0065 – Marketing

Marketing is fundamentally the communication of value. Some people reduce it to sloganeering and jingles and advertising, but that’s really just a tiny bit of the entire beast.

A marketplace is a network of relationships where goods and services (and ideas) are exchanged. There are certain rules of engagement that emerge that we take for granted- rule of law, the value of money, financial services, and so on.

If marketing is the communication of value, what is communication and what is value? How is value agreed upon and how is it communicated?

Marketing happens even in a world without marketing professionals. Everybody is a marketer. Everybody is communicating value every single day with almost every single action we take. The role of a marketing professional, or of marketing itself in the context of this discussion, is to hack the process. To make it something that is deliberate and understandable rather than vague and happenstance. You could say that a marketer is an idea-communications-hacker, but ew, what an ugly term.

Marketing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Marketing is about the spreading of an idea. We are all idea-peddlers whether we like it or not, whether we realize it or not. We all have things that we like and don’t like, and we’re all communicating our version of reality to ourselves and one another all the time.

I dare say that effectiveness in this regard is fundamental to the flourishing of a human individual. Being able to influence reality by communicating ideas in a manner that’s persuasive. That’s very empowering. Imagine if you could have all your ideas and perspectives well-understood and appreciated by everybody around you. What would that be like?

Of course, nobody is always right all the time, and you may discover that your ideas and perspectives are actually shit- they don’t correspond with reality and they aren’t useful or meaningful to people. There’s a slight possibility that you might simply be decades ahead of your time, but more often than not you need to revise your ideas. Bad marketers refuse to do this, and that’s where we get terms like “spin-doctors”. Communication is a two-way process and you can’t simply force your ideas and products down people’s throats- you have to find out what they want (and often, as Ford and Jobs have pointed out, people don’t actually know what exactly they want). You have to find out what they want and give it to them.

That’s the exciting challenge of marketing- done right, it means making the world a better place. The problem is that few people are willing to sit down and yield themselves to this process beyond their immediate wants- you want more sales so you hire a marketer and ask her to help you force your shitty product down more people’s throats. I think an enlightened marketer needs to say, first and foremost, that I cannot and will not sell something that I don’t personally believe is a good thing.

This isn’t idealistic kumbayah stuff- good marketing is grounded in real value. We could get into a discussion about what real value is, I guess. I’ll just say that where I stand,  it makes far more sense to market electric cars than it does to market tobacco products.

But you know what, marketers aren’t at the frontlines of marketing either product. Jimmy Wales said on Quora that a Tesla is more prestigious than a Rolls-Royce or a Bentley. Tony Stark drove off at the end of The Avengers in a Tesla roadster. I’m not sure if Tesla paid for the shout-out in the latter, but they surely didn’t in the former. (Well… it could be complicated. Maybe Jimmy Wales owns Tesla stock. But the question then arises- IF Jimbo has Tesla stock, why did he buy it? Nobody paid him to do it- the Tesla itself did it. Elon Musk did it just by being Elon Musk.)

Same for cigarettes- most people pick up smoking (I did, anyway) because of peer influence. Tobacco companies didn’t pay my friends to smoke. Create something compelling enough and people will pay YOU for the privilege of talking about your product and your ideas. BMW has a marketing department called engineering.

Marketing is the communicating of value, and lots of people naturally distrust most marketers. (I could be gloriously wrong about this. You coukd survey people and find that they say they distrust marketers, but find that their purchasing decisions tell a different story.) Okay so maybe people will say that they’re distrustful of marketers, but they’re still influenced by familiarity and recency. Oreo has put out some witty advertising on their Facebook page lately. I might say that this has no influence on whether I buy some Oreo soon or not, but I could be totally wrong.

But here’s the point I really wanted to make- whether people listen to marketers or not, people definitely listen to their friends. We watch the movies that our friends watch, so that we have something to talk about. If value were something that were passed from person to person- a Dawkinsian meme- it would make up the bulk of the collective conversation. This is at the heart of tribe marketing or referral marketing or community marketing… or really,  this is just what marketing is about and was always about.

Marketing is about the communication of value. The bulk of communication isn’t b2c but p2p. The goal of every marketer then is to communicate great ideas to people so effectively that they have to talk about it to all their friends. Simple concept, requires a lot of humility and patience and listening to execute. This is why Converse and RedBull make contributions to their communities without demanding sales in return. You can’t really force people to buy stuff anymore, if you ever could.

In the land of the idea-peddlers the ideasmith is king. How do you create something that people can share easily? Urban legends spread without any designated marketing effort because they’re so damn sticky, visceral, frightening, spooky, troubling… you just have to tell them to other people. The usefulness here is the social utility of a cool story. (Remember that Subway guy who lost a bunch of weight eating Subway everyday? What a memorable story- counterintuitive and compelling.)

Starbucks doesn’t pay celebrities to buy their drinks, so why do they keep getting photographed by paparazzi with a Starbucks drink in hand? Starbucks doesn’t sell coffee. They’re not in the coffee business.

I really do think it’s better for the world if everybody understood marketing better. How to craft something that’s compelling and worth talking about. The actual craftsmanship is a whole other skillset, but how sad is it to realize that people build stuff (to sell) that others might not care for? I honestly do feel some irritation and annoyance everytime I see a crappy online store because it’s such a waste, such a shame. A wasted opportunity to do something exciting and meaningful.

Referral marketing isn’t anything new or vogue, it’s a boring, simple idea that’s worked as long as people have existed.  People tell other people about stuff that they like. The idea of incentivizing that isn’t too new either- tell us who referred you and we’ll give them a discount. That’s called a referral program. What’s somewhat new is the development of automated referral programs in ecommerce. And that’s what I’m working in. It’s fun. Ok I reached work kbye


0064 – making music/art sustainably in singapore

Alright I got a lot on my mind. (Overslept and am late for work argh). Two thoughts- how to make art sustainably and how to handle interpersonal friction in public  or private discourse. The latter is kinda more pressing but I’ll focus on the former first.

nobody is paying for jazz

Jeremy Monteiro, the jazz musician, wrote a status update on Facebook about how difficult it is for jazz musicians to survive in Singapore, because venue rentals are high, and people simply aren’t paying enough to sustain the musicians and the venues. A part of this is because rents are stratospheric, and another part of this is that people simply aren’t willing or able to spend much money at jazz clubs.

The argument is that they’re unwilling, because they don’t seem to mind spending much more money when big names come to town. The implicit assumption that comes to my mind then is that Singaporeans are selfish and suffer from Pinkerton’s. Famous ang mohs worth hundreds of dollars. Singaporean creatives, eh, friend friend lah, give discount lah.

other live music venues got fucked too

I suspect that it’s not as simple as that, but I’ll present more evidence against my nagging suspicion. In the early 2000s there was a gig venue at Middle Road called Gas Haus and it was set up in the hopes of becoming a flourishing live music venue. They kept the barriers low- they even allowed me and my mates to perform there.

What happened? They got swamped by ‘scene kids’ who were eager to thrash and bang around, yet had no money. The equipment would often get thrashed by unprofessional and disrespectful musicians eager to get their 15 minutes of infamy and rockstardom rather than build a mutually beneficial relationship with the venue.

whose-cock-is-on-my-butt clubs are surviving tho

The fans had no money and would buy drinks from 7-11 instead of the venue itself- a problem that I believe plagues clubs like Zouk and Butter Factory too, but those venues have higher cover charges, the benefit of the illusion of social aspiration (look cool) and rich kids willing to spend big money on bottles of alcohol and VIP tables to lord over lesser mortals. Clubs have a great business model on top of the social and sexual desperation of rich and wish-we-were-rich young folk. A live music venue? None of that stuff.

Today, Gas Haus is gone, and in its place stands a garish and elaborate KTV type place, where rich chinese towkays leer at young hostess girls. Again, a more sustainable business model.

indie cafe also si liao

Let’s talk about the Pigeonhole next, which was a beautiful hotbed of social entrepreneurship and activism and live music. It was a little more ‘upmarket’ than Gas Haus and they built this pleasant indie/hipster atmosphere where you could have pleasant conversations with whoever was having coffee at the table next to you.

I went there to meet an entrepreneur for coffee and I stumbled upon a gathering of Singaporean skeptics and humanists. It was beautiful and I remember thinking, man, the Pigeonhole is a national treasure. Not anymore. They packed up and closed shop because they couldn’t afford the rent, despite being much loved by their patrons.

There was an ‘underground’ venue called Blackhole that I played a show at once and it felt authentically badass- you had to walk through a dark back alley to enter through the rear to get to a show there. I don’t know the story, but I believe Blackhole has closed down too.

There’s a pattern here,  folks. It’s hard to sustain an arts/music place in Singapore by making people pay for it.

comedy is surviving tho, hurr hurr

But what are the other things that survive? Comedy Masala is doing beautifully at Home Club week after week. Where does the money come from? The cover charge is tiny. It probably has to do with the crowd- business/CBD folk come there after work to laugh and have a few beers. They’ve got money to spend.

The cost of the production is lower, too. All they need is a PA system with a microphone. The night is guaranteed to be entertaining, week after week. The club had always been packed to capacity when I’m there, two to three times more than the best crowds I witnessed when playing or watching live music at Home Club.

Live music costs more, too- there’s more people per act and there’s a bunch of equipment to worry about. If I wanted to restart my career as an entertainer, I’d pick comedy over music. There’s less stuff to carry, it’s over quicker, you sweat less and you get better feedback to improve your act with.

Okay so comedy is doing well, clubs are doing well, KTVs are doing well. Bookstores, jazz clubs and live music venues, not so well. Why? (I was going to say coffeehouses, but recently as a working adult I’ve discovered all these atas breakfast places that survive well because their clientele are richer Singaporeans and foreigners who want and can afford to pamper and indulge themselves. )

yes i paid to watch esperanza spalding

Why? What’s the difference? I paid 50, 60 bucks for Esperanza Spalding, yet I’ve never actually paid any amount to watch Jeremy Monteiro and gang. Why?

I think it has to do with the idea of the experience and what value that experience has in the past, present and future. By that I mean to say- If you buy Metallica tickets, you’re paying for the anticipation of watching them, you’re paying for the experience of watching them, and a lot of what you’re paying for is the memory of having watched them, and the opportunity to reminisce with your friends a decade from now about how awesome or horrible Metallica was. You pay to be excited, to hopefully be entertained, and to create memories.

if you’re not famous you better be entertaining

It’s going to be hard to sell a jazz performance as it is. I can always listen to good music on youtube, watch live performances there. You’re going to have to compete with every band that’s ever performed!

How do comedy clubs deal with this? Comedy shows are highly personalized. The comics make fun of the people in the front row and you can look at them get embarrassed. It’s recreated new everytime. The jokes might not be the best in the world but they’re current and fresh. You’re pretty much guaranteed of a good time, and it’s something you’ll twll your friends about and drag them along to.

crazy albino guy was entertaining

I can’t speak for jazz, but I can talk about local rock stuff… few musicians aim to be entertaining. I was a big fan of Ronin because they were often entertaining- you’d never know what crazy shit they were going to do next. The frontman would inevitably say some scandalous things about politics ot current affairs (Tammy NYP, James Gomez, once I remember he kissed a random girl in the crowd).

There was almost always some disagreement or scuffle with the organizers- at a Temasek Secondary event, the band circumvented the organizers’ feeble attempt to get people seated, and roused the crowd into a chaotic frenzy. (Some guy fell from a chair and broke his leg.) I’m not saying that these are good things to do, but the point is that you have to be goddamn entertaining to survive and a lot of local bands simply aren’t.

There was a band called Cockpit that was hilariously entertaining, I’d pay to watch them again. Highly-technical bands can be cool to watch, but I’m biased because I play an instrument- and that’s a really, really hard crowd to play to. And it’s a small one, too. Only makes sense if your life goal is truly to push the boundaries of your instrument.

I think a lot of musicians don’t really know what they want. Many want to be on stage and they want an adoring crowd, but you don’t get that just by wanting or wishing it- just as you don’t build a successful business by wanting people to buy your products. You have to get a lot more specific than that. What’s in it for them? That they get to watch you?

Nobody cares about you.

Whether you’re a writer or a musician or an artist or a banker- nobody cares about you. They only care about what you can do for them. So what can musicians do for you? Play you some music? No thanks lol, again, there’s some great shit on youtube.

If you want my money you’re going to have to create an experience for me that’s compelling and unique. Make me laugh, make me cry, make me dance, make me pump my fist in the air, make me lust after your beautiful band members (this is a legitimate form of entertaining), blow my mind, give me something awesome to tell my friends about. It’s not so complicated. Think less about you and think more about me (your potential audience member). How are you going to give me something I simply have to have?

einstein didn’t make money doing physics

Shit I haven’t said anything about business… I think the idea that you have to make money from your art from day one is stupid and flawed and just bad. Rod Stewart was a grave digger. Einstein worked at a patent office. Get a day job, save as much money as you possibly can, and spenf all of your spare time and energy working on your craft. A lot of people list “being paid to do whey I love” as their measure of success. I don’t buy that.

Writing is my passion and I don’t actually want to be paid to do it. In fact I think life might be easier if I decide in advance that I’m never going to write-for-money. I’ll write, and if the money comes, great. But I’m going to build my life around the assumption that nobody cares about my writing and nobody’s ever going to pay me for it. You know how I’m writing this? I’m writing this on the crowded train while the guy next to me is playing Candy Crush.

I’ve taken up a couple of paid writing gigs in the past and I really didn’t like it. (I played covers in a bar band for money for a while and I did enjoy that.) I love writing so much that I’ll write for the rest of my life even if I know I’m never going to be paid for it. So maybe I’ll get good enough at it that people will pay to read what I write. But I get my money elsewhere.

do what you love, make money elsewhere first

I don’t see why you need to make a living as a musician. Why not make a living doing something people will pay you for- copywriting, marketing, emceeing, whatever… and then do what you love because you love it? The idea that “I’m not getting paid for this” is intrinsically, necessarily bad strikes me as myopic and inconsistent with reality. Find out what people will pay you to do, and do that,  and do what you love.

I think we’ll see a move to micropatronship- watch Amanda Palmer’s TEDtalk to get a sense of it. Louis CK, Radiohead.

louis ck knows how this shit works

Here’s an excerpt from Louis CK’s interview with the NYTimes.

Does it matter that what you’ve achieved, with your online special, and your tour can’t be replicated by other performers who don’t have the visibility or fan base that you do?

Why do you think those people don’t have the same resources that I have, the same visibility or relationship? What’s different between me and them?

You have the platform. You have the level of recognition.

So why do I have the platform and the recognition?

At this point you’ve put in the time.

There you go. There’s no way around that. There’s people that say: “It’s not fair. You have all that stuff.” I wasn’t born with it. It was a horrible process to get to this. It took me my whole life. If you’re new at this — and by “new at it,” I mean 15 years in, or even 20 — you’re just starting to get traction. Young musicians believe they should be able to throw a band together and be famous, and anything that’s in their way is unfair and evil. What are you, in your 20s, you picked up a guitar? Give it a minute.

Reality doesn’t owe us anything. We can complain about it or learn to navigate it. Your call.

watch and read and learn

Here’s a guy who makes a full-time living on micropatronship on his blog

Here’s Amanda Palmer’s TED talk (if you hate her, do better than her.)

Here’s an essay from Paul Graham on How To Do What You Love


0063 – good questions and referral marketing

Well I’m on the way home now. Had a decent day at work. Good start in the morning, and decent finish- I shipped a post that started in one place and ended in another, and I’m quite happy about it. I did get a little bit distracted along the way so the challenge is for me to reduce that. I also tend to kind of zone out in the middle of the day, then I get into a kind of “gotta get home” panic and end up leaving work later than intended. I need to make it a point to always leave on time, no compromise except serious emergency, etc. Man, I’m pretty hungry.

Let’s see, what else is there to talk about. I’m trying to figure out how to get myself viscerally grounded in the broader ecosystems that I’m a part of- to take more ownership of my position and use that as leverage to do greater things. I’m blessed to be working in a company where my efforts have a very real and direct impact on our circumstances- so it’s not like I’m being paid to do factory-line stuff regardless of the quality of my work. The better my work, the more power I accrue to my organization, the more fun and awesome stuff we’ll get to do. There really are no limits but the ones inside my head.

So let’s tackle those. What are they? What’s stopping me from doing more amazing stuff? If I can solve this for work I can solve this for my personal life too, and vice versa. The first step is probably just getting into this state ans having this conversation with myself, day in, day out. It might seem repetitive, but it’s not as repetitive as the anxiety and frustration I used to feel and do still feel from time to time as a consequence of my procrastination, fear, underachievement.

Repetition might not be the best way of changing things but it works, I think, and done is better than perfect. The okay path you head down is better than the perfect one you don’t.

Stuff thst naturally drifts into my mind- have a plan, if you fail to plan you plan to fail. Structure is good, you need structure. Ok so I need like a timeline of things that have to come out. I need deadlines, deadlines good. I need focus, focus good. I need to practice mindfulness and meditation. Word vomits are powerful in helping me clear my mind and so I need to do them everyday. Twice a day in fact. Need to stay fit need to stay hydrated and need to sleep early. I need to become someone worth working with, and I need better things to say when somebody asks me what I’m working on. What am I working on? I’m trying to help online merchants and retailers sell better. I’m trying to be a force for superior content, for stuff worth talking about, stuff that’s beautiful, valuable, useful, memorable. I’m channeling Seth Godin quite a bit but I don’t care as long as the content is good. I’ll develop my own voice soon enough.

I think it’s important to ask good questions. Let’s take a stab at them.

What is a blog for? It’s a superstructure for accelerated thinking and learning through articulation of thoughts and ideas.

What is the internet for? It’s a medium for communication and sharing stuff that’s useful.

What is commerce for? For economic agents to solve problems and fulfill needs.

What is marketing for? To communicate value.

What is ecommerce for? To do commerce in a manner that is more connected and convenient at a global scale.

What is a referral? It’s a sharing of information that is socially useful- I bought this, this is great, you should try it. Try my doctor. Check out this band. Hey, I know a guy.

What are referral programs for? To encourage the naturally occurring (and socially beneficial) behaviour of referrals, to make it more deliberate and systematic, and less reliant on randomness. (They don’t work if the product doesn’t deliver on its promise.)

What is ReferralCandy for? To build automated referral programs for online stores so they can get the benefits of referral programs without having to manually manage all that data and information… freeing up time and energy to focus on building awesome products.

What am I in ReferralCandy for? To help accelerate growth of ReferralCandy (the software, and the brand) in the ecommerce marketplace. To do marketing (communicate value). This means getting more retailers to use our product to boost their sales and spread the love among their customers.

At higher levels, it means helping to refine and improve our product so that it works better for our retailers. This means improving copy across the board, it means understanding the product inside out.

I’m not an engineer, so I think my role (as per optimal division of labour) is to help people better understand how referral programs work. Before selling automated referral programs, I need to sell referral programs period. They work. How do they work? Why so they work? These are questions everybody should be able to answer. I think that should be a part of my job. If you don’t understand referral marketing, I’m not doing my job.

Once we’ve got that settled, the value of an automated referral program is practically self-evident.

On top of selling the idea of referral marketing, and selling the product that is an automated referral program, growth for RC means selling ourselves. Selling a relationship with us. (That always sounds so transactional when it’s laid out like that, but that’s why people pay more for brands they trust.) It has to be a real human promise of quality that is delivered, fulfilled. I’m interpreting this to be- we have to be trustworthy and reliable. We have to respond to queries and troubleshooting and feedback. (Our engineers and customer support folk handle this beautifully, and I want to help- ideally further up the chain, so that fewer queries are necessary at all.)

Being trustworthy means being honest and real, and the first thing that comes to my mind is acknowledging weakness. Have we got the best piece of automated referral software around? We sincerely believe we do, in the specific space of the marketplace that we’re operating in. If you’re a massive mega-brand with mega-brand customization needs, we might not be for you. If you’re a part-time hobbyist selling stuff for pleasure with almost no profit, we might not be for you.

Also, is an automated referral marketing program necessarily the most important thing you have to have going for you? Quite possibly not, and we’ll have to be honest about that with you. The most important thing anybody has to do is typically to build a great product with a great value proposition that fulfills a real need that real people have. Referral marketing doesn’t magically increase sales, it simply amplifies the power of word-of-mouth marketing. As a retailer, the first thing you should do is to make that “base score” as high as you can, by building a great product.

So if there’s anything you need to do that’s more important than having automated referrals, we should point you in the right direction. Because not only should you be able to depend on us for a kickass automated referral solution, you should be able to depend on us for good advice and perspective on building a great business. Because ultimately, we want a sweeter marketplace for everybody- where good businesses flourish, and consumers are well-informed through their network of peers about what’s good and what’s not.

Questions to revisit and explore and think/write about: What is marketing? What is referral marketing? What’s more important than referral marketing?


0062 – Facebook fatigue

There’s severely diminishing returns to time spent on Facebook and other social media. I don’t entirely understand the phenomenon but this is what I’ve observed: If I’ve set out to write a vomit, or anything else really, and I get on Facebook for more than 3-5 minutes or so, my mind ‘state’ changes and I become much less likely to be able to write. I lose my ‘flow’.

Exceptions are of course when I get into a passionate discussion or argument on Facebook, but these aren’t always in line with what I want to be working on. These are the interesting detours that DO expand my mind and refine my thinking as time passes, but it isn’t necessarily the next way of doing things.

What I’m really curious about is- how exactly does this work? I’d like to test a hypothesis- if I respond to my ‘this is hard/overwhelming’ trigger with taking a walk, sitting down away from the computer or playing a little guitar, I bet that it wouldn’t mess up my focus/flow so badly. There’s something about the reactive nature of Facebook and other social media that makes it harder to focus.

I saw an article that I haven’t read about how Facebook is addictive because it’s designed (intentionally or otherwise) to get our brains off in a way that’s evolutionarily very familiar. There’s something about getting information from other people about their lives that’s highly addictive, and perhaps stems from some impulse that social creatures have. I wonder if monkeys would love to scroll through pictures of other monkeys.

But lately I’ve been experiencing a sort of Facebook fatigue- it kind of feels like when you’ve been smoking too much and your nose and throat hurt… There’s definitely an element of addiction or overuse, and I think a part of my mind is protesting- something has been keeping me from doing my best work.

I’m noticing the opposite effect with my word vomits. When I write on the train on the way to work- which I’m doing right now- I experience a certain refinement and clarity of thought. This is the opposite of what I experience with Facebook, which has a dithering, scattering, diffusing effect. Vomits are like caffeine and Facebook is like alcohol. I’m not sure if it’s possible to “over vomit”, though. I think maybe vomits are closer to exercise and Facebook is closer to masturbation. I’m not knocking on Facebook, I think it can be really useful and you can learn a lot about yourself and about others and there are all sorts of benefits but it cannot and should not distract from doing creative, productive work!

I was watching an interview yesterday, a conversation between Tim Ferriss and Neil Strauss. It was an hour long, and as with most such long videos, it’s hard if not impossible to find transcripts and good analysis/commentary online. I imagine I could get quite a lot done if I just wrote commentary on long videos. There’s a long video about the GEP in Singapore. There’s a long video about Singaporean politics by political professors, and it was filmed in some Australian university and there were barely a hundred views if I remember correctly. It’s always sad when you see a super long video with no transcript and barely any views. Same for books and blogposts. (These vomits technically fall under that category, but I write these for myself, not for public consumption, and I do plan to perhaps condense and crystalize my thoughts at a later date.  This is like the first draft of a large project that I don’t even know anything about).

It’s funny again to think about the mental states- when I write things like this I find myself thinking, man, there’s so much I need to do. But this isn’t a consistent experience. It needs to be renewed everyday- and I’m doing that now with these vomits so Yay me. If my hypothesis is correct,  just doing these vomits everyday should keep me a little more on track, a little more in line with my goals. We shall see.

Halfway to work. Just missed my connecting train. My body is quite nicely sore from the remedial training I had yesterday. I wonder if yesterday’s post on the way home hit my 1000 word target. I’m going to pause to clear my mind.

Got it. So the Ferriss/Strauss video again- Strauss talked about the importance of always assuming that nobody is interested in what you have to say, and that your job with each and every word, sentence and paragraph is to make them care- to earn their interest, to wrench their precious attention from them. This is incredibly hard work! It involves being really ruthless with yourself- you’ll have to kill your babies. But if you’re serious about engaging people then it’s what you’re going to have to do.

Which brings me to some fun abstract thoughts about reality and reality-distortion. Steve Jobs was described as having a reality-distortion field that allowed him to make things that didn’t previously exist. This applies to lots of founders, CEOs, entrepreneurs throughout the ages,  even artists and writers and musicians- how do you seriously have faith in the value of something that does not yet exist? How do you believe in your vision for reality, for the future?

That’s a gold star question in my book. How do you make something, and before you make it, know that it will resonate with people? Consider Ford’s faster horses vs. automobile argument. How did he know he wasn’t full of shit? I’m thinking now of what somebody said- might’ve been Paul Graham- about how the best ideas (for massive success) are the good ideas that look like bad ideas.

Is massive success something that you can or should deliberately aim for? I think that idea is a distraction that appeals to the lizard brain- the lottery ticket. All we can deliberately aim for is to regularly and consistently put out great ass-kicking work. A constant refinement of self. You can’t control the world but you can control yourself.

I believe this is where Elon Musk’s First Principles come in (I have no idea what I’m talking about yet). There are many things you have no idea about- you don’t even have an idea of what you have no idea about. But if you develop a deep knowledge of the things you care about then you are in a better position, statistically, to end up doing something great. So it’s a lot like poker (though surely far more complex). You have to keep progressively getting yourself into a better and better position, with the right skillset and the right opportunities.

The large social events are typically a waste of time, in my humble opinion. Clubbing is outright lame. Small groups of conversations are where they’re at. 5-8 people. This can probably be done systematically, to great success. I don’t know. We’ll see.

Getting a little sleepy and yawn-y. I wonder why. I had pretty decent sleep last night.

On top of Facebook fatigue I’ve been developing a current affairs fatigue. I find myself turned off by the news cycle. I think I should take some time to reacquaint myself with stuff that’s more permanent and lasting, read up some Seneca and Montaigne or some of my books on my shelf.

I am not tired, I have no time to be tired. Today shall be a good day. Will calendar. (My way of ‘what gets measured gets managed’). Have not been calendaring. Hypothesis is that calendaring should improve my self-management just as much as my vomits, if not more. We shall see.


0061 – RT, structure and routine

Wow this morning’s post was over 1.5k words. Somewhat remarkable. I just left work because I got to head to remedial training at Khatib Camp. I have to do remedial training because I didn’t complete my IPPT within 9 months from my birthday, which was 2 months after my ORD. I am not resentful about this. You do the crime, you do the time. I knew the rules (though I wasn’t very mindful of them and pretty much forgot about them), so I have no excuse.

I’ve been to three RT sessions so far. I need to do 20 altogether. That’s a total of 40 hours of my time. I get paid about 10-12 dollars per session, I believe.

Could I make better use of 40 hours of time? Hypothetically, sure. Realistically, if I had done my IPPT and gotten it out of the way, I would waste my hours stoning on the internet. I only protest the waste of my time when it’s because of external circumstances. Time I waste myself is completely okay. (Until something bad happens, and I find myself horribly unprepared and ill-equipped- then I resent myself for not practicing, not working out, not doing the reading,  etc.)

I’m not talking about pleasurable downtime, by the way. That’s beautiful. The apple cider you have after a hard day of productive work is very different from binge drinking every day because you have nothing better to do with your life.

I find myself thinking about national service. I’ve been meaning to put together a little guide for NSFs trying to figure out how to make the most of their 2 years of NS, but I’ve been fraught by perfectionism. I should probably just ship out a minimum viable post and just add to it over time.

I think one of the best ways to deal with NS, and RT, is to be determined to make the most of it. I think the same applies to JC too, but I was too blindly idealistic then, and naive, and ignorant and egocentric. It was my way or the highway- and so it was the highway. You can’t try to out-stubborn life into having your own way. Life is ruthless and it will beat you down mercilessly.

I went into NS deciding to make the most of the experience. It turned out to be rather bland and unfulfilling for me, so I was determined to do the minimum possible (without getting into trouble, of course) and do as much as I could’ve outside of NS. On hindsight I could’ve done more, but hindsight is always 20/20. I spent some great quality time with friends, I did quite a bit of reading and writing- I read Lost Illusions, The Black Swan, Carl Sagan’s biography, Soul Made Flesh, Norwegian Wood, Plato’s Republic and a bunch of other great books. I wrote a whole lot on my blog. I built an online community, all sorts of good stuff. I was hoping to be an officer, actually- to become a more responsible and respectable person, but I was unable to because of medical reasons. Man, the medical nonsense I went through was pretty hilarious on hindsight. But that’s the price of running a citozrm army I guess. I’m not going to complain about that. It is what it is.

I should consolidate that elsewhere. So I’m determined to make the most of these 40 hours. I’ve cut out fitness from the rest of my life in the meantime (though I thoroughly plan to resume it once RT ends). I’m approaching it as a meditative process- 20 sessions of two hours of quiet, still mind. I’m determined to extract all the value I can from that.

That said, the bigger question and challenge is- how do I get the most out of life at a broader level, rather than within the context of RT? If I had simply done my IPPT and saved these 40 hours, what could I have done with the time that would’ve been superior?

A big part of life is learning to appreciate the scenery on a detour- but we can’t spend our time continuously making detour after detour. If we can minimize unnecessary detours, surely we should? I’m aware of the “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” school of thought and I understand the value and importance of serendipity- but great serendipity and great detours happen when the road you’re on is great to begin with. I don’t believe in spending all of one’s time planning- everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. But to just drift with the wind strikes me as suboptimal.

Alright, just done with RT. You know, I’ve had this thought a few times, and it was especially poignant when I was volunteering in prison- that prison, NS and now RT- it’s kinda good for sone people. For some people, it could be lifechanging,  even life saving. Think about the ultra fat kid who becomes fit during NS- we all know a guy like that. Not everybody makes that transformation, and not everybody sticks to it- in fact many fit people fall off the wagon in the middle of life somewhere.

This is a point I have to make very carefully. People can benefit from structure and routine. In the absence of good routines we fall into bad ones.  Let’s not overcomplicate this- I’ve noticed that my life seems to fall into place a lot better when I’ve been writing. If I haven’t been writing, I get edgy and cranky and I struggle to focus on any other task I might be obliged to do. This can be incredibly frustrating and painful, and the “lack of structure” screws up my pattern. On the other hand, if I’ve been writing, I kind of breeze through the day with more clarity and confidence.

So all else held constant, if I had some sort of structure/routine (and I’m building one) for keeping me on track with my writing, I’d be better off as a person. I’m pretty sure that this applies to multiple circumstances, not just writing.


0060 what is blog for, what’s your water

Two questions on my mind, let’s start with the blog. It’s always been on my mind, sometimes at the forefront and sometimes on the backburner. But it’s always there: what is a blog for?

The original way I phrased it was- why bother blogging if others are going to do it better than you? And that applies to any craft or pursuit, there will always be others who are better than you, because deep skillfulness takes a long time to develop and you don’t want to fall into the horrible trap of dedicating your life to something, and then realizing at the end that it was never ‘meant’ for you, that you never made a significant difference, that all of it was for nothing. How do you avoid that trap?

It takes more than just time to get good at something, it takes deliberate practice. That means giving it your all, which in turn seems to necessitate some degree of faith. Not necessarily in the religious sense, but you’ll have to believe that the Castle you’re building does not stand on pillars of salt and sand. You can try your best to ‘test’ this… but there’s always a possibility of failure and failure is painful and devastating.

I know, the age-old solution to that is to realize that not trying, not doing, not living… that’s the bigger failure. To live so safely that you never fail at anything, never leave your comfort zone, that’s failure by default. JK Rowling spoke about this. Well whoop-de-do, we’re surrounded by failure and life is all about surviving failure with undiminished enthusiasm (Churchill). Not about how hard you hit but how hard you get hit and keep moving forward (Rocky 4). Okay. So?

I think what works for me is… to figure out what’s “meant” for you (and this is an answer to the second question more than the first), you’ll need access to data about yourself over an extended period of time. You can’t trust yourself and you can’t trust your friends, because people are susceptible to narrative fallacies and we’ll create a story that fits, that feels right, and then we’ll rationalize whatever we come up with after-the-fact. This isn’t very helpful because it doesn’t correspond very closely with reality- only our vision of reality, our maps, not the territory.

This is where I think records come in really handy. Old journals, old blogs, old history on Facebook and Twitter. See, we reconstruct our memories and our identities at every given instance to suit the narrative that we create for ourselves. Journals and records don’t do that, and so they give us, on hindsight, a powerful insight into our changing nature. They reveal to us how much we have changed, despite us alwaya feeling like we’re more or less the same as we’ve always been.

I’ll be direct and talk about what I know instead of making big statements like these (I can only speak for myself). I have a Livejournal from about 2004, and I have written journals from my National Service days between 2010 and 2012. I was tempted to get rid of my journals because it’ll feel like a fresh start- there’s a whole bunch of to-do lists and bucket lists and stuff in there and it can be tiresome to live in the past.

At the same time, the past can be invigorating. You start to see patterns that hint at bits of your identity. Identity that isn’t typically at the front of your mind. You start to see what inspires you, what troubles you, what you’re good at, what you’re bad at, what your persistent desires and fears are.

At the simplest, I’ll put it as thus: several years of journaling will reveal to you how much you’ve changed in some aspects, and in others, how much you’ve stayed the same. The former is humbling, and it reminds you that the futurw is likely to look very different from whatever plans you might make, whetever ideas you might have.

The latter is perhaps more interesting- it allows you to make some reasonable assumptions and projections about yourself. That’s the water question. The rocks change- your friends, your job, your home, your marital status- but the water doesn’t. I still have the same questions. I still ponder the same things. I still daydream about the same things. I still get excited by the same things (once you adjust for the lower-bound of mediocre day-to-day stuff and pay attention to the out-of-ballpark hits).

So failure en route to getting good, and making a meaningful difference: you don’t want to be selfish, but you have to find something you enjoy doing so much that you’d do it even if you’re never going to be amazing at it. Your own inner state counts. You have to really find what you love,  and you find that out by looking back at what wrenched your heart.

Writing is a joy for me even though I suck at it. And so I will keep writing even if my readership never increases, even if nobody ever cares to respond (or if responses are negative!). I write because it is cathartic to me.

So I never answered what a blog is for. Lol. It’s amusing to observe the meandering nature of my thoughts- I’m not doing this with any ulterior motive, this is just how my mind seems to work. A blog is a ‘superstructure’ of the mind. It is a tool of exploration and inquiry that is embedded in the broader ecosystem of the internet. A blog is for thinking and learning. You might not necessarily use yours as such, but I’m talking to the self-selected audience that’s still reading this for some odd reason.

A blog is for reaching out to a self-selected audience. Rather than searching for connection, you allow other travellers to find you. And they will find you when they are ready,  when they are interested, curious. You draw the conversations to yourself, and you’re guaranteed (unless you become super-famous) of sincerity.

The analogy I’d draw is the relationship between a musician and her fans in a smoky bar,  or on the street- there are no pretenses, you’re here for the music, not for some proxy-social-utility like at a jazz performance at some esteemed cultural centre. I’m not knocking the latter (I used to, because I was more insecure then than I am now, and I couldn’t define myself without first lashing out at the road not travelled). Actually even tiny local music scenes have silly politics and social complexities to navigate. .. so the ‘it’s all about the music, folks’ statement crumbles a little bit under scrutiny. I think people will always be people in that regard. But hey, whatever- as long as you’re doing what you love.

All of this is rationalization after the fact. My way of saying that I love thinking, I love writing, I love blogging, I’m happy about doing what I’m doing. I started out writing this in a state of anxiety and frustration but I feel bettee now, and maybe that’s a big part of why I write. Fair enough.

Acknowledging that, I still think that there are vast benefits to expressing yourself through the medium of a blog- it allows you to think and learn and refine your thoughts in circumstances that are really quite remarkable. Anybody can share your thoughts and ideas with anybody else in the world at any time, even after you’re dead! It’s a truly sick way of taking advantage of technology to connect with a vast human network and it still kind of confuses me that so few people do this, and stick with it.

Your body of work is your real legacy in the world (apart fron your relationships, and children if you have them). The internet is searchable. That means you no longer have to guess what people want. You can just put it all out there and let them find what they want. You can pay attention to the statistics of what gets shared, and you develop an insight into what they want, and you can build on that. Facebook discussions are limited by your social network and the mechanisms of the Facebook platform- people don’t share Facebook discussions on Twitter. (If they do, they screenshot it or copy  and paste it into some site and then share it. Might as well it be on a blog so people can explore and navigate.)

I think my most fundamental impulse was a desire to create a space that was mine, yet could be shared with and explored by others.

I manage the ReferralCandy blog at work and I’ve been using it as a tool of exploration. I really like the idea of how you might create a blog for a specific purpose, then find that it sort of takes on a life of its own… I imagine that in the process of articulating thoughts you refine them, and refined thoughts that correspond with reality are,  I think,  very very valuable. And even if they aren’t,  you know what,  it’s fun. I’m having fun. Not gonna stop. There ain’t no gettin’ offa this train!

I think this post made less sense than usual but I had to get it out. Just reached work.


0059 – Waking Early

Good morning. It’s 0650hrs. I went to bed at 0000 last night. I did my best to calm my mind, to be in a state of fitful rest. My alarm went off at 0600. I tried to be as clear-headed as I possibly could. My standard routine in such a scenario is to set two alarms- my next alarm I believe is at 0715, and I did set it. What typically happens is that I wake up in a state of mild anxiety and confusion and I go back to sleep. It’s the easiest thing to do in that circumstance. This has been a recurring thing for a long time, since way back when I used to not-do my homework at night. I’d try to wake up early to do it, but I’d typically be too sleepy, and then I’d try to postpone and delay it until finally it was too late, my mum would wake me up and I’d go to school anxious and afraid because I hadn’t done my homework. This was a vicious cycle that perpetuated itself for years, and could be subroutine in my mind that’s had incredible amounts of practice and reinforcement.

2 days ago I met my boss for a 1-1 session. It’s a really cool practice that I think every organization should adopt. All our 1-1 sessions feel incredibly productive. The act of meeting up to “re-sync” is therapeutic for me. It helps me realign my goals, my context and my perspective. At my last 1-1 I felt a greater sense of purpose, relevance and responsibility (with respect to my work) than I had before. I felt a sort of work-related gratitude, and gratitude I find is a practice that always compels you to do work that is important, not just urgent.

The narrative gets messy, though. That night I went home to a bit of a messy situation, and had to deal with more than I could handle. I was overwhelmed and frustrated and frustrated. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I went to bed that night at almost 0300, and the sleep was of poor quality. I went to work sleep-deprived, and the quality of my work suffered. I didn’t have the clarity of mind I needed to focus on what I knew I had to do, and so I procrastinated to an uncomfortable, irresponsible degree. I still met some of my minor minimum-goals-per-day, but I felt like I was doing it in a very reactive, non-deliberate way.

After that I went to watch Man of Steel with the wife (beautiful movie), and on the way home I found myself thinking- wow, I’m really bad at managing my own time. I’m really bad at managing my own energy. These are things that I’m going to have to figure out, things that 20 years down the line might either make me proud or disappointed on hindsight. Sure, on one level it’s important to accept yourself without resentment or frustration, but being kind to yourself works both ways- you have to be kind both backwards and forwards, and I haven’t been very kind looking forward. To use an old heuristic, I haven’t been very kind to Tomorrow-Visa, and that’s not very fair to him, because he’ll probably be kind to me (I can reasonably infer, from how yesterday’s Tomorrow-Visa treats the past Visa.)

Not only did I barely get any quality work done, my commutes were unproductive. (I’ve pretty much decided that I’m going to spend my morning and evening commutes to and from work doing word vomits, but the past two days were exceptions- the first because I was figuring out what to do with my 1-1, the next 3 commutes because I was tired, overwhelmed, not in a conducive state of mind.

“Not in a conducive state of mind” is an understandable reason in a given circumstance, but it is my personal responsibility to create that conducive state of mind as much as possible. have to manage myself and my time in a way that yields my best work. There’s this negative vicious cycle of procrastination and anxiety that emerges when you have a lousy state of mind because you didn’t manage your health, time and emotions properly, and then you can’t do much work, and then your unproductivity further justifies and prolongs the ineffectual, reactive and un-aware state of mind. I become a passive participant in my own life, subject to the forces of both the internal (anxiety, hubris and lizard-brain thoughts) and the external (distractions designed to steal your unsuspecting and unmanaged attention). It’s a little pathetic.

So there’s a need for a reset from time to time, and a better fundamental system over the long run. Feels like I’m talking about broader society or something, but all I can talk about is the complex (but not complicated) system that is my own mind. So the reset was good sleep, and the better fundamental system would be borne out of attentiveness, mindfulness, presence. I am awake and lucid and I am writing. I reminded myself before I slept that I have the best opportunity of my life to do powerful, meaningful work and I’ve been squandering it (by my standards) on frivolous distractions because a part of me is afraid, a part of me wants to justify and validate my own limiting beliefs, because like Seth says, we don’t want to be responsible for massive failures (being responsible for “I didn’t do well because I didn’t study” is more comforting and easy in the short run than “I didn’t do well because I tried my best and still suck.” But in the long run it’s a source of anxiety because it’s simply NOT TRUE.)

There are no profound insights here, I’m just trying to build this newer and more optimal mental subroutine of awareness. I need to remind myself to be grateful to my circumstances, and of the nefariousness of the lizard brain that’s afraid to do real, meaningful and responsible work. And I need to do justice to my future-self, and to the people who that future-self would be able to help if I play my cards right.

I’m not saying anything new here, and again there’s a constant need for repetition. It’s the mental equivalent of practicing a musical passage over and over again until you get it right, until you feel it in your bones and you internalize it and you don’t need to be conscious of it. I built a fitness routine (momentarily disrupted because of my Remedial Training, but I love it and I’m getting right back into it once my RT ends) where I do a little workout when I wake up, and when I get home from work- I tie it to my showers, and it’s something I had to do without having to make the decision over and over again. Decide once, decide deliberately, then trust yourself and execute.

The path of procrastination and anxiety and irresponsibility is built on a foundation that’s unable to trust oneself. It’s almost a rational hedge against deliberate failure. You hope for random value from random pursuits because that seems likelier than the “certain” failure sure to ensue when you know

Nobody taught me how to be responsible. Being punished for being irresponsible never taught me very much, except that maybe I’m an irresponsible person who deserves to disappoint people, to be punished, mocked, embarrassed. But there are people in my life who ARE responsible (Lerp, Ling, Xavier, Brandon, Jade, Dinesh), and I’m hell-fucking-bent on learning from their example. There is no middle-ground or alternative here. This isn’t some magical thing I have to discover in a vaccuum. This is something that, on my good days, I can clearly see and understand. It works. It’s not that complicated. It’s a simple thing that needs to be practiced to the point where I can execute it on my bad days, just as I could exercise even when tired- because it’s so internalized, so natural.

The only good habits I developed were- a love of reading, a love of writing, a habit of resolving conflicts where possible, a habit of calming down quickly in rough/angry situations… I’m sure I can channel this towards being generally responsible. 10 years from now I want to be a goddam responsible person, more so than I want to be “smart” or “witty” or “funny”.

I cannot make projections. But I can commit to today. I’m going to spend some time in my mind reinforcing these emotions, this subroutine. In a few minutes I’m going to wake up the wife and we’re going to the bank to run some errands. And then I’m going to go to work, and I’m going to do some real kickass quality work, because people are counting on me to deliver, and I am person who is responsible.



0058 – Monotasking

That’s the first thing on my mind today, the importance of monotasking. (I didn’t charge my phone last night and I’m a little worried that the battery might not last me till I get to work… But no matter, I will do what I can with what I have)

It’s interesting to observe my own mind meander and circle around. It’s really good at doing that. MBTI theory- which I don’t care too much for anymore- would describe it as extraverted intuition. I see links and analogies and parallels everywhere and I can jump from this train to that with great ease. Indeed if you needed somebody to drive something off topic, I’m your man. This can be incredibly useful when the solution to a problem is not immediately apparent.

But it’s just a tool, and if all you have is a hammer then everything starts to look like a nail. And you need a range of tools to suck the marrow out of life, you need all the colours on the palette to paint a full painting. My rapid-fire chaingun connection-making mind comes at the expense of a more deliberate, measured sniper rifle sort of deep thinking. Perhaps I am not skilled at the latter because I invested most of all my points in the former. Perhaps I even developed the chaingun mind as a coping mechanism to avoid having to deal with focused, straightforward thinking- the kind that aims deep, sets a target and goes straight through it.

That’s it- sometimes there’s no good way around something and you just have to go straight at it with all your focus and effort and energy. You have to monotask. And I am not equipped to do this, I have not been trained to do this, I am not disposed to do this.

But it is a skillset I must and need to develop. Deep impact comes from deep effort, and skirting around is a parlour trick in comparison. (Well- not always, and I imagine there are people who have the opposite problem, who can’t pivot and change gears- the REAL challenge is to find a happy medium, to know the right tool to use in the right context.)

I firmly believe that in the context of human wellness almost everybody is capable of developing almost any non-extreme skill. Anybody can become a kickass sprinter- you won’t win the Olympics because you’ll be facing the best of the best of the best, but gou can definitely improve by leaps and bounds. Paul Graham said that if you could get somebody to practice drawing deliberately for 20 years you’d be surprised by how far they got. Richard Feynman had an average-ish IQ. The challenge is to apply yourself, which is what I need to learn.

I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of what Elon Musk had to say- solicit negative feedback, especially from friends. Think in terms of: what needs to happen? What’s the business model? Fantastic heuristics to be found all around.

Monotasking. My task here is writing, so even when I get distracted in my train of thought, at least I’m still writing. (I paused there for a second to check my WhatsApp. Lol! That’s the problem with talking about what you shouldn’t do instead of what you should,  because of the suggestion effect… But I only checked it for a second, was mindful of the distraction and came right back here.  Fuck yeah.)

The cool thing about writing is that it’s a record of thoughts, and looking back I get to see the path my mind took. I don’t even really have to explain how my mind works, you can see it for yourself by observing my train of thought, what I choose to focus on, how I express myself.  I tend to repeat myself in several different variations, like an unsure artisr who has to use many strokes to draw something. Contrast this with Lee Kuan Yew or Christopher Langan (Outliers) for instance,  both of whom write and speak  in crisp, clear sentences. Those are deliberate sniper style thinkers (Ni rather than Ne, maybe). They say less but there is more value in what they say.

I think preferences do count, and you shouldn’t force yourself to try to change your personal style altogether. Rather, you experiment with something different then sit back and see how it influences your personal style. I think this is true for all forms of communication and expression.

When I’m doing work- writing posts for poached or my own blog for instance- I’m pretty good at coming up with ideas. I had over 80 drafts on my blog- many of which I combined and published a unsorted thoughts (maybe they’ll be useful to somebody).

I am well aware that my present style is suboptimal. Few people want to read this sort of messy, noisy writing. I don’t.  Even those that claim they’re okay with it would prefer it if it were more consise and punchy (unless the meandering were to serve an explicit purpose). But I stick with it anyway because done is better than perfect and my bullshit perfectionism keeps me from trying.

So this is shitty writing, okay? It’s the shitty writing I have to do to get to the good stuff. I upload it because I’m an exhibitionist, because you never know who’s going to stumble on it and find it relevant to whatever they’re going through.  You never know who’s going to offer you a job, or ask you out, or become a part of your life in a self-selected way- which is the best kind, because then you know more clearly that it isn’t a display of social obligation but a sincere communication of genuine love. (I suppose this might change if a blog gets so popular that the comments section develop into a community- but that is not an issue for me, and it’s not something I have to worry about.

In the meantime I deeply cherish the conversations I have here (or were initiated through contact here) and it is no exaggeration to say that the decision to blog might be the best decision I made in my life. It’s never just a single decision, of course. It’s a series of little ones, day in day out. Sometimes you leave it for an extended period of time. Sometimes it feels like it’s not even in your hands- it comes to you when it will and all you can do is just show up. Be present. Allow it to pass through you, the mortal, the conduit. It’s deeply humbling when you really get into it.

You’re not punished for your ego, you’re punished by your ego. Because it deprives you of the real magnificence of existence, and it burdens you with anxiety to deliver (which keeps you from taking the risks you need to take to do your best work) and a constant need to measure up, to be okay, to avoid failure, to not be mocked, to not be seen with mud on your face. Embrace it! Embrace the suck! Where did this fear and anxiety come from? Why are we scared and cold and shaking? It’s bad for health, in every imaginable sense. We don’t need to be so conflicted. We don’t need to be so torn at being conflicted. Breathe. Breathing is a  privilege.

I wonder where that just came from. Lol. Battery is getting lower. I’m reaching work soon. A little bit tired and sleepy. Need to hydrate. I brought my facewash home and forgot to bring our back. I need to buy a light bulb and plastic bags and take a passport photo and do some credit card paperwork. I can save all of that for later.

Now I need to get to work and I need to monotask. To quickly figure out what my priorities are and what the most optimal tasks are and execute them. No pressure.  I’m entirely capable. Our fear is not that we are weak but powerful beyond measure- there’s a cognitive dissonance there because it means that we might have been wrong all along, that we might have been ‘under-living’. Like the grandma who lifted a car to save her grandson, then wondered how her life might have turned out differently if she had rejected the voice in her head (“You can’t do it!”) earlier.

I experienced the same thing with my writing during my signals course. I wrote so much then, with pen and paper, that it seemed like I had been writing at 10% of my max capacity, or less. What did I do with that knowledge?  Nothing. I wrote it off as a bizzare anomaly. It was too uncomfortable to acknowledge that all I had to do to write more was to do it offline, or to do vomits without editing. It would have meant that I was a bumbling idiot and I didn’t like being a bumbling idiot. So I ignored it. I ignored data that could have greatly accelerated my progress as a writer and thinker, which in turn might be useful to others. So I denied the universe ideas and perspectives (that don’t belong to me) because of my own selfish ego. That’s a pretty sad thought.


0057 – Don’t feed the troll

Work today. Stuff I’m proud of:

1: I avoided feeding a troll today. I’m typically someone who’s fairly easy to troll. I’m someone who can be rather insecure and easily offended. I also can rarely resist the urge to get into an argument, because I like to think that I’m good at arguments, and it gives me a feeling of busyness. It’s like playing candy crush maybe. The act of argument triggers “low-lying fruit” in my pleasure circuitry (I’m so sorry that my understanding of neuroscience is so horrible but you know what I mean). It becomes something like smoking or masturbating: feels good, achieves little. I avoided that to some degree,  and that felt great. Remember Visa, Elon Musk does not have time to argue with people. He speaks only before broad self-selected audiences, and works on problems in the interim. (That’s part of the problem of Facebook, in my opinion- there’s a slightly negative social outcome when people get roped into discussions they didn’t opt-into. This can be positive or negative depending on the context and it’s remarkably hard to manage.  Anyway I want to be spending progressively less time on Facebook because I want to spend my time doing ‘deep work’- work that emerges from extensive consideration and rumination…

2: I started and completed a blogpost at work within a couple of hours. This is a big deal to me because for some reason my work-related blogposts are slow, laggy, lethargic. I think it has to do with perfectionism borne of being accountable to somebody, which kept me from doing my best… I wonder if there’s a part of me that rather be perceived as lazy than incompetent. Well- lazy IS incompetent. You’re incompetent either way, Visa, so wake the fuck up and get to work.

3: in proud of myself for developing this habit of writing on the trains. This is the 3rd or 4th large vomit that I’m doing on my commute and it feels fucking incredible. It makes me feel like I’m making real progress with myself. I still haven’t practiced meditation yet- not sure why I’m putting it off- but I’m writing. That’s the best part. Writing writing writing everyday.  No excuse not to. Word vomit on the train is an elegant proposition, like squats in the shower or a jug of water in the fridge. Speaking of which,  I need to have some healthy snacks at home. I need to incorporate a ‘cycling’ practice at work- I’ve been meaning to test this idea, that physically changing my location at regular intervals will improve my productivity.

Most important insights… don’t try to do things all at once. Chunk chunk chunk. Baby steps. I haven’t done my poached article yet- what will I write about? I’m such a bloody perfectionist! Seriously need to kill the bugger. Hopefully writing about this day in and day out will make a difference. Sorry if you’re bored. (I’m not doing this to help or entertain you anyway. Why are you even reading this? )

An insight I had that I’m probably repeating- it’s important to schedule stuff in advance because it’s so hard to make good decisions at the end of a work day.

I made an odd call today that I’m not sure what to think of. I was at work and being productive, but it was getting late and I was going to be late for remedial training. But I was on a roll! I decided it was more important to me to keep the productivity going, and I completed the post I was working on. Success!  And yet a kind of pyrrhic victory. I want to reach a stage where I become a responsible, trustworthy person who’s always on time for appointments. Seriously my tardiness is just insulting and disrespectful to everyone and that’s not who I want to be. So I’m commiting to simple things like going to work on time, going to bed on time… 16 year old Visa  would kill me for saying this but I need more structure in my life. Structure will allow me to massively increase my output, which will literally transform the game I’m having.

Heh I just had a funny recursive thought about how I’m repeating myself and I’m sorry for repeating myself and how even that apology is repetitive… I make no apologies for that though. Children learn through repetition, all learning involves repetition and if repeating this plays a role in reshaping my brain then I will do it!

It occurred to me while I was at work that there’s more stuff that can be done than there is time to do it. I know, this technically applies to life itself, but it’s a strange and unfamiliar problem if you’re used to a life of trying to minimize discomfort.

What are the best things I can do? Colonize the acquisition channels. Do some reading. Motivate my peers. Act. 80/20 bro.

(Just caught myself resenting someone for playing candy crush on the train. Why so judgemental visa? Psuedo-psychanalysis: I resent people who remind me of my own negative properties. So if I make a big deal about candy crush it’s because… even though I don’t play it, I recognize it for what it is: a trivial and mundane addiction. This reminds me- I’ve actually had negative reactions to watching friends and loved ones using Facebook. What the fuck! You condescending prick, how hypocritical can you get? I know, I know. I’m sorry.

In random news I just paused to buy some fruitella sweets and I realized that if there’s something called an addict personality or archetype, I probably fit it to some degree and it has some parallels or symbiotic intertwining. What’s the relationship between addiction and general responsibility, if any? Are there people who’re highly responsible in one sphere, but say, substance addicts in another? I imagine it’s possible, and it’s highly complex, and I’m generalizing it in a way that doesn’t do justice to the general picture.

There’s something there, though. Binge eating, drinking, sleeping, smoking, etc. Anybody got any good links to read about these things? Will look them up on my own time otherwise


0056 – rip you out of my skull

Today was an earlier morning than usual. Slept a little earlier than usual.  It is clear that sleeping early- before 11pm, from my experience- leads to bettee quality sleep and less sleep, too. Once you start to notice this pattern it’s hard to go back on it because it means a couple of hours saved over many many days… in the long run better sleep literally extends your wakeful life! Also I am clear-headed- relatively speaking- and immediately felt like writing this the moment I got on the train. I could be too quick to claim some sort of behavioural change here- all real change takes time- but I’m happy.

I notice though that when I wake up early I’m not sure of what to do, and I sort of laze around  unproductively. Now I’m not a ruthless optimizer and I don’t believe that every waking moment should be spent working- I love to laze around, but only when it’s well earned, when it’s deep and restful. I think I’ve spoken about this before- work hard, play hard, even ‘rest hard’. The worst thing is when your rest is not restful- this is what’s often left out of criticisms of busyness, I feel. Just as there are several kinds of busyness so there are several kinds of idleness, some pleasant, some not so pleasant.

I find myself drawn to using music as an analogy. Learning to live well is like learning to play music. You can sort of learn as you go, but there’s no substitute for deliberate practice. Yes.  This is what I got out of an exchange with one of my engineer colleagues about evolution and robustness- we marvelled at how human consciousness allows for accelerated evolution.

It works like this: Instead of depending on random variation and natural selection (which takes a lot of time), human consciousness allows us to imagine, and to execute. Our tools allow us to make copies of things, to deliberately try different things in different scenarios and to see what works, what breaks, what crumbles under scrutiny.

Elon Musk mentioned that when theory meets reality, reality typically wins. Isn’t that entire process cool, though?  Rather than relying on random fumbling around, we can deliberately navigate the darkness, make hypotheses, test them,  refine them and make better hypotheses. Fat better than stumbling around. The human mind- the collective- functions as a sort of crucible for accelerated ‘fitness’ (if that is the ‘purpose’ of evolution- purpose itself of course being a self-serving human construct).

Regroup. Within the chemical limitations of the mind we are wired to have fun ‘living’, and while the downtime between strenous activities and thought can be pleasurable, persistent idleness isn’t- because then you aren’t living, you aren’t learning, you’re stagnating. I’m not saying that it’s somehow intrisically good to live and to learn- I’m saying that it FEELS good, and as humans, it’s nice to do what feels good as long as it’s sustainable and not harmful to self and/or others.

So the point of that is- nature is like this giant computer that figures out what works and what doesn’t,  at a very slow pace. It ‘learns’ (using human terms to badly describe an ultimately indescribable process- the source of spiritual ecstasy and connection). Consciousness emerged as a computer within the computer as a tool for ‘accelerated learning’. And consciousness built language, and consciousness and language built industrialization and computers- tools for building and learning, just as consciousness itself is a tool for building and learning.

That’s a horrible horrible and incredibly vague and imprecise paragraph of horrible psuedo-knowledge but it’s just a vague sense of how I make sense of things. I plan to refine it over time.

Kill abstraction, back to concrete living. Somehow the incentives are nicely aligned such that learning to live better (vague) is pleasurable. So to get to really mundane stuff- I’d like to wake up early and have deliberate practices.

Ah, that was what I was grasping at straws for and went through so much nonsense to get to- the value of deliberation. Nature, as far as we can tell, is non-deliberate. It just is. There’s a certain continuum of deliberateness from simpler life forms simply ‘intending’ to propagate and multiply, to persist- and then we get progressively more complex intents. Monkeys are capable of deception.

Once we get to people- man, people are incredibly complex! We are capable of intent but we often don’t know why we do what we do. ‘Why’ is a uniquely deliberate and conscious phenomenon. Nature doesn’t give a damn about why. But nature made humans- randomly- and humans care about intent and causality and purpose. It’s interesting because humans shape reality- consciousness shapes reality. The human species functions as a primitive nervous system for the  planet…

Fuck, I got out of my head again. Deliberate practice is accelerated learning. Learning is a kind of accelerated evolution. I have, all my life, grossly underestimated the value of deliberate practice. I suspect it has to do with an irrational distrust of myself. Had a chat about this with a couple of my colleagues- some scenarios are conducive to the development of trust in deliberate practice- such as studying in school- and others aren’t.

I really want to know- what drives smart kids to be unproductive, ‘lazy’? I’ve read a lot about this over the years- not too deliberately,  unfortunately. The reasons tend to circle around fear of failure. We sabotage ourselves in advance. We are supreme cynics who don’t have faith in our own abilities, and we are afraid to reveal our own incompetence…

Why do I keep getting derailed, lol. The central point here is that there is incredible value in deliberate, mindful practice in all things and I have been, ironically, deliberately blinding myself to the fact. I’ll repeat an earlier post here- my ability to rationalize my own failure might be the most deliberately-practiced skill I have in my cognitive toolkit, and it’s outright toxic to my own well being. That’s sad.  There’s a certain addiction dynamic. You hate yourself for sucking, ironically, because hating yourself is the one thing you’ve gotten really, really good at.

So the central challenge here is to subvert that- and it requires mindfulness and structural help because in the absence of mindfulness we fall back into familiar habits, such as self-loathing or rationalizing inaction and perfectionism and other lame excuses that fall away under scrutiny. Maybe I’m so eager to talk about life and the universe because I’m afraid or uncomfortable to talk about my own failings.

Well fuck you, brain! (Or neural pathways within the brain!) We’re here to talk about your scumbaggery. You’re preventing me from living a fuller and more productive life, and from contributing beyond myself to aid others on their quests! This is who I am in the light of mindfulness and reflection. The challenge is to kill who I am in the darkness of familiarity, until I’ve rewired my brain sufficiently. Now that’s the real challenge that I face in life, and that’s something I’m going to have to face,  deliberately. You don’t scare me, bitch. I’ve had enough of you. And I will rip you out of my skull- or deny you nutrients, or WHATEVER THE FUCK IT TAKES. 23 years is long enough. I’m reaching work now. I’m going to work on a task I was tasked yesterday and then get to the blogpost I’ve been meaning to write. I will monotask.

If you’re reading this, what demons do you have in your head?