Creation Over Consumption

The human brain doesn’t learn based on consumption, it learns through creation.
– Jim Kwik

Writing for me is the best way I know of thoroughly learning anything. Writing to me is taking a concept that you understand on the surface and molding it into your own words. I realized this fact months ago by starting this blog. However, for whatever reason I stopped.

Why? The reasons seemed to change depending on my current mood when I asked myself. The blunt truth is I rationalized not doing it. It was the election, not knowing what to say, not having energy etc. When I originally started, my goal was simple: improve my writing and continue the chain so I would have a body of work to look back on. I really don’t have a good reason why I stopped. The only explanation that makes sense now is that I didn’t see the benefits at the time anymore. It became a burden. It felt like homework. I told myself “I thought I was done with homework years ago.” There is nothing worse than feeling like a once joyous activity is now homework. Even if intellectually we know something is good, when it feels like a burden and we forget why we’re doing it, we will abandon it. Our feelings toward something morph and change, and we often struggle figuring out why. Some reasons this may happen are simply with the passage of time or because of the new uses of technology. We are so overwhelmed in our lives, things are constantly changing that we don’t associate our own reasons for doing the things we once loved.

So I’ve had enough, I’m picking it back up. I’m giving it a shot, one additional push. This is my peripeteia. And I have to credit a friend for it, because sometimes that what’s we were missing—someone to show us how much we used to enjoy something and how we could gain from doing it again. Simple, right? Yes and no. She told me I had until Friday to post, and it is Friday evening as I squeeze this out. I fought every reason why I shouldn’t do it, but I gave her my word; so here it is. It may not be the quality I want, but the act of doing is so much more important.

Asking Better Questions: What I Learned During My Hiatus

In the time I’ve been away, one thing I’ve learned that has had a powerful effect on me is asking better questions. More specifically, asking empowering questions. So instead of asking “Why haven’t I written in awhile?” a better question would be simply “what is exciting in my life that I want to write about?” When I realized my questions weren’t as empowering as they could be, I stole and modified an idea I heard from James Altucher. His suggestion for coming up with better ideas is all about building up the brain strength by practicing writing ideas and in essence becoming better at idea generation. I’ve taken it one step further and said before coming up with ideas, come up with great questions.

A core belief that has shaped my personal and professional destiny is that if I continue to ask any question, I will receive an answer. All we need to do is to create a better question, and we’ll get a better answer. A metaphor I sometimes use is that life is just a Jeopardy! game; all the answers are there—all you have to do is come up with the right questions to win. – Anthony Robbins

So I’ve been replacing my morning journaling with my own morning power questions session. What questions do you think could empower you to pick something up you have been putting off? What can you gain from writing those questions down? What could that do for you if you started it now?

Why Life is Like a Whack-A-Mole Game

whack_a_mole  Why Life is Like a Whack-A-Mole Game whack a mole

Over the years, I’ve realized that there are always new things to tackle. A new challenge or problem is waiting around the corner for action. After solving an issue, a new (and seemingly more important) one seems to immediately fill the void. This feeling will always be there. There is no reason to fight it—doing so only intensifies the desire to solve the insatiable drivr to solve a new problem.

“Life has to be about more than solving problems.” – Elon Musk

This urge to solve problems reminds me of the game Whack-A-Mole. This was a popular arcade game where moles randomly popped out of their holes. The purpose of the game was to hit as many of the moles as possible with a big soft hammer and drive them back into their holes. You scored points every time you hit a mole. You never knew which hole they’d pop out of, but you were certain they would come.

Like moles in this childish game, you never know where real life problems will come from. It could be an unannounced illness, or a sudden shift in the economy. One thing is certain, you can be certain that they’ll arise. As we look to start a onto another week, remember there will always be a new mole to whack. You have the choice to whack them away or not.

Societal Pressures

We all feel them—the urge to fit within the mold. Whether it is the need to join the herd on Facebook, the need to join a particular college, or the need to watch a popular show. That’s why we’ll pick the busy restaurant across the street over the empty one we planned to eat at. We feel these various pressures from a young age. It is hardwired into our genome.

Our brains are built to ensure that we will come to hold the beliefs and values of those around us.
The self is more of a superhighway for social influence than it is the impenetrable private fortress we believe it to be. – Matthew Lieberman – Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect.

Figuring out which “truths” we hold and that don’t serve us is hard to do. It is even harder unlearning those very same beliefs we have taken on that were never our own.

That is why I always strongly encourage people study and/or live abroad. When you experience another way of life in a different society, you inherently see things differently. What one culture deems as normal, another would find bizarre. What one finds gross, is a normal way of life. It is like the famous Justice Potter Stewart quote “you know it when you see it.” When you experience another world, you realize the arbitrary nature of your own. It is much easier to then take a healthy distance objective view on your own life and work.

In individualistic cultures, such as the United States, the self is defined by independence, distinctiveness from others, and personal freedom. In contrast, in interdependent cultures, such as Japan, the self is defined by one’s relationships, group memberships, and connections with others. In Japan, maintaining a sense of belongingness and harmonious relations is of paramount importance. Japanese people possess a strong external frame of reference; they view themselves through the eyes of others and strive to maintain “face” and avoid shame. – Lora E. Park

“Your way or the highway” may work in some contexts, but not in them all.

Lazy Burgers Are Delicious

Someone posted this video on Facebook today with this comment: “How lazy have we become?”

It made me think about the way we make and consume our food. Very often we eat food for fuel, only to scarf down a bite in a rush. The enjoyment of eating takes a back seat. Not only is food a commodity to buy and used for energy, but the art of cooking our meals is sold back to us on television. We’re marketed packaged cooking sets with the ingredients, the recipes, and sometimes even the utensils. Somehow they’re considered forms of Do It Yourself. We’re led to believe preparing it isn’t for us, but for professionals behind the kitchen. Fewer and fewer of us take part in cooking ourselves. Michael Pollack nails this concept in his four-part documentary called Cooked.

To cook or not to cook is a consequential question. Though I understand that is putting the matter a bit too bluntly, cooking means different things at different times to different people. Seldom is it an all or nothing proposition. Yet, even to cook a few more nights a week than you already do or to devote a Sunday to cook a few more meals for the week… Or perhaps to try every now and again to make something you only expected to ever buy. Even these modest acts will constitute a vote. A vote for what exactly? In a world where so few of us are obliged to cook at all anymore, to choose to do so is to lodge a protest against specialization. Against the total rationalization of life. Against the infiltration of commercialization interests into every last cranny of our lives. To cook for the pleasure of it, to devote a portion of our leisure to it to declare our independence from the organizations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption. Cooking has the potential to transform more than plants and animals, cooking I found gives us the opportunity so rare in modern life to work directly in our own support and in the support of the people we feed. In the calculus of economics, doing so may not always be the most efficient use of an amateur cooks time. It is beautiful even so. For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted than preparing delicious and nourishing for the people you love?Michael Pollack

The perfect time to post this would be Thanksgiving, but nevertheless we face real issues in the relationship we all hold with our food. As cool as the hands free burger contraption is, I’d rather eat a Snickers with a fork.

snickers  Lazy Burgers Are Delicious Snickers

Because I Always Wanted to…

i-always-wanted-to I Alway Wanted To Because I Always Wanted to... I ALWAYS WANTED TO

I received a call from a sophomore at the University of Miami asking for a donation to their scholarship fund. She started off the conversation by claiming she is interested in going to law school and wanted advice from an alumni—A great opener to distract me from the real reason for the call. I immediately had flashbacks and nostalgia of where I was just a few short years ago. I pulled a Leon and I asked her simply, “Why do you want to go?”

“I’ve always wanted to go”

“Wait, Why?”

Well, my sister went and it seems interesting…

Why is it interesting?”

Her next answers were less than convincing. I then gave her my way-too-long answer on choosing the right career.

I thought about this conversation later and the “I always wanted to” comment. I’ve heard this many times before from people in various contexts. What’s going on with this platitude? Why do we say it? When you hear it and you dig a bit deeper, you’ll usually find that they don’t really believe what they’re professing. They know it has no meaning, but they just hope the questioning will stop there. In fact, they expect the questioning to stop there. “I always wanted to” is a hollow answer that results from erroneous thinking. Tim Urban explains the origins of similar faulty reasoning—which he refers to as the Dogma Trap—in The Cook And The Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce.

When parents and teachers tell a kid to do XYZ and to simply obey, it’s like installing a piece of already-designed software in the kid’s head. When kids ask Why? and then Why? and then Why?, they’re trying to deconstruct that software to see how it was built—to get down to the first principles underneath so they can weigh how much they should actually care about what the adults seem so insistent upon.

The first few times a kid plays the Why game, parents think it’s cute. But many parents, and most teachers, soon come up with a way to cut the game off:

Because I said so.

Dogma, unlike first principles reasoning, isn’t customized to the believer or her environment and isn’t meant to be critiqued and adjusted as things change. It’s not software to be coded—it’s a printed rulebook. Its rules may be originally based on reasoning by a certain kind of thinker in a certain set of circumstances, at a time far in the past or a place far away, or it may be based on no reasoning at all. But that doesn’t matter because you’re not supposed to dig too deep under the surface anyway—you’re just supposed to accept it, embrace it, and live by it. No evidence needed.

You may not like living by someone else’s dogma, but you’re left without much choice. When your childhood attempts at understanding are met with “Because I said so,” and you absorb the implicit message “Your own reasoning capability is shit, don’t even try, just follow these rules so you don’t fuck your life up,” you grow up with little confidence in your own reasoning process. When you’re never forced to build your own reasoning pathways, you’re able to skip the hard process of digging deep to discover your own values and the sometimes painful experience of testing those values in the real world and learning you want to adjust them—and so you grow up a total reasoning amateur.

So when a child is asked what she wants to be when she grows up from a young age (as parents do quite often), she just proclaims whatever is on her mind in that particular moment. She realizes that by giving an answer, she is getting her parents off her back temporarily: “Oh, a doctor!” When the time comes to choose what to do for a career, children simply just state whatever stuck before, which then becomes what they ‘always wanted to do.” They never really had decided, they simply chose what was in front of them at a point when they didn’t have the capacity to know any better. There is no real reasoning behind their answer, unfortunately.

Sorry to break it to you, but you never always wanted to do anything.

The Famous Opportunity Cost

forkintheroad Opportunity Cost The Famous Opportunity Cost Forkintheroad

We all instinctively understand there are tradeoffs in our decisions. Choosing one thing means we can’t choose another. “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” In economics, this concept is explained as the opportunity cost. If you haven’t heard of the theory before, an opportunity cost—according to wikipedia—is “the value of the best alternative forgone where, given limited resources, a choice needs to be made between several mutually exclusive alternatives.” In simpler terms, it is the value of the next best opportunity.

For example, assume you’re considering attending graduate school. In your decision to go, you’re likely to analyze the decisions in terms of the thousands of dollars in price and the investment of your precious time. However, this is only half of the equation. You are also losing out on the income that you’d obtain working elsewhere. You’re also losing out on the work experience and career moves you’d make in place of graduate school. I’m not advocating on necessarily skipping college or graduate school per se, but it is important to understand the real costs involved. In fact, I’m 90% of the time in favor of obtaining more education.

Read Jeff Ronne's answer to Is college/university really worth it? on Quora

For a lighter example, there is a fantastic tool for calculating the opportunity cost of spending small amounts of money over long periods of time. Adding up the money you could spend on a few muffins every week over a long period of time will show you how small habits can add up. I think a more applicable name could be the Starbucks Calculator.

In all of these examples, one area is hard to quantify. The opportunity cost of the energy lost in deciding on which decision to make. Knowing that we have two mutually exclusive choices doesn’t help much in the decision making process if your anxiety about which choice to make leads to indecision. We always have a conflict in choosing where to allocate our time and money. That will never change. What can change is the stopping the constant assessment in our heads of “where we’d rather be” or “what we’d rather be doing.”

Our Digital Lives Will Outlive Us

Our Digital Lives May Live On Way Past Us.

In a really moving essay—Speak, Memory—from The Verge, Casey Newton writes about a grieving friend that uploads her dead friend’s past messages into a “bot” to keep chatting with him posthumously. Gloss over the creepy title for a moment and dismiss the weirdness of it all. If you can suspend judgement, I believe it is worth the read. It’s a quirky story of how someone is learning to grieve in her own way in our digital world.

Someday you will die, leaving behind a lifetime of text messages, posts, and other digital ephemera. For a while, your friends and family may put these digital traces out of their minds. But new services will arrive offering to transform them — possibly into something resembling Roman Mazurenko’s bot.

In the case of Mazurenko, everyone I spoke with agreed he would have been delighted by his friends’ experimentation.

One of the reason I’m writing this blog is the hope that the things I can share will live on no matter what happens. Call it legacy, call it whatever you want. Regardless, the aim is that the wisdom and lessons I’ve learned will transcend myself. You never know how long you’ve got. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way when my sister was almost killed from a rollover accident on her way to college. The injuries from the wreck left her with a traumatic brain injury. She is unable to speak, eat or move on her own. This was all pre-Facebook, even pre-Myspace. There are times in the early years after her accident that watching a video of her was therapeutic. Thirteen years later, I don’t know if I’d want to text her now though. I think that would be a stretch for me. 

Lying

The erosion lies cause are usually obvious in hindsight, but seemingly difficult to work through in the moment. Nevertheless, the better choice is to always be truthful. If you have the time, I highly recommend reading through this short book, LyingLying ir t jster0a 20 l am2 o 1 a 1940051002, by Sam Harris. You can run through it in no more than a couple hours. His analysis provides a framework on how to approach those moments of temptation to lie that we all inevitably face in the messiness of life. This is one of my favorite sections from the book:

Lying is, almost by definition, a refusal to cooperate with others. It condenses a lack of trust and trustworthiness into a single act. It is both a failure of understanding and an unwillingness to be understood. To lie is to recoil from relationship.

By lying, we deny others our view of the world. And our dishonesty not only influences the choices they make, it often determines the choices they can make—in ways we cannot always predict. Every lie is an assault on the autonomy of those we lie to.

By lying to one person, we potentially spread falsehoods to many others—even to whole societies. We also force upon ourselves subsequent choices—to maintain the deception or not—that can complicate our lives. In this way, every lie haunts our future. We can’t tell when or how it might collide with reality requiring further maintenance. The truth never needs to be tended like this. It can simply be reiterated.

The Art of Fighting the Good Fight

The art of fighting the good fight.

As of this writing, this video has been seen 20,738,716 times. How many of these viewers do you think actually took his advice? How many are really “doing it” & taking on the world? Maybe 1%? We often find reasons that stop us, various roadblocks keeping us stationary. What we believe someone thinks, what we believe about ourselves or even the idea that this magical moment in the future will come and we’ll be ready then. This moment isn’t coming…

A “writer” wrote into Polly at the New York Mag asking Should I Just Give Up On My Writing?

The whole idea of “breaking through” is such a crock of shit. If you do nothing else, build a religion around this one fact. Beyond the ability to feed yourself, it doesn’t fucking matter if a million people love you or five people do. It doesn’t matter if you’re 25 or 75. You cannot pollute your life with this fixation. You can feel relevant, you can imagine that you somehow matter in the larger scheme of things, you can commit to being a force in the world, without hitting some arbitrary high score or crossing some imaginary threshold of popularity…. You can’t try to “reach” some imagined mob of dipshits, molding your work to match their dipshitty tastes. Be a lovely odd duck instead, one who hardly notices if people are booing or cheering.

Work for the Sake of Work

We often find ourselves obsessed with ‘the hustle’ or ‘the grind.’ We show off how hard we’ve worked for what we’ve earned—it is our badge of honor. However, we also forget that there are plenty who hustle and don’t produce anything of value. To put it more cheerfully, there are people who are incredibly productive and make it look easy.

Oliver Burkeman in his post Nobody Cares How Hard You Work explains how we perceive high quality for work that have a perceived high level of difficulty.

Psychologists have long noticed what’s sometimes been called the “labor illusion:” when it comes to judging other people’s work, we might say we’re focused only on whether they did the job quickly and well—but really we want to feel they wore themselves out for us.

The problem is we apply this often to ourselves. Oliver Burkeman calls it the Effort Trap:

We apply the same twisted standards to ourselves. Call it the “Effort Trap:” it’s dangerously easy to feel as though a 10-hour day spent plowing through your inbox, or catching up on calls, was much more worthwhile than two hours spent in deep concentration on hard thinking, followed by a leisurely afternoon off. Yet any writer, designer or web developer will tell you it’s the two focused hours that pay most—both in terms of money and fulfillment.

It’s doubly hard to avoid the Effort Trap because our culture so strongly reinforces its deceptive message: Hard work is ultimately what matters. From childhood, parents and teachers drum into us the moral virtue of effort, and the importance of “doing your best”

The market dictates the value of a service, not necessarily how difficult it was to be completed. In fact, if you can find the highest paying service for the least work possible, that’s exactly the most efficient outcome.

I believe this is one of the reasons we are seeing more freelancers in our economy. Technology is enabling work on your own schedules. Today’s technology is making this more and more of a reality. That is why there are predictions that our economy will be 50% freelancers by 2020.

When you find yourself focused with ‘the hustle’ or ‘the grind,’ keep in context that wearing yourself out by being constantly connected and filling your calendar to the fullest amount isn’t a reliable indicator of a day well spent.