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Education Lifestyle Productivity

The Fundamentals of Networking

“If there is any one secret to success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

Henry Ford (1863-1947)

Before I get into this, I just want to mention that there’s so much information on networking out there and I could write volumes of books on this topic, but this post will just be a few of the things I keep in mind when I’m networking.

What is networking?

Our network is who we are connected to and networking is building access to connect with people. Some people say success is about knowing the right people (and while that is true) it’s also about being accepted and liked by the right people.

Everyone’s heard the saying “you are the sum of the 5 people you hang around with the most” and for a lot of people this is not a reassuring statement. If we want to get to a different place, be a different kind of person, be someone who lives their life by design, then we need to be able to grow our network.

There are a ton of books out there on networking, but one that is worth mentioning is the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I highly recommend reading this book if you want solid and practical knowledge of networking. When I first read it I thought it was terribly self-explanatory, but reading the book is worthwhile because the “obviously simple” claims he made are backed up by science and research. Plus, it really is beneficial to write down seemingly obvious things, most of the world’s greatest wisdom is cultivated through people writing down what is obvious.

The TL;DR is don’t be a jerk, but I’ll go over a few of those ideas in this post and the next.

When we’re networking, it’s easy to feel nervous or intimidated, especially if we want to level up our network. It’s tough to put ourselves out there in hopes of being accepted. It’s scary to approach people with more money, education, and power than us, but that’s when I find it useful to keep The Cosmic Perspective in mind. I originally heard about this idea from Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Masterclass on scientific thinking and communication, but I’ve also heard about it from reading about astronauts too. The idea is that we are made of the same elements as the giant planets and stars.

We are special, not because we are unique, but because we are the same.

Some astronauts say that when they see Earth from space for the first time, they have a realization that they belong in this universe just as much as the planets, the sun, and everything else that’s here. That is the cosmic perspective — seeing ourselves as beings that belong here, just like all the other beings in the cosmos. Seeing things from this perspective can give us the confidence to talk to anyone on this planet because they are just like us. The things that intimidate us are illusions and likely a result of thinking too small.

We belong here just as much as the planets and stars do, and in that realization, we can find confidence and peace in ourselves.

Attitude: How You Play The Game

“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it matters how you play the game.”

Jordan Peterson (1962 – )

Let’s say we’re part of a soccer team and we have to play a game against another team. Let’s say that you’re way better than your other teammates and you could single-handedly beat the other team without much help. If we were playing just one game of soccer, that would be a winning strategy.

But if we’re playing a tournament of games, then we’ll have to change how we play. We’ll probably want to pass the ball and make sure that our team members are focused because we’ll need them to move on in the tournament. We’ll want to act in a way that ensures our teammates like us and have our backs.

How we play games changes if we have to play a tournament of games.

Our life is like the ultimate tournament of tournaments of games and the best way to play games of this nature is to play to win the tournament, not the game. The idea is to play so you can continue to advance, and sometimes that may look like losing a game, but other times it usually means acting fair and kind.

Networking is the game of games. You want to play in a way that gets you invited to play more. The most successful kids are not the ones who win every game, but are the ones who are invited to play the most games.

We’ve all heard the phrase winning isn’t everything, but when it comes to networking, it is. We just need to redefine what winning is for networking purposes. In networking, the person who is most invited to “play” wins. Play in the adult world can mean a plethora of different things ranging from, but not limited to, business, romance, platonic, or political relationships.

When I’m making new connections, I try to give value and demonstrate appreciation. People love useful people and love being appreciated even more! But I do this more importantly because it can trigger reciprocity. If I’m useful and appreciative of them, then they will want to be of me.

It’s all about getting to be invited to play more.

Getting the last word in, proving a point, or satiating a selfish desire is never worth not being invited to play.

Act in a way that makes people want to connect with you more. I’ve found that being compassionate, considerate, and competent will usually get you through the door. However, there is something else to keep in mind.

Playing Fair is a Biological Phenomenon

Part of being invited to play often is playing fair when we are invited to play. There are a few reasons for this — so people will enjoy playing with us, but also so they know that we’re a predictable playmate. People love predictable, especially when we’re thinking about the future.

But what is playing fair?

In order to answer this question, we have to look to Jaak Panksepp and his revolutionary experiment regarding fair play in rats.

Panksepp set up an experiment where he had two rats to play with each other, one rat was about 10% bigger than the other rat. Naturally, as we see with children, the bigger rat wins time and time again.

But here’s where it gets interesting, when the rats want to play again the smaller rat has to ask the big rat for permission to play. If the bigger rat says yes, then they play again. But if the smaller rat loses more than 66% of the time (roughly), then it won’t want to play anymore. The fascinating part is the bigger rat knows this and will let the smaller rat win enough to keep it in the game.

This weird little experiment shows that there is a biological basis for playing fair. It’s not like the rats told each other their feelings. This experiment demonstrates that there are neurons that specifically track if we’re playing a fair game.

People are the same way, sometimes they need to win. They need to feel like they’re playing a game they can win. This is how we “play fair” with networking – sometimes you let the smaller rat win, whatever it takes to get invited to play again. Even if that means losing every once in a while.

The networking game is more of a series of games, and as we know, when we’re thinking of multiple iterations in the future, our strategy has to change. If we were only playing games once, then lying and cheating would probably be the best winning strategy. But when we have to win a series, we have to keep in mind that we have to be a good sport and that might mean losing this game for the sake of the connection. With this, I don’t mean obviously throw the game. We have to be a formidable opponent otherwise it’s no fun.

Networking is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a war, not a battle. Look towards the long term and act accordingly.

Reputation

We can’t talk about networking without talking about reputation. Reputation is different things to different people, but I believe that understanding multiple perspectives of reputation will give us comprehensive enough knowledge to integrate this idea properly into our behavior.

I’ll start with a modern and fairly simple explanation for reputation from renowned and successful real estate investor, Brandon Turner. In the world of real estate investing, the strength of your network is directly proportional to success.

“[Reputation] is built through character (doing what you say you’re going to do), experience (showing proof of what you’ve done), knowledge (do you know what you’re doing?), and even who you are associating with (you can borrow other’s credibility if they are part of your deal. Someone might not trust you yet, but maybe you can bring in a more-established partner who would have their trust?).”

Brandon Turner (The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down)

Turner’s take on reputation is aligned with what most modern people associate reputation with and is worth knowing. These four aspects (character, experience, knowledge, & associates) are what are going to be judged when we’re out interacting with people. Intentionality in each of these areas will inevitably upgrade our network.

Another perspective that’s worth knowing is Arthur Schopenhauer’s. His take on reputation is fresh and carries a warning about what a reputation can do to our personal experience of life.

“By a peculiar weakness of human nature, people generally think too much about the opinion which others form of them; although the slightest reflection will show that this opinion, whatever it may be, is not in itself essential to happiness. Therefore it is hard to understand why everybody feels so very pleased when he sees that other people have a good opinion of him, or say anything flattering to his vanity.”

Arthur Schopenhauer (The Wisdom of Life)

He regards carrying weight in the opinion of others as a weakness and proposes that what goes on in other people’s heads, or a demonstration of their thoughts, is not essential to our happiness.

“Therefore it is advisable, from our point of view, to set limits to this weakness, and duly to consider and rightly to estimate the relative value of advantages, and thus temper, as far as possible, this great susceptibility to other people’s opinion, whether the opinion be one flattering to our vanity, or whether it causes us pain; for in either case it is the same feeling which is touched. Otherwise, a man is the slave of what other people are pleased to think,—and how little it requires to disconcert or soothe the mind that is greedy of praise”

Arthur Schopenhauer (The Wisdom of Life)

Artie says we should see what happens in other people’s minds with indifference, a stoic perspective which I can get behind. Especially because if we don’t, then we become a slave to other people’s poorly informed opinions.

“to lay great value upon what other people say is to pay them too much honor.”

Arthur Schopenhauer (The Wisdom of Life)

Artie is known as the Great Pessimist, but I have to agree with this too. What other people think is usually of very little value to us. Obviously, there are exceptions, but these opinions should never rob us of the ability to act or think independently.

But now this poses the question: if we don’t place value in what other people think, then how are we supposed to network effectively?

“Let me remark that people in the highest positions in life, with all their brilliance, pomp, display, magnificence and general show, may well say:—Our happiness lies entirely outside us; for it exists only in the heads of others.”

Arthur Schopenhauer (The Wisdom of Life)

When it comes to networking, reputation can bring you the highest positions in life, but it can come at a cost of our peace of mind.

Build a reputation, but don’t identify with it.

It’s a tricky balance, but one that needs to be gotten right otherwise we may lose our sense of self in the nonsense of others.

The last thing I want to mention about reputation is that the last impression means the most.

“The last impression is the lasting impression.”

Chris Voss (Teaches The Art of Negotiation)

I got this from Chriss Voss. It’s not about how they feel about us at first, it’s mostly about what we leave them with. Leave them feeling good and happy if possible.

Don’t worry about starting off on the wrong foot, just make sure we finish on the right foot.

Reputations are something that we are continuously building. Every day we make choices that influence our reputations, even choices of omission impact our reputations. But we also need to keep in mind that reputations are for other people and not for us. Our relationship with ourselves is different from our relationship with other people.

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Education Lifestyle

A Year(ish) of Writing

“It is we ourselves who must answer the questions that life asks of us, and to these questions, we can respond only by being responsible for our existence.”

Viktor Frankl on the Meaning of Life

Early July last year I decided to commit to publishing a blog post every Tuesday. Back then I would have never imagined that I would write a blog, let alone stick with it for over a year, but I was inspired by Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work and how Ramit Sethi turned a blog into a multi-million dollar business. To me, writing a blog seemed to be something worth doing even if nothing came of it.

“A blog is the ideal machine for turning flow into stock: One little blog post is nothing on its own, but publish a thousand blog posts over a decade, and it turns into your life’s work.”

Austin Kleon (Show Your Work)

So every week I would try to write about a topic that I would want to flesh out in one of my future projects, but if I couldn’t meet the deadline then I would release a personal post instead. I didn’t need to fact check or research my own thoughts on things, so they were much easier to produce than the other posts.

At first, I felt that sharing my personal thoughts was indulgent, lazy, and narcissistic, but looking back those have become my favorite to read. It’s fun to get to know a previous version of myself, especially one that I’m willing to make public. Reading journals, songs, poems, and other personal works is cool, but there’s something different about reading my own public writing – it’s like I’m getting to experience what I’m like through other people’s eyes.

When I first started posting personal posts, I felt that I was polluting my work, especially since I would post them just to keep a deadline and I failed to complete another post on time. Looking back now, I can see that it’s not pollution, but evidence of my evolution. This week I was slightly on track to writing another post that would advance my projects, but I felt a pull to write a more personal post instead. (I also felt the pressure of knowing that the next two days I would be working overtime & I’m not feeling up to that right now).

I wanted to give myself an opportunity to step back and reflect on what developing my writing has done for me. I’ve conquered a personal mountain, but not just that, I’ve transformed myself in the process and taken my achievements further than I expected it to go. I owe it to myself to take a moment and marvel at my hard work and sacrifice.

What Writing Has Done For Me

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961)

Blogging has completely changed my relationship with doing difficult things and doing them consistently. This switch has given me the reasoning that catapulted my recent physical fitness revolution. I would think things like “If I could blog for a year, then I could definitely do a workout today” or “doing these workouts are easier than writing” and it would be enough for me to get going. Now I’m in (almost) the best shape I’ve ever been in my entire life and it really is because of writing this blog. We see ourselves do things and make conclusions about who we are based on those observations.

I used to hate writing, so much so that I majored in engineering partly to get as far away as possible from essays and reading. I used to see myself as a “math & science” guy so I didn’t need to know how to write papers and read boring documents. (How shortsighted was I?) I was still holding on to that identity when I first started writing. The language I used was mathematical, but I supposed that was just the language I was able to express myself with.

Today I pride myself on my ability to speak my mind and explain myself. I have a broader vocabulary that allows me to express my thoughts more clearly and accurately. I used to believe I was well-spoken and articulate, but I see now that I’m not. Human beings are capable of having thoughts so complex that they transcend their linguistic abilities and I’ve been using writing as a means to access the ability to communicate these complicated thoughts. Now I know enough to know that I will never consider myself as well-spoken or articulate as I’d like to be or as I’d need to be. The complexity of our thoughts has no upper limit and as my linguistic skills improve, so will my capacity for thinking.

My writing used to be short and choppy. It’s no surprise though because I didn’t have access to the language I needed to properly express myself. I also didn’t realize how much communication I assumed would translate when I started writing. When we’re writing we have to spell out every little thing, I needed to stop assuming the reader would “just get what I mean.” Now, I’ve branched out – my thoughts and writings are more thorough than bef0re. For a long time, I had to try hard to lengthen my responses to things, but now I find that I have to try harder to keep things short.

This blog has helped me form my thoughts together. Writing is truly the most sophisticated form of thinking. Now that I’m better at writing, I’m a better thinker and a better communicator. I say um and other filler words less often. People have complimented me on my way with words, even though I know I could be way more articulate, blogging has made me more linguistically adept than the average person and gives me an edge in the everyday conversation.

Since I knew that writing often will improve my thinking, I originally used my blog as a stepping stone for me to refine my ideas to build an effective and lucrative online course, but over the past year and some change, it’s evolved into so much more. It still carries the original purpose of refining my thoughts for my future courses, curriculums, and books, but it’s also become a place for me to share my personal thoughts, transform my identity, and draw confidence.

My blog has given me access to unbelievable opportunities beyond my wildest dreams. It’s been the cornerstone for my internet entrepreneur adventures – which has shown me that as long as we’re alive in the 21st century, we can create any life we want for ourselves. I can be lil ol’ Chris from Temecula and do all the things my heart desires. I’ve been able to become a music producer, and actually earn money from it! I haven’t been able to create a livable wage yet, but that’s in my crosshairs. It’s been a dream of mine to put Music Producer on my tax forms and this year I can finally do it.

But it doesn’t stop there – I want this blog to be the bedrock for my work as I move into the educational field as an up and coming expert in learning and education. So far, things are going according to plan.

This blog has given me the confidence to talk about myself as an expert, which has given me an opportunity to get my works in schools across the United States. Writing this blog has changed how I see myself consequently changing my role in the community. Because I write about the topics I write about, other people see me as a more reliable and knowledgeable tutor than the average which means people will be more likely to listen to my opinion. However, even if they don’t see my work, I have my thoughts straight and I can exude the presence of an expert.

My blog has shown me that anyone can be a writer – shit, if I could be a writer, then anyone can be anything. Seriously. That’s how I’ve been combating my imposter syndrome when it comes up. I think to myself – “I literally became someone who writes a blog. Chemical engineering-math wiz-book hating-Chris learned how to write consistently. So I can do _______.” Honestly, I think everyone should commit to something that they believe is the complete opposite of who they think they are, the growth has been beyond my wildest dreams.

It’s also given me, or should I say, taken from me the ability to pretend like I don’t know better. All of the topics that I’ve written about have forced me to grapple with the fact that I know how to deal with a lot of the things I’m struggling with, which forces me to actually deal with it. Writing these ideas down forces me to know them, and we can’t unknow things. For example, I was never able to stick to things consistently but after writing my Relationship with Myself posts, I “discovered” more than enough reasons to stick to things rather than give up. When I stick to something I know myself as someone who sticks to things and does what they set out to do. When I give up, I know myself as someone who gives up when things get hard. Additionally writing about things like discipline, time management, integrity, identity, habits, and all the rest of it really forces me to operate at the top of my game.

Blogging has given me a beautiful opportunity to live a richer life. It has given me a chance to realize the question “What is the meaning of life?” isn’t the right question to ask. It assumes that life has something to give you, but that’s not a productive way of thinking. I realized the right way to look at it was that life is asking me “What is the meaning of me?” and, because of blogging, I can answer that question more accurately than I was able to before. All the writing and reading I’ve done gives me a wider arsenal to answer that question with more. And from what I understand, the better we can create the meaning of our lives, the richer our lives become. This has probably been the most valuable bit of growth I’ve experienced from writing this blog. Now, I feel as if my life doesn’t seem to have limits and it’s because I’m able to see the marvel that a human is.

Human beings can do anything. Human beings can be anything. The experience of life is always bigger than we think.

Commit to something for a year. Commit to something that isn’t you. Stick to it. Be amazed by your abilities.

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Education Lifestyle Productivity

Creating Systems

“Systematize everything, and find peace”

Brandon Turner (The Book on Rental Property Investing)

Why create systems?

Having goals is a fantastic way to be productive and build a life by design, but the most productive results come from having systems. When we have a goal, there are a series of choices we have to make. Usually, goals are things we haven’t done before, so all the choices we’re going to have to make require a lot of attention and energy. Even if the goals have been accomplished before, having to deal with the challenges that arise time and time again can be exhausting.

Systematizing everything makes these processes a lot easier, especially if there are goals that need to be completed regularly. Creating systems gives us the opportunity to make fewer choices and the freedom to do other things. Despite what many people think, our energy is like our time, limited and nonrenewable. The return on saving energy is virtually infinite. Systems allow us to be more productive as well, in terms of quantity AND quality.

Systems also make processes easier when we have to do them. Having a reliable proven strategy for conquering whatever scenario in front of us cuts the effort down tremendously. It’s much easier to just “start the process” than to try really hard just to discover that it wasn’t going to work anyway.

Focusing on systems, not goals, is the key to long-lasting, reliable, and fruitful results.

In order to focus on systems, we first have to understand what they are and how they work. I wrote two posts on systems so far: Gall’s Law & System Components and Analyzing & Improving Systems. I highly recommended checking those out, I go over the fundamental information about systems and how they work. This post synthesizes some of the information discussed in those two posts and emphasizes the concepts that will make creating systems much easier.

When we understand how systems work and how to create our own, then we can engineer our own systems to fit our unique needs perfectly.

Marks of an Effective System

Human beings need purpose and intentionality in order to have fulfilled lives and content with existentialism. I talk a little bit about that in this post. We need something to aim at and a system is no different.

What is the purpose of a system & how we do know if it’s working well?

According to author of The Personal MBA, Josh Kaufman, an effective system does the following:

  • Fulfills its functionality
  • Has great infrastructure
  • Ready connectivity with other systems
  • Versitile
  • Adaptable
  • Reliable
  • Produces benefits which far exceed the initial investment

Keep in a mind, all of these criteria don’t need to be met to have a functional system. A system can work without all of these, however, these are all qualities that a great system can build towards.

How to Create Systems

“If you want to build a system that works, the best approach is to build a simple system that meets the Environment’s current selection tests first, then improve it over time. Over time, you’ll build a complex system that works.”

Josh Kaufman (The Personal MBA)

Keep Gall’s Law in mind when you first start – work on creating a simple system, then add complexity over time. Don’t try to make a system that does too much at once right off the bat.

Creating a complex system immediately will result in failure.

When it comes to building a system from scratch, just try to figure out how to get the task done in the first place. Once we’ve completed the task, we developed a neural pathway that knows exactly how to get that task done. Every single time we work on that task in the future it gets easier and easier. (Exactly like Active Recall.) Once we’ve gotten to this point, it will be much easier to create a system because we will know the steps intimately. Creating a system will speed that process up even more!

Once we know how to get the task done, we need to identify the key components of the system and improve each step of the process so it becomes more efficient and effective. Just make one change at a time. Creating a good system takes time and patience, like building habits.

Systems are almost never correct right off the bat. It takes a few tests to get all the details right and have a system that runs smoothly. All systems start off terribly, but all the best ones improve over time and the only way to objectively improve a system is through experimentation.

Fans of history can probably name a few times human beings have tried to create something but had to revamp the system because they found out it wasn’t working too well. I remember working with a student on history work and I was stunned to discover that this process is the exact process that the American government evolved from. Today, the American government is a massively complex system with multiple branches and precedence for almost every conceivable situation but it did not start off that way. It started off with just the Articles of Confederation, and that system didn’t even have an executive or judicial branch. Then it grew with the Virginia Plan, then the Constitution, then the Bill of Rights, and finally with the amendments we have today. The point is that this extremely complex system didn’t start off how it is today, it grew over centuries through experimentation.

Humans never get anything right the first try.

When I was a noob at creating systems, I thought that I needed to know each step of the process and it had to work perfectly before I even started, but that prevented me from even starting in the first place. There’s no way to know every single step and account for every single variable without testing a system.

All, if not most, problems can be handled with systems. If there isn’t a system for it, then we can create one. We just have to go into the process expecting the system to fail and be willing to make adjustments or we won’t have any systems at all.

Guiding Questions

If you’ve read some of my Importance of Questions post, then you know that I believe questions hold the key to everything we want in life. They can allow us access to other people’s minds as well as guide our thinking to solve problems that we haven’t seen before.

Here are some questions that could be useful when creating systems:

  • How do I make this process easier next time?
  • How can I make this process more reliable next time?
  • How can I prevent ____ from happening again?
  • In a perfect world, how would I want to deal with this situation?
  • How can I make _____ happen again?
  • What is the end result? What am I producing?
  • What are we starting with? What do I need to get this going?

Tips for a Great Checklist

Systems can take many different forms. One of the most simple forms, checklists, have also been proven to be one of the most effective. I talk a little about checklists in my post Analyzing & Improving Systems and in that post, I mention how checklists are fantastic for creating processes that haven’t been articulated yet. Checklists are my go-to method for ordering the chaos and are fantastic simple systems to build upon later.

In Dr. Atul Gawande’s fantastic book, The Checklist Manifesto, Gawande lays out the proof that checklists are more reliable than the instincts of even the highest trained professionals. Pilots, especially when confronted with an emergency, are more than willing to turn to their checklists.

The first tip for making a great checklist is to have normal and non-normal checklists. Normal checklists are for normal everyday situations, things that come up often. Pilots have normal checklists for things like take-off and landing. Non-normal checklists are less often used but are for emergencies or other scenarios that wouldn’t occur on a regular basis. Pilots have more non-normal checklists than normal checklists. They have checklists for all conceivable emergency situations.

There are two types of checklists: do-confirm and read-do. Do-confirm lists are when team members perform their jobs first, then pause and run the checklist to make sure that everything was done correctly. Read-do lists are when people do the tasks as they read them on the list. Do-confirm lists act more like a double-check while read-do lists are more like a recipe. Know which type of checklist you are creating and when to use it.

Great checklists are specific and precise. If a checklist is too vague and inaccurate is becomes hard to use and impractical.

They also need to be short and to the point, if a checklist is too long it becomes another hurdle. Try to keep the length of the list within the bounds of our working memory, 7+2 items (5-9). They can be longer, but keep in mind that if checklists take longer than 60-90 seconds then people start shortcutting and they become more hassle than they’re worth. Focus on the critical few.

They also have to be easy to use in the most difficult situations, keeping it short and sweet helps a lot with this.

Contrary to popular belief, a great checklist should not spell everything out. They just simply provide a reminder of the crucial steps. Operators of the checklist should be trained and know what they are doing. The checklist is just an aid, not an instruction manual.

Checklists must, above all, be practical.

Checklists cannot solve problems for us, they simply help us manage complex processes and clarify priorities. They are not comprehensive guides, just reminders of the critical steps. If we include every little step, then the checklist just adds friction to the system. Checklists are designed to remove friction and add ease and clarity to a scenario.

When creating a checklist, I highly recommend clearly defining a point WHEN the checklist will be used.

Like all systems, checklists have to be battle-tested in real life. Experiment with the checklist and pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. The first drafts never stick and revising is always required.

A Few Systematic Principles

A few principles that I’ve noticed systems follow. It’s helpful to keep these in the back of our minds when planning and executing systems.

The Matthew Effect

“For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Gospel of Matthew (25:29 Revised Standard Version)

I talk about this in my post The Myth of Motivation, when I talk about aiming for success spirals.

The Matthew Effect is pretty simple — success breeds success and failure breeds failure. The best part is that this relationship is not linearly, it’s exponential. If we do something like writing a book and some people like it, then we’re more likely to write another book which makes it more likely that more people are willing to like it.

We can see spirals like this is so many things. If we get an A on an exam, it’s easier for us to get an A on the next exam. We know the concepts and are more likely to sacrifice because our sacrifice led to a positive outcome last time. Likewise, if we fail an exam, it’s easier for us to fail the next one. We don’t know the concepts, so we’d have to learn those ones on top of the new stuff. The previous failure adds friction to the next challenge. Our actions compound on each other and it can stack up quickly. This is definitely one of the reasons for the massive wealth inequality in the modern world. It’s much easier to make money when you’re already making money.

When building a system, try to keep in mind that the actions of the system will affect the actions of the system later. The Matthew Effect also provides a fantastic foundation for another systemic phenomenon, the Pareto Principle.

Pareto Principle (The 80/20 Rule)

The Pareto Principle definitely needs it’s own post because it’s such a pervasive idea and we can dive into it for hours. Famous entrepreneur and investor, Richard Koch was able to write 4 books on the topic! 4 books!! While the principle itself isn’t complex nor long, Koch focused more on applying the principle to every aspect of our lives. I’ll go more into that later.

While there is a lot to say about the Pareto Principle and its accommodations, it can be summed up relatively quickly:

80% of the output of any system is from 20% of the input.

This principle can apply to all domains of human creation. This shouldn’t be a surprise though. For most of us who have worked on a group project, we know that most of the work ends up getting done by a small portion of the group. This also happens in companies too – 80% of the work is done by 20% of the employees.

There are many names given to this idea because it shows up in so many places. The Pareto Principle is also known as the 80/20 Rule or the Square Root Rule: being that 50% of the work is done by the square root of the number of employees. The numbers aren’t perfect, but the idea is the same:

The majority of the results come from a critical minority of effort.

This principle is game-changing when it comes to creating systems. Knowing that the majority of the results comes from a critical few, we can focus our energy on optimizing for those critical few inputs rather than wasting energy on processes or steps that yield a lower rate of return.

I talk a bit about how the Pareto Principle came to be in my post Analyzing & Improving Systems.

Vilfredo Pareto, the 19th-century economist and sociologist, discovered an interesting pattern when analyzing data regarding land ownership and wealth distribution. He discovered that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population. Pareto didn’t just find this pattern in wealth and land distribution, he also saw it in his garden. 20% of his pea pods produced 80% of peas.

We can see this in book sales and album sales too, pretty much any domain of creative production. 80% of the book sales are from 20% of the authors. 80% of music streams are from 20% of the artists.

Richard Koch also noticed a similar pattern when studying for his final exams at Oxford. At Oxford, the students are graded by their performance on a final exam which is a collection of essays on a wide variety of topics. Richard determined that in order to prepare for every possible question they could ask him he would have to memorize somewhere around 550 essays. Obviously, this wasn’t reasonable so Richard found another way around it. He analyzed all the past exams and discovered that every exam asked questions on similar topics. 20% of the topics accounted for 80% of the questions. Upon realizing this, Richard figured that all he had to do was prepare for 20% of the topics. This significantly cut down the work he needed to do to prepare for the exam.

Spoiler Alert: he did great on the test.

The best part about the Pareto Principle is that it can apply to all systems, in business and our personal lives. We can a Pareto analysis of our own lives, as well as any systems that we’d like to optimize.

I love doing the 80/20 analysis of everything. I’m constantly trying to figure out what I really need to do. Trimming the fat automatically maximizes our time and effort. It’s much easier to just focus on what is important than trying to find ways to do everything better.

It can apply to happiness – What 20% of things give me 80% of my happiness?

It can also be applied in reverse – What 20% of things are giving me 80% of my unhappiness?

It can be applied to anxiety, relationship satisfaction, costs, food, anything our hearts desire.

This principle helps us optimize.

Whenever I’m creating a system I try to keep in mind that principles are more valuable than knowledge. If we can understand the principles behind something, then we have the ability to predict and manipulate the system across many different scenarios.

Richard Koch likes to ask people:

“What would happen if we spend all of our time on the critical aspects?”

Parkinson’s Law

I first talked about Parkinson’s Law in my post 5 More Tips for Better Scheduling because I first learned it as a scheduling principle but now I see how it can be applied in a broader sense.

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time allotted for it.

So if we have a week to get a project done, it will take us a week. If we have a day to get a project done, then it will take a day. Parkinson’s Law helps explain how people are able to finish massive projects the day before it’s due or how an unmotivated student finds the strength within them to get something turned in. It’s not that we aren’t capable of doing the work, it’s that we know we still have time and we’ll use all of it if we can.

What I do to try to account for this is give myself less time than I think I need to complete a task or I set finite deadlines to work on a project. Either way, they both prevent me from spending extra unnecessary time on something.

There’s something about having our backs up against the wall that makes us perform. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s definitely there and we can use it to our advantage if we want.

However, Parkinson’s Law is more than just a cool scheduling hack. It can also apply to budgets and other resources too.

Parkinson’s Law applied to budgets – spending expands to fit the budget allotted for it.

Now, the spending doesn’t have to expand to fit the budget but it usually will.

The resources we allocate for something determines the fundamental perspective of our approach.

If we are pressed for time or if we don’t have a lot of money, then we’ll be on the lookout for creative ways to solve problems that could otherwise we solved with time or money.

Parkinson’s Law really just highlights another quality of human nature which is that humans are creatures of necessity and we will always try to solve problems with the least amount of effort possible. Keeping this in mind when building systems is extremely valuable and perhaps we can go further with what we already have.

Categories
Lifestyle

What I Learned the Hard Way

“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”

 Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

Writing about this idea was taken from Cheryl Strayed’s List of Writing Prompts. The original prompt was to write about a time when I learned the hard way, but I changed it to what I learned the hard way. While the story surrounding these lessons is wildly interesting and incredible, it’s long, and writing it in a blog post will not do it justice. Plus, I don’t have the writing skills necessary to properly tell that story.

However, the lessons I learned then are potentially some of the most influential I will ever learn in my entire life and I’m going to share some of them here.

This is the post I needed seven years ago. If I knew these lessons, or if I was able to learn them the easy way, then I probably would have saved myself a bunch of suffering.

I’m hoping someone can learn at least one of these lessons the easy way (reading this post) rather than the hard way (through immense suffering). Trust me, its much better to learn things the easy way but I also know that the human-animal can only learn some things the hard way.

Finding words sets us free.

A few years ago I got tangled up with some bad people. During that time I saw myself and others do hideous things. I was manipulated by a sociopath because I wasn’t paying enough attention to see what was right in front of me. I didn’t have a way of conceptualizing what I was doing or what I witnessed because I didn’t have a language for it. On top of that, I was tortured which made everything much harder to articulate.

While that experience was one of the toughest in my life, I never felt more relief than when I was able to find the words, or phrases, to explain what happened to me. I felt like a shattered version of myself and over the following years, everything I explored had the undertones of finding the bits and pieces that could help me process the trauma. Every time I heard, read, or learned something that could help me understand what happened, I felt a little more whole.

Finding the language to capture the experience sets us free from reliving the trauma and starts the healing process. I didn’t know this for years, but I felt it in my body. I never felt more relief than when I was able to find the words, or phrases, to explain what happened to me. I supposed this was one of the ides that I had to learn the hard way.

Turning our experiences to language orders the chaos of our minds, which helps us understand where we are. Our minds occupy territory in space and time, so when we transform the experience to speech we turn a little bit of the unknown into the familiar.

When we experience trauma, the parts of our brain that process speech shut off and we are no longer able to turn our experiences into speech. I’ve written a blog post on The Significance of Speech, which talks about how speech is so powerful from a mythological perspective. But the loss of speech, in this case, comes with the inability to process experience into speech also prevents us from putting the experience in the past.

Practicing my ability to articulate my thoughts through writing via blogging and journaling has given me a greater body knowledge and language to draw from, which aids in the healing process. Honestly, in my experience, it’s been absolutely essential in my healing process.

Understanding, internalizing, and having a vocabulary for ideas like malevolence, betrayal, archetypes, willful blindness, responsibility, sacrifice, suffering, striving, struggle, logos, animus, anima, envy, narcissism, neuroticism, the shadow, circumambulation, atonement, and so many others has been life-changing.

My speculations that this idea was true were verified when I read about many PTSD patients recovering after finding the words to describe their trauma in the fantastic book The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessell van der Kolk, which I highly recommend. I’m also adding that book to my Must-Read Book List when I get the chance.

All relationships are limited and conditional.

The only way to learn this lesson is to believe that relationships are unlimited and unconditional and then push them to their unperceived limits.

A harsh, but enlightening lesson.

After internalizing this, I’ve taken more responsibility for the relationships in my life. I’ve noticed that some people can sense this and are grateful for it (which is nice), and others are oblivious. Either way, it sets me free from the burden of feeling controlled by other people’s thoughts and feelings and empowers me to focus on what I can control. Which is usually a hell of a lot more than I could imagine.

Malevolence is real.

“Man is the cruelest animal.”

 Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

Malevolence is real. There’s darkness in people. Real darkness. It sounds cheesy, but some people really do want to hurt others just for the hell of it, and it’s not a joke. Humans are the only creatures on the planet that can hurt something else just for the sake of harming it. This is because we’re aware of our own mortality and vulnerability, which gives us the ability to exploit it in others.

If we can understand what hurts us, then we know what hurts someone else.

Now I knew this intellectually, but it’s a completely different thing to know this viscerally. When we see the evil of the human heart in an undeniable fashion, it fundamentally changes how we understand the human-animal, how we understand ourselves. It was witnessing despicable actions that presenced me to the darkness.

Understanding the evil in others helps me conceptualize my capacity for destruction and gives me proper fear of and respect for myself. Before I believed that malevolence was real, I never saw the weight of my own actions or the potential damage it could cause. Hell, it frightens me to think of the destruction that I have caused because of my ignorance of this fact.

Our choices seriously matter.

Our choices matter and we never get away with anything. We can act as if there is no such thing as good and evil, but that will destroy our lives. The choices we make ripple out in ways that we can hardly imagine.

This means our bad actions infinitely propagate throughout the world, but it also means that our good actions do too.

Everything we do starts to take on a different vibe when we think about how it will ripple off into society. What we choose to do in the present affects us in ten minutes, in ten months, in ten years, and the actions of all of those versions of us will affect other people in ways that we can’t even imagine.

When I see my actions as trivial and inconsequential, it’s easy to do the things that benefit me at the moment, but rarely do those actions benefit me in the medium to long term. When I see how much my choices matter, there’s a real pressure to get my act together.

Ignorance does not protect us from the consequences.

Ignorance does not protect us from unfavorable situations. Again, this is something that I knew intellectually, but haven’t internalized. I would have tried harder to learn more from my experiences that I did. We aren’t spared from consequences just because we didn’t know that our actions weren’t sufficient.

Children often use this excuse of ignorance to get out of anything. In my experience, teenagers often use this as their go-to excuse for not getting something done or acting appropriately. It’s always something like “I didn’t know, therefore I should be spared,” but this type of thinking isn’t cooperative with how the world works.

Just because I didn’t understand the importance of integrating the shadow, doesn’t mean I’m not responsible for the destruction it was causing.

Not knowing doesn’t protect us from the consequences, it only blinds us to them.

This is why I place such a heavy emphasis on learning efficiently. Learning as much as we can is a matter of survival. We need it to understand the consequences and act in our favor.

People will unintentionally drag you down.

“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”

 Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

When drifting gets seriously out of control, people can drag others into their entropic vortex. The problem with this is that the original drifter, the person who started the vortex, may not know that they’re leading others atray.

People may not know if they’re leading you down a terrible path.

I discovered this to be true under the assumption that one should always trust family. I didn’t realize that sometimes, they don’t know when they’re wrong. Sometimes malevolence isn’t part of the picture and the destruction is simply a result of foolishness and aversion of responsibility.

People may believe what they are doing is right, but it is up to us to know what is best for ourselves.


I spent years trying to piece these ideas together and even more time letting my ignorance run rampant. To some people, these ideas may seem obvious and if they are, then I challenge you to know them viscerally. To others, these lessons aren’t true and to those people, I say enjoy the life you have and prepare yourself because the flood is coming. Nonetheless, I learned them all the hard way. I suggest that you don’t.

I hope this post helps someone learn something without having to endure extreme circumstances, but perhaps the people who need to learn these lessons the most will only do so through our mother tongue, suffering.

Categories
Education Lifestyle Productivity

The Art of Practice

“Everything in life worth achieving requires practice. In fact, life itself is nothing more than one long practice session, an endless effort of refining our motions. When the proper mechanics of practice are understood, the task of learning something new becomes a stress-free experience of joy and calmness, a process which settles all areas in your life and promotes proper perspective on all of life’s difficulties.”

Thomas M. Sterner (The Practicing Mind)

Practicing is an essential element in achievement. Most people see practicing as work, as something to force ourselves to do, but with a slight change in perspective, practicing can be freeing. Practice can relieve us of stress and impatience, and even can be therapeutic.

In his fantastic book, The Practicing Mind, Thomas M. Sterner beautifully explains the mechanics and art of practice s0 we can all access the joy and calmness that practice provides.

I love talking about practice because a solid understanding of effective practice leads to a solid understanding of effective learning. Most of the ideas in this post are from Sterner’s book, but these are only the ideas I’ve found interesting (and relevant). I still highly recommend reading the book for yourself!

“Practice encompasses learning but not the other way around.”

Thomas M. Sterner (The Practicing Mind)

First and Foremost

Before I really dive into the mechanics of practice, I want to introduce a few ideas to help frame the mechanics in a better context.

In order to understand the mechanics of practice, we first have to understand self-control and awareness of self. Both self-control and awareness of self require heavy amounts of attention dedicated to our mental and emotional states. I talk a bit about the significance and power of attention in my post about The Osiris Myth.

Attention is the foundation for self-control and awareness of self, and both of those are foundations for practice.

Without these things, we’re riding a horse with no reins, we have no power or control. Our source of power must come from within and be expressed through self-control and awareness. We need to have an internal locus of control in order to practice.

The next idea I want to talk about is: works arise out of the practice. The things we build that can be later known as our “life’s work” springs from the countless hours of practice that we dedicate to the craft. When I started writing my first book, I felt impatient and I was pretty hard on myself about getting my work done faster. There was a significant problem with that — when I started writing the book I didn’t have the writing skills nor the knowledge to write the kind of book I intended to. I needed to develop the skill and knowledge along the way and that can only be cultivated through practice.

Even though I know this, I still have to fight the idea that “this book should have been done yesterday” quite often. Sterner references this specific struggle and explains that it’s just part of the process.

“At its inception, I would not have been able to write “this” version of The Practicing Mind even if someone had sat me down and said, “I will pay your bills and look after your family. You just write.” It took the writing process and observing myself going through my days to learn that.”

Thomas M. Sterner (The Practicing Mind)

This quote gave me permission to believe that it’s okay to learn along the way.

Now I’m convinced that it’s the only way to accomplish anything.

Dedicate to the craft, learn along the way, trust that we will learn everything we need. Sterner showed me that as long as I focus on the practice of writing, then I will eventually complete the book in it’s highest form.

The last idea that I want to mention is that life is one giant practice session. Everything we do is practice. From walking to tying our shoes, from adding 2+2 to integrating trigonometric functions, everything is practice.

Literally everything.

Those three ideas set the stage nicely for understanding the mechanics and art of practice. Internalizing these ideas will make practice seem a lot less daunting than it needs to be.

The first mechanic of practice I want to bring up is also probably the biggest idea in the book and carries substantial wisdom.

Focus on the process, not the product.

This is the key to making practice effective, consistent, and cathartical. Focusing on the process, not the product.

This is analogous advice to “Set up systems, not goals.”

I’ve always been results-oriented and obsessive with progress, but I’ve also always had problems with burn out and stress. I’ve noticed that switching my focus to the process has created higher productivity yields with less pressure.

I used to literally think that if I wanted to perform better, then I need to apply more pressure.

After all, diamonds are created from high amounts of pressure right?

Yes, but we’re human beings, not rocks, and we burn out after long periods of high pressure and stress. We will not become diamonds from adding more stress, we will eventually crumble. Now, this is not to say that we don’t need any stress at all. Some stress is actually necessary to function at our highest level. I talk a bit about that in my post How to Conquer Test and Performance Anxiety.

“When you focus on the process, the desired product takes care of itself with fluid ease. When you focus on the product, you immediately begin to fight yourself and experience boredom, restlessness, frustration, and impatience with the process.”

Thomas M. Sterner (The Practicing Mind)

Well focusing on the process seems like a great idea, but how we do actually start doing that?

First, we need to be able to temporarily give up our attachment to our goal. If we are too attached, then we won’t be able to be present and our minds will fill with impatience — which will block us from deliberate and intentional practice.

We have to be able to get to a place where we’d be completely fine if we didn’t get our goal. I recommend reading some stoic philosophy if this seems impossible. Letters from a Stoic by Seneca is a fantastic place to start, it’s also on my Must-Read Book List. We are capable of letting go of any attachments we develop, nothing is too substantial that it ought to take us from the present moment.

Once we have created a healthy detachment, we divert our attention to only what we are doing right now in the present. As long as we can keep this up, we are accomplishing our goal in each and every moment. I find mindfulness meditation is fantastic for practicing this type of process.

If we’re focused on the process, we win every moment. If we focus on the product, we win only once the product is finished.

Which would you rather have?

Winning every second or winning one time in the end?

We can get more work done with one of those choices. Winning every second doesn’t only feel better, but we will also build a “success spiral” and forward motion which increases our likely hood of executing more forward motion in the future. Winning creates more winning.

Another benefit is that the pressure melts away when we’re focused on the process. I try to use this to my advantage when I’m working with my students. If they’re having trouble with complex multistep problems, then I just ask them what the next step is rather than having them solve the entire thing. Focusing on just putting one foot in front of the next can get the job done accurately and fairly quickly.

The last thing I want to mention about focusing on the process is that it is crucial to know that there are no mistakes and no judgment when we are truly focused on the process. We are simply executing actions, observing the results, and making adjustments accordingly. There is no bad or wrong when we are focused on the process.

Judgment is the death of intentional and deliberate practice.

While it can be difficult to let go of our attachments, it’s critical to maintain a connection to what we are aiming at. We can use our final goal as a way to course-correct and steer our practice in a constructive, intentional, and deliberate manner. Our end goal tells us what our next steps are, not necessarily how we are doing.

When we focus on the process the progress comes naturally. Focusing on the progress just burns us out. Progress is a natural by-product of the process, so as long as we keep the system going we will accomplish what we need to.

Foreign Concepts

Of course, paying attention to the process and not the product is a completely foreign thought to most people, especially in the West.

The western education system reinforces focusing on the product at a very early age. Usually, our experiences as young children, even if they cannot be remembered, play a huge part in the development of our personalities.

When it comes to school and education, we tend to use grades to define what kind of person someone is. Grades do not inherently determine what kind of person someone is, but that transformation occurs in our language. I frequently hear people say “My child is an A-student or my child is a D-student” as if their existence can only produce those kinds of results. Additionally, grades often heavily influence our life trajectory. They can determine which schools we may or may not get into and what kinds of jobs we can get in the future.

Honestly, in a situation like this, it only makes sense to focus on the grades.

We even have a colloquial language associated with each grade. A typically means excellent. B is good. C is average. D is below average. F is of course failure. We hear these so much, it would be pretty tough for a student to not identify with the phrases associated with their grades. In my experience, students will latch on to these identities and hold on to them for dear life, even if it’s detrimental to their self-image.

During the school years, grades define who students are and what they are worth. And just in case students aren’t results-oriented enough, we also have “Standardized Test” which “level the playing field.”

This is not to say that standardized tests don’t have their place, they are useful. They’re necessary for comparing the competence of students from different schools since an A from an English class can require higher performance than an A from another. After all, we need a way of separating the high achievers from the brown nosers. However, just like the grades, these scores heavily influence our life trajectory so it’s no surprise that students would only care about the results.

Rather than use high scores on standardized tests and high grades as goals, we can focus on the actual knowledge. If we focused on gaining knowledge (the process), then higher grades will follow (the product). We can use the grades and tests to steer us in a positive direction, instead of using them as an indicator of our self-worth of identity.

From a young age, and consistently throughout our lives, we are given reason after reason to believe that only results matter regardless of how we get there.

Why else would people cheat on exams?

It’s simply to get the grade! It’s because the grade is all that matters. I’d be lying if I said I never cheated on an exam, I used to be the king at it to be completely honest. I fell right into these thought habits too. I’ve seen students pull off incredibly elaborate schemes when I studied chemical engineering at CSULB.

You’d be surprised how far people are willing to go in order to get the grade. Or maybe you wouldn’t.

What would someone be willing to do to secure their future?

Our current grading system incentivizes people to prioritize results, not knowledge.

Western education constantly hits us with the idea that “results are everything” and since this starts early, it can almost seem built right into reality itself. Focusing on the process and not the product is completely foreign to Western thought, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start.

Here another example of how focusing on the product is a Western ideal:

Sterner brings up a story about a Japanese man who makes plates all day. The man is never worried about how many plates he has to make, he just tries to make each plate as perfect as possible. When Thomas asks him if he has a supervisor, the man replies —

“What is a supervisor?”

Thomas was taken back by the response and tells him that a supervisor is a person who makes sure that you do your job correctly. The Japanese man replies

“Why would I need someone to make sure I do my job correctly? That is my job.”

We need more of this attitude in the West for sure. The man is focused on doing his job well, not his output. In the West, we are so focused on results that we have to hire people just to make sure that people don’t screw up the process.

If we can make this foreign idea at home in the West, we’ll all have happier, healthier, and more productive lives.

Simple Rules for Creating A Practicing Mind

  • Remain process-oriented
  • Stay in the present
  • Make the process the goal and use the overall goal as a rudder to steer your efforts
  • Be deliberate, have an intention about what you want to accomplish, and remain aware of that intention

Perspective

“As we attempt to understand ourselves and our struggles with life’s endeavors, we may find peace in the observation of a flower. Ask yourself: At what point in a flower’s life, from seed to full bloom, does it reach perfection?”

Thomas M. Sterner (The Practicing Mind)

Perspective is powerful when it comes to developing a practicing mind and the images we focus on have a massive impact on our perspective.

We lose peace of mind when we adopt images of perfection. Sometimes even the images we look to for inspiration can turn into harsh judges if we aren’t careful. Always looking to see how we are doing compared to our ideals can be detrimental to practicing effectively.

Images of ideals are just images. They are not alive like we are. The images of perfection are dead, unchanging. We, on the other hand, are flawed but alive, always in the state of becoming. We are always changing, like a flower when it blooms.

At what point is the flower perfect?

This is one of the most powerful questions I got from reading this book. Knowing that every state of my journey will not match some static image of perfection, because I am alive. Living things go through different experiences, that is a crucial part in living.

When is the flower perfect? Is it at the seed? Or when it sprouts? Or when it blooms?

The flower isn’t impatient. The flower doesn’t think “this is taking forever” or “Once I bloom, then I can be happy.”

The flower just grows every day.

It’s always perfect.

Every stage is perfect.

What the flower is doing exactly what it needs to be doing in each moment.

We are the same way. As long as we focus on the process, growing every day, then we are always perfect. I find thinking this way takes a lot of the pressure off of trying to make something perfect the first time.

We need to work like nature, without ego.

Whenever I get caught up in thinking that my results aren’t where they “should” be, I try to ask myself:

“At what point is the flower perfect?”

Another fantastic way of shifting perspective is to channel the “beginner mind.” When we first do something, our mind uses all of its cognitive load to process this new activity because it’s never done it before! It has to build all the new neural connections while interpreting a new situation. Our brains need to dedicate as many resources as possible to operating in unknown territory. Due to the high use of resources dedicated to figuring out this new activity, we lose a lot of the egoic chatter which usually tries to destroy us. Channeling this “beginner mind” can keep us in the present and focused on what we’re currently doing.

I find this to be true in most things I do. I distinctly remember driving for the first time. In the beginning, it was so tough to process everything that was going on — I would have to keep both hands on the wheel with the radio off and now I got the radio up, windows down, and my mind drifts off to the weirdest places. Now driving takes so little brainpower, it’s become one of my favorite ways to trigger diffuse thinking.

We can channel the “beginner mind” through deliberate practice – specifically practicing the things that need improvement. By focusing on things we aren’t proficient in, we force ourselves into the present.

Deliberate practice is pretty different from the kind of practice that people typically do. Research has shown that when people learn a skill or activity, they reach a plateau and stop improving once they reach a certain level of competence. This can also be known as our comfort zone. Part of deliberate practice is operating at the edge of our comfort zone, or zone of proximal development (ZPD). We push our limits and capabilities to higher levels when we engage in deliberate practice. We can isolate and improve each weakness through repetition, increasing standards, and continuous feedback. When we’re doing this, we have no choice but to channel the “beginner mind.”

Habits

What we practice becomes our habits, and our habits shape our lives. I’ve written a few posts on habits. Everything I would want to include in this section is also in these posts –including how to build and break habits, how habits work, the significance of habits, and ways to build your dream life through habit formation.

Understanding how habits form and developing an awareness for which habits we are creating gives us access to creating the habits we actually want for ourselves, which ultimately constructs our lives.

Some sports psychologists say that repeating a motion sixty times a day over 21 days will form a new habit ingrained in the mind. The sixty reps don’t have to be done all at once either. They can be broken up into sets.

New habits are always awkward at first, but over time they will feel more comfortable if we just stick with it.

Remember — we are the ones who decide our habits, no one else.

Patience

“The problem with patience and discipline is that developing each of them requires both of them.”

Thomas M. Sterner (The Practicing Mind)

Practice without patience is fruitless.

The only way we can see the results of our practice is through patience. We can see this most obviously in the context of health and exercise. When we workout, we don’t see obvious results the next day, or even the day after that. It usually takes a few months before people starting noticing small changes, but those few months are filled with constant deliberate practice. Without patience, we would just work out one time and let our disappointment take us out.

So that leaves us with the question:

How can we cultivate patience?

Sterner suggests that we can develop patience by changing our perspective. Sterner likes to think of patience more as quiet perseverance. By changing the vocabulary, we change our perspective of ourselves. Rather than seeing ourselves as someone waiting patiently for things to finally work out, we can become someone who is quietly overcoming all the obstacles thrown in front of them time and time again. This may seem like a small change, but humans are creatures of conversation and our worlds are created by our speech. I talk more about the power of speech in this post.

Impatience usually comes from trying to live in the future and being unsatisfied with the present.

Sitting in traffic is a great way to trigger this feeling. Since I live in California, I find myself in traffic pretty often. Lately, I’ve been trying to use traffic as an opportunity to practice quiet perseverance. It kind of goes like this:

I hit traffic. I feel impatient. I notice I’m feeling impatient. I realize that I’m trying to live in the future and I’m not satisfied with the present. I try to find a way to be satisfied with sitting in traffic.

It’s all about being present and focusing on what I can actually do at that moment. This is actually how I researched, organized, and developed a lot of the ideas for my book! I would be listening to podcasts, YouTube videos, and audiobooks are related to education and personal development and take notes on all the things I found interest. This made the time fly by. Traffic isn’t a big deal when you’re working on something important to you.

Impatience is a great indicator that we’re being product-focused and trying to live in the future. Another indicator is when our internal chatter starts going haywire. We have to be able to recognize when our thoughts are going off on a tangent and return ourselves back to the present. Controlling our minds like this is challenging at first, but as I mentioned earlier, mindfulness meditation is excellent for cultivating this skill — noticing when the mind runs wild and pulling it back in. Like a wild horse, it’s going to fight us but if we can tire it out then it’ll stop running away.

Patience naturally comes with a change in perspective, just trying to “be more patient” is a fool’s errand and is incredibly expensive from a cognitive load perspective. If we correctly change our perspective, we can feel the impatience vanish.

Tips to Stay Present

When we develop a practicing mind, Sterner recommends using the 4 S Words to keep our minds in the process.

Simple

Keeping things simple reduces friction and is a great way of developing a success spiral. Creating a forward movement helps tremendously.

When dealing with huge projects, or anything fairly complex, break it down into its component sections. I try to make sure each component is something that seems super easy. Like I said earlier, it’s all about developing a forward motion — get the wins everywhere you can.

Atul Gawande, the author of The Checklist Manifesto, also suggests keeping things simple if we want to remain effective. Simple checklists make all the difference, but once we add complexity they can actually make things worse.

Keeping things simple is key to keeping things effective.

Small

Similar to keeping things simple, we want our focuses to be small.

The smaller the better.

For example, when I was writing this blog post I felt overwhelmed because I knew that there were a bunch of ideas that I wanted to go over. But I just kept my focus on writing the paragraph that I’m working on to the best of my ability and eventually the entire post will be finished. It’s taken longer than I like, but that’s just my mind trying to focus on the product.

Focusing on small sections is much easier than focusing on the entire task. Also when we have many small victories, we get the winning streak on our side. If you haven’t noticed, winning streaks are everything.

Short

Keeping things short will make anything seem bearable. Tim Ferriss also suggests keeping things short when creating new habits. Again, a classic example of getting the wins wherever you can.

It’s much easier to say I’m going to sit down and write for 40 minutes a day rather than I’m going to sit down and write for 4 and a half hours per week. If I knew I had to sit down for 4 and a half hours, I would do everything I can do avoid that. Honestly, even 40 minutes is pushing it on some days.

Keeping things short keeps procrastination at bay.

Slow

Taking things slow might seem like a bad idea, especially if you’re like me and love getting as much done as possible. But slowness allows us to actually pay attention to what we are doing. When we take things slow, we see every little moment of what goes into the process. We make fewer mistakes when we take it slow and tasks sure seem a lot less daunting.

I try to do at least 1 thing per day slowly, to practice being present and paying attention to how I actually do that task. Some days it will be dishes, other days it will be brushing my teeth, or changing my clothes. I practice with little things so I can perform well on the big things.

D.O.C.

Stands for Do, Observe, Correct. This technique can be used on any activity to engage the practicing mind. It’s designed to snap us out of frustration and shifts our perspective to an Observer.

D.O.C. can also be thought of as the practice cycle. When we are practicing, we are only doing one of those three actions – doing, observing, or correcting. Any energy spent on frustration, anger, insecurity, judgment, or otherwise is a waste and isn’t part of proper practice.

When we are practicing, if we sense feelings of anger or frustration then we know that we aren’t staying in the cycle. Simply do the action, observe how we are doing, and correct course.

Let me give an example to illustrate this point. Whenever I’m writing I tend to get judgemental and insecure, to the point where I won’t release a piece of work or I’ll just destroy it outright. This is the death of practice. I’m wasting my energy, not creating anything, and I’m not getting better at writing.

If I can notice I’m feeling judgemental or insecure, then I can recognize that I’m off the D.O.C. cycle and all I have to do is get back on.

That’s a big if though. All of this only works if I can recognize the emotional states within myself – this is why I recommend mindfulness meditation. It trains us in this very skill.

Just write. No judgment. No thinking, just doing.

Observe the words on the page. Is the message that I’m trying to convey clear? Is this what I am trying to say?

If it isn’t, then I need to correct it.

Repeat as many times as necesary.

If it is, then I’m a winner.

This technique is fantastic for silencing the internal chatter and taking control of our minds. Of course, this is a difficult thing to do and requires practice. haha. But it gets easier with higher skill in mindfulness.

Last Thoughts

“Buying the car is much less satisfying than working for it.”

Thomas M. Sterner’s Dad

These were some of the ideas I found most interesting from The Practicing Mind, but I still highly recommend that everyone read it for themselves. There is a ton of information in that book and this post is just the stuff I found useful or related to what I usually talk about.

I’m hoping that these ideas and techniques can help you in finding the therapeutic advantage to practice and keep you on the path to mastery.

We are always perfect, but we are always practicing.

We are always growing.

The question is, in which direction?