, cues can be more than auditory. It’s also lighting and position, the decorations in the room, smells., or tastes.

Any and all of our senses can be used to create cues that trigger our habit cycles.

Simulate the Test Enviornment

This is one of the most fundamental principles for creating a study environment. There have been studies that show studying in an environment similar to test helps with remembering. This is, in part, because of the cues and state-dependent learning. While we’re learning, the signals from the room are subconsciously connected to the concepts, and seeing those signals may help trigger the neural pathway we want. This is partly why I suggest that silence is better than music while studying because we usually take tests when it’s silent.

Simulating the test environment gets more important as we get closer to the exam date. Now, I want to emphasize that it’s still possible to study in a completely different environment and perform well on an exam. It would require more effort and active recall, but it still works. Studying in a similar environment as the test simply makes things easier to recall later.


Location and time matter. Learning in the same place makes it easier to encode and retain information. Recalling that information would be even easier if we tried to remember it in the same place that we learned it.

This is partly why I performed so well in high school. I had a rigid schedule where I learned the same subjects every day at the same time in the same place. I noticed that students had a hard time retaining information during distance learning and part of that was because many of the students took it upon themselves to do their work “whenever they felt like it.”

While I’m a huge proponent of people creating their own schedules, without a routine our brain will have a more difficult time filing that information away.

Let me give an example: if we learn math in the morning at our kitchen table, then we will subconsciously associate the kitchen with that specific math concept. Now, let’s say we learn the next topic at the kitchen table again. Our brain will create a little folder in our minds where we associate learning math at the kitchen table and it will be a litter easier next time to learn math there. But let’s say we decide to do our math assignments in the evening in the living room. We’ll notice that we’re still able to do the lesson, but there will be slight resistance. Our brain will have a harder time recalling the math concepts when we’re in a different location or at a different time. This may not seem like much, but over time we’ll have to put in significantly more energy just to keep it all straight.


So here’s the deal with music and studying. Studying in silence is better for two main reasons:

1) We can dedicate more of our cognitive load to the course material

2) We are simulating the test environment by studying in silence. In almost every exam I’ve taken, it was silent so it helps to have silence associated with the concepts, at least in preparation for the test.

But if I have to be honest, I love studying and working to music.

Music is a huge part of my life and it brings me so much pleasure.

Yes, there is a slight productivity hit from studying to music but I think it’s worth it if it makes the experience a little more enjoyable. I’m all about prioritizing my experience of the process over productivity.

If I’m constantly excited and enjoy the process, then I’m naturally going to be working more often.

So I want to get into which music is best for studying. Typically songs with lyrics tend to distract our minds. Even if we aren’t trying to pay attention to the lyrics, our minds will be subconsciously trying to decode the messages in the songs which takes up a significant amount of cognitive load. So studying while listening to music without lyrics or instrumentals is the best of both worlds.

Additionally, songs with more rhythmic qualities tend to be more distracting than songs with less. So I recommend listening to songs with relatively little drum instrumentation. Unfortunately, this means one of my favorite genres, hip hop, isn’t ideal for studying. I tend to work and study to classical or movie scores.

Listening to music also helps mask feelings of effort, our brains release dopamine when we listen to music which helps with our reward systems. Music has also been proven to have an analgesic effect, so it literally hurts less to study with music on.


The best lighting for studying is a well-lit room where everything is easy to see. Low or dim light makes it difficult to see and it also signals to our brain that it’s time to go to bed. In low lighting, we’re extremely susceptible to slipping into stage 1 of sleep. Our brain emits alpha waves and lowers our levels of mental arousal. This prevents us from focusing or paying attention as well as we could.

If lighting the entire room isn’t feasible, I recommend having a study lamp that at least illuminates the workspace. Not only for the lighting but having something that’s associated with just studying helps with creating habit-forming cues.


Sitting or standing, it doesn’t matter which team you’re on. Naturally, we don’t want to sit for long periods of time, but we also don’t want to study for long periods of time either.

I’ve seen a lot of conflicting stuff when it comes to sitting vs. standing desks, but I recommend splitting up studying into modified Pamadoros and getting up and walking around, changing up the environment a little bit during the breaks. I don’t think the issue lies in which desk we have, but in doing things for long periods of time when we’re designed to switch things up every once in a while.

The desk needs to have adequate space to work. It also should be inviting and functional. When I finish my work, I try to clean up my workspace so it’s nice and clean which encourages me to get to work the next time. When my space is cluttered (which is when I’m in the middle of projects), I’m less likely to work again. I call cleaning my workspace after I finish resetting to zero. I try to do it whenever I can because it helps me hit the ground running the next time.

Libraries vs. Coffee Shops

Which is better for studying? This depends on a few different things:

1) Our goals and where we are in relation to it.

Let’s say we’re learning something new, the deadlines are pretty far away, and we have a study group that wants to meet at a coffee shop. Sure! This would probably work. But let’s say we’re not really strong on the material and the test is coming up in a few days, then we should probably spend some time in the library alone running through active recall drills. For me personally, I used libraries to learn new information and coffee shops to review old information. Where we are and where we want to go play a huge role in how we choose or design our environments.

2) Our internal states.

Renowned neuroscientist, Dr. Andrew Huberman, says our brains are constantly determining if our internal states are aligned with our external surroundings. We can think of the library as quiet and still while the coffee shops are busy and loud. If our internal state is still and quiet, then studying at a library may be our best bet. If we’re feeling a little more stimulated and anxious, maybe studying at a coffee shop would be better for us because we will have that matching of the internal and external.

Discover how we feel and go to the place that matches that.

For some, knowing how we are feeling can be a difficult thing. Mindfulness practices are great for developing the skills and abilities to identify what we’re feeling. Making the best choices for ourselves always starts with knowing what we want and need.

Study Groups vs. Studying Alone

I’ve written a post on Group Studying vs. Solo Studying that goes over the 80/20 on that subject, but bottom line is that each has its advantages and it depends on what we want to accomplish. I recommend studying alone if you are learning the material for the first time or if you’re still shaking on most of the main ideas. Groups can be powerful for reviewing content that we are already familiar with or learning how to approach 1 or 2 main ideas.

Know what’s needed and plan accordingly.

More On Environments

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

Marcus Aurelius (Emperor of Rome, Stoic Philosopher, & Author of Meditations)

Environmental influence is nontrivial and determines our constraints, but it also goes deeper than what’s physically around us. Our environment has physical, social, and mental components.

Our physical environmental influence consists of all the tangible aspects around us. This includes, but is not limited to, the location, lighting, desk, and music. Changing our physical environment is probably the easiest to change compared to mental and social environments. Spending some time cleaning or reorganizing will usually do the trick.

Our social environments are created by the people involved in our pursuits. The people may be in our physical space or not, they could be involved with the project from afar, or they could even be consumers. The thing to keep in mind is that the social influences of our environment come from our relationships with those people. Tending to the relationships, or adjusting our perception of the relationships is our key to optimizing our social environment.

Our mental environmental influences consist of all the nontangibles and other things floating around in our heads. If we can remember that our environment isn’t just what is around us, but also what is goes on in our minds, then it’s a little easier to determine what is part of our mental environment. Optimizing our mental space is a little more difficult than our physical space. In order to do this, we have to adopt new philosophies and perspectives. I highly recommend Stoic philosophy for this. However, the most influential factor of our mental environment is our perception of the physical space. Our perceptions are within our control and with some practice, we can shift our perceptions so they create an environment better suited for our pursuits.

Our environments influence us and determine our constraints, to an extent, but our perceptions could transform an otherwise destructive environment into something supportive.

“When jarred, unavoidably, by circumstance, revert at once to yourself, and don’t lose the rhythm more than you can help. You’ll have a better group of harmony if you keep on going back to it.”

Marcus Aurelius (Emperor of Rome, Stoic Philosopher, & Author of Meditations)

The key to controlling our environment is finding the strength to accept that our interpretation of our environment is just one of many and to actively seek a framework that transforms the challenges of today into what makes us phenomenal.

There are infinite ways to perceive something and if we’re in a position where our environment seems to be crushing us, then our only way out is to look for other ways to see the situation.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910)

Our environments are a combination of what’s going outside of us, but also inside as well. As long as we know ourselves and what we want to accomplish, we have the power to transform our environments into beautiful places, or at least less miserable places.


The Role of a Tutor

“Children are educated by what the grownup is and not by what he says.”

Carl Jung (Archetypes of the Collective Unconcious)

I’ve been a private tutor for the better part of 7 years now and I have to say that it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It’s also the thing I think I’m best at, considering that every semester my demand is overwhelming. Every semester, I connect with most of my students in a meaningful way and I’m often told explicitly that I’m the best educator they’ve ever worked with.

I understand I have a serious bias here. Of course I think I’m an amazing tutor! All the students that love me let me know and all the students that don’t go off and find another tutor. So I don’t really know what people think when they aren’t happy with my services. The thing is though, I’ve only had a handful of families over my 7 years of tutoring that decided not to work with me, and every time it was because of reasons unrelated to my competency.

Despite the consistent, positive, and generous feedback I get from my tutoring expertise I still struggle with believing that I, Christopher Mukiibi, know enough to tell people “the truth.” I’m constantly worried that what I’m telling people isn’t true, outdated, or foolish so I’m (maybe to a fault) always learning about the best ways to teach, connect with, and engage my students.

I’ve had educators who wasted my time, squandered potential, and didn’t take responsibility for their presence and I found that to be some of the most abhorrent behavior I’ve ever had to endure. Educators have the power to change the world and unlock the limitless potential of the future, if only they gave it everything. To say that I will measure up to that standard isn’t realistic, but I do try my hardest to strive for that ideal in every way that I can.

And here I am writing this post. My way of articulating what an excellent tutor is, what they do for their students, and how they conduct themselves. At least in the capacity that I can.

This piece, like many of my other pieces, is part of a bigger picture that I hope will enlighten the minds of the future, but I also want it to be a stand-alone piece that demonstrates one of the better parts of me.

A lot of people see tutoring as a cheap profession, but it’s serious and has detrimental consequences if done wrong. By the time my students see me, they usually have little faith in their educational institution. Once I step into their home and assume the role of tutor, the student will unconsciously associate me with the entire education institute. Suddenly, I’m no longer just Chris the Tutor, but I am their representation of the education whether I like it or not. What I am to them is what education is to them.

If I’m useless, so is education.

If I’m interesting, so is education.

If I’m deplorable, so is education.

If I’m admirable, so is education.

Who we are to others is always much bigger than we think.

So as a way to do my part, I’m going to explain the proper way a tutor must conduct themselves in order to ensure a better future with powerful and independent thinkers who have faith and respect for the institutions that have come before them.

Understand the Power

Most people don’t see a tutor as a position of power.

Unless you’re the student.

The student is aware that they don’t know enough and that the tutor probably knows the answers. There’s an innate power imbalance when a tutoring session starts, especially when the student doesn’t know the tutor very well and it’s up to the tutor to take responsibility for that imbalance.

A good tutor must be friendly and approachable. These people are vulnerable and we need to be able to provide the space for them to be vulnerable and wrong. The tutoring session cannot continue if the tutor hasn’t given the student an opportunity to show their underbelly, so to speak. The best way to do this is to focus on the relationships – get to know the student and who they are as a person. Likewise, let them know who you are. Connection is everything.

People work with people – humanize everything and move with ease.

Initiate Support

Students typically don’t like asking for help, especially if we’re dealing with boys. Asking for help is implicitly admitting that we’re wrong and don’t know what to do. Some students won’t even admit this to themselves, so it is up to us to ask them if they need help. The good tutor initiates support. Sometimes the students have no issues with this and you can just get down to brass tax, but if you see that the student is stuck and won’t ask for help, be the helping hand.

No one wants to feel vulnerable, and extending the helping hands makes it a little easier to deal with.

Personally, I make a small effort to have the students ask for help because it primes their minds to take in new information but I am sensitive to my student’s emotional states when I’m doing this.

Clarify the Task

Sometimes students don’t know what to do simply because they don’t understand the instructions. My first line of support, so to speak, is to clarify the task. I just ask the question in a different way, usually in simpler language. Most of the time the students understand the question when I ask it differently.

As a tutor, our job is to meet our students at whatever level they’re at and illuminate the path. In my post, Understanding Development and Mentors, I talk about the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and it’s the tutor’s role to meet their student right at the edge of their competency, which is known as the ZPD. The ZPD is where productive tutoring happens, it’s where learning happens.

Provide Guidance with Questions

Too many tutors just straight-up give out the answers to their students.


Part of our learning process is suffering, pain. It’s one of the many tragedies of life, but it’s not needless. The negative emotion helps the information stick. The systems in our brain that we’re developed for negative emotion were originally used as a survival mechanism. For example, when we touch a hot stove we forever remember to never touch a hot stove because it was painful. If we just give the answer, the student may know it for the time being, but it won’t stay for the medium to long term. Searching for an answer can be a tough and painful process, but it’s where transformative learning takes place.

As a tutor, sometimes we may need to give an answer. Maybe the student won’t ever get the answer no matter how hard they try, that’s fine. It’s our role to meet them wherever they are, but we’re calling upon the highest parts of them. Most of the time, it’s best to lead them with questions. I try to answer their questions with questions.

Check for Understanding

Part of our role is helping the students understand the material, not get their assignments done. This can look different for different classes, but the main idea is the same. There are certain concepts that the student is responsible for knowing and it is the tutor’s job to assist in making those concepts clear for the student.

I usually check for understanding towards the end of sessions in the form of Active Recall questions. I try think along the lines of what is the main idea of the lesson and can the student explain it back to me?

Step Away, but Check Back In

This goes hand in hand with letting the students struggle through their work. It is the role of the tutor to help the students understand their concepts and part of that is letting them struggle on their own.

This would probably surprise many parents, but I spend a solid portion of the sessions just waiting for the students to get the answer or to work out problems.

I would try to have little tasks on my phone or tablet to work on so I don’t accidentally help my students more than they need to. (I do this more often than I would like to admit.) But it is crucial for the student to struggle through the work.

The Master does nothing, yet he leaves nothing undone. The ordinary man is always doing things, yet many more are left to be done.

Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching)

The real masters of tutoring do (next to) nothing.

Teach Procedures and Concepts, Not Answers

Do not teach answers or particular questions. I would argue that it’s crucial for the tutor to be familiar with answers and particular questions, but it would be our role to teach the procedures and concepts associated with solving those problems.

Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.

Teach a student a question and help him for a day. Teach a student a concept (or procedure) and help him for a lifetime.

Hands down, the most valuable thing I got from getting a degree in Chemical Engineering is learning how to solve complex and difficult problems. All the individual questions that I learned most definitely left my brain, but the concepts and procedures are still with me so I can solve similar types of problems.

Additionally, it’s much more difficult to forget a concept as opposed to answers to specific questions.

Encourage Contructive Habits

As tutors, we’re in a special position to influence our students in a powerful way. We aren’t teachers or their teachers, so the authority is slightly different. In my expereicne and many other tutors I know, students open up to their tutors in a special way and hold their opinion in high regard (as long as the tutor conducts themselves in a way that deserves that). On top of that, we’re providing support in a place where they have none so the students are more likely to take what we say as true.

This is a great privilege and responsibility and we should treat it as such. The good tutor encourages constructive habits like asking questions, attempting difficult questions, voluntarily taking responsibility, pushing themselves to improve, and many others.

Do not take your position for granted, be a force for good.

Be Compassionate Towards Their Struggles

It’s hard to do something well the first time. No one is good at anything when they first do it and we need to have empathy for that.

For tutors and educators, the material is literally easier to do because we’ve had the time to develop and strengthen the neural pathways necessary to run those concepts. If we’re learning it for the first time, we need to understand that we would also struggle regardless of who we are.

I often reflect back on the times when I struggle with certain concepts. 9/10 times my students make the exact same mistakes I made when I was learning a subject. This also gives me an edge in pinpointing their mistakes – they’re all the same one’s I made!

Admit Defeat, but Don’t Give Up

We have to be able to admit when we don’t know an answer, but we also cannot leave our students dead in the water. Have a bank of resources to refer back to when you don’t know something. This is much easier in the 21st century. I have a google drive folder with pdfs of textbooks, workbooks, lecture slides, and notes for all the subjects I specialize in. I also recommend connecting with other tutors in your area that are willing to help answer questions when you get stuck. Currently, I’m working on a resource bank on my website that educators and my students can use.

Promote Academic Honesty

Like I said earlier, tutors have a special kind of authority when it comes to academics. Our students look to us to learn what is right and wrong with academics. We have to take this role on with seriousness and responsibility. As tutors, we represent the institution of academics and the students are developing their relationship to the academic institution through us. This means how we approach our work will influence how our students will approach theirs.

Here’s where it gets serious, the way people approach their work (or anything else) also influences their relationship with themselves. The approach of their work influences how they know themselves and what kind of people they think they are. This decides which challenges people are willing to take or ignore, which ultimately decides their lives.

This may seem dramatic for some, but as I like to say we cannot fathom the impact of our actions. As tutors, we have to take on the responsibility of being the vehicle that people use to develop their relationships with not only academic institutions, but all institutions.

I’ve used my position to help students see that the whole system isn’t set up to hurt or control them. They can see this through me. Through my actions, I show them that there are parts of this world that actually have their back and want them to win.

With that said, plagiarizing is a weak move. Don’t give them work that they can turn in as their own. Turning in “bad” work is better than turning in fake work.

We can also promote academic honesty by discouraging dishonesty. Suffocating the behavior right when we see it is the best way from keeping things whole. I try not to encourage things that aren’t sustainable over the long term.

Lead Them to the Answer

People can only perceive what they can conceive. So just telling them the answer will be like talking to a wall. If we didn’t think of it, then we can’t perceive it. As tutors, we need to lead them to the answer. They need to see how the answer comes to be and why it’s important. Just giving the answer is like showing someone something that doesn’t exist.

Things stick with us when we come to the conclusions on our own.

I know I mentioned this in other sections, but I want to emphasize that this goes along with the idea that the tutor meets the student at their level of understanding and guides them through. This means waiting until the students get the right answer and rewarding them for hitting the mark. It’s okay to nudge them in the right direction, but telling them the exact answer never works in the long run.

Be a Mentor

Hindsight is 20/20 and everyone could use more guidance. As a tutor, we have a unique position to offer that mentorship and wisdom. The good tutor has a desire to pass along knowledge that they would love to have known earlier. The good tutor suffers for the greater good, learning the material the hard way and teaching the lessons so other’s don’t have to.

If we can take on the role of mentor, our tutoring automatically levels up because now we aren’t just there for the student’s academic performance, but for the student as a whole.

Contextualize the Information

I can’t tell you how many times a student has told me “When am I ever going to need this?” This is a classic case of not understanding the context – how the information fits into the bigger picture of their life. Context is specific to every individual and how something fits into my life will be different from how that same thing fits into someone else’s.

The good tutor helps the student make this connection. They help them see why it’s important to educate themselves and learn what’s in front of them. The trick is framing the information in a way that is relevant to that particular student. In order to do this effectively, we have to know what the student is aiming at. What kind of life they want, what kind of things they want to do. When those goals are made clear, putting most things in context is fairly easy.

If a student isn’t clear on exactly what they are aiming for, I try to show them that their academic challenges are opportunities to develop themselves in the face of things they don’t want to do. Life, regardless of which path we take, is full of things that we don’t want to do and knowing ourselves as the type of people who can get shit done even if we don’t want to will give us a serious advantage in life.

Putting things in context will help us understand the why.

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

Go Deeper

The good tutor must be able to take each concept 7 times deeper than it needs to go.

There are two main reasons for this.

The first is that the student may not understand how the first method works. If that happens, the tutor needs to be able to explain the concept in a different way. The second is that the tutor needs to be able to learn and update new methods of problem solving when they encounter one. Both of these reasons require a deeper knowledge of the concepts.

The deeper knowledge also prevents us from simply memorizing different ways of solving problems or concepts. The deeper knowledge allows us to accurately synthesize the data so we can present the ideas in a way that our student can understand. Each students has unique perceptions and a deeper knowledge can ensure that we accurately communicate those ideas no matter how unique.

Own Your Presence

The good tutor takes responsibility of their presence. We own 100% of the feelings of our student and take it upon ourselves to moderate our behavior accordingly.

Sometimes we need to be tough, sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes we need to give the answer, sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes we need to speed it up, sometimes we need to slow down.

The flow of the session depends on the student. The tutor should be able to adjust to the needs of the student, not the other way around. Some tutors expect the student to form to their methods of teaching, but that creates resistance and unnecessary effort for both parties.

We can’t force a horse to drink, we can only lead it to the trough. But coming from a place of 100% ownership, we are able to think of solutions we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Be Flexible

The good tutor is flexible. We must be able to move and keep up with the student. Sometimes that means speeding it up, sometimes that means slowing it down. Either way we need to be capable of both.

Changing our teaching style to accommodate for their understanding is one of our primary roles. While, if possible, the primary role of the student is to open their minds and pay enough attention to understand the information regardless of how it is presented.

The good tutor is also easy going and not too rigid. Flexibility creates an ease which encourages an environment of growth and vulnerability. Additionally, flexibility can mean to be rigid when necessary as well. Sometimes structure could be the the environment we’re looking for.

Maintain Visions

The best tutors can perceive and maintain visions for their students, even if they can’t for themselves. Most of the time, tutoring is not a quick process and lasting results take a long time to see. The only way to see them is to maintain a vision of the long term. The good tutor sees this and holds it as the target even when the student is blind to it. When things get stressful, we shorten our time horizons which means we lose our vision for the future and stop moving towards it. If the tutor can keep this vision alive for the student during times of hardship, then the student is much more likely to actually reach their goals. The tutor needs to be able to see what the student cannot.

Maintaining a vision is the bare minimum to realizing a goal, but it’s hard to do on our own.

Focus Intensely

A good tutor can focus, knows how to focus. A tutoring session should never be limited but the attention span of the tutor. If it’s easier for the tutor to get off track than the student, then the student is better off working on their own.

Now if you have trouble focusing don’t think that you can’t be a phenomenal tutor. Focus and attention span is like a muscle and can be improved over time with tracking. When I first started tutoring I had to push myself to flawlessly focus for an hour, but now I can go 2-3 hours without an issue.

Pay Respects to The Before & After

A good tutor understands that the world is loaned to us from our children, but also given to us by our parents. So it is up to the tutor to embody gratitude to the ones who came before us and enrich ourselves with their greatest accomplishments and ideas, but also pay respect to the minds that come after us and nourish them properly.

If we can arm our future with the wisdom of the past, we make the world better.

The good tutor learns how to plant from the ones who came before and plant seeds so the ones who come after can enjoy beautiful flowers. I try to leave bits of knowledge so that the students can make good choices when the time comes. Most of the time they don’t make the good choice, but sometimes they do and that would not have happened without the seeds.

Match Their Efforts

The good tutor matches their student’s efforts. There is no use in trying harder than the pupil.

All of our victories are our own and we should not take that from them.

When we meet the student who is ready to give it their all, we rise up.

The tutor should never be the limiting reagent.

Track Their Cognitive Load

A good tutor is attuned to their student’s cognitive load. Cognitive load can be thought of as our brain’s processing power. As I mentioned earlier, a 1-hour session was exhausting and it usually is for the student too. Now I can do 2-3 hour sessions without even thinking about it, but I have to keep in mind that my students don’t perform at that level.

Sometimes parents just want to have the sessions go as long as possible, but the student is only capable of working for an hour. It’s our job as the tutor to recognize when the student is tired and stop the session if the student isn’t processing adequately. There is no use in pushing our brains to work when we’ve hit our cognitive load limits. All we get there are diminishing returns.

This was a pretty long list, but it’s not entirely comprehensive either. Like my other posts, this is full of methods and tactics, but what I want is for people to understand the principles behind them As so that they may create tactics that are more effective than mine.

Tutoring is a beautiful thing.

We shape thinkers. We open minds. We design the future. We help people realize their potential.


2020 Yearly Review: Time in Abundance

“Live as if you are living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.”

Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning)

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”

Fred Rogers (Creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood)

A large part of this year is the COVID-19 pandemic which brought with it the phenomena of social distancing. This year the world changed forever. The future looks to be cashless. People no longer need to drive to work. Everyone is forced to find the joys in simplicity.

A lot of people claimed to have a terrible or wasted year, but I see it differently. We were given an abundance of time, which I would argue is the greatest gift of all. Staying home and not traveling under the threat of this virus has made everyone confront their own mortality and existence.

For me, I wanted to use the beautiful gift of time to have a year that I could look back on with pride.

I believe I did that.

I created more than ever before, I trained myself in so many ways, I made more money than ever before, and I learned so much about so many important subjects.

I underwent a physical, mental, financial, and creative revolution. Admittedly, this has been one of the best years of my life.

Last year, I started to assign themes to every month because I felt like my life was slipping through my fingers. It was a way to keep life from escaping me. Looking at the year in chunks of 4 weeks made every day feel a little more meaningful. The idea is that I pick two themes that I do not want to improve or focus on, or two areas where I feel weak and I try to improve them in any way I can. I keep this very low pressure (so I actually do it) and I record my thoughts on the process at the beginning and end of every month.

This is my first year of actually doing a full year of monthly themes. Last year I started this practice and I started roughly in the middle of the year. You can find 2019’s yearly review here.

Last year, I felt like I didn’t write enough. This year, I fear that I have written too much.

All journal entries are in italics and my comments from today follow CM:

January – Integrity & Steadfastness

Beginning of the month: I feel like last month I did a lot of work on my integrity, but last month I realize my integrity deficit was much higher than I anticipated. So this month I’m going to be focusing on my integrity again and trying to restore more of my integrity. As for steadfastness, I have a job interview coming up and I know I’m going to need to be firm in where I stand to not only get the job but to get the highest paying offer for it. I also feel like it would increase my self-respect. I read somewhere, probably some stoic philosophy, that a man’s ability to stand up for what he believes in is directly correlated to his belief that he belongs to be here on earth. I probably butchered it, but it’s something to that effect.

CM: “…a man’s ability to stand up for what he believes in is directly correlated to his belief that he belongs to be here on earth.” Who cares where I read it, ideas are of the Earth – still a beautiful lesson though. I feel like that was something I had a hard time with last year, but this year I’ve managed to internalize it.

Jan 17th: Integrity is a tough theme. I know the point of this tracking system is to improve myself even if it’s just one percent, but now I feel like I’m not making progress until the whole system improves dramatically. It’s the wrong perspective, but it lights a fire under my ass to get better faster. As far as steadfastness, I can see myself in specific moments when I know I should be more assertive or stand my ground, but I choose not to. It’s strange. I get really upset about it, but now that my eyes are open to the exact moment when I need to kick my steadfastness to high gear, I’m less upset. I guess it’s the idea that I have a choice, a say, in the matter that gives me slight relief. I give into the weaker side of myself more often when those moments come, but it’s nice to know when they’re here.

CM: Baby steps are everything. Upward trajectory is everything.

End of the Month:  Integrity was a big battle this month. Paying attention to my integrity is always difficult because I have such a strict definition of being “whole” within my integrity. Something as small as my room being dirty or my bag being in the wrong spot was enough to pull my attention away. However, the challenge is welcomed. I’ve developed a more refined version of the attention I pay to myself and the things I care about. I know this is valuable moving forward, but goddamn was it a bitch to revive in me again. Steadfastness is the real win for this month though. I feel a lot better sticking to my guns when times get tough and not feeling as bad for people when I can’t deliver on their arbitrarily developed wants and “needs.” This requires years of unlearning and I feel like this month I made real headway in this. My ability to be steadfast is going to be crucial for me in the next few months since I’m embarking on this creative journey. I can already feel the attacks on my identity (from myself) and my proclivity for withdrawal is creeping in ever so slowly but as long as I focus on my steadfastness, I should be okay.

CM: I am a lot less tough on myself now (in the unhealthy way that I was so desperately trying to purge at the beginning of the year). So far I’m glad I’m doing this review. It really helps me see the growth I’ve had over the year.

February – Articulation & Patience

Beginning of the month: Articulation is one of the themes I’ve found throughout every book I’ve ever read, every lecture I’ve ever listened to, and pretty much everything I’ve ever researched. Higher articulation leads to a better life with less suffering. So I’m going to focus on trying to articulate myself as specifically as I can. I can tell a lot of my fears and insecurities lies in my unarticulated speech and part of me knows I’m “letting myself get away” with these insufficiencies by not bringing them to light. I know I’m not going to stop it all this month, but like my steadfastness, I want to move in the right direction. The trajectory is more important than where I actually am now. Articulation. So important. Too important for me to not practice. As for patience, I know I do this one every couple of months. I used to feel like an asshole for constantly needing to pay attention to my patience, but I’ve learned to develop compassion for myself here. A huge part of the culture I’ve grown up in leans towards instant gratification and swiftness. The faster the better in this day and age, and I’m seeing that belief manifest in all things I do. I know that some things aren’t better when they’re faster, like learning and cooking, but I have to create a conscious effort in doing things that take a long time. If I want to be successful in creative endeavors, I need to maintain my vision, keep the faith, and have patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is the empire I am building. I have to remember that if I focus on running the systems I’ve developed to create effectively and if my patience stays intact, in time I will be feasting my eyes upon a beautiful empire of my creation that provides value and positivity for those who enter.

CM: Lot’s of good lessons here. “Higher articulation leads to a better life with less suffering.” “The trajectory is more important than where I actually am now.“If I want to be successful in creative endeavors, I need to maintain my vision, keep the faith, and have patience.” I feel like I’ve really brought those with me throughout the year!

End of the month: I feel like both of these themes were challenges at first, but paying more attention to my articulation has allowed me to develop patience. If I found myself in a situation where I could clearly articulate exactly what I meant, how could I fault someone else for not understanding what I meant clearly? Being aware of this helped me take more responsibility in my interactions with people. However, it has made me listen to how people try to articulate themselves and I see, with growing certainty every day, that most people can barely explain what they mean. The ability to articulate is not something that people spend a lot of time doing. Not gonna lie, there were people I “helped” this month who are worse off because they cannot articulate themselves. From now on I want to treat articulation as a virtue and try to further sharpen my abilities. As for patience, this month worked as a practice in presenting myself in the terms of making myself present to the moment. My practice of patience has given me the ability to see the moment in relation to the entirety of my life. Learning patience has been more than a temporal journey. Being patient enough to endure the moment of sacrifice is something I found worth practicing. It helps me sacrifice more often and thus reap the rewards of that sacrifice. Like other months, I honestly felt like working on these two wasn’t worth the energy but now that the month has wrapped up, I can say wholeheartedly that it helped in more ways than I expected. I love delightful surprises.

CM: I feel like this month helped me understand the importance of keeping my linguistic skills sharp. I also feel like I’ve internalized “being patient enough to endure the moment of sacrifice.” I’ve done a lot of difficult things this year, by my own personal standards, and I feel like it comes from me being patient enough to endure the moment of sacrifice. Perhaps this just sticks out to me because my theme for this month as I am writing is Sacrifice.

March – Disagreeableness & Vision

Beginning of the month: Disagreeableness because I’m tired of using my agreeableness as an excuse to do things that make me weak. My agreeableness is less of a virtue and more like a crutch these days. So I’m going to actively try to be more disagreeable. The path to wisdom is through the point of the forest darkest to me, right? I’m terrified of being disagreeable, probably because I’m terrified of rejection. Hopefully, I get the crossed wires straightened out this month, or at least start to. As for vision, David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, inspired this for me. He talked about how he hated what television was at the time and worked on The Sopranos, which was the total opposite of what was showing on TV those days. He didn’t go against the grain for shits and giggles, but because he had a greater vision for the show. I believe, after just watching it, and seeing many interviews with Chase, that the show had a larger commentary on life and how we choose to experience the privilege that is consciousness. The man has a vision bigger than anyone could understand, and he saw it through to the end. Down to every single word. I feel like both of these themes will work nicely together to bring out my own vision. I have a vision for myself and my life and I have seen time and time again that pushing my vision is the way to bring about the Kingdom of God. I don’t say this to mean that I know what is best for everyone around me, but I do know what is best for myself if I follow the signs that God has given me, so to speak. I’m terrified, but I’m ready for battle.

End of the month: Not gonna lie, there was more than 1 day that when by and I forgot about this entirely. I’m not going to blame COVID-19, but social distancing has put a kink in my plans for sure. Since I’m being honest with myself here, I can admit that I don’t think I got better in terms of developing my disagreeableness or capacity for vision. Some days I forgot and that means I’m dedicating my energy elsewhere. Plus, I didn’t write it on my whiteboard this month. Just goes to show that my whiteboard really influences my mind. I don’t feel like I’ve developed these skills properly even with the slight development I did practice this month. On the days that I did practice being disagreeable, I felt it affecting the relationships with my family and Kyra. I guess it makes sense, considering that agreeableness is a common trait I have with these people so they all have some level of agreeableness that they require for them to be satisfied in a relationship. That being said, I feel like I did not develop my disagreeableness correctly because it negatively affected my life. Not that I’m saying anything that causes negativity in my life is bad, but I wanted to develop my disagreeableness to work in my favor and not to my detriment. Getting my way at the cost of others is an effective way to get things done, but it’s not something I’m willing to practice, especially on my loved ones. As far as vision goes, I guess I did a little better. I’ve been getting better at working out consistently. I think that blog post I did on Churchill stuck with me more than I expected. The lesson I got from it was something like – “It does not matter if the battle was won or lost yesterday, the fact is we have to fight it again today.” There was another quote I found fascinating it was something like – “studying the way of the warrior and living a warrior’s life is very different.” I feel like focusing on vision, setting my aims to improve my vision (not physically, but my mind’s eye), has helped me grasp these quotes and lessons through the transcendent. These quotes are not only fantastic for me, but they give me a pretty clear idea of what tomorrow will look like too. Most likely, I will feel the same way and experience the same obstacles, but the difference will be how I choose to act in those moments. Over time, these choices will dictate my life and I will experience what I deserve. Perhaps. I’ve known this for a while, but I feel like this month I have really internalized that idea. I’m not vice free, however. I feel like I’m struggling up against my self-destructive tendencies pretty hard this month, but I feel like that is a function of the uncertainty that lies in my country.

CM: March was scary and difficult because of the pandemic, but I guess this was a great time to think this way. In retrospect, the pandemic hitting helped propel me into doing a lot of creative work this year. I was trying to figure out what could drive me and at the same time, I get hit with the greatest gift, time. Honestly, this was my most creative year yet and I think a lot of it is due to being in this headspace when the pandemic hit. I didn’t see the result immediately, but once I understood that the pandemic isn’t as bad as I was anticipating I started creating like Alexander Hamilton writing The Federalist Papers.

April – Tracking & Disagreeableness

Beginning of the month: Last month, I made some progress, but it was mostly disappointing. Some crazy things happened, like a global quarantine, which is still going on and it made me realize that I need to learn how to adjust to atypical conditions. At first, it felt like a vacation but then I realized that this is going to be at least a significant portion of this year and I better learn how to stay on the upswing or this could be terrible for me. So I’m deciding to go back to “What gets measured, gets managed” and I’m going to work on my tracking abilities. I feel like as long as I’m tracking and trying to improve, I’ll make more progress this month in terms of personal development, rather than feeling like I didn’t do much. I even wanted to scrap this entire monthly theme thing, but I didn’t want all my work to go to waste. Hopefully, I can take advantage of that little mental tick I have and trick myself into sticking with more worthwhile things just simply because I won’t cut my losses. I also want to bring back disagreeableness again. I didn’t do it right last month. I need more finesse. I feel like season 1 Peter Campbell from Mad Men, I’m trying to play a game that I don’t understand and as a result, I’m pissing off everyone around me. In the show, he gets better at playing the advertising game and I’m hoping I can get better at the disagreeable game as well. This already feels like a bitch, but like what Schopenhauer says – a man just moves back and forth between pain and boredom.

CM: This probably saved my life. This tracking month was so crucial in influencing how I operate today. Tracking is the reason anything is better than it was at the start of the year.

End of the month: So I fucking love tracking. I downloaded an app called Streaks where you can choose different things you want to keep track of and it records things like how many days in a row you have done something, what time of the day you complete a streak, what days of the week you complete them, and other things too. It’s been eye-opening to see all how I work. Even without realizing it, I have patterns. Like I always break productive streaks on Fridays! I’m not sure why. Mondays and Wednesdays are my most productive, I usually don’t miss writing or producing on those days. It’s also been nice to have something that keeps track of time during this pandemic. The weeks are starting to blend together. Tracking my habits this way has also allowed me to start journaling consistently. It’s nothing serious or deep, just a quick 5-minute journal that facilities gratitude, sets positive trajectories, reflections, and potential improvements. I’ve been able to actually improve my days as it goes on. I’ve even noticed my tracking habits spilling onto Kyra as well. It just goes to show that our actions have a much bigger impact than we think. Thank God I started this monthly theme thing. It’s been an anchor in chaotic times and a springboard for all my best practices. As far as disagreeableness is concerned, I feel like I have made tremendous improvement. I believe I’ve found a balance between being disagreeable and being a total cunt. I’ve been able to stick to my guns and stay firmly planted in my positions (within reason, of course) without compromising relationships or self-respect. I’m not sure how to exactly articulate how, but paying attention to my “magnitude of disagreeableness” has helped tremendously in developing disagreeableness within myself. This month could have been a disaster, but because of these themes, I feel like I have come out of this a much better person with an exciting future. I’m going to continue using the streaks app as long as I can.

CM: Streaks app changed my life. Every once in a while I change the habits depending on my priorities at the time, but it’s been a Godsent. I can’t even begin to explain how crucial tracking is. I’m still using the Streaks app and it’s a staple in my life now. I will probably never leave it.

May – Scheduling & Practice

Beginning of the month: Last month was amazing!! I made leaps and bounds in the worlds of wisdom and habits, but this month I would like to focus on scheduling and practice. I’ve been using my calendar a lot less since the pandemic started and I’ve noticed that I have a difficult time trying to fit everything I want to fit in one day. I’ve noticed that some tasks are put off for days and sometimes weeks. My rooms have gotten dirty, clutter has risen, and I keep saying I’ll clean later or I’ll write later or I’ll produce later, then the days end and I have no energy to do anything. I used to schedule everything I did and I knew that before the pandemic, I could get mountains of work done within 24 hours. Now, I’m lucky if I can get 5 things done. This month I’m going to attempt to return to my roots and schedule everything. Thankfully, I know a thing or two about it so this month isn’t really about getting better and scheduling but reviving the practice in my life again. Another perfect theme for this month is practice. Kyra is reading The Practicing Mind, and I’m finding that book to be eye-opening. Focusing on practice will create more results than my product focus mind has been. I know this to be true from my own experience as well as experiences from others, so I’m excited to see what comes out of May 2020.

CM: I don’t have that much to say specifically about this month, but I want to acknowledge myself for developing the level of self-awareness I’ve been painstakingly cultivating over the past few years.

End of the Month: This month was interesting. Being practice focused helped me get so much work done. It just goes to show that focusing on the process rather than the product is exactly the right way to spend our attention. Focusing on results makes it harder to generate results and I end up not wanting to write or make music at all. I’m glad I practiced practicing this month. It’s def something I’m going to bring with me on future adventures. I went from thinking my blog and YouTube channel are going to die to having slack in both of those art forms. The blog slack isn’t much, but I’m relieved of the pressure of my deadlines which is what really matters. It’s so strange, I’m terrible under pressure, but I acknowledge that I need it in my life. AS FOR SCHEDULING, this was a hot mess. I tried to schedule things for myself at the beginning of the month and it just wasn’t working out for me, which is extremely weird because I know that scheduling is key to high yield productivity and mental clarity. I think it might be because of the pandemic, now that I’m on my own time I don’t feel the pressure to do everything at a scheduled time as long as I get everything I want done in the day. I’ve been doing really well at getting what I need to get done, but that wasn’t the point of the theme. I was supposed to practice scheduling and instead ignored it. I did somethings, like pay attention to the days I drink alcohol, but that’s not as substantial as I know the changes could be when practicing these themes.This is going to be a theme I’m practicing again.

CM: It is true, deadlines can be fatal to me if I get too close to them, but I do need them in my life or nothing will get done. It is only time that will force me to say “good enough!” I really screwed up the scheduling theme, but I’m glad I decided to just try again instead of admonishing myself for failing like I normally do. Compassion for myself comes in low supply, but it’s oh so important.

June – Scheduling & Limit Expansion

Beginning of the month: Scheduling is something I need to get better with. I feel like I’m getting what I need to get done on my own time and that’s great, but I feel like I could get more done. Plus I had a few hiccups last month as far as forgetting tutoring sessions and other poor scheduling related issues. Limit Expansion is something I’m definitely not excited about, and that’s how I know it’s a good theme. By Limit Expansion I mean I want to expand my current limits of everything in my life and welcome every opportunity to do so. Right now, I feel like it’s better to stick with what I have going on, but the part of me that’s aiming the highest knows that I need to expand my horizons. Hopefully this doesn’t end in flames!

End of the month: So scheduling I did better with. I started using my calendar more than I was before and it actually helped with getting things done! I know I didn’t use it to its full potential. I know how to do that and I know the power a good schedule has and I didn’t maximize the power of my schedule this month simply because I didn’t listen to it. There were times when something would come up on the calendar and I’d just reschedule it or ignore it. What I really should have done was sack up and do what my calendar says if possible. Regardless, it was a great exercise and helped me remember how powerful scheduling could be. Limit expansion has been the death of me this month, but I knew it would be. I increased my kettlebell swings, got a bigger tv, got a new credit card, got a new wardrobe, made new kinds of videos, watched tv shows I wouldn’t normally watch like Eastbound & Down and Righteous Gemstones (Limit Expansion helped me discover Danny McBride and thank God I did!). I love that my limits are expanded. I feel like a more full person and it’s lovely, but it also was extremely difficult to consistently move out of my comfort zone. It took many days of expended more energy than I was willing to. I guess that’s what life is like right. You get out what you put it. You have to be willing to give to receive. We grow by expending more energy.

CM: I feel like ever since this month my limits were expanding every month all the time. I became addicted to branching out. It’s opened so many doors for me and I feel like so much of the richness of my life came from me voluntarily opening myself up to the unknown and different.

July – Focus & Exploration

Beginning of the month: I want to practice my focus. Not necessarily how long I can focus or how hard I can focus, but I want to be able to focus on one thing at a time. Like truly just one thing at a time. I find myself often thinking about other things or wanting to do everything at once and there have been more than 1 occasion where I’ve tried to do that and it ruins everything. I love to stack things so I can move more efficiently, but I want to try things differently this time. I want to try to just focus on one thing at a time. This doesn’t have to mean move slower, but it does mean that when I’m doing something I need to trust that I will be able to complete the other things I want to do. I also want to try exploration as my other monthly theme. Exploring opens possibilities to serendipity and discovery. I want to look for moments to explore and discover. I also feel like giving myself permission to explore in this way will help with the intense guilt I feel for doing aimless exploration. Some things I specifically want to explore this month are photography and videography, but I’m open to other things as well.

June 10th – I want to start tracking more accurately, but I don’t have another place to log this so I’m going to put it here – From what I can tell, from working on blog posts and such, my average attention span is about 15 minutes. How embarrassing, it used to be so high. But that just goes to show the damage that atrophy can really do. Since this month’s theme is focus, I want to try to get that up.

CM: Oh I remember the struggles of not having a place to track my things. I use Notion for organizing little things like this, but also for the big things too.

End of the month: I feel like exploration was a hit! I dove deeper into video editing and investing. I started reading more books on investing. I feel like because I was focused on exploring, I was actively looking for new perspectives and opportunities. I see the world as a bigger place. It’s almost like exploration opens up my world. It makes sense intellectually, but it’s a whole different thing to live it. As for focus, I felt like I’ve been a little better at maintaining focus. My attention span is nowhere near where it was when I was heavy in my MCAT studying, but I feel like my focus is much more refined than it was at the beginning of the month. I feel like I’m able to voluntarily just focus in for small bursts of time, which has been a way that I’ve been getting myself to do certain things like writing or working out. I also feel like I’ve been more attuned to myself and my body. I can focus on my body and feel where I’m tight or what I’m feeling in general. That seems like a super small thing, but for me being able to know what my body needs is a new thing. I really enjoyed just exploring and focusing. This was one of my more fun months for sure. Learning about investing and video editing is so damn fun.

CM: It’s funny, I still have an “issue” with focusing on one thing at a time. I’m still plagued by the feeling of wanting to do everything at once. I’m still doing everything in short bursts of focus. I also feel like this year was massive in terms of recovery from trauma and seeing that I was taking steps to know what my body is feeling months before I knew that it would help with my trauma response.

August – Consistency & Delaying Gratification

Beginning of the month: Naturally, I had a hard time picking the new themes for this month, so I picked the first two things that made my mind go “fuck no.” I think consistency will be great because Mukiibi Enterprise is going through a massive rebranding, like everything on my website, and my music production channel is changing so consistency will help me get this massive project done. If I can consistently just do a little bit of work every day and try to focus on my daily habits, it should work out nicely. I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten the best results when I’m just focusing on the day and doing my work consistently especially when I don’t feel like it. As for delaying gratification, I’ve noticed that my impatience may not be the only thing keeping me from having peace of mind. This month I’m going to practice not being gratified for my sacrifices. Hopefully committing to accepting little gratification for just this month can trick my brain into sacrificing more than I’m usually. I wasn’t excited for this month’s themes when I started writing this, but now that I know that I could get out of it I’m kind of stoked to try this out.

CM: I’m still working on some of the stuff I set out to do in August too. Better late than never and precisely why I spend the last month of this year trying to create new systems to manage my life’s complexity. I feel like what I was trying to do in August I managed to do in December, but not all the way.

End of the month: Oh boy. This month, consistency worked for things that I didn’t expect it to work for and it didn’t work for what I expected it to work for. Originally, I wanted consistency to be applied to my website, but I ended up applying it to my book. This month I’ve spent more energy on my book. I’ve pretty much stopped doing WIUW (temporarily) and I haven’t been uploading beats as frequently, but I’m making massive progress in my book and it’s starting to come together. I’m hoping to apply a little bit more pressure to get the first draft of it finished soon. Then I can turn it into courses and YT videos. I’m planning on doing a few more WIUWs on Final Cut Pro so I’m actually capable of editing my online course videos. I want those to be really nice, especially since I’ll be charging of them. BUT, I feel like I need to flesh out why I haven’t been working on the website. I originally wanted my website to be a funnel so I can have income coming in, but since the school year started up I’ve been getting a lot of tutoring business so I don’t really need to worry about making the website bomb. What I need to do is finished the book and start developing the part of my online empire that will actually net me money. I’m starting to see that the music side of my online presence isn’t going to be making me money anytime soon so I need to divert my attention away from it momentarily. I think using my YT channel as practice for my educational stuff is the right move. My educational content will be more searchable and that will be the way. As far as delaying gratification, I wanted to be able to sacrifice as much as I possibly could so I can have epic gains at the end of this month. Similar to consistency, it worked for the things I didn’t plan on it working for and not the things I planned. I don’t play as many video games, but that may be bc there aren’t any good games to play rn. I did start jump roping and that was insane. I really had to channel the delaying gratification part of myself to get this habit going, but I’m starting to like it now.

CM: I was wrong in switching my perspective to follow what would make me money. Now I know to work on projects so the projects actually get better, not so they can fit a financial timeline. My projects are prioritized to be better, not to make me money. I was letting imaptience get the better of me and mixing up competence with income. It’s also neat to see that I started to jump rope this month and even started to like it because it’s evolved into a full-blown passion for running.

September – Intuition & Prioritization 

Beginning of the month: I need to work on trusting my gut. I feel like I know what’s best for me but I don’t listen to myself often. This is most obvious with my trading behavior in the stock market. I know when I have to sell, but I don’t and I regret it the next day. This happens with many other things too. Particularly in my professional relationships. This month I’m going with my gut. As far as prioritization, I feel like I need to be able to just focus on one thing at a time. I have a lot going for me right now. I’m caught up in a web of my own making and now is the time to focus. I’ve spent a lot of time getting most of my ideas from 0 to 1 and now I need to work on getting each idea from 2 to n, n being a place where I can get some passive income (maybe even some f u money). I think the way to do this is to focus on one idea at a time. I’m not going to stop producing content for all of my outlets, but I’m going to try to not feel guilty for not producing as much. Right now, I want to focus on finish the book and bringing that whole idea up to speed. This is going to be insane that’s for damn sure.

CM: Spoiler alert: the years almost over, and the book still isn’t finished. It’s okay though because I am making it better. I feel like I’ve been in the same loop since August. I’m happy that I’ve done this review because I’ve been able to see my patterns and discover explanations for emotions I’ve been feeling over the months.

End of the month: I feel like I trust my gut a lot more than I have in the previous month. It’s kind of nice because I’ve been working on trying to believe myself for a while now and I’m just starting to do it. I think it’s because I’ve been looking into more Ancient Greek history and I internalized, for the first time ever, that Socrates really believes that he knew nothing and that gives me great solace. I think the themes allow my orienting reflex to look for reasons to believe in myself despite my proclivity to think I’m an idiot. The themes provide the breeding ground for the knowledge to actually make a difference. As far as prioritization goes, I feel like I’ve done well at that. I’m scaling back on my music output (even though I made $150 this month from music) so I can focus on my writing. I made the announcement public on my YT channel, and the support I got was so unexpectedly positive. I kept feeling like if I lowered the magnitude of my uploading then I would surely lose all the work I’ve put in over the past year. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I feel like I have a better connection with my subs and I’ve been growing at roughly the same rate. It’s a little lower, but that performance hit was to be expected. Purposely cutting back on something that was rewarding me and could potentially net a huge amount of money makes me feel like my writing has even higher stakes. In a way, the sacrifice feels more now but that’s good because it’s lit a fire under my ass. I haven’t been writing more, in terms of time, but I believe my writing has been of a much higher quality and I’m spending more of my energy refining the things that will eventually blossom into something much bigger. Prioritization has helped me feel less overwhelmed and more present with my students too. I definitely want to take these themes with me as I move forward. These themes are never as insane of a journey as I think they’re going to be every month.

October – Intensity & Individuality

Beginning of the month: I feel like I need to ramp up my intensity. I’m already really intense as is, but I think I need to try to responsibly use it. Like the shadow – intensity is something that needs to be integrated, not shown off. I want to apply intensity to the prioritization that I’ve practiced last month. I’m hoping to make some real forward motion this month. As far as individuality, I feel like I’m good at marching to the beat of my own drum but I feel like I need to train it like being disagreeable. Not in the sense that I don’t have it and I need to develop it, but that I need to be able to use it with more finesse. I have no other way of describing what I mean at the moment – basically, I want my individuality to be something that I can call upon if needed, but not in a way that could potentially damage my reputation. Dealing with the people around me is tough right now and I honestly think everyone else could do a lot more in making this easier, but I can’t change them so I have to be able to trust and use my individuality properly. This month is going to be more of me trying to more accurately hone what I already have going for me. Like a teenage boy with his testosterone and animus energy, I need to learn how to control and use my intensity and individuality effectively and appropriately in ways that benefit myself and my future.

CM: I like the idea of integrating intensity in a way that allows me to use it when I need to. I feel like I’ve gotten better at that in the past few months.

End of the month: Intensity has been the name of the game for the last month. I feel like I’ve been pushing myself in so many different directions, but it’s been good. I took up running and have been pushing myself every time and I’m getting in shape faster than I expected. I’ve also been more sure of the choices I make. I can feel myself being more formidable which feels like what I was going for when it comes to intensity and individuality. The perfect union of these traits will give me formidableness in the face of the great unknown. I also feel more connected to myself – the choices I make are not bad but good and I feel myself questioning myself less too which I think is a function of my individuality developing further. I’ve been allowing myself to enjoy what makes me happy in the name of cultivating my individuality which makes me feel more connected to life. After all, the things I find interesting and enjoy are a function of my individuality. However, I do feel like I’ve been pushing really hard and I had a few breakdowns this month. I physically feel tired and I feel like I haven’t made as much progress as I planned, but I did make progress and most of it was in dimensions that I wasn’t planning, so that’s pretty cool.

CM: Formindableness = Intensity + Individuality. Worth noting and keeping for later because I feel like it worked. I struggled for a long time with believing my own choices and standing by what I believed, but I feel like intentionally developing those two traits gave me a great foundation to build upon.

November – Vulnerability & Exploration

Beginning of the month: As usual, I don’t want to do these themes, but I know that to get the holy grail I have to enter the forest that’s darkest to me. I’ve been reading a lot of books on trauma and I think it would be in my best interest to find ways to be comfortable with my vulnerability. I had a lot of vulnerable moments with Kyra last month and maybe if I leaned into them I could find peace in a new way. It’s going to be super hard, especially since my natural reaction is to not be vulnerable. I also want to explore more. I want to explore myself and the world around me. I feel like I’ve been so focused for so long and I haven’t had a chance to really see what else gets me going. I’ve been exploring a fair bit in the world of skills, but I want to take my exploration to new places internally and externally.

CM: It’s funny, I don’t review these entries until I write this blog post and I love how I felt like I haven’t given myself chance to explore, but I did just a few month prior. I supposed exploration is a constant I need to include in my life.

End of the month: This month I have allowed myself to be more vulnerable and I have given myself permission to explore. I’ve been engaging in small talk and asking people questions more as well as using their names. I’ve noticed that people have been more open to sharing information with me. It’s not anything big, just really subtle stuff. I’m sure they don’t even notice it and I’m only noticing because I do these monthly themes. I’ve also been able to explore my own feelings deeper. I’m more aware of my own feelings, which gives me an edge in understanding myself and my decision making. I’m able to create a distance between my emotions and my actions and use that space to make more intentional decisions be it about business, personal, or otherwise. Exploration has been fun too. I’ve let myself change up my YouTube habits and I’m watching stuff that more fun and less serious. I’ve been allowing my love for Hamilton run wild and that’s led me to explore what it’s like to be a play write and composer. I think it would be cool to make a Nietzsche play that’s as engaging as Hamilton. I’ve also let myself spend hella money on software so I can further my creative exploration. Final Cut Pro and the Philharmonik plugin are so cool and I can tell I will use them for years to come. I’ve also let myself play insane amounts of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. I don’t normally play Assassin’s Creed games, but it’s been so fun! It’s a series I don’t play about a part of history I don’t know anything about. I wasn’t even really into history until this month. Hamilton and Valhalla have really opened my eyes to other worlds. Now I want to deepen my understanding of history and it’s so cool. I’ve also let myself go a little crazy with my workout clothes. It really is more fun to work out when you have nice clothes to do it in. Letting myself go a little wild for a month was good. Although I did spend a lot of money, I have to say I’ve been having a fun time.

CM: I feel like this was just yesterday and I’ve actually been worried that I may have been wrong in allowing myself to go crazy with the spending and the video games. Looking back on what I wrote, I can see that it’s worthwhile.

December – Organization & Sacrifice

Beginning of the Month: This month I want to get everything more organized. Starting with my website and online presence. I’ve been working so hard to get my ideas externalized, but whenever I encounter people, it’s impossible for me to share the ideas with them. It always comes down to me having to explain it – I guess that’s why I started writing in the first place. But now I want to turn it into something easy for people to digest and I believe that starts with me getting organized. I’m hoping that organizing my website, my production over the next year, and everything else is the missing puzzle piece I need to turn all of my hard work into something tangible. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but I feel like I haven’t really wanted to sacrifice for it so by making this month’s 2nd theme sacrifice I’m hoping I could nudge myself in the right direction. Also, sacrifice is always necessary for making the future better and I want my future to be better, so this month might have to come with a few sacrifices.

End of the Month: This month has been a wild ride and I’m so glad that I spent this time setting myself up. I’ve created new systems for everything and started using Notion. It’s been life-changing. I’ve created different dashboards for all the different parts of my life and it’s been helping me think of my tasks and my life in a whole new way. I feel like all the stuff that’s been floating around in my head now has a home and all the little files and notes everywhere can have a place to nest and grow. I lost sight of the bigger vision while drowning in the complexity of my life but now I see the potential in all the things I’ve been building and so much more. I feel like I haven’t been able to organize everything how I want, but that’s because I’m discovering how much complexity there really is to unpack. I’m definitely going to bring organization into my next month, but the sacrifice theme is going to have to go. In order to actually get myself to sit down and dive into the complexity of my life, I had to be okay with not releasing any content for a month (since that was where most of my extra energy was going). I was pretty sad looking at all my past work and knowing that I won’t have any work like this to reflect the times, but I will sacrifice the content of the now so I can produce more and higher quality stuff in the future. I’m hoping I’ve been making the right calls. This year was tough for a lot of people, but I’m happy with how I live my life and I feel like as long as I have structures in place for myself I will always be growing and getting better.


How to Be a Renaissance Man

“Learning never exhausts the mind.”

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

I’m not writing this post as an attempt to share my knowledge on how to be a renaissance man, this is coming from my fascination with people who manage to master multiple crafts.

By no means am I a renaissance man, but I do have a strange fear of being pigeon-holed into one spot which I believe has given me the drive to develop myself in multiple areas. I’ve always enjoyed being able to do many different things and when I see other people who have that same ability I can’t help but to want to know how they do it.

When I was younger, older folks would always call me a jack-of-all-trades. I’m not sure if they were insulting me or complimenting me, but I’ve always been interested in what turns the “jack-of-all-trades” into the “master-of-all-trades”. Perhaps it’s impossible, but one particular person who I believe got pretty close was a true genius, Leonardo da Vinci.

While he is most known for his paintings, da Vinci studied more than just painting. He was a student in sculpting, architecture, anatomy, zoology, physiology, astronomy, geography, naval warfare, philosophy, writing, music, and engineering. Most people just spend their lives doing one thing, but this guy dedicated himself to learning everything he could about everything he could.

Personally, DaVinci is a huge inspiration to me. I believe that human beings have immense potential and da Vinci is one of the few people in history who actually brought it out. He showed me that people are capable of being well versed in anything, we never have to commit to knowing just one thing. This gives me a feeling that’s like a perpetual renewing of life — knowing that tomorrow always contains something exciting and new.

I believe the foundation to unlocking our miraculous potential is outlined fantastically in Michael J. Gleb’s book How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. These steps are known as the Seven da Vincian Principles and these principles lay the foundation for da Vinci’s incredible ability to learn so deeply.

The 7 da Vincian Principles


This is an insatiable curiosity. Not only will having an insatiable curiosity reveal to us the path of mastery, but it’ll always reveal new paths to explore. We can always keep discovering.

I attribute much of the success in my life to having an insatiable curiosity. It’s what birthed all of my passions as well as laid the foundation for most of my relationships.


This is testing knowledge through experience. Learning is fantastic, but sometimes we’ll learn inaccurate information. The easiest and cleanest way to separate the wheat from the chaff is to put it to the test in a real-life scenario. Everything we learn has to be battle-tested. Sometimes ideas are great in theory, but true and good knowledge works through experience. We can use our curiosity to learn large amounts of knowledge and we can test our findings out in the field, so to speak.


This is a continued refinement of the senses. We must constantly be refining how we sense. Over time, our typical five senses (hearing, touching, smelling, seeing, and taste) become less sharp unless we intentionally stimulate and use them. This can extend far beyond our five senses, expanding into our senses of other non-tangible things. Focusing on refining our business, social, or artistic sense could also lead to unlocking human potential.

Thankfully now we know enough about people to know that refining our sense is as simple as “use it or lose it.” Continuously challenging our senses inherently refines them and in the struggle of that challenge, something beautiful is born.


This refers to a willingness to embrace ambiguity. The older I get, the more I see this to be necessary to grow in any capacity. Before we can be masters, we must be fools and to be a fool is to live with ambiguity. When we first start something, we have to accept that something is just unclear and that’s okay. We have to be okay with a certain level of the unknown in order to expand ourselves. Learning is converting the unknown into the known and that can only happen if we accept the unknown for what it is.

This is also true with art. When we start an artistic project, we don’t exactly know what it will become and we need to allow the project to grow through the ambiguous stage.


This is to develop a balance between art and science. This is probably my favorite principle. I see art and science as the two forces that drive humanity forward. One makes life worth living and the other makes it better – you could make a compelling argument for either and that is what I love most about it.

Artsy types that shut out the world of science are closing themselves off to a world of infinite beauty and wonder and the same is true with ultra sciencey types who shun art. Great art is a science and great science is an art and to be apart of both worlds is one of the best parts of being human.


This is cultivating fitness and poise, which comes with the acceptance we are a human animal and not a machine. We have physical needs that must be met and cultivating that within us is beneficial everywhere else in our lives.

A healthier body does more. In a day it can make more decisions, take in more information, learn more, share more, create more, and make more connections. With fitness comes poise and with poise comes more accurate and precise actions. Developing grace is developing awareness and intentionality, two crucial traits for mastery.


This is recognizing and appreciating that all phenomena are connected. Let me just say that taking the time to see the interconnectedness of the universe is the definition of inner peace. But it’s much more than that too, it’s also a way for us to understand the world around us. To understand me is to understand others and to understand others is to understand me. Seeing the connections between subjects that may seem like polar opposites like philosophy and mathematics gives a richness to life that I’m not skilled enough to capture in words, but it’s something like being present to the miracle of existence.

When I’m present to the connection of existence, I have an appreciation for all that is and all that is not. We can see a pattern of the planets in a solar system that’s similar to structures at the atomic level and it’s amazing to observe. Each piece is in its place, doing what is it supposed to, like music or mitosis. Understanding that all things are connected also gives us frameworks to explore new crafts and subjects. Discovering that connection is invigorating.

Each of these principles makes up the larger foundation on which we can develop our skills and ourselves. Developing each of these principles strengthens the others, as well as evolve every other part of our lives.

Thank God, we have access to this kind of knowledge and that people before us took the time to write it down. But it’s not like da Vinci made these rules and lived his life by them. He was living a certain way and discovered the principles as he developed himself so that others may be able to get a glimpse into his mind.

I suggest living out just one day with these principles in mind and see how you like it. We can try anything for a day.

Lifestyle Productivity

A Few Networking Techniques

“The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work. Marinate on that for a minute.”

Robert Kiyosaki (Author)

Part of great networking is getting people to like us. We determine who we like based on how we feel about them. How we feel about people is determined by our amygdala, the emotional part of our brain. The techniques I’m going to discuss in this post are designed with the human amygdala in mind. They’re proven to lower threat responses as well as raise feelings of safety. In my last post, The Fundamentals of Networking, I discussed some of the principles and attitudes that I use when going about expanding my network. This post will have more actionable and applicable knowledge in terms of networking effectively. This post is more tactics, last post was more strategy. If you’ve read my posts on studying, then you know that I believe if we know the principles then the tactics don’t matter too much. However, having the knowledge of some go-to tactics along with the knowledge of the principles sets us up nicely to be a high performer.

Networking properly is all about being able to influence the experience that others have of us. There are so many ways to go about this, but I’m just covering a few here.

Influencing the Experience

“Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

We can only intentionally influence what we understand. So we can’t “trick” people into believing that we’re a certain kind of person that we’re not, we can only “trick” them into seeing more of ourselves. If we learn more about things we don’t know, or if we develop ourselves in a diverse fashion, we can influence people’s opinions on a deeper and broader level.

There are a few things we can control once we understand them. We can start with body language.

Body Language

There have been numerous studies on communication and they’ve found that most human communication is nonverbal, about 93% of it in fact. 7% is focused on the actual words, which in my opinion, is the hardest part so that works out nicely.

Most of these nonverbal communication happens with our body language. For a large portion of human history, our survival depended on our abilities to be able to quickly pick up on what others are feeling. When we were hunted like the prey animal we are, we had to find ways to communicate faster and more efficiently than talking. It’s easier and quicker to know that something is dangerous by looking at someone’s face rather than waiting for them to tell us. We’ve evolved to pick up on, even the slightest, adjustments because we’ve needed it to survive for so long. This is why body language is such a huge portion of our communication.

Much of our body language is dictated by our amygdala. This is the emotional part of our brain and this part of our brain is almost too honest. If we can understand the language that our bodies use to express what’s going on in our emotional brain, then we can influence the experience that others have of us fairly easily. It’s so much easier to adjust your posture to communicate a message than say the perfect combination of words. As we know, most of the time people don’t react to what we say, but how we say it anyway.

I recommend checking out the book What Every Body is Saying by ex-FBI agent Joe Navarro. He talks about all the different things we do with our bodies and what they mean. A few of the ideas that I use almost every day are these:

  • Our feet are the most honest part of our body. The direction they are pointing can give us an insight into what the person is genuinely feeling. For example, if someone wants to leave a conversation but they are being polite their feet will be pointing towards a way out or away from us. There are some exceptions, but this is typically the case. This knowledge helps us see what people really feel as well as control our bodies for the messages they could be giving off.
  • Paying attention to pacifying behaviors – these are motions that people do to calm themselves down when they’re feeling anxious. This could be taping a leg, playing with their hair, fidgeting extra, and many other things. Notice when people are trying to calm themselves down and we can do what we can to help them out.
  • When people are nervous or feel powerless their body will take up less physical space and move quickly. They will do things to make themselves feel smaller. A primitive attempt at hiding from a predator. On the other hand, people who are feeling confident and powerful will take up more space and move slower.
  • People love seeing the palms of our hands. Showing our palms lets people subconsciously know that we’re not hiding anything and our intentions are pure. Conversely, hiding our hands makes people feel nervous and conceals our intentions.

There are so many other body language behaviors that we do and Navarro does a fantastic job in explaining each of these behaviors in his book. He even includes pictures to really drive the point home. One thing I have to mention about body language is that these movements have to be taken into consideration with the person’s baseline state. Maybe someone has a habit where they love to tap their leg and it doesn’t mean that they’re feeling anxious. We have to get a baseline when we first meet people before we start trying to interpret their body language. It’s much easier to understand people we know well than strangers off the street. Everyone is a little different and we have to keep that in mind or we’ll end up making some terrible assumptions.

Compassion & Verification

Once we understand what people are feeling, then we can use our compassion to guide our actions that verify their feelings. People need to be heard in the hearts and minds of others and providing this for people is invaluable and highly effective with connecting.

There have been numerous studies that have found that children who don’t receive compassion and verification develop much slower than children who do. They also have a tougher time creating and sustaining relationships. They develop hormonal imbalances and behavioral issues as well. While the developmental problems aren’t the same if an adult doesn’t receive compassion and verification, the need is still there. People seek compassion and verification constantly and use it as a way of staying sane. We use other people as a gauge to determine if what we see and think is “real.”

Because of this, I’m constantly giving people affirmations and letting them know that they are heard, understood, and empathized with (if appropriate). All it takes is saying “It seems like…” or “It sounds like…” in response to whatever they are saying.

Repeating what other people mean to say in conversations keeps everyone on the same page, is great for preventing arguments from spiraling out of control, and most importantly ensures that people feel heard and understood.

Great Conversations

Most, but not all, networking happens in conversation. In my post, The Significance of Speech, I talk about how humans live at least half of their existence in the world of conversation. Understanding how to navigate this world is, not only crucial to networking, it’s crucial to living a life by design.

If we’re meeting someone for the first time and we aren’t familiar with them we’re most likely going to have to deal with small talk. I used to hate small talk, and I still kind of do, but it’s part of the game and it can be used to our benefit if we can do it intentionally.

Let’s get into why we even use small talk in the first place — it’s a way to gauge other people’s social skills, like a dance. When we’re in the small talk moment with someone, we’re testing to see if this person meshes with our interpretation of the world and they with us.

If we want to expand our network, we need to be able to show people that we’re worth engaging with relatively quickly.

A couple of tips I love to use when making small talk are these, I got them from ex-FBI terrorist negotiator, Chris Voss. If there’s anyone that can understand navigating a conversation, it’s this guy.

  • Ask Calibrated Questions – asking what or how questions. Questions that start with the words “how” or “what”. They make people feel needed and they are more likely to cooperate when they feel like they have to provide information. Asking why questions (Why did you do this? Why did you do that?) makes people feel defensive, so avoid using them if possible.
  • Mirror Them – just say the last three words of whatever they’re saying, if appropriate. This will bate them into talking more.

I didn’t think these small techniques would work, but they do. They work because they were designed with the amygdala in mind. We are attempting to communicate with the emotional part of the brain directly because people have less control over it. If we can get to the amygdala, everything else will follow.

Once we’ve proven ourselves, we have to keep the show going. Here are a few ways to never run out of things to say:

  • Ask Open-Ended Questions – if we hit the right topic we can get someone going off for hours. This is optimal because people love sharing with others and providing a space for people to do that is invaluable.
  • Make a Complimentary Cold Read – this is another great place to use “It seems like….” or “It looks like…”
  • Bring up something that this situation reminds you of – this is a great way to spark something up when we have those moments of awkward silence.
  • Put it on them – flip the script and let them be the one’s to talk, I love mirroring to do this

In conversations, be sure to let people know your goals and intentions if they like you they’ll tap their network to give you opportunities. People love connecting and sharing intentions gives people an opportunity to connect in different ways. Remember networking is also about connecting ideas or opportunities to people, not just people to people.

This is exactly how referral businesses work. Bob hires Joe to do a job. Joe does amazing and Bob remembers this later and mentions to her friend Sarah who also needs Jow’s services. Since Bob knows that Joe is trying to get more business, they are subconsciously looking for opportunities if they come up. Connecting people with opportunities. If we can build up a group of people who know who we are, then we start to develop a reputation.

Another fantastic great way to keep a conversation going is to become genuinely interested in others. Everyone is interesting if we ask the right questions. Genuinely wanting to discover someone, learning how and why they do certain things will develop natural curiosity.

I’ve always been fascinated by people’s stories, or at least their interpretation of their lives and how it’s impacted their thinking and decision making. Asking the next question is always easy when I’m coming from that place. It also gives me access to deeper connections with people because I ask questions that people don’t typically get asked. Although small talk has its place, I try to stay away from it and use genuine curiosity is my vehicle of choice.

Be Mindful of Criticism

“Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.”

Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People)

I stole this idea from Carnegie’s book, but it’s also self-evident if you’ve had close relationships and something that I’m mindful of when talking to people, especially my students. People are already criticizing themselves. Criticizing them turns them off and damages our reputation with them. I find having compassion for others is a great way to hold your tongue. If I feel the urge to criticize someone, I try to keep in mind that they are doing exactly what I would do if I was in their situation. I try not to critique unless it’s warranted. People, more often than not, try to do the best they can with what they have at their disposal.

When networking we have to keep in mind that we’re dealing with emotional creatures, not logical ones. Paying attention to people’s feelings is a sure-fire way to connect. Being seen and heard in the hearts and minds of others is as necessary to us as food and water. When we pay attention to other’s emotions, then we’re able to see and hear them in our hearts and minds, which inevitably comes with a bit of compassion.

Now, I don’t want to say that all criticism is dangerous for networking. Sometimes it’s welcomed, even necessary. If someone is obviously having trouble, a gentle critique that helps a situation is likely to bring someone close to you. Solving other people’s problems is like a fast track to connection, especially if they don’t end up feeling like a fool.

Criticisms are only valid when a solution is offered in its place.

Any idiot can tear down a building. No one has ever erected a statue for a critic.

Empathy & Narcissism

The deepest principle of Human Nature is the craving to be appreciated.

William James (1842 – 1910)

We all naturally have empathy but when we’re not using it to connect and understand other people, it fuels our narcissism. However, honing in on that empathy gives us a serious edge, especially in networking.

We’re all narcissistic on some level, some people further along on the spectrum than others. We needed to be if we wanted to survive infancy, our survival depended on us needing attention from others and those feelings never leave us as we get older. We need a certain level of narcissism to thrive, but it’s important to be able to get a handle on it too.

Human beings are inherently narcissistic but it’s not a bad thing. Narcissism is part of our human nature like how dogs go on walks, people think about themselves. Narcissism has a bad connotation, but it’s in our nature to think highly of ourselves and need admiration.

Seeing narcissism as part of our biological survival tool kit is much healthier than seeing it as a mental illness. Now some people do have a narcissistic personality disorder and that is a mental illness, but narcissism, in general, is a very human quality.

Getting upset at people for being narcissistic is like getting upset at a rock for being hard.

Keeping our narcissism in mind gives us a few advantages in conversation. We can make things all about them, especially in the beginning. This is a great way to get people to like us.

People love to feel important and according to Dr. John Dewey, people’s deepest urge in human nature is “the desire to be important.” If we can make people feel important, they will love us. The easiest way to do this is to give them a compliment, a genuine compliment.

The best compliments are on things that they are working really hard to improve.

For example, I work extremely hard on my blog and providing value to my students. A compliment like “Chris, your writing has absolutely changed how I see education” would mean way more to me than “Chris, I love your style.” Yeah, I put in some effort in my wardrobe, but I put at least 10x that in my writing so I’ll respond to the first compliment more positively and be more likely to believe it to be authentic. We can use our empathy to discover what other people really care to improve.

If we can make people feel sincerely important, then we can make them fall for us. However, what makes people feel important tells us a lot about their character. Be mindful of what kind of people you are complimenting. I recommend connecting with people who have similar values to you. For example, there are people who pretend they are invalid to force sympathy and feel important. If you are someone who values self-reliance and responsibility, it probably isn’t worth the effort to put the moves on this person because they probably won’t add value to your network. Yes, I am saying that some people are not worth connecting with from a networking perspective.

I brought this up earlier, but another great appeal to narcissism is to use the mirroring technique from ex-FBI terrorist negotiator Chris Voss. Just say the last three words of whatever they’re saying if it fits with the situation. This will bate people into diving deeper into the thought their already having while feeling accepted and heard. In his Masterclass, he talked about how he taught a guy the mirroring technique and he used it to get everyone to like him on his cruise ship. Mirroring makes people think we’re more interesting than we actually are.

We’re just showing people what they like, themselves.

Names are the Sweetest Sounds

In Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, he found that across cultures and languages people love to hear their names. No surprise, people are inherently narcissistic. When we hear our names, we feel recognized.

The sweetest word in any language is our own names.

My cousin Brian is one of the sweetest and caring people I know. He often gives his money and attention to those who are less fortunate. He told me about a homeless person who said one of the hardest things about being homeless is never hearing your name. The guy said he felt almost like less of a person because of it. So Brian makes an effort to get to know some homeless people’s names so they can hear it.

Hearing our names is a privilege, but it also makes us really happy.

One thing notable tidbit is that most people, especially in high-performing circles, know that saying names makes people like you so doing it too much or with bad taste could come off like brown-nosing. Be tasteful with your techniques, don’t come off like Andy Bernard from The Office.

Talk In Terms of Their Interests

One of the most impactful ideas I’ve ever read came from the book The Art of Communication by Thich Nhat Hanh. In order to communicate clearly and effectively, we have to meet them at their level of conversation regardless of who they are. It is our job to communicate in a way that others understand. Expecting people to conform to their listening to our preferred way of communicating is a losing strategy and will breed a ton of disappointment.

This is huge when it comes to dealing with my students. If I start using language they don’t easily understand, I’ll lose them and they’re more likely to dig their heels into the ground. People are also more open to new ideas when they can recognize something familiar in them. Whenever I’m talking to my students, I’m constantly looking for points of connection and similarity between what they know and what I am trying to teach them.

Being able to conform to all these different forms of communication makes us a better communicator but also more diverse and interesting to others. As time goes on, I start to see the beauty in those new topics too and they start to become like my interests.

There are a ton of other networking techniques out there. These are just a few to get started, like a jumping-off point. Networking is all about understanding that people are more alike than different and putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.

Networking is all about connecting. Connecting people to people, people to ideas, people to opportunities.

Removing obstacles to that connection and doing what we can to make it easier.