Hacking Belief > DIY Programmatic Prayers

FIRST, SOME GEOGRAPHY

It’s fascinating to look at how the Earth’s landscape has changed. Hills, Mountains, Abysses etc. And wonder what caused these major changes. You can actually bring it down to a few causes:

  • Large crashes might come to mind. A meteor hitting the Earth will probably change its landscape significantly.
  • Environment change, the shift in Earth's atmorsphere from nitrogen to oxygen allowed for the existence of life. Another environment (climate) change today is leading to the extinction of several species.
  • Small recurring events. A running river stream sculpting entire mountain chains
 Could it be that this small river caused these gigantic hills?

Could it be that this small river caused these gigantic hills?

Surprisingly, and we might not realize it quite often because we’re fascinated by large scale changes, small recurring events are the most powerful of all three. Darwin ends “the evolution of species” with the following:

“(...) That, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” - C. DARWIN

A TINY BIT OF PSYCHOLOGY

What fascinates me is the parallel we can draw with our own brains. BJ Fogg, director of persuasion lab at Stanford School lists three ways to change our behaviour:

  • Epiphanies - It’s a bit like a meteor, you read a book that amazes you and you’re like “this changed my life”. Can you pinpoint some big events, just top of mind, about which you can confidently say "this changed my life"?
  • Environment change - Bit of a personal story here. I was born in Lebanon, I left to study in Paris. Spent 6 years there then moved to work in London and spent 2 years there and am now living in Sao Paulo. Every step of the way was a major environmental change and I can confidently say I was not the same person when I left paris, when I left London and I won't be the same person once I leave Sao Paulo
  • Baby steps, or what BJ Fogg calls Tiny habits - These are the small things we do every day that change us in the long run. If you eat a cookie every day, everything being equal, you will put on 5kgs at the end of the year. If you choose to interact with negative people on a daily basis, you will end up being a more negative person at the end of the year.
“'Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it ... he who doesn't ... pays it” - A. EINSTEIN

And just like small recurring events change Earth’s landscape more than anything else, small recurring actions change our brains more than anything else. Thinking back to the event that “changed your life”, think at whether your life is really that different since then and whether what you've chosen to do on a daily basis wasn’t actually much more consequential.

 Religions are the oldest 1 Billion+ consumer facing companies. Facebook is the most recent one

Religions are the oldest 1 Billion+ consumer facing companies. Facebook is the most recent one

THE POWER OF RELIGION

I think no one understands this better than religions. Religions actually use the three behaviour tools BJ Fogg mentions:

  • Epiphanies - Buddhists use something called koans to blast your mind into enlightenment. Christians use the priests’ sermons and big life events like marriage and funerals to remind you of the importance of God, forgiveness, love etc.
  • Environment - You hang out with a new group of people, you read a new kind of book, you go to new places, you are immersed in a new physical, social and mental environment
  • Small steps - Meditation for buddhists, Prayers for christians
“(...) Religions do not stop trying to encourage their followers to be good. They give them commandments and rituals, they deliver them sermons and ask them to rehearse lessons in prayers and in songs.”
A. DE BOTTON

Now the thing is, I don’t believe in anything spiritual. I don’t believe in a spirit. Though I’ve been to more spiritual events than most people I know, I am a materialist - in the philosophical sense of the term. I believe there are things microscopes can't see ... yet. Maybe it’s because I studied in a catholic school. But I’ve actually given the question of God a lot of thought. I’m not interested in prayers that remind me of the glory of God or the Virgin Mary. These things don’t help.

Through the years, I’ve developed my own faith, my own ideas that I wanted to keep top of mind. Now you may ask, in a time where you can google anything, why try to remember these things. The answer is simple, Googling isn’t fast enough when I’m about to get in a fight with someone or when I’m about to ask a girl to dance with me. If the answer to my doubts isn’t in my mind at that precise moment, however much books I’ve read about self-confidence, it is completely useless. So should I write a prayer with everything I want to keep in mind and read it every day? That’s exactly what I did.

 My Evernote Morning Prayer

My Evernote Morning Prayer

PROGRAMMATIC PRAYERS

But there’s a couple of things that didn’t work with this approach:

  1. Dynamicity - The set of things I want to learn is constantly growing and changing. Every day, I’m reading something insightful on my Kindle and some things emerge that I want to keep for my personal growth
  2. Meta-Learning - I’m not sure reading the same prayer every day is the best way to learn its content. The proof is I don’t know how to say my christian prayers anymore

In other words, I needed a dynamic prayer and a smarter way to learn. So to start I just created an IFTTT recipe to send my Kindle highlights to, what had become, My Evernote "Prayer" Notebook. But I was still manually updating my prayer and that didn’t work.

 Internet Recipe to send Kindle highlights to My Evernote Prayer and refreshing its content

Internet Recipe to send Kindle highlights to My Evernote Prayer and refreshing its content

Then came the muse :) Some time ago, I ran across an article about how to remember anything and that, ironically, I had completely forgot about. It was a Wired article about a man called Piotr Wozniak and it had the curve below in it.

It was suddenly obvious to me that this was precisely my problem and that someone had solved it in the past already. Piotr Wozniak had created a software called Supermemo to turn his ideas about spaced repetition into a practical tool. Supermemo and similar software like Anki and Mnemosyne is beautiful in that it sends the right flashcards for you to read on a daily basis and optimally remember the information you want.

 The essence of the Supermemo algorithm

The essence of the Supermemo algorithm

Now people who use Supermemo or systems like Anki and Mnemosyne try to learn languages, vocal words, famous quotes. I wanted to become a better person. So I chunked my prayer into pieces and I put it into Mnemosyne effectively creating a prayer to prompt my brain with the best values at the best time.

HOLY CHERRY ON THE CAKE

Still. There was one missing link. We all have good intentions. Yet we rarely follow through. The key is to make it effortless to do the things we set out to do. I had to make it  unavoidable to read these prayer chunks every day even if I missed the Mnemosyne reminders. So instead, I chunked the prayer down into emails for me to get in my inbox and used followupthen.com. That way it was impossible to ignore or miss my daily programmatic prayers.

 Bridging Mnemosyne and e-mail wasn't obvious so I'm currently using followupthen.com

Bridging Mnemosyne and e-mail wasn't obvious so I'm currently using followupthen.com

So back to the image I started with and my story about evolution. A stream of small recurring drops of water on a rock will eventually pierce through the rock. But us humans are no longer subject to evolution, we are living in neo-evolution. Our environment doesn’t determine us, but rather we determine and change our environment.

So imagine we make that drop of water more acidic and we choose the content we want. Imagine we make it fall at the precise moment where the rock is most likely to be affected. Imagine we expose our brains to the information we choose at the exact right time. We’ll have found a way to re-wire our brains. Welcome to the future of hacking mindsets and beliefs :)

Life is a Lebanese bouncer : How to deal with it

If you’ve ever been asked to queue or was refused entry to a club , you might have wondered how the skinny guy in an XXL teared-up tank shirt managed to get in ! Now, maybe he had more muscles, maybe he was better-looking, maybe he’s lady Gaga etc. What’s certain however is that it’s not his first time, he’s been here before i.e. He knows the bouncer. Him getting in is the result of a long process that probably started where you are standing.

The gist is that if you want to get in as well and 'keep getting' in like a breeze, it won’t help to argue with the muscle mountain blocking the door. You need to 1) leave, 2) become an entirely different person and then 3) come back. Please :) The following is not a guide to how get into clubs. Bouncers are metaphors for Life's obstacles and clubs a metaphor for what you're after in life. Let's take the following three obstacles / flaws you might be trying to overcome / fix:

 You often judge people, don't care about the city and are afraid sh**less to speak in public

You often judge people, don't care about the city and are afraid sh**less to speak in public

Now the ideal situation you're after is the following:

 What it looks like to get past the bouncer

What it looks like to get past the bouncer

The common mistake is to think the solution lies there and then. "Oh ! I'm putting mental labels on people. I should stop" - "I'm really inconsiderate towards my planet, how can I be such a (insert insult of choice)" - "Super-scared of speaking in front of this audience. Omg, I should relax". Truth is you should 1) leave, 2) become an entirely different person and then 3) come back :) One powerful hack is deliberate attention:

 Mindfulness, Presence, Awareness, The Now, Acceptance, Zen, Focus ... Deliberate attention is a meta-hack

Mindfulness, Presence, Awareness, The Now, Acceptance, Zen, Focus ... Deliberate attention is a meta-hack

The power of getting a hold of your thoughts (mindfulness) can be of help when trying to get past the bouncer. Of course, it takes time. Just like it took the guy in the XXL T-shirt to get to know muscle man :)

9/11 of the Soul

Violence as Change

“Am I so scary you can’t say it ?” - Katherine, “Her” the movie
When she hits she hits hard
Her words leave a scar that stretches
From my lower jaw (outside) to my aorta (inside)
A 3 dimensional cicatrix

"The most dangerous philosopher in the West," writes Adam Kirsch of The New Republic about Slavoj Zizek. This is the guy who wrote: "Gandhi was more violent than Hitler”. And rightly so. In this single sentence, Zizek lays down a framework to define Violence: It can only be measured as a function of the change it provokes in the existing state of things. 

"It takes more violence to disrupt the existing order than it does to preserve it.” (The Red Fury blog) - and that is precisely where Gandhi, by boycotting British products and creating social space outside the scope of the colonial state, out-did Hitler whose war and mass killings were essentially a preemptive counter-revolution to preserve the Reich.

Violence as ‘Dark Matter’

But violence does not only mean change. Violence is here all the time so that things remain the way they are. Zizek writes about “Systemic violence”, an unspoken reality endemic to our socio-economic order.

He compares it to “Dark Matter”. It is invisible to the naked eye. More so, just like “Dark Matter”, having a name for it doesn’t mean we know what it is. Sartre echoes that very same idea : "I distrust the incommunicable; it is the source of all violence."

And Sartre does a great job fleshing out “Systemic Violence”. Maurice Cranston sums up "The Critique of Dialectical Reason" writing : "Terror is the guarantee that my neighbour will stay my brother; it binds my neighbor to me by the threat of the violence it will use against him if he dares to be ‘unbrotherly’."

 Violence is the real-world teacher or police man we end up internalising - Pink Floyd's Roger Waters concert

Violence is the real-world teacher or police man we end up internalising - Pink Floyd's Roger Waters concert

The question resonates on the surface of my skin
And slowly dissipates
The waves are the water
Water is the waves
'I'm going to smile, and my smile will sink down
Into your pupils, and heaven knows what it will become.’ - Sartre

Violence as Stillness

Despite the revolutionary tone of his writings, Zizek admonishes in a talk: “Don’t act. Just think”. How amazing is that ! It echoes Gandhi’s actions of course but delves deeper : Violence is non-violence ! Zizek shines a light when he writes: "Sometimes, doing nothing is the most violent thing to do”. This is very much an opportunistic stance. Resist the calls of pseudo-activism and “learn, learn and learn”. The day will come when things larger than you will steer society. Then, prepared as you are, you’ll know exactly what to do.

But I couldn’t say a thing
Every second I had spent silent
Now faced me with sarcasm
“Now speak, big boy”
And the silence outside rammed the racket inside
And I cried

Violence as Resilience

It’s OK to have fights going on within oneself. Violence is everywhere, especially inside. A voice says yes, another says no and a decision pattern pops up to settle the dilemma. Violence is one’s inner dark matter. If you think you'll ever be in peace, you missed the point. War is part of peace.

And that very realisation is liberating. Personal calm becomes a co-habitation with inner violence. And more so: Violence becomes a boon. An opportunity to seize like Zizek would have it.

Violence in Zizek and Sartre’s frameworks is a society's un-seen authority that keeps things the way they are. At a personal level, one can make sure violence translates into a state of constant growth. Every time the mind says no and yes, the fight becomes an opportunity for self-disruption:

"One must have chaos within oneself, to give birth to a dancing star” Friedrich Nietzsche, mind you. This re-conception of personal violence is nothing more than Resilience. Extended, this becomes a radical call for Self-terrorism. A choice to constantly disrupt one’s certainties: Taking that which you've converged to after months of thinking and breaking it again.

I looked down baffled 
By the violence of her stillness
And saw it for what it was:
My own
I grabbed the bill like a shield
And my bank card like a sword
Turned 180°
To the Twin Towers of my mind
And a 9/11 of my Soul

Un-Frequently Asked Question - What is Reality ?

Beating around the bush

 HELP ?!

HELP ?!

David Sylvester looks at Alberto Giacometti's sculptures and sees expressed the loneliness and desire of man alienated from his authentic self in industrial society.

Giacometti’s view of man is that of the seeking man. An endless walk in search of a hiding reality. Enough is enough. We need an answer. We need to find out what reality is and be done with this thing. Let’s agree on what reality is so this guy can rest.

Keep it simple stupid ?

 Hegel :)

Hegel :)

Are we over-complicating things ? Isn't reality just what we’re living right now ? But then again what is "right now” ? Perception makes it so things are what we make of them and we end up with as many realities as there are people as per Hegel's conception of consciousness.

When you and I look at a spoon, our perception is completely different. The micro-second we look at it, our brains call on memories and link dots to identify the object and your recollection is different than mine because how you learned about spoons was different than how I did. So of couse if we were to describe it we'd do it differently but even more so, our very experience of it is also different. Experience is part memory and memory is personal.

But one may think of reality as the common denominator to all our perceptions. Who perceives that version then ? A non-human consciousness ? Animal consciousness ? That would be a subjective perception as well.

E Pluribus Unum ?

 BOOM !

BOOM !

So maybe we should settle on “Reality is subjective” ? A constant multiplicity with universes branching out. An infinite multiverse. Side note: Crazy that you need to get the universe in order to understand a spoon - But even then we can't agree on the reality of the spoon.

Still, consider this: There may a binary data point that is similar across observers. One that could actually serve as a common denominator for describing reality: Presence. We are both in the "presence" of a spoon or we are not. And from many realities emerges one ! E Pluribus Unum

And let me save you the pain of challenging that maybe: Of course, the spoon might be an illusion we're both experiencing and our very presence might to be perceived by yet another observer which subjects to his reality. I know, I know, tough one but we're getting there

Silent consensus ?

We collectively decide on the limits and outcomes of reality. For example consider how we consistently over-estimate our tendency for chaos. Experts predicted there would be an outbreak of coke consumption after coke legalisation in Portugal. They were wrong. 

Similarly, we imagine the world coming to and end if laws were to disappear. But it won’t. The lattice that binds us to the status quo is much more subtle. Order prerogatives have been internalised by each of us.

And collective illusions and beliefs are common. Take homeopathy or the Bermuda triangle for example. Some realities impose themselves by the cheer volume of believers.

Product of imagination ?

In 1983, Benedict Anderson wrote about “Imagined communities” : "An imagined community is different from an actual community because it is not (and, for practical reasons, cannot be) based on everyday face-to-face interaction between its members" - Wikipedia.

In a way, Benedict Anderson's “Imagined Communities” are reality generators. These communities invent their own realities. A nation is an imagined community for instance. So is a very large Facebook group. And what might be the ‘realest' imagined community ? One united by pain I believe. A community arising from collective mourning and struggle.

 In watchmen, Dr Manhattan un-knowingly destroys NYC but also re-unites the American people

In watchmen, Dr Manhattan un-knowingly destroys NYC but also re-unites the American people

Drumroll : Reality is ...

On an individual level, lucid dreaming comes to mind: During a lucid dream, your brain is fully functional. What you feel and see is, hetherto, as real as it gets. The difference with reality is that you can actually control this world around you.

Take a game of chess. What is it ? Is it reality ? Or a physical cover up for something more profound i.e. the underlying challenge of winning or losing ? Truth is there is no underlying challenge :) There is no winning or losing. All there is is the game.

Same for reality. Reality is what you want to be really :) Just as chess could have a gazillion other possible rules. Life and reality have no inherent meaning. None. Whatsoever. I was lucky to see two astonishing movies that made me think about reality lately. “The Zero Theorem” (Christopher Waltz) and “Mr Nobody” (Jared Leto). In the former, Waltz is trying to prove life, reality and the universe don't exist … In the latter, old Leto recalls his Many lives and parallel realities. Both reach the same conclusion:

Reality, Life ... is a playground, you do whatever you want

The Happiness Formula #3 - Mambo no 5 !!!

YOUR ARSENAL

DeBotton wrote about choice-induced unhappiness. Cause ? Try all you want, you'll never know yourself well enough to consistently make the right choices. Solution ? Cry and weep. No, no. Ok. How do we make sure our choices sustain our happiness if we don’t know ourselves ? There's work to be done pre and post choice. Most of the work though relates to the single moments of your life. You know ... the present moment. Like ... Right Now.

Interestingly, the best diets are not the ones that change an entire routine (i.e. good luck with juice fasting for 30 days). The best diets start by eliminating small bad habits and slowly implementing tiny good ones (i.e. swap munching for chatting with friends). Same for happiness. Let's start with Andy Warhol, switch to Mike Tyson and end with Bruce Lee :D

1 - MINIMALISM

This is a pledge for getting rid of the wardrobe. Both literally (“The things you own end up owning you”) and personally ("You are not a special snowflake”). I can’t communicate this with words however. This lesson is a courtesy of life. Remember your last trip ? How much luggage did you need to be happy ? Here’s your argument to throw out everything. Remember your last honest laugh with friends ? Did you need to put on a show ? Here’s your argument to destroy all that hyper-structure you built around your Self.





2 - PERSPECTIVE

Life is one hell of a boxer. But the Happy Master’s strength is that these never appear as punches but rather as nudges in the right direction. More so: Perspective doesn't only make a situation look better after it took place. It helps turn it into a thruster for betterment. This is courtesy of Stoic philosophers:

"The common refrain about entrepreneurs is that they take advantage of, even create, opportunities. To the Stoic, everything is opportunity. The Reverend Wright scandal (for Obama), a frustrating case where your help goes unappreciated, the death of a loved one, none of those are “opportunities” in the normal sense of the word. In fact, they are the opposite. They are obstacles. What a Stoic does is turn every obstacle into an opportunity." - Ryan Holiday in Stoicism 101

3 - IMAGINATION

Imagination can also help in creating a different perspective. One practice is to mentally subtract something good from your life :

People spend a lot of time thinking about good things that didn’t happen, but might have done. But what about the good things that did happen that might not have? Say you’d never met your partner or friend or got that job? What would life be like without some of those things we take for granted? Thinking about what might not have been can be tremendously powerful if used in the right way. Counter-factual thinking can create meaning in life and, and can increase satisfaction with what you have (Koo et al., 2008)
— Jeremy Dean in Psyblog

4 - ATTENTION

Chade-Meng Tan runs “Search inside yourself" at Google. In his TED talk about compassion at Google he says: "Attention is the basis for all higher cognitive and emotional capability. The goal is to create a quality of mind that is calm and clear at the same time." Attention is about what you leave out, not what you put in. Weed out everything but the moment and the present task.

Attention in turn helps develop self-knowledge and self-mastery. Tan says "We create a high resolution perception into the emotional and cognitive processes. Observing one’s own thought stream with clarity, objectivity and from a 3rd person perspective. This creates the kind of self-knowledge that enables self-mastery". 

5 - ACCEPTANCE

So let me get this one clear from the start as it’s the cornerstone: If you don’t accept your body as it is right now you won’t accept it after you’ve lost 8 pounds. No surgery or diet will help you accept it. If you’re waiting to be rich, you’ll never be rich. 50,000 dollar bonuses won’t do it. If you’re waiting for success and recognition, writing a best-seller won’t do it either. It’s like a shoe that  doesn’t fit. If it doesn’t fit now it won’t fit tomorrow. Because you’re in a state of waiting. Just doesn’t work. Accepting the now (your body, your financial situation etc.) 1) is key to accepting the future 2) doesn’t contradict with having wild ambitions 3) is crucial to happiness. It’s a skill.

This contradiction, and this tension … it never goes away. And if you think that achieving something, if you think that solving something, if you think a career or a relationship will quiet that voice, it will not. If you think that happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. It will always be in conflict. If you accept that, everything gets a lot better
— James Sheldon

BE LIKE WATER MY FRIEND

"Ladies and gentleman this is Mambo no 5. One, two, three for five". Instead of Lou Bega though, I'll let Bruce end it in this amazing story :)

Lee traces the thinking that originated his famous metaphor, which came after a period of frustration with his inability to master "the art of detachment" that Yip Man was trying to impart on him. Lee writes:

When my acute self-consciousness grew to what the psychologists refer to as the "double-bind" type, my instructor would again approach me and say, "Loong, preserve yourself by following the natural bends of things and don't interfere. Remember never to assert yourself against nature; never be in frontal opposition to any problems, but control it by swinging with it. Don't practice this week: Go home and think about it."

And so he did, spending the following week at home:

After spending many hours meditating and practicing, I gave up and went sailing alone in a junk. On the sea I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched the water! Right then – at that moment – a thought suddenly struck me; was not this water the very essence of gung fu? Hadn't this water just now illustrated to me the principle of gung fu? I struck it but it did not suffer hurt. Again I struck it with all of my might – yet it was not wounded! I then tried to grasp a handful of it but this proved impossible. This water, the softest substance in the world, which could be contained in the smallest jar, only seemed weak. In reality, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water.

Suddenly a bird flew by and cast its reflection on the water. Right then I was absorbing myself with the lesson of the water, another mystic sense of hidden meaning revealed itself to me; should not the thoughts and emotions I had when in front of an opponent pass like the reflection of the birds flying over the water? This was exactly what Professor Yip meant by being detached – not being without emotion or feeling, but being one in whom feeling was not sticky or blocked. Therefore in order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.

The Happiness Formula #2 - Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat

I’ve written several posts about happiness. In comparison to these, the “Happiness Formula” is an ongoing project. My first note dates from late July 2013 so it’s been 8 months since the Formula reflection started. Am I happy today ? It’s north of happiness. It’s akin to bliss. It's the most valuable thing I have nowadays. But I'm not holding on to it. What I’ve learnt along the way makes it so I can't help but to write this series. I hope you enjoy it.


BACK TO THE HACK

Tim Ferris’ latest book is not a cooking book. It’s a toolkit on how to hack your way to world-class mastery of any skill. The happiness formula started with a hacking mindset and a simple question : “ How to become a master at Happiness?”. Are there steps to follow? Tim Ferris suggests his DSSS technique to mastering anything:

So it seemed straightforward ... at first

  1. Deconstruction: Find the building blocks that make up your happiness
  2. Selection: Select the 20% of these blocks that will produce 80% of the desired outcome
  3. Sequencing: Sequence them in time so as to optimise learning
  4. Stakes: Set up real consequences that make failure impossible

This blog post tackles deconstruction, Post #3 delves into Selection and Sequencing, Post #4 is a surprise. This might feel like brute-forcing Happiness. It’s too cerebral of an approach. But hacking, despite its short-lived horizon, is a great way to get initial motion. Let’s try to deconstruct Happiness and figure out its building blocks.

QUESTIONS ARE ANSWERS

My own process started with loads of questions:

Bad choices? Happiness’ a strange beast mind you. At first sight, it seems happiness hinges on making good choices since bad choices generate unhappiness. You’re not happy with your job, you find your clothes dissatisfying, You’ve had unsuccessful diets, underwhelming holidays maybe. The last book you read was useless. You’re married to the wrong person. Bad choices. In ’The Architecture of Happiness’, Alain De Botton points out how our life-wretched decisions stem from the tendency not to understand who we are and what will satisfy us. So maybe what’s needed is more introspection? Is that how one deconstructs happiness: By deconstructing oneself? Finding the building blocks of the self that will help build out happiness?

Bad scale? We do measure how good or bad our choices are relative to our own standards however. If that's true, then we just need to change our own standards and scales i.e. limit our expectations, make them attainable or not use other peoples’ scales. What does that mean practically? "My husband is a d**k by all standards but to me he’s the best”. Good luck rewiring your brain for that one. Perspective rests on enhancing one’s personal relativity and it’s akin to some weird self-hypnosis. If you do change perspective, you'll be happier about your decisions and your life. It's not a magic bullet though.

Bad vibes? We’ve gotten to terms with the fact Happiness is about the moment as well. We can instinctively grasp that Happiness is not a conditional situation. Will you wait 10 years until you’re senior and earning 5 times more to be happy? Intuitively, you get this isn’t the way to be happy. Happiness is a “now or never” type of thing. So if you have a bad vibe towards the very moment, you’re probably off by a mile.

Bottom line: what's easier ? When it comes to decisions impacting happiness, should one try to understand one self deeply or just change perspective once the decision is made ? Or should one forget about decisions altogether, past, future, consequences, and delve into the moment? Which is a building block of happiness?

 Le Happiness

Le Happiness

Models are fun :) So I tried to break down Happiness into two ingredients: One is a dynamic component (our choices) and the other one is static (our present self). Happiness is very much about 1) enjoying the present moment (static) but 2) one does need to mind the future (dynamic). Why mind the future the 'present' ones wonder? Well, dear Buddhas, if we’re playing the game of life, let’s play it the best we can.

DOWN & OUT OF THE RABBIT HOLE

I tried to model this whole reflection at one point. It got pretty cerebral. The end goal always was to strip the practice of happiness from any intellectualism though. Buckle up :) David Steindl-Rast, in his talk “Want to be happy? Be grateful” brings it down to “Stop, Look and Go”. It's an amazing paradigm. I’m using this as a foundation but flipping it a bit.

In the table, Static represents "the present moment", Dynamic "the larger scale" or "the project" of your life. Echoing the above break down between Static and Dynamic, I found this quote by Morgan Rosenberg very smart and down to earth:

First without inner peace, any self-directed material gains I ever experienced were completely and totally without meaning. Without inner peace I was nothing other than a selfish empty shell. Second it’s just simple truth that it’s far easier to gain inner peace and experience harmony with the universe when your life doesn’t suck. It’s better to be rich, it’s better to have a good job, it’s better to have romance in your life. When you don’t feel that you have the sword of Damocles dangling above your head, it’s far easier to meditate and focus on more important things than how you are going to pay the phone bill.
— Morgan D. Rosenberg

I like the water analogy. Happiness has the same nature and behaviour, our decisions move it to another plane. It’s a model to try and reconcile dynamic and static happiness. I struggled for quite some time with two seemingly opposing notions 1) The moment is perfect and all you need is now 2) Everything is a work in progress, the best life is purpose-driven. 1) says no need to search for anything 2) says you are on a journey in a given direction. But the answer came as a sketch (see below) :) Nothing to do with the Happiness scale but rather to represent the journey and how Life learnings enhance moment-to-moment happiness (Static) while large-scale life decisions (Dynamic) translate the whole thing without affecting the very nature of happiness.

 Static + Dynamic

Static + Dynamic

Still it’s confusing ?! "Static" says Stand Still and "Dynamic" says Move. How do I "Stop" and "Go" at the same time? It’s as if you’re saying “Move Still” ! But really, there’s no contradiction. These are two planes of existence that can co-exist. Your mind can always enjoy the moment and among other things enjoy planning the future :)

Your outer journey may contain a million steps; your inner journey only has one: the step you are taking right now
— Eckhart Tolle

"There is no destination", you aren’t searching for or waiting to reach anything. You will choose a direction however and enjoy the walk. Happiness is an emotion in motion. Stop, Look and Go. Kind of reminded me of Eat - Sleep - Rave - Repeat :D Next up : The tools of a master of Happiness !

The Happiness Formula #1 - Drop It Like It's Hot

I’ve written several posts about happiness. In comparison to these, the “Happiness Formula” is an ongoing project. My first note dates from late July 2013 so it’s been 8 months since the Formula reflection started. Am I happy today ? It’s north of happiness. It’s akin to bliss. It's the most valuable thing I have today. But I'm not holding on to it. What I’ve learnt along the way makes it so I can't help but to write this series. I hope you enjoy it.


FOCALISM - REACHING FOR A HIGH

In a post from December 2011 called “Hacking Happiness : A dog named Tintin”, I tried to draw a “Happy Scale”. At that time, I had reached the conclusion that “To be happy, you have to limit your ambitions / expectations”. This way you’re certain to reach your goals. All the posts is this series go past that conclusion I believe.

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Regarding the graph, the question was whether you should raise the base black line through a vertical translation or try and add more spikes. I’ve added a line of a different colour (beautiful purple c) to indicate the solution lies on another level.

Consider the spikes. Try and think of the last one you’ve experienced and how quickly the positive feeling faded away. We are very sensitive to change, maybe that is the reason why we confuse excitement with happiness.

Humans are very sensitive to change: When we get a raise or commission, we really enjoy it – but we adapt at incredible speeds to our new wealth. Some studies have shown that in North America additional income beyond $75,000 a year ceases to impact day-to-day happiness.
— ASAP science

We underestimate our adaptability or emotional immunity, not only to negative events but also to positive ones. A winning lottery ticket won’t keep me happy indefinitely. The root problem here is Focalism. We focus on future events and hence end up overestimating the happiness a given event will generate. This is the definition of the hedonic treadmill :

Hedonic treadmill : The supposed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.
— Wikipedia

Though we're conscious it's crazy to step on that treadmill, what keeps us coming back is our Focalism on future events' positive output. It's very much an addicts' approach, hence the "shoot" analogy.

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FIX THE LOOP - DROPPING THE NEEDLE

I’m going to be radical and direct. Buckle up :) “Start with why” says Simon Sinek. So let’s go - Cut the bullshit >:( You think a new job will make you happy? Admission in a graduate program or a new career? A new phone? A girlfriend? Seeing your sister or your brother or your friend again? You think a raise or a bonus will make you happy? You think a “yes” from some organisation will change your life? You think 8 pounds or kilos less will transform your life and your well-being? Spikes. All the above are spikes, bound to be drowned and diluted by the tread of time. All of them will produce short-lived spikes of positive feelings. Happiness is something else. It’s the base line.

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Wait, am I saying one shouldn’t aim for a better career? Shouldn’t I launch a company that will change the world? Am I arguing against ambition here? Resounding No. I’m arguing against Focalism. Or plain delusion. Nothing in the future will raise your level of happiness. If you don’t find reason enough to be happy now, you aren’t happy and won’t be. I told you I’m going to be radical.

At this stage, if I may guess your thoughts, it might seem as if happiness is an "emotion in motion”. Not a goal but a constant companion. You might be thinking happiness is "the pursuit of happiness”. Not the destination but the journey itself. This is a four chapter blog series :) Think I’d reach  my conclusion already ? Non.

We live in a constant feedback loop. Our lives are a navigation between Consciousness and Choice. What needs to be avoided is for the loop to be a feedback of discontent.

  • Consciousness = I really don’t like my phone / my wife / my life / my body / my job / my friends
  • Choice = I am miserable and need to change all of the above

From one angle, happiness is the daughter of the feedback loop. It’s a thought pattern. A mental habit. To enjoy the process or the journey then, one needs to have the upper hand in the feedback loop. Do you or does anyone in your entourage complain ? Great. Not so great actually, no but see complaint as a negative feedback loop. It usually massacres happiness for the complainer and his surroundings.

DROP IT LIKE IT'S HOT - BEYOND THE SHOOT

In our confrontation with Focalism, we’re not exactly at an advantage. As this fortunately popular article from the Huff post points out, we’re the generation whose expectations are set as high as they can be (due to the past generation’s accomplishments and encouragements) and challenged as hard as possible due to the global economic situation and a constant impression that others are doing better than us, courtesy of social networks.

Don’t resist ambition. Be amazingly ambitious. Your madness is an asset. For you and the world. As the author concludes however : 1) Don’t think you’re special / you’re not a unique snow flake 2) Ignore everyone else. See the excerpt below:

 Unhappy Lucy, trying to reach for the Unicorn :(

Unhappy Lucy, trying to reach for the Unicorn :(

Paul Harvey, a University of New Hampshire professor and GYPSY expert, has researched this, finding that Gen Y has "unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback," and "an inflated view of oneself." He says that "a great source of frustration for people with a strong sense of entitlement is unmet expectations. They often feel entitled to a level of respect and rewards that aren't in line with their actual ability and effort levels, and so they might not get the level of respect and rewards they are expecting.”

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Wait. Look at your emotions when you read this! Stop for a second. Read the sentence again: "They often feel entitled to a level of respect and rewards that aren't in line with their actual ability and effort levels, and so they might not get the level of respect and rewards they are expecting.” Did you catch that feeling? You actually felt bad. As if truly not entitled to what you’re aiming for. Unworthy and somewhat delusional.

  1. There’s nothing wrong with that, I know I felt the same way
  2. Look at it and acknowledge it / Accept it as part of you right now
  3. Let it go, like a heavy bag. Let that feeling go. Not by trying to forget it. But realising it isn’t you. It is at a distance from you. Drop it like's it hot. It is something else. It isn't you. See?

The above exercise is a glimpse of what I’ll be trying to convey in the next 3 posts. To take the reflection up a notch and dissect happiness a bit before we wrap this up. Economists distinguish between stable and unstable equilibriums. As stable equilibrium is one that will get back to equilibrium whatever the shock. Imagine a ball at the bottom of a valley. An un-stable equilibrium is one that will just go away, never to return the second a shock occurs. Unless you put in a lot of effort to get it up there again I guess. It’s extremely fragile. The spike approach to happiness is that un-stable equilibrium. What will follow is a dive into transiting from unstable happiness to stable happiness.

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Small Step for You, Huge step for Your Humanity

She’s looking at you like she always does. Only this time is different. She doesn’t know what’s coming. And you do. You’re a few inches away and proximity is one hell of a salesman, closing the deal on your behalf. Though you’ve got nothing to sell. You've been here before and remember : You survived. You're wishing a bus could hit you and write with your flimsy corpse a letter for her eyes. But you won't die today. Not yet you won’t. You just need to remember. The last time you were here.

Each time you’re afraid, fear is a scent around you. Breathe in. Fear is Oxygen.

Listen, listen. Just in the middle of that conversation. When she swings her voice like an uppercut at your jaw. Listen, listen. You can dodge son. But you don’t. You let her hit. And your calm wait, this once, makes you realize the usual motion of your restless tongue. This once you’re not waiting for your turn to speak. And the lethal bus goes by and a planet hits another, a wave blew a town. But look, see : You're surviving.

Are you paralysed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

If you don’t survive, come back and complain. The bureau is open till 5 today.

Listen, listen. There's this story my dad used to tell me. Antheaus. You know Antheaus ? Greek titan my friend. Each time he was thrown on the ground, Antheaus would get stronger. Defeat made him stronger, son. He was the antithesis of that pitiful frailness I see here. 

Draw closer damn it ! It's a small step for you but a gigantic step for both our humanities. Come on. Let the bus hit you. Even if you die, the next you will survive. 

  • "So ... About something. I wanted to ask whether what we have. What this is. Was … 
  • was only friendship ... Just. You know. Makes it easier"
  • It is
  • Good. Good. It's more ... clear like that
  • Yes it is"

You laugh. She laughs. The bus still blazes through but look. Look, look. It’s not a looming death. It’s just an awkward breeze that passes by and leaves you with the surprising realisation that most things you try won’t kill you. That most of the time, you actually survive.

Bureau closed now. Come back tomorrow.

Zen - Volume#3 - Softnuking Money, Anger, Snobism and Irritation

It’s great to write blogs. It’s better when your posts serve as blueprints for life-improving hacks. I’ve worked on hacking my ego in 2013 i.e. destroying it and 'sterilising' it only to leave the positives of it. I also thought about "the hacking mind” and how to disrupt one’s own thinking constantly. Same for the Stoic Buddha. I believe it’s a state of being worth pursuing.

I have a tendency to productise things. You can sell custom T-shirts and print every single design yourself for users or you can invent a machine that gets the image by email, optimises it, prints it, packages it and sends it to the right person. To reach the above state, koans (in the form of quotes) seemed to be the simplest form and the Minimal Viable Product (MVP) to reach that.

So below is a set of "Zen moments". These are personal decisions I've tried to reach using the Stoic Buddha mindset and mainly ugly mental patterns I wanted to get rid of : Money, Anger, Irritation


ZEN MOMENT #1 : A SLAVE TO FORTUNE, NO MORE

I really feel it’s immature to pursue financial wealth in life. I wanted to get over the importance of money. A very simple quote that helped was James Armstrong’s saying:

"Money can purchase the symbols but not the causes of serenity and buoyancy. In a straightforward way we must agree that money cannot buy happiness."

ZEN MOMENT #2 : ANGER IS SO 2013

Contempt is a stressor. And a useless one for that matter. So in the case of anger, a mix of a quote and an occasional exercise were very helpful:

Anger is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die

Exercise

Marcus Aurelius’ trick to overcome anger is the following : “Run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever: Where is all that now? Smoke, dust, legend…or not even a legend. Think of all the examples. And how trivial the things we want so passionately are.” Marcus Aurelius is an amazing Stoic.

ZEN MOMENT #4 : EGO VACCINATION

One useful hack to overcoming snobism and ego was the "photgraphy hack". Imagine people you'd usually judge are pictures or sculptures or portraits. Build a story around them and realize how beautifully they fit into reality and how well they enrich it.

ZEN MOMENT #3 : HAPPINESS AS A HABIT

Mindfulness and a healthy convergence to a happier self can be done quite simply by setting 5 minutes aside every night to write down the 3 happy things that happened to you during the day. By creating more time to reflect on happy things, you effectively become more happy, mindful of all the great things you're living and a lot less irritable.

Zen - Volume#2 - The Stoic Buddha and How to "Move Still"

Stoic Buddhism is a lifestyle - or Life OS (Operating System) - I've crafted by mixing two philosophies I've grown fond of : Stoicism and Buddhism. I have to thank Osho whose Zorba the Buddha had initially struck me as genius. Zorba the Buddha however is not suitable as an OS for someone who's chosen to live an entrepreneur's life. Treat this as a work in progress :)


THE TOTAL ENTREPRENEUR - COURAGE IS A LIFESTYLE

Entrepreneurship is not only a risk-taking attitude towards business. I ran through this amazing (long) excerpt from Brain-pickings regarding some of our irrationalities and emotional biases which also highlight the mental drawbacks an entrepreneur sometimes encounters (bold is mine):

"Citing the work of psychologists Daniel Gilbert, whose exploration of the art-science of happiness remains indispensable, and Timothy Wilson, whose work has revolutionised the way we think about psychological change, Schwalbe reminds us of the "impact bias" – our tendency to greatly overestimate the intensity and extent of our emotional reactions, which causes us to expect failures to be more painful than they actually are and thus to fear them more than we should. Schwalbe explains:

Gilbert and Wilson highlight two phenomena to explain this bias. The first is immune neglect. Just as we have a physical immune system to fight threats to our body, we have a psychological immune system to fight threats to our mental health. We identify silver linings, rationalise our actions, and find meaning in our setbacks. We don’t realize how effective this immune system is, however, because it operates largely beneath our conscious awareness. When we think about taking a risk, we rarely consider how good we will be at reframing a disappointing outcome. In short, we underestimate our resilience.

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The second reason is focalism. When we contemplate failure from afar, according to Gilbert and Wilson, we tend to overemphasise the focal event (i.e., failure) and overlook all the other episodic details of daily life that help us move on and feel better. The threat of failure is so vivid that it consumes our attention. This happens in part because the areas of the brain we use to perceive the present are the same ones we employ to imagine the future. When we feel afraid of failing at a new business or anxious about the shame of letting investors down and what our peers will think, it’s hard to also imagine the pleasure we will get from our next venture and the other everyday activities that are a necessary and enjoyable part of life."

Entrepreneurship is a general attitude towards every aspect of life: Financial but also physical, emotional, spiritual and mental. Just daring to think about the positives of gay adoption is a challenge to some for example. Overcoming focalism and immune neglect turns one into a "Total Entrepreneur" whose risk-taking attitude transfers into every aspect of one's life.

ZEN - THE PATH TO ACCEPTANCE

Based on the above, considering Zen is the practice of deliberate attention to what's around us here and now, it appears obvious that Zen, or let’s just call it deliberate attention, can help us focus on the moment, not the future and hence avoid 1) underestimating our resilience 2) overestimating the impact of our failures. Zen can help us be more entrepreneurial and increase our risk appetite. By realising "There is no spoon" and no such thing as failure, Zen pulls us out of our self-imposed mental matrix.

More so, Zen is also a loud affirmation of independence,  a major entrepreneurial characteristic. To practice Zen, one needs to come to terms with being with oneself. Or vice versa. It’s one and the same. Zen means being OK with solitude. It’s different from lonely though : A lonely person has no friends and social contact is beautiful - though too much of a good thing is a curse. So, someone who can’t stand solitude i.e. spending a second without friends cannot grasp the maturity independence entails. Put simply, one source of unhappiness is the inability of spending time with oneself. Independence is at the root of happiness as Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes to her daughter:

"I am so glad, dearest, to know that you are happy. Now, improve every hour and every opportunity, and fit yourself for a good teacher or professor, so that you can have money of your own and not be obliged to depend on any man for every breath you draw. The helpless dependence of women generally makes them the narrow, discontented beings so many are."

In the vein of Zen being an enjoyment of one's own mind, Henry Miller adds:

"It is just this ability to stand alone, and not feel guilty or harassed about it, of which the average person is incapable. The desire for a lasting external security is uppermost, revealing itself in the endless pursuit of health, happiness, possessions an so on, defence of what has been acquired being the obsessive idea, and yet no real defence being possible, because one cannot defend what is un-defendable. All that can be defended are imaginary, illusory, protective devices”

Howe by describing self-acceptance extends the definition of independence:

‘Normality, is the paradise of escapologists, for it is a fixation concept, pure and simple. It is better, if we can, to stand alone and to feel quite normal about our abnormality, doing nothing whatever about it, except what needs to be done in order to be oneself.’

Zen is terrific to be at peace with the now, the here and the self. An essential feature to carving one's future mindfully. Zen imho should be one's default Life attitude. But what if one falls off the wagon? It's hard to be constantly mindful.

STOICISM - THE ROAD TO RESILIENCE

There’s this great article from Tim Ferris’ bog written by Ryan Holiday. It breaks down Stoicism into its bare essentials:

  • Practice misfortune. Seriously. It means a day without eating, wearing ugly clothes on purpose, walking in the cold… It means living face to face with what you fear and most importantly seeing that you’ll survive so you can relativize your fears.
Emotions like anxiety and fear have their roots in uncertainty and rarely in experience. Anyone who has made a big bet on themselves knows how much energy both states can consume. The solution is to do something about that ignorance. Make yourself familiar with the things, the worst-case scenarios, that you’re afraid of. Practice what you fear, whether a simulation in your mind or in real-life. Then you, your company, and your employees will have little left to keep you from thinking and acting big. The downside is almost always reversible or transient.
  • Train perception to avoid good and bad. For the stoic everything is opportunity. If you tie your first response to dispassion, you’ll find that everything is simply an opportunity. Suppose for a second that you are trying to help someone and they respond by being surly or unwilling to cooperate. Instead of making your life more difficult, the exercise says, they’re actually directing you towards new virtues; for example, patience or understanding. Or, the death of someone close to you; a chance to show fortitude. Marcus Aurelius frames this in the most amazing way possible:
The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.
 This one took some time to 'get'

This one took some time to 'get'

  • Remember - It’s all ephemeral

More so, Stoicism is a courageous acceptance of inner conflict as a defining part of life. Brainpickings cites Viktor Frankl beautifully:

And yet fulfilling work doesn’t come from the path of least resistance. He cites from Viktor Frankl’s famous treatise on the meaning of life: "What man actually needs is not some tension-less state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him."

Maria Popova (the mastermind behind Brainpickings) goes on to add Henry Miller’s thoughts:

"Life, as we all know, is conflict, and man, being part of life, is himself an expression of conflict. If he recognises the fact and accepts it, he is apt, despite the conflict, to know peace and to enjoy it. But to arrive at this end, which is only a beginning (for we haven’t begun to live yet!), a man has got to learn the doctrine of acceptance, that is, of unconditional surrender, which is love”

Beyond accepting inner conflict though, Stoicism is also a way to accept outward conflict and transcend it. Very often we find ourselves hostages of others’ opinions and expectations. Seneca, by inviting us to practice misfortune, extends the invitation to own nothing and being owned by no one. Let your time be yours and only yours. Let yourself be a reflection of your self and only that. It meets Zen and ultimate independence on that point.

THE STOIC BUDDHA - MOVE STILL

So basically, Zen helps you see the beauty of the moment and Stoicism helps you transcend life's obstacles. Zen kind of lacks Stoicism's ‘preparedness’. Obviously because Zen means being Zen all the time. Only here's the thing: Stoicism can be the way to handle situations where we fail at Zen. Because it means having a mental state able to handle difficult situations, able to tame the waves when they get too high, Stoicism helps us take distance in these moments and henceforth be, again, fully in the moment.

Stoicism is a mental blueprint for a stress-free lifestyle. Zen is a spiritual blueprint for a mindful lifestyle. Stoicism is directed towards the future and gives us tools to face life’s events. Zen is an uncompromising contemplation of the now or 'the grand scheme of the moment'. Because they tackle two facets of our relationship to life and time, they’re complimentary. More accurately, I’d say Stoicism completes Zen. Our relationship to the future is crucial in our attitude to the moment. As Miller summarises Howe’s proposition:

"An attempt, in short, to arrive at a total grasp of the universe, and thus keep man anchored in the moving stream of life, which embraces known and unknown. Any and every moment, from this viewpoint, is therefore good or right, the best for whoever it be, for on how one orients himself to the moment depends the failure or fruitfulness of it."

The way Stoicism and Zen operate in symbiosis might be in the following: "Choose your direction and move. Blaze through. Enjoy it to the fullest, live the moment, but don't expect it to last. Expectations are the culprit. Have no expectations.” Tim Ferris adds some great thoughts to “Stoicism 101” that might be a great mash-up between Zen and Stoicism:

"The part that bothers me is the entire “Remember you’re small” bit, which doesn’t jive with start-up founders. To do huge things, I really think you need to believe you can change the world and do so better than anyone else in some respect. It is possible, however, to simultaneously recognise that all is impermanent: the transient pains, bad PR, disloyal false friends, irrational exuberance, hitting #1 on the NY Times, whatever. I think it’s about not dwelling on pain and not clinging to ephemeral happiness. Enjoy it to the fullest (this is where I disagree with some of the Stoic writings), but don’t expect it to last forever, nor expect some single point in time to make your entire life complete forever"

See Stoicism is a cheat sheet. Zen is a special pair of glasses. The former gives you a tool to face new life events, the latter is a way to view life at all moments. The former is an "if, then”, the latter is a plain “do”. Together, they are all a life program needs to run and function. Hence the Stoic Buddha, the happy modern risk-taker. "Move Still" emerged out of the necessity to sometimes "Stand Still" (Zen) and the imperative to "Move" (Stoicism) as motion is an all-defining feature of evolution. It's like being in a train and enjoying the view

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Zen - Volume #1 - From Mumbo-Jumbo to Quantum Mind

8 months ago I wouldn't have been able to write this post. Zen was this mumbo jumbo thing I associated with people in colourful clothes, weird hair, and weird habits, men and women in spandexes doing weird stuff with their hands... I lacked the maturity and the depth to perceive what 'attention' i.e. Zen really meant. But change is the only constant and here's my view of what has been a cornerstone in transiting from quick burst hacks to sustainable lifestyles.

Before I even start writing about this thing, Zen has a loose definition in popular literature really and is nothing if not grounded in practice. So read books about it if you want to delve into it.

 Loose definitions :)

Loose definitions :)

ZEN = SILENCE

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Zen entails hearing the silence outside. But to capture every sound around you right now, you need to cancel out the noises inside. It’s just amazing ! Try it now. Stop. Try it now :) Listen to the sound of your computer or your fridge, the other people around you, speaking or moving slightly. Stop for a second. Can you hear the breath of the girl in the corner or the guy at that table ? Can you hear your breath ? Did you notice ?

By simply trying to capture every sound, even for a second, you unconsciously establish inner silence. Your thoughts fade away ! How many times have you dreamed of silencing the inner cacophony ? It’s that simple. A plain matter of focusing attention not on your thoughts / inner noises but outside noises. It’s magic. No need to fly to Bali anymore or go to a spa. You can enjoy silence here and now. You can feel and hear your breath. Every sound reaches you. Like a superman of silence (I need to trademark this thing)

 So Zen clearing out your mind or focusing fully on one thing ? Why not both ?

So Zen clearing out your mind or focusing fully on one thing ? Why not both ?

Pushed to the extreme, one can say Zen is about disappearance of the self. And Zen literature expresses it in many ways. Here's a strange trail of thought, bare with me:

  • Everything has buddha value. The moment is everything.
  • You need no one in Buddhism. The moment is enough.
  • Attention and consciousness are crucial obviously to realize that. They are present of course ...
  • However, Buddhism approves of existence despite absence because it is the annihilation of ego and a transcendence of dualism …

“What ?!!”. Let me sum this up : The world continues to exist despite one’s disappearance. Zen is ultimate vulnerability you see. Zen is deliberate personal death. You are nothing and the world is still there despite you. You are dead. And one can’t break what’s already broken. One can’t kill what’s already dead.

ZEN = SHOCK

Zen sometimes manifests through 'koans'. Keeping in mind that Zen is an improved ability to notice the moment, remember your last epiphany. It sounded like an inner BOOM. As if your world was turned upside down. In their interactions with disciples, Zen masters often try to disrupt their thinking to that extent. The BOOM extent. They call it the 'koan'. Think of it as a shortcut to enlightenment or better yet : As a 9/11 of the mind and spirit.

Hacks are Minimal Effective Dose Operations aimed at repurposing a system by introducing a change as minimal as possible. Think of koans as the Zen hack of the mind. A typical quote (mis-attributed to Buddha) that could act as a koan is the following:

“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”

Wow ! Another interesting exercise to bring about a rapid change of mind is Richard Wiseman’s advice from his book “59 seconds: Change your life in under a minute”:

"Asking people to spend just a minute imagining a close friend standing up at their funeral and reflecting on their personal and professional legacy helps them to identify their long-term goals and assess the degree to which they are progressing toward making those goals a reality."

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Mindfulness and a healthy convergence to a happier self can be done quite simply by setting 5 minutes aside every night to write down the 3 happy things that happened to you during the day

ZEN = PATH TO PERSONAL EVOLUTION

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Zen entails a focus on the moment and an ability to notice every feeling and every detail of that moment. One becomes a better receiver and a better emitter of one’s own emotions. By honing this personal feedback loop, one realises the relative importance of each feeling and emotion. One starts leveraging what’s truly relevant to him and participates to his well-being. The mind becomes aware of the weight and impact of each emotion towards things, people and life events.

And let’s not delve into mumbo jumbo new age bongo and higher levels of consciousness. Zen means stopping at noon in front of your lunch and noticing you’re eating even though you’re not hungry or listening to yourself screaming at your loved one and thinking "But I love this creature !”. So if evolution is natural selection, Zen creates an inner ecosystem ideal for echoing one’s own emotions and helping them co-exist.  Zen, hence, favours a natural selection of feelings. Zen is this path towards personal emotional and spiritual evolution.

And here's a koan for you. You've heard about how particles behaves differently whether they're observed or not. Photons for instance have a double nature. They're a wave and particle and 'opt' for one or the other when they're observed. There is a quantum nature to the electric and magnetic fields in light (quantum theory of radiation). And same for your mind. It behaves differently when looked at. When you observe the motion of your thoughts and emotions, they're bound to act differently. So take a dive into your Quantum mind :)

The Year I became a Millionaire #3 - Dave : Life Logged VS Life Planned

Having a friend whom you see on most days, compared to not having such a friend, had the same impact on well-being as making an extra $100,000 a year. My friends made a millionaire out of me this year. (Via Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect). This year I’ve met many interesting people I now call my friends. I’m feel like a multi-millionaire :)


David famously wrote “Life Logged” back in June. And I’ve promised to counter that concept with “Life planned”. It took me a year to fine tune my ideas. So here’s life planned vs life logged for you :)

LIFE PLANNED

Dave's approach to Life logged does have a bit of ad hoc organisation in it and some necessary planning. He writes in his blog:

As for my data, looking only at Desktop activities within the context of Work (includes: Email, Code, Research, Organize, Write, Todo, Misc), I can roughly divide my time into two buckets: primary work (Code, Research, Write, Todo) and support work (Organize, Email, Misc). My time is in fact split 60/40 (primary/support).

Taking all of this into account, I’ve decided I will focus the next while on improving working session effectiveness by tackling two related problems: decreasing the fire-fighting and increasing the amount of deep work. To achieve this, I will start introducing a bit more structure into my days. As explained above, without the right incentives and daily structure I am more likely to fill my days with unimportant or meaningless work.

Specifically, I will spend a bit of time every Sunday planning out and scheduling the upcoming week. I will “book” longer deep work sessions, occasional email slots, workouts, and will leave the rest open, including weekends. I want to make sure I give myself enough free space. The point is to strike the right balance between deliberate work and serendipitous tinkering. I don’t expect to get this right the first time around, but I anticipate seeing some benefits fairly quickly and will improve this exercise as I go.

My own personal break down of life looks like this:

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It allows me in turn to bake all this into my calendar:

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You guessed it. Life Planned means planning every single hour ahead. I’m talking about planning every hour ahead. But what about randomness, what about serendipity, what about madness. My dear :) that’s planned as well. Friday and Saturday nights (and mornings) are blank for example. Plan for ‘randomness’.

Logging your life is interesting as a form of feedback. But it’s the equivalent of being a passive observer of what’s happening. It feels like feedback for feedback’s sake. Life planned rather implies some ground work:

  1. Thinking of a direction in life that would make You happy
  2. From there, break down that direction into small steps and turn these steps into daily routines.
  3. Improving self-discipline and getting these small steps done

It's simple ... It took me a year to get there :)

LIFE ON AUTOPILOT

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And all this sounds nice and dandy but there’s a small requirement obviously to all this jazz. Planning everything in advance means putting a life on autopilot. Auto-pilot means it’s not you piloting. Most importantly it means you have enough self-discipline to shut down the ‘other’ voice inside you that’ll try and deter your determination. You need to be good at bossing yourself around :) Steve Pavlina writes : 

Self-discipline is the ability to get yourself to take action regardless of your emotional state. […] The pinnacle of self-discipline is when you reach the point that when you make a conscious decision, it’s virtually guaranteed you’ll follow through on it.

 

Yes, the planned life means planning every hour ahead. More so, it means turning oneself into Pavlov’s dog. One puts consciousness out of the equation as action becomes automatic, just like a wake-up alarm (when you’re not a snoozing fanatic). Pavlina writes:

If you have to sub-vocalize any of the steps (i.e. if you hear a mental voice coaching you on what to do), you’re not there yet

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Now yes, it might feel as if Life on autopilot is a double-edge sword as mindfulness is not part of the equation any more and the present self is not in the driving seat anymore but rather it's the past self, the reliable coach, the one with the initial willpower to kickstart the process that’s holding the reins. And though this isn't bad in and by itself, mindfulness is important and should be baked into the process. Hence the importance of a 'grabbing a coffee' with oneself every week and having an interview with the person you spend most time with (i.e. you). Ask her how she feels, how her diet is, how's her workload, stress and hence lifestyle like. How the plan is looking and whether she's feeling comfortable sticking to it. Feedback is gold and can also be automated.

There’s a gigantic difference between Life on autopilot and Self on autopilot. Self on autopilot means one’s lacking mindfulness and going through life unconscious of whether what he’s doing actually makes him happy. Life on autopilot is a way to be more happy. By decreasing the number of decisions one needs to take during a day, one leaves more willpower for creative moments and guarantees long term happiness.

TIVO-ED LIFE

A lot of things occur during a planned day of course and there needs to be a (planned) way to deal with un-planned things. It’s called ‘Later’. Just write it down and handle it later. You’ve seen how successful email applications such as Mailbox and Boomerang have become. It is mainly because they enable you to postpone answering unimportant emails for later rather than letting them clutter your thoughts and willpower. Decision effort is reduced to a single Watt : ‘Later’.

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‘Later’ is actually so tempting as a universal hack for life. In his book ‘Time Warped’, Hammond talks about Kerkhof saying:

If you find yourself awake in the middle of night worrying, with thoughts whirling round repeatedly in your head, he has several strategies you can try. This is where imagery comes in useful again. Imagine there’s a box under your bed. This is your worry box. As soon as you spot thoughts that are worries, imagine taking those individual worries, putting them into the box and closing the lid. They are then to remain in the box under the bed until you decide to get them out again. If the worries recur, remind yourself that they are in the box and won’t be attended to until later on. An alternative is to choose a colour and then picture a cloud of that color. Put your worries into the cloud and let it swirl backwards and forwards above your head. Then watch it slowly float up and away, taking the worrying thoughts with it.

Set aside a time for worrying. Your worries relate to real and practical problems in your life, so you cannot rid yourself of them altogether, but you can learn to control when you think about them. Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously commanded his brother not to think of a white bear, and we know from the experiment on thought suppression which followed that, given that instruction, you can think of nothing but a white bear. … Likewise, telling people not to think of their worries isn’t going to work. Instead Kerkhof recommends the opposite. Set aside 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening to do nothing but worry about the future. Sit at a table, make a list of all your problems and then think about them. But as soon as the time is up you must stop worrying, and whenever those worries come back into your head remind yourself that you can’t contemplate them again until your next worry time. You have given yourself permission to postpone your worrying until the time of your choice. Remarkably, it can work. It puts you in control

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Procrastination to Tivo-isation what gluttony is to hunger : A mindless alter-ego. Procrastination is postponing stuff for a reason you don’t really understand. Tivo-ing is postponing stuff for reasons you yourself have fixed priorly. In essence, there’s no such thing as urgency. It’s an absurd concept.

Look at apple and payments. It's not rushing through it. There’s no such thing as urgency. It's absurd as a concept. Do you need a contactless computer today ? Download your memories today ? Pay with your phone Today ? No. even when you know it's possible, the need is still not urgent. Your basic survival is still guaranteed. Cool off. There’s no rush.

LIFE OS

And all this pondering eventually led led to Life OS !

The Year I became a Millionaire #2 - Rasmus : Consider breaking it

Having a friend whom you see on most days, compared to not having such a friend, had the same impact on well-being as making an extra $100,000 a year. My friends made a millionaire out of me this year. (Via Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect). This year I’ve met many interesting people I now call my friends. I’m feel like a multi-millionaire :)


Discussions with Rasmus made me delve into the mechanics and the essence of constant disruption and perpetual questioning on a personal and professional level. It made me grasp the foolishness of quantity versus quality when it came to mastery as well.

Let’s start with mastery. 10,000 hours are not enough to become a master at something. What needs to be embraced is deliberate practice rather. Then, 10,000 hours can turn into 8,000 hours. We’ve all spent more than 10,000 hours studying math in school. How many of us are mathematicians ? How many can create a theorem today or solve a life problem with mathematical logic ? Deliberate practice is the way of of the experience trap (“I’m good at this now, I can lay back and relax”). This last point leads to the next.

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On the way to avoid complacency, Rasmus had several points:

  • Companies become complacent when they stop feeling they’re on a burning platform. When the crisis hits, they see their weaknesses. Hardship fleshes them out.
  • The hardest part is to avoid emotional attachment. We get attached to things we’ve invested time in even so they’re now useless. Look at Kodak. Emotional attachment to ancient technology leads to the dinosaur grave.
  • Intel and Noma are two great examples. Noma has an innovation lab whose sole purpose is to question what they’re doing and laying down a tabula rasa every season. Intel, with the advent of new chip technology, asked themselves “What if we were fired and a new CEO came in, What would he do ?”. The answer was ‘out with the old, in with the new’
 Noma's crew

Noma's crew

Rasmus crystallises this in a great phrase "If it’s not broken, consider breaking it.” Practically the solution is to keep an internal unit (or person) in each company immune from failure, free to innovate in the direction they want with a single maxim : past data does not inform future data, the future is always assumed risky. And that free electron’s job is to take risks (@rasmus, reminds me of the Indian Heyokas ! The tribe’s contrarians). In other words : Keep bringing new blood in.

Obviously, it’s understandable to be afraid of taking risks. With great power, comes great fear of losing it. With a lot of stakeholders, taking risks becomes more frightening (reason why startups thrive : too little stakeholders at first). Rasmus concluded that day with a thought about big companies: Want it to succeed again ? Buy it out and make it private again.

On another note and different subject, one sentence I remember coming up with Rasmus touches on happiness : "It is inside out, not outside in"

The Year I became a Millionaire #1 - Hafez & Klaus - Selves & Stories

Having a friend whom you see on most days, compared to not having such a friend, had the same impact on well-being as making an extra $100,000 a year. My friends made a millionaire out of me this year. (Via Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect). This year I’ve met many interesting people I now call my friends. I’m feel like a multi-millionaire :)


GETTING FEZZICAL

A discussion with Hafez this year made me think about the 3 selves, the real meaning of mindfulness and optimism and how we’re wrong to overlook what we overlook.

Fez explained how intuition lies between intelligence and instinct. And in many ways it reminded me of the 3 selves : 

  • the animal / reptile self which acts out of instinct to ensure survival, 
  • the driven self which is a manifestation of intuition as it borrows both from the observant self (see later) and the reptile
  • the observant self (= intelligence) that embodies a higher form of consciousness and takes distance to understand the balance between the two other selves.
      

  

Another point that came up with Hafez was about how western culture put oriental culture on the side. At the time I was reading “Blink” and it reminded me how people had put the hunch (snap judgements) on the side as well since it wast grounded in a lengthy reflection like logical decision were. 

I think Leibniz and the optimists hit the nail when they said we live in the best of worlds or ‘the best possible world’ (le meilleur des mondes). Of course, their approach entails an optimal intelligence that wouldn’t have made the world any different. But the thought is akin to a thoughtful and, might I add, joyful acceptance of what is here and now.

Volaitre’s Parody (Candide) of the concept is reminiscent of how we ended up dismissing snap judgements and quick decisions all the while as they might bring us a lot of accurate insight. Western Philosophy simply dismissed acceptance and simple satisfaction of the moment. It feels as if, there and the, it started moving away from a potential convergence with Eastern Mindfulness.

 

OUT OF THE CAVE

Discussions with Caveman Klaus brought about a reflection about how the stories we tell ourselves mould us and how one could revolutionise food !

  Instability

Instability

There’s this great metaphor K shared about a duck in a pond. The duck looks calm. His movement is fluid on the surface but underneath, he is struggling with his feet. Many of us manage to look normal on the outside but might be struggling, just like that duck on the inside. As if this hectic movement aimed at compensating our inner instability so that we look stable on the outside.

One reason for that divide are the stories we tell ourselves. If in our minds, we are ‘fighters’ or ‘survivors’, battling the world and the universe to reach a goal, I wonder how it’s possible not to end up struggling like that duck. Our stories change our approach to life. If we’re the mindful entrepreneur observing opportunities as they come and seeing challenges not as a fight but as an opportunity, that story change can reflect inwardly.

Another great insight that popped out during discussions with Klaus was how broken our most practical and consumable food is. I’m after the sandwich here. Roughly 50% bread and just as much of a missed opportunity to make our everyday meals so much more nutritious. The sandwich is broken ! And it’s time for a high-nutrient satiating and practical alternative.

2014 Resolution #2 - New idols = Dumbo & Dogs

2013 delivered a big lesson: One should let go of goals. It's been a long thought gestation to get here so let me walk you through a year’s worth of thoughts and learnings :)


PURPOSE OVER GOALS

Let me start by stealing an entire excerpt from Hunter S. Thompson :)

"To put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

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But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors—but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires—including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter."

"As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal) he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life – the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual"

Can you steal that much material ? I just did :) I guess my added value is in connecting the dots and fleshing out the essence. In Thompson's excerpt above, it's clear meaning and flow are far greater than goals. Because we are ever-changing, goals are but a direction. The quest for oneself holds true meaning. Practically, it is the act of reaching a point where one's own, silent company is all one needs out of life, when being alone is not frightening but joyful. It's a form of maturity. When in movement (work, relationships, interactions ...) the quest for oneself is the equivalent of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's flow.

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TAKE YOUR FUCKING TIME

(Excuse the language) Maybe it's only in the Silicon Valley milieus but there’s been an obsession with efficiency and quick hacks lately. The 4 hour body, Soylent (the liquid food), the billion-dollar overnight start-up ... I think Brain-picking's lesson#7 captures the essence of this folly:

The myth of the overnight success is just that — a myth. As I’ve reflected elsewhere, the flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of one’s character and destiny.

In the first volume of this new year's resolution-free reflection, I wrote about how style can be a translation and a manifestation of happiness and inner genuine values. Style is a personal signature and is at odds with the quick hack. Some hackers talk about the MED (Minimal Effective Dose) to reach a certain objective. MED and Style might have the same outcome or result (take the example of a liposuction and a 3-year workout program). However, in the long run, they don’t have the same ROI (Return On Investment): Like everything that stretches in time and repeats, Style has compound interests. Nothing meaningful comes easy, Popova writes echoing Debbie Millman's quote above.

LEARN FROM DOGS

So if Goals should be put aside, Style made primordial, and time invested, where does that leave us as to motivation ? If goals are gone, what's supposed to incentivise us ? Ah my friends :) that's the beauty of it: Nothing ! Just like Dumbo didn't need a feather to fly, you don't need a single goal to soar !

  Dumbo could fly, even without his feather

Dumbo could fly, even without his feather

The right attitude is an utmost hail of the moment. A bit like dogs ! Dogs are suckers to the moment. They don't make plans, they don't over-think stuff. A ball thrown in the air is the most important thing in their universe:

"Integrity, even grouchy growling integrity, in a world that doesn’t value it; nobility in a time that doesn’t want it—what Thurber’s dogs do is absurd or even pernicious (they bite people, or drag junk furniture for miles) but demonstrates the necessary triumph of the superfluous. Which is what dogs are all about; it is the canine way. Nothing is less necessary than a pet dog, or more needed. Thurber’s theme is that a dog’s life is spent, as a man’s life should be, doing pointless things that have the solemnity of inner purpose." Gropnik, The New yorker on dogs

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Let me wipe my tears ! This excerpt is amazing ! The beauty of the key strokes I'm making to type this text. The music in the restaurant, the white pinkish colour of people surrounding me, the wood and the smell of food ... What I'm doing is useless in the grand scheme of things. It's useless. Completely. But there is a grandeur in that superfluousness and a dignity in that march. Breathing in like air was a lover tickling my lungs:

The thing about this bookshelf is that each of these books is a vast experience unto itself, while also being both self-contained and superbly useless. Reading any one of them doesn't get you anywhere particularly meaningful; you haven't arrived or graduated; you've just gone and done something that passes the time. It's like taking a long walk with a friend who's got a lot to say. There's no cumulative purpose to it – it's just an excellent way to waste your life. Jonathan Lethem about his books (mostly fiction)

We are gold, we are garbage. Have a great 2014. I wish you a very happy dog year !

2014 Resolution #1 - No more Goals & Resolutions

2013 delivered a big lesson: One should let go of goals. It's been a long thought gestation to get here so let me walk you through a year’s worth of thoughts and learnings :)


THE 3 SELVES

The year started with a long reflection and quite a lot of research into happiness. In short, the importance of an unconditional happiness became obvious. If your happiness hinges on someone else doing something or something else happening, you’ve got it all wrong unfortunately.

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But for this insight to crystallise, an multiparty inner conflict needed to be surpassed. As Freud (and personal experience) points out, you are one of three selves at any given moment:

  1. ID aka the reptile - "the un-organised part of the personality structure that contains a human's basic, instinctual drives" (Wikipedia). This is the part of you that made sure you’re here. It’s the product of evolution. Vice, lowly sexual desires, gluttony ... the seven sins all stem from here. Most of the time, when your willpower isn’t hindered you’ll be able to repel it.
  2. Super-ego aka the goal-driven self - "reflects the internalisation of cultural rules, mainly taught by parents applying their guidance and influence" (Wikipedia). This is your goal driven self. It is the one that keeps you on track on a daily basis. If you procrastinate (the reptile), this is the self that gets you back to work.
  3. Ego aka the observant self - "Its task is to find a balance between primitive drives and reality while satisfying the id and super-ego." (Guess the source) This is the part of you that observes, at any given moment the reptile and driven part of you. It's the self that comes out when you're sitting on your own, reflecting about your progress and your life. Unfortunately, you use it the least.

Practical example: You want to lose weight or move beyond meaningless relationships but your reptile self draws you to the dark side and you end up over-eating or kissing a girl in a night club and the conflict creates sadness. The Reptile and Driven Self are in a constant war which the Observant self needs to observe, resolve and ultimately transcend. Compared to a hypothetical Buddhist Monk, it looks like this:

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n that war between the driven self and the reptile self however, it's not so much the war itself that needs to be transcended as the underlying problem: Goals. Why try and lose weight ? Why try and aim for meaningful relationships ? Wait, wait, it'll get clearer in a second :)

THE EPIPHANY

The epiphanic insight into the uselessness of goals emerged from my health journey. From my readings, research and experiments, it appeared those who reached their fitness goals were the ones who weren’t aiming for a weight goal but rather who had achieved a health style. Scott Adams, Dilbert Creator, writes:

To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary.

If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize that you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or to set new goals and re-enter the cycle of permanent pre-success failure.

  I luv Dilbert :)

I luv Dilbert :)

Goals introduce the concepts of regression and progress which are the wrong metrics. Goals open a door to self-defeat and self-sabotage due to ego’s moping and regression gives rise to guilt. What is the right metric then ? Well "no metric" is the best metric :) As the upcoming “Happiness Formula” series will make clear, one should enjoy the process. It comes down to a single question: Do you feel time passing by during any given day ? For ultimately, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” (Annie Dillard) and the more you lose yourself in the moment on a daily basis, the surer you can be you’re living life to its fullest.

STYLE OVER GOALS

"We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you" Hunter S. Thompson’s

Imagine you stuck to your goals unconditionally. I wanted to be rich when I was a kid. Then I grew up. Had I still been stuck in that goal, I would've been on a trading floor today :( Goals are limiting. They need to be flexible. Goals are for direction. They are not a destination. And rather than goals, one should opt for a way of life or a lifestyle:

  Not the GQ lifestyle mind you

Not the GQ lifestyle mind you

"A man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance. So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for for something better? I don’t know—is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice." Hunter S. Thompson’s

Hunter was 20 years old when he wrote this ... Goals set limits. Style equates with limitlessness. More so, style is a catalyst of better introspection. Take fashion for example. Some will fix a goal of getting new fancy clothes this year. But the trick to being a happier dressed person is to understand who we are and choose clothes that resonate with that inner self (upcoming "Happiness formula" series).

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Statically, style means better introspection. Dynamically, Style means enjoying who we are and what we do at any given moment. TO LOOK means to understand oneself. understanding who we are helps us make better decisions and choices. Since bad choices are the biggest cause of sadness, a simple shift from Goals to Style will help you dig deeper within you and eventually make you happier.

Funky X-mas Gift Ideas : Fear & Entropy

Entropy as a spyglass

"Entropy" is one disturbing concept ! You'll find the following on The Free Dictionary :

  1. Symbol (S) for a closed thermodynamic system, a quantitative measure of the amount of thermal energy not available to do work.
  2. A measure of the disorder or randomness in a closed system.
  3. A measure of the loss of information in a transmitted message.
  4. The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity.
  5. Inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.

When you read (2) and (3) you get the feeling it's an indicator of how messed up things are but when you read (4) "entropy" feels like a convergence towards order. Sean Caroll, in his Sydney University talk on TED, has an amazing take on Entropy however where he explains why an egg cannot un-break for example ! Wikipedia echoes:

Entropy is the only quantity in the physical sciences (apart from certain rare interactions in particle physics) that requires a particular direction for time, sometimes called an arrow of time. As one goes "forward" in time, the second law of thermodynamics says, the entropy of an isolated system will increase. Hence, from one perspective, entropy measurement is a way of distinguishing the past from the future. However in thermodynamic systems that are not closed, entropy can decrease with time: many systems, including living systems, reduce local entropy at the expense of an environmental increase, resulting in a net increase in entropy. Examples of such systems and phenomena include the formation of certain crystals, the workings of a refrigerator and living organisms.

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Stemming from the above, and from an arrow of time perspective, Entropy in everyday life is the impossibility of turning back, the importance of letting go and the uselessness of regret. Looking onwards however, Entropy is a reminder of how crucial risk taking is:

  1. We are not closed thermodynamic systems you see :) We interact with other such systems and, though constantly trying to decrease our own local entropy, we are increasing the entropy around us. Think of a stable family in times of war or crisis where the father's doing his best to feed and educate his children.
  2. Despite our best efforts, Entropy's still around though. These are the occasional car accidents, the times where life says "no" to a career choice or a financial decision ... These are the unavoidable reminders of how hard it is to isolate oneself

In retrospect, and looking at the universality of Entropy, one is reminded of the unknown unknowns and the importance of living with uncertainty and potential conflict. This is reminiscent of an amazing quote by James Whedon:

This contradiction, and this tension … it never goes away. And if you think that achieving something, if you think that solving something, if you think a career or a relationship will quiet that voice, it will not. If you think that happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. It will always be in conflict. If you accept that, everything gets a lot better

Peace is not the absence of inner conflict but the acceptance of the latter. Embracing Entropy is a surefire life strategy. This is the spyglass we all need. Don't stare at the horizon expecting an island and a worry-free life. What's beyond won't be that different from what you have today. What needs to change isn't the horizon, it's the person carrying the Spyglass.

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But "acceptance" is just a word. Acceptance is the consequence of a cause. Acceptance is the culmination of a process. And to accept a conflict, one needs to meet it and face it.

Fear as a constellation

"Fear" ... is what you feel before speaking to that girl / guy you fancy, quitting your job, jumping into a long-term relationship, changing a routine to make more time to reach a dream ... If you delve to its core, it often indicates a resistance to change. And that's where we bounce back to Entropy. If Entropy is the unavoidable messiness of reality one learns to accept, then Fear is the twelve-course lesson to get there. Why twelve ? No idea :)

Consider Peter Sims' excerpt from "Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries":

One of the really interesting things from the research on creativity, including from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is that the most creative artists tend to be really, really good at trying a lot of things before they solve a problem. These people weren’t just problem solvers, they were problem finders.

The above reads as "Face your fears" or even "Seek Entropy". A bit like a Pavlovian dog, one should teach oneself how to smile when Fear hits. It should be a gasp of joy. Finally ! A chance to let some Entropy into my life :) Courtesy of Steven Pressfield:

Are you paralysed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

And this leads to Paul Graham's amazing quote regarding why one should always "run upstairs" in the start-up world (as in life) as old (fat) companies will always prefer to run downstairs (i.e. choose the easy way):

This is a good plan for life in general. If you have two choices, choose the harder. If you're trying to decide whether to go out running or sit home and watch TV, go running. Probably the reason this trick works so well is that when you have two choices and one is harder, the only reason you're even considering the other is laziness. You know in the back of your mind what's the right thing to do, and this trick merely forces you to acknowledge it.

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Lack of resistance is a guarantee of the status quo. Where there's fear, there's a sign that something's worse pursuing. Treat Fear as a sailor treats a constellation: A hint at the right direction.

Masters of Uncertainty

Back in the time where I met TED Active's amazing crew, there was a necklace more and more people were wearing day after day for some mysterious reason. When asked what it was, people would answer : "This is the necklace of the masters of uncertainty". It was made out of golden dice. Dice, as a symbol of uncertainty. Golden, as a symbol of how valued that uncertainty was and how important it was to embrace it.

When asked how they got a hold of it, they'd say they deserved it. When asked how, they said one was to do something but that this "something" was a secret. Eventually, I also got a necklace doing something I can't share.

 The Monk Days :)

The Monk Days :)

What I can share is that a master of uncertainty is one who understands the wildness of life, how unknowable the outcomes of his decisions are, how risky it is to take a leap of faith. But a master of uncertainty is one who always does.

I wish you a X-mas full of Fear and Uncertainty and a Soul to make the best of it :*

 

uFAQ Volume 2 - un-Frequently Asked Questions : What to do in Church, reacting to dumb children and dealing with hobos

Un-Frequently Asked Questions and some un-common answers .. They are a stroll at the fringe of the politically incorrect and the existentially essential


UFAQ#1 - WHAT DO I DO WHEN I ATTEND A MASS IN CHURCH, GO TO A MOSQUE OR TO A SYNAGOGUE ?

If when in a religious place, the feeling of being stuck in a class beyond your grasp or outside your interest zone creeps up, there are several things you can do. Back in the time, I used to imagine the mass is a show where the priest performed. I imagined a musical and tried to figure out the choreography behind it. I'd then picture the church turned into a night club. Where would the bar be ? Where would I stand to dance ? Where would the girls gravitate ? I'd imagine a church-themed club where the priest is pouring wine to everyone.

Since then, I've stopped going to church but still find myself in places I don't want to be from time to time. So here's a guide to the things one can do in such places:

  1. It is highly likely that pulling out your phone will be perceived as insulting and lacking tact. Do not use your phone.
  2. "What do I do then ?" Notice how other people are embarked in practices such as prayers and chants. You do not need to engage in that kind of behaviour.
  3. "I need to spend an hour here ! What am I supposed to do ?". Calm down. This is a great opportunity to stretch your consciousness. Let's start by the single most important step: Observe.
  4. Notice the beige suit of the man on your left. Notice the breath of the kid on your right. Look at his jumper. See the broken pattern around the arms ? Look at the priest or spiritual guide of sorts. Notice the wrinkles on his face ? Notice his coloured hair ? See his lips ? Did you notice the difference between his lips' color and the lips of the old woman at the front row ?
  5. Beautiful. Now unto the most interesting way to spend your time. We're going to move from paying attention to what's outside to what's inside. You've been looking at people's features. Now look at their enthusiasm. No need to picture a scale but notice how the ladies in the front are the spearhead of this religious army. Notice how they surpass everyone else by quite a few decibels.
  6. Notice the enthusiasm of your neighbours. Notice the distraction. The looks they throw around. Look at what they're looking at. Notice ? Most are not paying attention to what's going on. Try to figure out how routinely this is for them. How much automatism has taken over deliberate practice.
  7. Great. Now look at the fringes. Look at the edges of the back benches, the rows people avoid because they don't offer the best view. The people you'll see there are either newbies who didn't know they'll miss the show by sitting there or the most interesting people in this place.
  8. See ? Did you see her ? The old woman who's been bowing her head since this whole thing started ? Amazing no ? Look into her soul. What do you think is happening there ? Try to listen and notice. Notice how not a single sound is coming out of her mind and soul. It's amazing. Pure silence.
  9. The ocean of difference between this woman and the feverish singers of the first rows where my grandma seems to be representing and defending the family's piousness. This woman has figured something out. Her body's traversed by an incomprehensible electricity. She makes the whole trip to this place worth it.
  10. Look at her. And learn. Learn how to shut your mind off. And the trick isn't to kick ideas out but rather to let everything else in. Listen carefully to every single sound around you. Let it conquer you. To hear the outside, you have to make silence inside.

Here you go. Your soul slowly fades away and you are pure attention. Nothing but an observant of the world around you. Beautiful nothingness, beautiful fullness. Completely alive, completely dead. Utter beauty.

UFAQ#2 - HOW DO I REACT WHEN INTERACTING WITH DUMB CHILDREN ?

A kid wants to show you his latest drawing. He takes you by his hand and leads you to his room to show you a red truck. He takes the truck and "drives it" up a ramp and into the a wooden lego structure. What do you do ? Do you smile in pity at the pitiful performance ? Do you try and explain the uselessness of this behaviour ? Do you hand him / her a book ?

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Ok. So the dumb kid can't speak, read or talk properly. He takes the red truck again and drives it up the exact same ramp and into the wooden structure. That's where you should start asking yourself questions. Is this kid completely stupid ? Is he mentally challenged ? Why doesn't he do something else ? Why doesn't he try and sit down still instead of running around and looking at you as if you don't get it ! As if you're the dumb one ! Stupid kid.

The kid tries to say something but he says so slowly.  I get it idiot "RED" "TRUCK". You can't just point at it. "TUTU". What does Desmond Tutu have to do with any of this ? Absurd. RED. TRUCK. TUTU. Are you doing this on purpose ? You know I can't leave you alone so you're wrecking my nerves. You're having fun aren't you, you tyrant.

RED. TRUCK. And that's where you realize. There's a siren that's been sounding in the distance for the last 10 minutes: "TUTU". You open the curtains and smoke's in the air three blocks away. RED. TRUCK. Fire-fighters. Kid ! You're a genius. I should've listened more carefully.

UFAQ#3 - HOW DO I DEAL WITH A HOBO THAT SMELLS BAD AND IS LOOKING AT ME ?

You're in the subway or sitting in a parc. 10 feet away, a hobo is sitting down. You know it's a hobo because he is wearing hobo clothes. Torn shoes. White bandage around the ankles, patched sweater and blue pants with dye diluted so much one can't think where it would go from here. His coat is of a perfectly new tincture. Never seen before. But bold enough to end up on a catwalk sometime soon. Fashion starts at the edges of life. The fringes of the world are ever-redefining what is new and worth exploring. They're pushing the limits and asking the hard questions.

The hobo stands up for absolutely no reason. Then sits down. It's strange one never sees these guys in the big trains. Not that they're harder to access in Paris. It's the same illegal leap into the station. Thing is, the big trains lead to the outskirts of the city. The suburbs. And the suburbs are scary. Even for hobos. There's no one in the streets and nothing to do. The suburbs are boring. Even for a hobo.

The hobo stands again. He takes a deep breath. He's about to say something. Everybody's looking. He opens his eyes widely. Closes them in fatigue. Breathes out. And sits down. People go back to their newspaper and phones. The only one still looking is you. And he noticed. He lifts his head like an old sorcerer waking up from a long battle and looks at you. He stands up and his human condition, obviously, obliges him to disguise his walk towards you in a lame limping towards the vertical metal bar. His eye is fixing yours. His smell is clinching you. What do you do ?

Look at him. No need to stand up but that would be good as well. Breathe in. Fully. Take it all in. This smell is his smell. His human smell. It's a mix of shit and pee, it's the city's smoke and the restaurants' fried vegetable oil. It's the street's petrol stains and pigeons' poo. It's modern life today in its most brutal form. Breathe in. All in. And look him in the eye. This is a man my friend. Your heart is beating beyond 125. There's fear because that man is unpredictable. That's probably why he ended up in the street. But logic here: How far can you go to escape ? You're in a train. You're in a parc and the man can run. You could outrun him but to go where ? Your escape is a physical one. Your mind is a prisoner of his gaze and that you need to deal with now. 

Breathe in. Look up. Look in. Stay there. And notice. He looks at you. You can't feel time but it looks as if a full 30 seconds have passed. His wandering mind might be searching for a reference. An anchor to understand who you could be and why you would do what you're doing. There is none. He breathes slower and slower and the fear he thought he was inducing is not. Look at his eyes. And now for the grand finale: Smile.

Smile my friend to the most interesting beauty there is. The one that's impossible to see for most of us. Look at the realness of this man and smile. Smile at his eyes. And see him wander and wonder. Breathe in. Look up. Look in.

The Hacker Mind - A.L.T.E.R. #5 - Rise

DELIBERATE PRACTICE > LEARNING

This whole 5-blog series is about developing a hacking mind. The first step however and the final one are the same : Choice. If you don't choose to develop a hacking mind, there's no use. Pretty obvious. Kyo Stark writes:

 

Learning outside school is necessarily driven by an internal engine. … Independent learners stick with the reading, thinking, making, and experimenting by which they learn because they do it for love, to scratch an itch, to satisfy curiosity, following the compass of passion and wonder about the world
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Pigliucci in the last blog reminded us of the importance of deliberate practice. Endure, i.e. creating a habit, is the final step of the process. Sustaining the process itself (coming up with new habits) is a life choice that needs to be sustained. It's equivalent to continuous education. 

TEACHING > LEARNING

Investigative journalist Quinn Norton writes, subscribing to Mangan’s prescription for learning by teaching:

I ended up teaching [my] knowledge to others at the school. That’s one of my most effective ways to learn, by teaching; you just have to stay a week ahead of your students. … Everything I learned, I immediately turned around and taught to others.
 Teach / Learn

Teach / Learn

 

In the same way, a TEDx organiser also used the gift of ignorance to proactively drive her knowledge forward:

When I wanted to learn something new as a professional writer, I’d pitch a story on it. I was interested in neurology, and I figured, why don’t I start interviewing neurologists? The great thing about being a journalist is that you can pick up the phone and talk to anybody. It was just like what I found out about learning from experts on mailing lists. People like to talk about what they know.

I think that's the reason why I do TEDx talks and write blogs . I try t teach so I can learn better.

 

APPRENTICESHIP > LEARNING

 

The last piece of the sustainability puzzle is mentorship. And in many ways, it relates to proximal development. Robert Greene explains how to become the perfect apprentice:

 The Apprentice

The Apprentice

 

Children are generally free of these handicaps. They are dependent upon adults for their survival and naturally feel inferior. This sense of inferiority gives them a hunger to learn. Through learning, they can bridge the gap and not feel so helpless. Their minds are completely open; they pay greater attention. This is why children can learn so quickly and so deeply. Unlike other animals, we humans retain what is known as neoteny—mental and physical traits of immaturity—well into our adult years. We have the remarkable capability of returning to a childlike spirit, especially in moments in which we must learn something. Well into our fifties and beyond, we can return to that sense of wonder and curiosity, reviving our youth and apprenticeships.

Choose it, teach it and let yourself be guided. From there, hack on forever more :) 

 

The Hacker Mind - A.L.T.E.R. #4 - Endure

Easy to confound A.L.T.E.R. for one of these 5-step-something acronym for a self helpy series. Unfortunately, though an acronym, and a 5 step process, it won't help you in anything. This is a careful observation of the development, maintenance and improvement of a hacker mind. A.L.T.E.R. = Amplify, Link, Transform, Endure and Rise.


AUTOMATION > HABITS

This post reflects exactly what it's about: Automation. I've turned blog writing into a repeatable automatic process. Thanks to the way I collect dots based on my readings, meetings and travels, dot connection is done beforehand. So the following is a post connecting ideas from several fronts. My only added value is the connection in itself.

Let no youth have any anxiety about the upshot of his education, whatever the line of it may be. If he keeps faithfully busy each hour of the working-day, he may safely leave the final result to itself. He can with perfect certainty count on waking up some fine morning, to find himself one of the competent ones of his generation, in whatever pursuit he may have singled out. Silently, between all the details of his business, the power of judging in all that class of matter will have built itself up within him as a possession that will never pass away. Young people should know this truth in advance. The ignorance of it has probably engendered more discouragement and faint-heartedness in youths embarking on arduous careers than all other causes put together
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 This point was made by William James regarding habits. And habits, obviously are the end result of automation. William James goes on to write:

The great thing, then, in all education, is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy. It is to fund and capitalise our acquisitions, and live at ease upon the interest of the fund. For this we must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we should guard against the plague. The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.

Automation is the goal of the hacking mind. This is what "showing up" means in a writer's world. Creating a habitual routine and sticking to it. It means being there over and over and automating the process beyond inspiration to make sure writing comes out so that, as Amelia E Bates writes, rather than hit the iron when it's hot, hit the iron until it's hot.

AUTOMATION > EVOLUTION

Daniel Kahneman's TED talk left me thinking for a long time. Besides the fact that the only example he could find was colonoscopy trials, he affirms that the most vivid experience is the one where the colonoscopy drilling occurs in bouts. For some reason I connected to the most effective form of workout which is HIIT (High Intensity Intermittent Training) which, coincidentally, occurs in bouts of high intensity: In HIIT, it's not about how long you keep your heart rate up but rather how many times you get it up. Same with hitting (successfully) on a girl where achievement is more about how many times you get her to laugh effectively rather than how long you keep her laughing / smiling. Bouts, bouts, bouts ... In other terms: Repetition.

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 According to Kahneman, scattering these events is very important as it allows for better remembrance : experiencing self vs. remembering self. And if this sounds quite quintessential to who we are as a species, it's because it is. There's an evolutionary importance, or even imperative, for repetition. Illustrating that precise point, David Byrne writes in "How Music Works":

The adaptive aspect of creativity isn't limited to musicians and composers (or artists in any other media). It extends into the natural world as well. David Attenborough and others have claimed that birdcalls have evolved to fit the environment. In dense jungle foliage, a constant, repetitive, and brief signal with a narrow frequency works best – the repetition is like an error-correcting device. If the intended recipient didn't get the first transmission, an identical one will follow.
Birds that live on the forest floor evolved lower-pitched calls, so they don't bounce or become distorted by the ground as higher-pitched sounds might. Water birds have calls that, unsurprisingly, cut through the ambient sounds of water, and birds that live in the plains and grasslands, like the Savannah Sparrow, have buzzing calls that can traverse long distances […]
So musical evolution and adaptation is an interspecies phenomenon. And presumably, as some claim, birds enjoy singing, even though they, like us, change their tunes over time. The joy of making music will find a way, regardless of the context and the form that emerges to best fit it.

AUTOMATION > FEEDBACK

Repetition is efficient as shown in Automation > Habits. But for repetition to be useful without drifting into unconscious re-iteration, for it to stay an "error-correcting device" , one last ingredient needs to be added. Massimo Pigliucci frames it elegantly:

In phase two, such conscious attention to the basics of the task is no longer needed, and the individual performs quasi-automatically and with reasonable proficiency. Then comes the difficult part. Most people get stuck in phase two: they can do whatever it is they set out to do decently, but stop short of the level of accomplishment that provides the self-gratification that makes one’s outlook significantly more positive or purchases the external validation that results in raises and promotions. Phase three often remains elusive because while the initial improvement was aided by switching control from conscious thought to intuition—as the task became automatic and faster—further improvement requires mindful attention to the areas where mistakes are still being made and intense focus to correct them. Referred to as 'deliberate practice,' this phase is quite distinct from mindless or playful practice.
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Feedback is the way these bouts can be kept under check. Interestingly, feedback itself can be turned into a habit. That is when the 5th stage of A.L.T.E.R., beyond the simple 'Endure' in time comes in. That is when one encounters 'Rise'.