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Lifestyle

2019 Yearly Review: Birth of Tradition

“Time is the friend of the person who trains his mind to follow positive thought-habits and the enemy of the person who drifts into negative thought-habits.”

Napoleon Hill (Outwitting the Devil)

When last year was coming to a close, I had a terrible realization that I couldn’t remember anything that happened that year and I felt like life was slipping through my fingers. Every week moving faster than the last, and while I was in the grips of it all my days seemed to have amounted to nothing. I knew that this wasn’t possible because I was working really hard, dedicating myself to (what I believed to be) noble causes, and some things in my life were moving along in a generally positive direction, but it just didn’t feel like it.

I was tired of feeling stagnant, so I told myself in 2019 I had to track my life somehow. (I learned a lot about tracking this year and I outline it in my post on Tracking vs. Loss Aversion.) I wasn’t open to journaling or writing at the time, but I’ve discovered that writing is of my favorite ways to record myself and look back on later. In the early parts of the year, I tried to take pictures of something I was doing once a day or record a quick vlog, but those didn’t stick and I felt like it didn’t accurately captured what I was actually like.

I was really disheartened to think that one day I’ll be gone, and all that will be left of me are the things that I leave here. All that will be left of me would be those pictures to capture my day or that quick vlog.

That didn’t sit well with me at all.

I understand that entire civilizations have come and gone and most individuals are not remembered in time, but I want my existence to at least have a chance to impact others, even after I’m dead and gone. I thought about how much beauty and tragedy I can experience in a day, how I’ve learned so much throughout my time here, and I should try my damndest to share it. Not only life lessons and academic lessons, but lessons about the human spirit that can only be communicated through experiencing another individual. Every person I’ve come across has an undeniable uniqueness, and I’ve always believed that’s what makes people special. It was so terrible that my own unique individualism was being squashed and forgotten because I was too lazy, afraid, or [insert any relatively insignificant emotion here] to dedicate the energy and time required to preserve it. If I couldn’t even remember what I was doing in the past year, how could I expect to preserve my individuality over time?

With frustration, fear, and anger heavy in my heart, I went on to find some way to accurately capture who I am. I discovered that I could carve out a little piece of the internet and create a space that captures all the different sides of me, and if I dedicated the proper time and energy, then I could capture who I am in my entirety. So I ditched the “picture a day” crap and took my documenting more seriously. I created a plan to build an online city that expresses the different sides of Christopher Sagala Mukiibi. Each project I build isn’t a perfect representation of me, but it is a small part of me. The goal is my future and (hopefully) expansive body work will capture who I am in my entirety and no part of me will be left unsaid, so to speak.

To capture my nonverbal emotional states, I dedicated myself to building a musical district in my online city. This is starting off as my beat store and Sagala Productions, but I hope to nourish and build this to something more beautiful that I could imagine. I’m in the early stages of figuring out how to make beat making videos. I feel like my music district will be a little more substantial once that is written out.

To teach the beautiful ideas that help me make sense of the world, I dedicated myself to building an educational district in my online city. This is starting off as my blog, but it is also developing offline in my tutoring sessions and classes that I teach at the Temecula Tutor center. This blog is an opportunity for me to expand and refine ideas that will be further synthesized into my online courses and (hopefully) a book. This educational district will give students scaffolding to receive a quality education that actually helps them operate in the world from a system that isn’t designed to do that.

To capture the parts of me that are less understood by myself, I dedicated myself to building a talk show. I don’t really want to go into why a talk show is perfect for capturing the unknown within in this post but I plan to cover it sometime in the future. The show is in it’s early developments, but we have a few episodes shot and I can really see this building into something beautiful. Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, I’m anticipating this to be one of the most accurate depictions of myself. I’m hoping in 2020, I’ll be able to drop some high quality entertainment and capture some priceless memories.

To ensure consistent improvement, I’ve dedicated myself to doing a Yearly Review every year. I tried a few different ways to track consistent improvement. I was looking for a method that was low pressure enough to keep me going but was still effective. It took a few months but I think I’ve found a way that sticks. (We’ll see though.)

So it’s pretty simple, every month I pick two of my weaknesses that I will try to get at least 1% better by the end of the month. I keep the bar low so I will actually do it, but I always pick the things that I really really really really really really do not want to focus on.

I write the themes on the whiteboard in my room, because I look at it all the time so I’m constantly reminded of my weaknesses and that it’s my job this month to get better at them. I’ve found that as long as I’m trying to get better and I know what I’m trying to improve, I actually get better! What a concept.

So this year, I started my themes may and june but I didn’t record anything from those months and I can’t remember what I was working on and how I felt about it but I did notice an improvement. So in July I started writing it down in my note app so I can at least keep track of something.

I would also keep a to-do list written above my themes and if I felt proud of myself that day then I would take a picture of the list and save it into my themes. As the year went on, I started taking more and more pictures of the lists. It’s crazy to think that there were a few months this year when I only felt proud of myself less than 5 days out of the month but it’s also nice to know that there were some months when I felt proud of myself almost every day.

As the months went on, I rediscovered the value of writing more and taking less pictures, but I never sat down to thoroughly write my thoughts out so I’m going to give myself the opportunity to do that now with this review. The memories won’t be perfect, but they’ll do. I’ll put what I initial wrote down in my notes app in italics and my elaborated thoughts will come afterwards.

July: Continuous Humility & Patience

“at the beginning of the month I found it scary to take on these themes. I knew they were weaknesses.

“I feel way more humble and patient. So much so that I want to try this every month to see if I can overcome more miraculous things. I’ve accomplished so much this month. This is a fun little thing to do. And there’s no stakes”

CM: Like I said, I didn’t take much time to elaborate so this is all I wrote. I knew that I had an arrogance issue and I was quite impatient. It was annoying confronting this, but this month was important. By the end of the month, I was ecstatic to look at the progress I was making. I was learning things quicker and producing things faster. I knew that it was in direct correlation to my humility and patience. Arrogance and impatience are the death of progress and this little experiment helped me see that. It really didn’t cost me anything, I felt like I was getting better, and I actually was getting better. Why not try it again?

August: Discipline & Clarity

“I feel like my life lacks discipline and I have a hard time believing that I am sane so clarity seems to be the antidote for that.”

“one week in and it’s a lot less tough to focus on the theme. I’m working out more. I’m getting so much done. I’m more honest too. I’m a little more tired, but I feel like a better man for it.”

“end of the month: I’m so happy I did this. I am more disciplined and I rarely think im crazy anymore. I’ve been working out more consistently and I’ve noticed changes in my body. I’m great at getting myself to start things now. I’ve been more honest and clear with my writing and speech. I accomplished so much this month and I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen over the next few months. I honestly think this is a great way for me to get over any flaws I have or enhance any ability I want. I’m going to give it another try for September.”

CM: Turns out my experiment was a success and the benefits far exceeded the costs and/or expectations. I started working on my creativity section of my body of work, recording what my creative process is like. I also completed 13 beats that month! I can barely believe that now. I started posting on my website and I was simultaneously confronting multiple weaknesses and actually making something beautiful out of it. This month the first episode of So to Speak was filmed. I don’t think that episode will ever be released, but we’ll see. The future is full of unexpected events.

September: Completion & Order

“I have a hard time finishing things and I’m constantly feeling out of control. I want to be able to see my impact in the universe. I will reach out and move things. No longer will I sit back. I will finish my plans, hopefully. I’ve developed two months as a success spiral. I want to see how long this will last and if it can overcome these things.”

“first week in: I’m seeing all the things I never finish. I’m hyper aware of all the new projects that I’m dying to start. I’m going to try to just write those ideas down – and attend to them when I finished what I’m set out to do.”

“Last week: I did slightly better with completion and order than I was expecting, but I don’t feel like I had the same level of success as I did with my other months. So I’m going to keep completion as the theme for next month but I’m changing order. I started Thus Spake Zarathustra and Nietzsche says we need to have much chaos within us to give birth to a dancing star.

CM: I remember this month. It was painful to notice how often I want to start new ideas and leave all my old ones unfinished. I told myself, I had to finish whatever projects I was working on this month before I could start a new one. I dropped this idea as soon as the month was over because I figured that as long as I’m starting to create the truly great projects will be the ones that get completed and not the ones that are forced. I’m not saying this is the case for everyone, it’s just a belief I’m trying out right now. This month I injected a lot of order into my life and rejecting the chaotic side of me made it difficult to create. There is definitely a balance to be found between chaos and order. This month consisted of a lot of cleaning, physical and digital. Not the most exciting stuff, but I’m very happy to know that I’ve dedicated at least 1/12 of this year to entropy management.

October: Completion & Consistency

“2nd week in: I feel a lot better about my ability to complete and be consistent. I’m feeling like I have more control over what’s happening. Finishing things and not finishing things has become more of a choice rather than a reflection of my circumstances “

“October 17th: I feel like I understand my body more with my consistent workouts. Aries is happier too. He loves the morning walks and I think he’s losing weight. I’ve been trying really hard to complete my tasks each day. I can’t manage that, but I am finishing a lot more than I usually do. What gets measured gets improved is such an accurate statement.”

“21st: It feels real fucking good to check off everything today. I finally feel like completion and consistency are completely mine. What gets measured gets managed. What gets managed gets improved. Aries is definitely losing weight. And it feels good being in control of whatever I choose. It’s a little humbling to see how much that really is, but knowing my limits is good.”

“Last day: I feel like I’ve gotten a good hold on completion and consistency, but I feel like I’ve lost hold of some of the other themes I’ve been practicing. Specifically patience. It’s almost like I’m only able to have a grip on a few of these abilities at a time. Anyways this month has been wildly productive. I feel healthier, and so is Aries and I’m pretty confident in myself. It’s all those success spirals 😁”

CM: This month was critical for my development, or at least seems so when I look back on these thoughts. I feel like my relationship with completion has changed since this month. I learned that completing things is a choice, and if I pay enough attention, there’s a specific moment when I decide to finish a project or not. All I have to do is be honest with myself and decide to finish. Or not. The confronting part is knowing that this capacity for completion is a decision that I make if I’m paying attention. I remember being really consistent this month. I was constantly working out and finishing tasks on my white board. I feel like I truly learned how much I could accomplish in a day. I learned where my cognitive load caps out and how much cognitive load each task takes. It was humbling to learn that I can’t get as much done in a day as I’d like, but at least I get stuff done at all! 70% there is better than 0%. After reading these thoughts, it looks like completion and consistency are the recipe for confidence and feeling awesome! I learned that during October, but somewhere between then and now I’ve forgotten it. It’s cool reflecting and rediscovering lessons that were so crucial to my peace of mind.

November: Patience & Focus

“1st Day: I’m upset that I’ve lost proficiency, so to speak, in patience. And the past few days I’ve been unfocused so let’s run it! As usual I’m pretty intimidated by these themes but I’m not as intimidated as usual.”

“Book Goal for the year!! 11/11!! Whoop whoop! Can’t wait to see all the books im going to read next year. Picking up reading was easily one of the best choices I have ever made. All the information in each of these books changed my life for the better in ways I could never have even imagined.”

“11/12 – I felt like was going crazy last week because nothing was going right and everything seemed so much more difficult than it needed to be, but now I see that it was me rejecting the themes for this month. I was not patient and I was not focused but now that I’ve realized that, I just kept my head down, focused, and now things are starting to work out. Patience is really hard for me to get under control.”

“11/20 – it’s like I’m just believing that staying focused helps me be patient but I feel like I’m slightly better at focusing. Not as good as my MCAT study days (I want to beat my old record 3hr attention span with 1.5 hr no breaks), right now I break at around 1 hour. Patience is interesting though. I’m finally able to teach this class next semester even though I pictured being done with the whole thing within 8 months. It’s a year and a half and it lives. It’s much better to take my time and slow cook it. Everyone I presented to was impressed with it. I just need to be patient. Tonight was proof that patience is key. I just need to stay focused as I have been.”

“End of November – i feel like I’m slightly more patient but I feel as if my focus isn’t as high as it could be. At the beginning of the month, I was only able to sit and work for like an hour but I’ve gotten up to about an hour and a half It’s an improvement but I feel like the work im doing requires the artist to be able to focus on it for long periods of time. Once I get my attention span up, I’ll make my work better.”

CM: This month I noticed that my patience for everything was running thin, so I decided to make it a theme again. I was hesitant at first, but I figured I’m never going to perfect this skill within a month so I’ll repeat it as many times as necessary. Plus when I start adding in more rules, things get too complicated. And when things get more complicated, friction comes and I stop doing things. Friction is probably my number 1 worst enemy. I also reached my book goal for the year in this month. I read 20 books, some of which are on my Must Read Book List. This was the first year I took reading seriously, and it was easily one of the best choices I’ve ever made in my life. The knowledge I’ve acquired from these books has given me a new way of looking at the world and experiencing life. Reading is one of those things that can’t be done too much. I was able to compare my attention span between now and when I used to be a pre-med study fiend. I’ve lost some skill, partly due to lack of practice, but I’ve been trying to get back on the long-term concentration horse. It’s been getting slightly better, but I’m nowhere near where I used to be. This was the month I showed my course to prospective parents and students and it was a hit! People loved what I had to say and couldn’t wait to sign up in the spring. We’ll see how much of that will hold into the new year, but it’s nice to know that there are people out there who are receptive to my work. It helped offset my incessant delusion that what I’m doing isn’t worthwhile. It just took way longer than I expected, so I guess it’s fitting that I had that experience during my “patience” month. My patience and focus got a little better by the end of the month, and it’s something I try to improve on every day. At the moment, I don’t really see any noticeable gains, but I know in a few months or weeks I’ll notice a difference in my focus.

December: Integrity & Vulnerability 

“12/1 – fuck these themes lol integrity is something I know I need to work on for myself. It’ll make my experience of my life easier to handle. Vulnerability is necessary for my art to really find a place in the world. I keep holding things back bc I don’t want to be vulnerable and my art, my business, and my productivity is suffering because of it”

“End of December – I didn’t write as much this semester because my bargaining ass knew I was writing this blog post and it “counts” for the month of December, but as I write this I realize how purely idiotic that was. I spent a huge portion of the month working on bringing Integrity back into my life. I came across opposition of all kinds. External, internal, physical, psychological, you name it. I was able to bring back integrity to my room, but as far as much schedules, routines, and other aspects of my life, my integrity still isn’t whole. I probably hit 70% of my integrity goals this month so it’s very likely that I’ll start 2020 off with integrity as a theme again. As for vulnerability, I made an effort to show more positive emotion towards people and showing the work I’ve created despite my fear of judgement and rejection. I’ve been resistant towards these themes pretty much the whole month, but I do think I’ve gotten at least 1% better. I know I’ll need to do this theme again too.”

CM: I really liked reflecting over this year. I feel like I understood what I was doing a little bit better and I’m actually excited to bring just as much, if not more, energy and attention into 2020. I aim to expand on the foundation I’ve built, and hopefully reach out to more people. This was the year I finally feel like I have a grip on the world around me, how it works, and how I am going to navigate in it and with that knowledge came a flurry of creative projects designed to express my multidimensional existence. I used this year to learn about myself and birth new traditions that hopefully fit into something bigger and worthwhile to other people. I’m excited for the story to continue. I know I have more work cut out for me than ever before, but it’s exciting work that I find useful and meaningful. Cheers 🍻to a tough, challenging, but rewarding 2019 and more of the same in 2020.

If you made it down here thanks for reading this! I know I don’t usually post these kinds of things but the reflection is important and I figured I might as well share it since the theme for this month is Vulnerability.

Categories
Lifestyle Productivity

Tracking and Loss Aversion

“What gets measured gets managed.”

Peter Drucker (1909 – 2005)

This quote is probably one of the most life changing ideas I’ve come across this year. I like to add “…and what gets managed gets improved, as long as you’re aiming up” to the end of it to give it that extra punch. The idea is pretty simple, we’re able to manage the things we pay the most attention to and we can manage to improve them with a little intentionality.

If we’re trying to lose weight, we’ll need a way to determine if we’re making progress. Most people use weight, but we can use an indefinite amount of different measures. We can measure our BMI, arm width, torso width, torso circumference, daily energy levels, etc. Once we pick a measure, we track the measure over time and we can see if we’re moving towards our goals or away from our goals. In The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss (which is on my Must Read Book List), Tim suggests that people measure as many variables as possible when they are trying to make new changes to their fitness routine so they can see potential progress in domains they may not be focusing on. This prevents us from quitting if we aren’t meeting the goals we set for ourselves. For example, if we spend a week doing kettlebell swings and we don’t lose any weight but we’re able to increase our maximum number of reps, then we aren’t totally wiped out from the failure. The progress in the other domain gives us the boost we need to stick with it. As long as we’re getting better, it’s all good.

The best part of measuring multiple variables is being able to improve them intentionally. I’ve noticed this in my own life, anything that I keep track of inevitability gets improved over time. This is partly because I’m (possibly unhealthily) obsessed with personal development but also because I know my metrics and where I objectively stand.

Tracking

Man will only get better when you make him see what he is like.

Anton Chekhov (1860 – 1904)

We can think of tracking as our ability to notice when we’re on path towards our ideal life so we can use it to stay on the path towards our goals. It’s helpful to see tracking as a skill that we practice, but it’s much more than that. Our ability to track is deep-seated in our biology. We have connections in our limbic system wired throughout our entire body which entangles our emotional states with the trajectory of our desired goal. We have visceral feelings when we suspect something may physically harm us or feelings of unease when we’re doing something we know we shouldn’t. These deeply ingrained systems are examples of our tracking mechanisms letting us know where we stand in relation to our goals.

A relatable example of tracking mechanisms controlling our emotional states is being hungry. When we’re hungry, our entire body’s mission becomes “get food.” All of our senses become hyper aware of everything food related and we become perspective of all the possible ways of getting food. Our whole body is oriented towards getting the goal: food. This happens all the time when I’m hungry and I drive by an In-N-Out. I’m minding my own business, when BAM! I’m hit with the sweet aroma of burgers and fries. Now, imagine you’re hungry decide to go drive to your favorite restaurant. You get a flat tire on the drive and it’s going to take a while to get it fixed. Something came up that stopped you from reaching the goal. That bag of negative emotion you feel when an obstruction comes up is your tracking mechanism saying “You are off course!” or “Something is stopping you from reaching your goal!” Now, imagine you fixed the tired and made it to the restaurant and you see your hot meal coming out of the kitchen headed towards you. As the food gets closer and closer, your brain releases a bigger and bigger dopamine kick. These kicks also strengthen actions committed right before that point making them more likely to occur in the future. The same phenomena happens with all of our goals. We experience positive emotion when we move towards our goals and we experience negative emotion when we are impeded or off course from our goals. The feelings are experienced proportionally less intense as the goals become less crucial to our survival.

Tracking works best when we have a clear purpose. Tracking doesn’t discern what is a proper purpose and what is an inauthentic purpose, so we decide what we dedicate ourselves to, and tracking can be one of the many tools we can use. It provides powerful motivation and a built-in incentive structure. Some people like to track for shiggles, but I like to track with a specific goal in mind because seeing ourselves move towards a goal makes us happy, staves off depression and anxiety, and boosts confidence.

I mentioned this earlier but it’s so important to track multiple variables. In a classroom, only measuring our overall grade in the class may be discouraging since it doesn’t change as quickly as we’d like. It usually takes week of consistent improvement to raise an overall grade in a course, especially towards the end. But if we measure the number of questions we can answer easily in our a certain class, then we may see improvements faster.

Tracking multiple dimensions gives us boosts when we see improvement and prevents disappointment because we won’t trick ourselves into thinking that we’re stagnant. The more things you keep track of, the more things will improve, and the more you’ll be able to see how you’re progressing in a comprehensive way. When we are working on ourselves, there is always going to be some improvement in some dimension but it’s easy to miss those marks. Tracking is a way for us to see some of the different things that are improving. Keep track of many things, the more specific the better.

Loss Aversion

I like to think of Loss Aversion as an internal mechanism which motivates us to act to prevent losing something. Some examples of this could be going to work to pay the bills in order to avoid the water being shut off or studying for a test in order to avoid getting a bad grade. Loss aversion can also help us stay on the path towards our goals because it gives us something to run from. Research from Center for Experimental Social Science at NYU demonstrates that people will work way harder to avoid losing $5 than earn $20. Tracking and Loss Aversion are both powerful motivators but Loss Aversion is more effective. Not surprising considering that most people are more sensitive to negative stimuli than positive stimuli.

Everyone loves to envision themselves at the top of the mountain, so to speak, looking down at the world from their throne of success. That kind of envisioning is using the Tracking mechanism to create a possible future that we would love to run towards. But I believe that knowing what you want to do and where you want to go is not enough to accomplish something great. It is just as important to know what will happen if you do not take the actions necessary. If you don’t feeling like studying, ask yourself “What will happen if I don’t study?” Be vivid. The more clear the scenario of disaster, the better. I get myself to work out, stick to my routines, and create on a regular basis by asking myself:

What would my life would be like if I didn’t do this?

If keeping your own vision doesn’t work, there are fun apps to monitor loss aversion, feel free to google them and pick one that’s best for you. There are also organizations called Anti-Charities. You pledge money to these organizations and they will donate the money under your name if you don’t accomplish your goals. An example would be something like: Donating $5 to the KKK every day that you don’t study for an exam.

As much as I wish we could all just track down our goals like my dog when we wants to eat, success is extremely rare when we track without loss aversion. Trust me, I’ve avoided loss aversion intentionally for years but when I carefully reflected on a majority of my achievements I noticed that what really got the job done was the fear of getting the stick if I didn’t hold up my end of the deal.

Create something to run to and create something to run from. It will be pretty hard to procrastinate or do meaningless work if you are clear on what you want and what you do not.

Run towards Heaven and away from Hell. Nowadays, I hear so much contention between positive reinforcement and positive punishment. Some people say we should only use positive reinforcement and avoid positive punishment but I say we should use a combination of both. Run towards the carrot and away from the stick. Usually just one good reason isn’t enough, most of the time we’ll need more than one. Combining Tracking with Loss Aversion gives us at least two good reasons to do the things we want and it’s a surefire way to success.

Categories
Education Lifestyle

Our Proclivity for Comfort

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”

C.S. Lewis (1889 – 1963)

We love to look for comfort, but seeking out comfort can lead to taking shortcuts and avoiding challenges. The comfortable path enables us to practice habits which reward instant gratification and that prevents any long term goals from ever coming to fruition. This isn’t to say that the way to success is paved by only misery and suffering. There is a balance to be found between living a comfortable life and living a meaningful life. That balance could never be achieved if one was aiming at comfort, but it could possibly be achieved through aiming at truth. Finding the truth gives us a realistic view of what is required for success and only there it is possible to make peace with the high price success and meaning demands. Living a significant life is expensive, and the price can only be paid if we know it exists. That price of meaning lies in the truth but is masked by comfort. The unfortunate part of it all, is that humans have a need to be comfortable. It feels so good, and on some level makes life worth living all on its own.

It’s worthwhile to chase truth because it will make us smarter, tougher, more creative and dangerous. If we know what is true and share it correctly with others, then they will give us money and opportunities. The pursuit of truth will give us access to unlimited worthwhile experiences. We will become the beings which shapes the world around them.

Chasing comfort is terrible because we stop failing and when we stop failing, we stop learning. We can think of being comfortable as being in an environment in which everything is acting as we expect. While that sounds like a great place to be, the problem is we never need to learn anything if everything is working out exactly as we expect. If there is no mismatch between the actual environment and our expected environment, then our brains find no use in learning something new. Why bother? Everything is working perfectly. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it amiright? But when we dwell in the realm of order we don’t fail and because we don’t fail, we don’t learn. If we don’t learn, then we can’t become the people we want to be. I go more in depth on this in my post about The Power of Failure. Humans are creatures of necessity and we only learn something new if we need to, so if everything around is is perfectly fine then there is no learning taking place.

Be mindful of when you want to take the comfortable path. It’s probably going to take you the long way and make your journey more difficult. I know this all too well from personal experience. When making decisions, I find it worthwhile to evaluate my own intentions so I don’t change my behavior solely because something is comfortable. I change to be effective, not to be comfortable because I believe the comfort will come as a byproduct of being more effective.

I really learned this lesson a few years deep into my college career. For a long time, I was a chronic procrastinator and I would always wait until the last minute to do my assignments. I remember back in middle school, whenever I would get a huge project assigned I just automatically thought that meant I was going to be miserable the night before it was due. Eventually, I decided to try things differently three years into college. When I got assignments I would do them the day they were assigned with the same tenacity and velocity that I would have if I worked on it the night before it was due. It was extremely uncomfortable at first, but I stuck with it for a month and found that I had way less stress and was more comfortable than I would have been if I focused on my momentary instantaneous comfort. I had years of experience with putting assignments off until the last minute and I was familiar with how prioritizing comfort felt, but that month felt so great that it was enough incentive to kick my chronic procrastination habit for good! Like everyone else, I am human and I will procrastinate occasionally, but I know first hand the value of not procrastinating. Nowadays, I never procrastinate projects that are important to me. The clear mind I have when I don’t procrastinate in conjunction with the additional time for revisions is a sure fire way to perform better with less stress.

The easy way out often leads back in.

The Last Man vs. The Superman

“Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life, which makes them constantly search for distractions and short-circuits the learning process.”

Robert Greene (1959 – )

In Nietzsche’s relatively poetic Thus Spake Zarathustra, a prophet named Zarathustra preaches to people in a town regarding his own wisdom accrued from his careful reflection upon a mountaintop. He delivers a powerful, but ill received, talk about the ways of The Superman and The Last Man to a crowd awaiting a performance of a tightrope walker.

The Superman-Last Man dichotomy is a huge idea but I want to highlight a few characteristics of each and how it explains our proclivity for comfort. The Übermensch, also translated to Beyond-Man or Superman, can be thought of as the man who is dedicated to the goal which he sets for himself. *Disclaimer: Nietzsche believed that men could create values for themselves and while this can be true for some men, it is not true for all so when I suggest that we should strive to be Übermensch, I mean that we should strive in a way that benefits ourselves, our families, and our communities.* I think Kyra explains the The Superman fantastically in her post when she said “all about challenging the status quo, and truly thinking about life beyond what he is told. The Superman goes on the tedious journey of creating a work that will outlast his life.” On the other hand, The Last Man is named appropriately so because he who lives like The Last Man will be the last of his kind. The Last Man takes no risks and engrosses themselves with distractions such as fancy careers, the latest social event, and happiness to avoid seriously thinking about the meaning of these things. The Last Man pursues only comfort and security, consumes more than he creates, and never challenges the axioms of his time. The Last Man resents his suffering and seeks to alleviate it while the Superman takes in his suffering and channels it into something more.

Appropriately enough, the tightrope walker is the only one who was receptive to the message Zarathustra was putting forward. Nietzsche did a fantastic job dramatizing the dichotomy of The Superman and The Last Man by juxtaposing the tightrope walker with the crowd. Not only was the tightrope walker the only person who understood the message, which suggests he’s closer to manifesting The Superman than anyone else, but he was already demonstrating the characteristics of The Superman by being the one who is giving the performance to the crowd.

Zarathustra describes man as “a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman-a rope over an abyss” and I believe that’s an accurate representation of existence of human beings. We are constantly trying to regulate and integrate our animalistic (Last Man-esque) tendencies by striving to bring out the best in ourselves and if we choose not to play that game, then we end up in an existential abyss where we are susceptible to pathological ideologies.

Existence of Man – Christopher S. Mukiibi (2019)

We either walk the tightrope or we get swallowed by pure chaos. Most of us choose to walk the tightrope, but the inconvenient truth is that walking towards The Superman end of the rope is a difficult endeavor. It’s much more comfortable to drift towards The Last Man end and it’s useful to keep this in mind. The choices we have to make to walk towards to Superman are always going to be difficult but that is the price to create something of worth and operate at the edge of your abilities. It’s painful in the moment, but something worthwhile always comes out the other side. Walking towards the Superman is like sitting on the edge of order and chaos, but we are imposing our will on the chaos we encounter and creating order of our own accord. This allows us to create and design the worlds we want to live in, but it comes from resisting the urge to drift towards The Last Man.

Handling Discomfort

Life is tough and part of what makes it tough is being aware of our relative presence in the universe and the inevitable demise of ourselves and all of our loved ones. However, in a certain light death can seem like a sweet release from an exhausting existence so it’s not the only one to blame for the inherent unfair suffering of life. From a Piagetian perspective, babies initially don’t understand much about how to operate in the world, but over time they accommodate and assimilate new information to expand their sphere of competence. The steps of development can look something like: we think we understand, we realize that we don’t understand anything, we learn something new, we think we understand again, we repeat. Our lives are made up of times in which the world makes sense to us and our current frames of understanding are sufficient to operate powerfully in the world, and there are times when the world shows us it’s true complexity. In the times we are present to the complexity of the universe, we suffer. We realize our inadequacies, our insecurities, and vulnerabilities. This cycle is painful, but it’s built into life as we know it and it’s how we learn. Now, this isn’t to say suffering is the ONLY way to learn. We also learn to satiate curiosity but that can be in itself is dangerous.

The combination of all of these things contributes to what is known as the inherent suffering of life. It’s hard to be human and we all have different ways of dealing with it. The Norwegian metaphysicist Peter Zapffe categorized how we deal with the inherent suffering of life in four broad categories: isolation, anchoring, distraction, and sublimation. The first three are characteristic of Nietzsche’s idea of The Last Man, while the fourth, sublimation, is characteristic of the Superman. Keep in mind that these methods never solve the problem of the inherent tragedy, but simply repress our awareness of it.

Zapffe’s 4 Methods of Repression

Isolation

Have you ever looked at all the stuff you have to do and get really sleepy? That initial reaction to the tragedy of life is our proclivity towards what Zapffe refers to as Isolation. Zapffe defines isolation, in the context of a method of repression, as “a fully arbitrary dismissal from consciousness of all disturbing and destructive thought and feeling.” Other examples of isolation include hitting the snooze button to stay in bed longer, keeping yourself away from things that scare you, or keeping your ears away from opposing views. Isolation is comfortable, it keeps us warm and justifies our preexisting ideas, but it’s dangerous. When we isolate ourselves we stop encountering the natural chaos of the universe and that prevents us from learning and learning is something we want to do, it gives us the tools we need to not suffer more than we already do. The key to learn more is to throw ourselves into challenging, complicated, and unknown situations. To hell with isolation!

Anchoring

Little kids are an interesting phenomena to observe because despite their lack of knowledge of the complex world around them, they manage to survive. How? The tragedy of life doesn’t hold back just because someone is a child but what the child does is combat the complexity of the world with the aid of an adult. The kid explores the world with their simple understanding and they are able to do so because the real complexity of the world is mediated by the more complex understanding of the adult. Since this is a winning strategy, the child learns to develop a want for adults to handle difficult and complex situations. The child uses the adult as a wall the protect itself from the overly complicated parts of existence and this “wall” is known as an anchor. The best part is that adults never stop doing this just because they “grow up.” They shift their anchor to something else like their childhood home, neighborhood or nation. Zapffe defined anchoring as “a fixation of points within, or construction of walls around, the liquid fray of consciousness…the happiest…protection against the cosmos that we ever get to know in life.” Anchoring explains how people can drift towards gangs or radical nationalist groups. It also explains people’s desire to cling to what they know. The unfortunate side effect of anchoring is similar to isolation – you cling to your walls, you stop encountering the unknown, you stop learning, you suffer more. It’s easy and comforting to cling to what we know, but it’s treating the symptom and not the disease. If we release our anchors, we can learn more things and become more competent and that competence will spill over into other parts of our lives.

Distraction

Distraction is usually the preferred form of repression from people who often find themselves bored or those who feel like they need to “burn time.” Both of these characteristics are actually desires for existential distraction masqueraded as innocuous states of being. Zapffe defines distraction as “A very popular mode of protection [where] one limits attention to the critical bounds by constantly enthralling it with impression.” Modern technology is proof that Zapffe’s speculations of distraction being a popular option was correct. Our streaming services, social media, video games, and cell phones are just a few examples of modern tech that rewards us for distracted thinking and condition us to expect continuous information input. This isn’t a critique of modern technology, it’s just that these particular characteristics of modern technology were created by us to fulfill our desires for distraction. Our need for distraction is so deep that we’ve built machines that rewards us for not thinking about the inherent suffering of life. On a personal note, distraction drives me crazy. It’s such a plague to everything beautiful about human beings. When we ignore the distractions of this sort, we create something truly special.

Personally, I’m always at war with the side of myself that wants to drift towards The Last Man and it takes a tremendous effort to overcome it but the unfortunately reality is that people usually aren’t checking their own tendencies and allow their distraction to inhibit others. You see it in mindless entertainment, insatiable consumption, insufferable parties, and fake performances. Distraction is destructive but the payoff is massive – given we’re distracted properly. If we’re distracted, then we don’t have the burden of thinking about the tragedy of life, but we lose the ability to see life for what it truly is, in all it’s beauty and catastrophe and this blindness prevents us from bringing fourth our Jungian Self.

Sublimation

So what happens if isolation, anchoring and distraction aren’t enough? Zapffe describes a fourth method in which one transforms the problem into purpose. This is known as Sublimation. It is what people inevitably do when the other three methods aren’t sufficient. In an essay he wrote which regarded the four methods of repression, he says “the present essay is a typical example of sublimation. The author does not suffer. He is filling pages, and is going to be published in a journal.” I say that is a perfect example of sublimation. Sublimation is characteristic of The Superman, as mentioned above, because in order to create something that may outlast you, you must channel the inherent tragedy of life into something other than complete despair and anxiety. In order to create, we must sublimate. Sublimation can also be defined as channeling the energy from an inappropriate urge to an appropriate urge. In this case, the impact that the tragedy of life has on us can be channeled into something that can help others deal with the tragedy as well (an appropriate urge) rather than using it as an excuse to shoot up a school (an inappropriate urge). This is where creation is born. Creation can be seen as internalizing the world around us and transforming the parts of suffering into something novel and good. I like to think that I practice this with my blog, music, lesson plans, and my other creative endeavors. After all, most of my passions came to be because I was trying to deal with suffering and had a desire to alleviate that same suffering for others.

A fascinating feat of creation is that our creations are made by us but they take a life of their own once they are out in the world. Jawed Karin, Steve Chen, and Chad Hurley had no idea what they were really creating when they founded YouTube. Sure, YouTube is a place to upload videos but now that it’s out in the world it’s become much more than just a space to share videos. YouTube has become the modern Library of Alexandria, it’s the modern Gutenberg printing press but for the spoken word rather than the written word. Creations become something else as they live their lives and it’s impossible for us to know exactly what that is at the time of inception. All creation shares this peculiar characteristic – to come into a life of its own and impact the world in it’s own manner. The best part is that all human beings have this capacity and it is the best solution to repress the tragedy of life. We momentarily diverge our attention towards from the horrors and simultaneously create something which may contribute positively to the human experience.


We have a tendency towards comfortable things, and while the comfort can make life worth living, there is an expensive price to be paid for chasing what’s comfortable. When we are uncomfortable, we learn and when we learn, we don’t have to suffer more than we already do. Being comfortable stops us from expanding our spheres of competence but it also robs us of the highest potential within ourselves. It feels good to be The Last Man, but we will be the last of our kind if we give in to these tendencies. Strive to be the Superman, avoid all distractions, sublimate your tragedy, dive into the unknown, create something better for the world. That something can take the form of anything we please.

Categories
Education Productivity

The Valley of Disappointment

“We often expect progress to be linear. At the very least, we hope it will come quickly. In reality, the results of our efforts are often delayed. It is not until months or years later that we realize the true value of the previous work we have done. This can result in a “valley of disappointment” where people feel discouraged after putting in weeks or months of hard work without experiencing any results. However, this work was not wasted. It was simply being stored. It is not until much later that the full value of previous efforts is revealed.”

James Clear

The Expectancy Curve

In James Clear’s fantastic book Atomic Habits, he explains the idea of the expectancy curve. I think it’s a great tool to overcome imposter syndrome or any other form of the attack. The expectancy curve helps us keep going by giving us a frame to understand our insufficiencies.

Whenever we learn something new, we expect our progress to follow a straight line but in reality our progress is more parabolic. This results in a period of time when we are performing at a lower level than we’re expecting. This time period is called The Valley of Disappointment and it’s duration depends on the skill and how much deliberate practice we choose to put in.

When we feel like we’re underperforming, it’s easy to feel like we aren’t “meant” to do that new thing but all we need to do is stick with our newfound skill until we reach the critical point. The critical point is where the level of our skill matches our expectations. When we reach the critical point we stop suffering from imposter syndrome, feel more confident in our abilities, and (most importantly) keep developing our skills.

Most people stop cultivating their skills when they’re in the valley of disappointment but the ones who make it to the critical point can start to reap the benefits of their faith, consistency, and hard work.

I’ve seen this play out in a number of skills but I found this especially true in music production, hurdling, and cooking.

It can take weeks, months, or even years to get to the critical point. When I first took up music production, I was told that I would have to practice producing for 5 years before I would be able to compose, mix, and master a song from start to finish.

This was me kind of understanding The Expectancy Curve and The Valley of Disappointment years before I could articulate it. The idea of The Valley of Disappointment and taking 5 years before I could complete a song gave me a longer time frame for proficiency. This longer time frame is what made it easier for me to cut myself some slack. That freedom to make mistakes helped me grow. I always thought that made me a little insane but [Kobe Bryant] talks about having the freedom to make mistakes and how that leads to accelerated growth too.

This isn’t to say that The Valley of Disappointment isn’t a tough place to be. It’s easy to think all the work we’re putting in is futile and insane but it isn’t. The work we put in while we’re in the valley is exactly what gives us the ability to move out of it and enjoy the fruits of our labor later on. Deliberate practice is never wasted effort. Our efforts compound over time and this is especially true with skill development.

It’s difficult to move past The Valley of Disappointment but I do think as we learn more we find peace in our insufficiencies. The more I learned about music production, the more I realized that the experienced producers who said music production had a 5 year valley of disappointment were right. The more I learned, the more I realized how much I didn’t know. (Which totally applies to everything btw)

“Be not afraid of going slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” 

Chinese proverb

The whole idea is to stick with things for a while. Ask people in the field how long it took them to feel comfortable and confident in their position. I remember an ER doc saying it took him 10 years before he felt like he reach his critical point. Proficiency take time.

I find that knowing The Valley of Disappointment exists helps me get through it. The upset is temporary and I know I’m right around the corner from being a badass.

Categories
Education Productivity

Understanding Development and Mentors

“The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.”

Jean Piaget (1896 -1980 )

Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is a concept developed by soviet Psychologist Lev Vygotsky. The ZPD is the difference between what someone can do and what they cannot do. In this zone, the person can learn new skills with aid from someone more experienced. To make things easier, let’s refer to the person learning as the “child” and the person giving aid as the “adult.” However, the ZPD does not necessarily only apply to children. It applies to anyone learning something new.

The ZPD changes for each individual and as the domain of unaided skills increases so does the ZPD and the domain of skills that cannot be done decreases.

Piaget and Constructivism

Jean Piaget was a famous Swiss developmental psychologist who was best known for his work in genetic epistemology and constructivism. I highly recommend looking into his work if you work or spend lots of time with kids. Piaget believed that people build new representations of the world on top of their preexisting knowledge in which the new interpretation would incorporate the old interpretation. This is the basis of constructivism.

I like to look at it like this – we can use a bronze axe to chop down a tree, but over time we changed the bronze to steel, and eventually we replace the axe with a power saw. Each of these tools can still cut the tree down but over time the tools we use to get the job done become more comprehensive, efficient, and effective. The same goes for our ways of interpreting the world. When we’re young, we see things a certain way and as we get older we learn new things which explain everything we understood before and more!

The same thing happens in science as well. Isaac Newton founded an entire field of study known as Newtonian physics and it explains so much of what happen in the material objective world but it was unable to explain a few things like how light seemed to travel the same speed no matter which way it was pointing. Over time, a little German boy named Albert Einstein came up with his Theory of Relativity and blew out the doors in the world of physics. Now, Newtonian physics is a subset of Einsteinian physics. Einstein’s theories explain everything Newton was able to explain plus more and this is exactly how we build our own understandings of the world.

Piaget’s constructivist theory works in tandem with Vygotsky’s ZPD theory. We start off with understanding very little but that helps us expand our understanding and this is useful because the world we live in is infinitely complicated and we don’t know very much about the absolute state of being so we need to be able to constantly update our perceptual systems. We can get this updated information through mentorship (we can find the answers ourselves but we make much more progress with mentors), asking the right questions, exploration, and play.

Build a Panel of Mentors

In Game of Thrones, (and in many historical monarchies as well) the king had a small council to advise him on matters outside his expertise. I fell in love with this idea but I found myself frustrated of the king’s small council. I wouldn’t have filled my council with tyrannical sociopaths but with mentors and other people that I look up to. We should all strive to build a small council of mentors.

Building a small council, reading books, taking time to cultivate ourselves will help us expand our domains of unaided skills. When I first graduated from college, I felt ill equipped to handle the world and I knew I needed to learn new things. At the time, I didn’t have a traditional mentor or someone to model myself after but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t keep growing.

I found the works of incredible people and they acted as my guide when I found myself in pitfalls or moments of confusion. These people included Jordan Peterson, Tim Ferriss, Robert Greene, Seneca, and many others. I highly recommend building your own personal panel of advisors. It’s great if you can have one in person, but if you don’t have immediate access to mentors then check out the works of the people that you would like to have advise you. I recommend creating a balanced panel in terms of personal specialty. I believe different people do better in different situations and the panel should be diverse enough to have strengths in all situations. Each person has their own strengths and weaknesses, and a balanced panel’s member’s strengths should compliment the weaknesses of the others. What Seneca lacks in 21st century technology knowledge, Tim Ferriss provides in just 1 book. What Tim lacks in timeless wisdom, Seneca provides in just 1 book. Both of them on my panel ensures I have the best of both worlds.

Stand on the shoulders of giants. Create a mastermind of the best people you can imagine and make that team unstoppable.


Everything you need to learn to be an excellent and whatever you want is within your ZPD. Here is a list of difficult skills that, if developed properly, pay off for the rest of your life:

  • Life long learning and skill acquisition 
  • Grit development
  • Adaptability
  • Silencing your inner critic
  • Learning to say no
  • Critical thinking 
  • Creative thinking 
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Decision making
  • Writing
  • Leadership
  • Personal effectiveness
  • Persuasion
  • Cooking
  • Reflection
  • Compassion
  • Meditation
  • Self-control

These are great starting points if you aren’t sure which skills are worth developing. Honestly though, developing yourself in all of these things will take a lifetime, so I recommend finding which skills are most relevant to you and prioritize accordingly. I talk more about this in my post The 20 Hour Rule and Metaskills.

Developing ourselves is a huge undertaking and requires a bunch of effort, but what else do we have better to do? If we’re better people, we do better, and we cannot fathom the reach of our actions.