0578 – develop confidence

D asks, what is confidence to you and what is the most charismatic thing about a person?

Those are actually two different questions, I think. A confident person isn’t necessarily charismatic, a charismatic person isn’t necessarily confident (but I think typically has to be.) There’s this YouTube channel I really like called Charisma on Command that does great breakdowns of charismatic people, which is a good place to start for thinking about this sort of thing.

What I think is interesting is how much of confidence is manifested in the body. It really goes beyond your thoughts. And because it’s a two-way street between the body and the mind, you can build confidence in the mind by building confidence in the body, and probably vice versa. Martial artists, performance athletes, etc understand this.

Confidence is about trust. It’s about certainty in an uncertain world. It’s about knowing something in advance.

There’s a dark side to confidence – it’s great when things are going well, but it can be a siren song in times when it isn’t justified.

It’s really this huge balancing act. You don’t want to be too cautious to the point of never taking any risks and never doing anything ever, but you don’t want to be so overconfident tha you make bets that you can’t afford to pay.

In both cases, what actually matters is “how much are you really risking”, and “can you afford to lose”? It’s possible to be justifiably overconfident when playing with table stakes that you’re completely confortable losing. And you don’t have to be too cautious if you know that there’s little to no downside to whatever you’re doing.

Charisma is multi-faceted – too much of one particular thing without some sort of balance would turn a potentially charismatic person into a caricature. Conviction is charismatic, unless it gets hideously obsessive to the point where the person doesn’t engage with anybody else. You need to be a listener, you need to read the audience, feed off of their energy, etc. It’s a skillset that can be learnt, and each individual probably has a unique “charisma profile” that can be trained and honed and so on. Again, I’d defer to Charisma on Command for this – that guy really has this stuff well-covered.

I guess I’d like to spend the remainder of this vomit thinking and talking through my own confidence or lack thereof. When I was younger I think I was brash and overconfident. I did well in school as a kid, and so I assumed that I was smart and would always do well withou having to put in any effort. Boy, was I mistaken, and boy was I in for some pain.

Even as I started to mess up my grades in school, I remained cocky. I preserved by ego by convincing myself that I didn’t do well because I didn’t study, and that all I had to do well was to study– but that wouldn’t happen because I supposedly wasn’t interested in jumping through all of those hoops. [1] I would argue with people on the internet, or on Facebook, and I think I was pretty good at it – I honed it over years of forum interactions. Actually, come to think of it– another ‘painful/shock’ moment I experienced was on the Darkstone forums when I was a kid. I was in primary school, maybe 10 or 11, and I was brazenly posting nonsense in a video game forum, thinking that I fit right in. Turns out I made something up that everyone else thought was stupid, and I got mocked / laughed at for it. (I think. It was so long ago, I really can’t remember the details).

Anyway, I don’t think I posted much on that forum anymore, and went on to post on other forums instead – GameFAQs, SOFT, some other video game forum I can’t remember where we got into extensive fanboy discussions about the precise nature of characters’ fireballs. Viewed from today’s vantage point, it seems like a lot of that was my training in web parlance – I learnt to dissect arguments, even pander to crowds. Yesterday I joined a Telegram group and somebody recognized me, saying that he was a fan of my writing “and… general online presence”. That was simultaneously flattering and amusing.

Anyway, all of that experience has taught me to be careful with my words when arguing with people, to avoid certain classes of arguments and people altogether, and to be clear about what I’m dealing with in a given circumstance. And that has given me a lot of confidence when operating in a text-based environment, and I think it shows.

In contrast, I’m still semi-awkward with the spoken word, and with body language. I have enough basic skills with writing and thinking in words that I can deliver a speech, and I have a bit of stage experience as a musician and occasional emcee/comic, but for the most part I actually think I’m NOT very confident as a speaker, and I think it shows.

Come to think of it, all of this stuff happens on a continuum. I’ve had less a less confident friend tell me that she wished she could be as confident as I was when speaking up for her ideas. So it’s all relative. I suppose we always think about people who are better than us, and we always focus on all the ways in which we fall short. But ultimately we have to know our own worth – we have a market worth based on what people are willing to pay for us (attention, admiration), and we have an inherent worth as human beings. And I think it helps if you fundamentally appreciate that.

[1] This answers a question from one of my recent vomits – what am I motivated by? What am I working so hard for? I’m trying to prove to myself that I can and will jump through hoops of my own choosing, if I see them fit. And maybe I’m constantly changing my ideas about which hoops are interesting, but I refuse to just give up and lie on my ass. I can do that when I’m old, or at scheduled micro-retirement type break.s


0577 – make stuff you like

I was reading some Melting Asphalt and Kevin quoted something from Scott Adams. I think Scott said something like, “I enjoy being admired for making work that people enjoy, and I’m happy to repay the favor– I will admire anybody that makes good work, and I hope that admiration compels them to continue creating great work”. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I relate to that idea. I think it’s an elegant and accurate idea.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our taste as makers is really one of the most powerful or important things in the world, literally. I’m glossing over a lot of technical details and know-how– but to greatly oversimplify it, taste helps to create amazing things like iPhones and all sorts of amazing, inspiring things. It’s also about open-ended tinkering (which I think is important), but is anything ever truly 100% open-ended, truly 100% random? Taste is always a part of the picture. This is the logical addendum to everything is a remix– everything is a function of your taste.

How do you develop your taste? You need to be honest with yourself about what you like and why you like it. I’m reminded of the Quentin Tarantino interview here (the one he did for Playboy), where he talked about how weird it was to him that so many people in the film industry didn’t seem to know what they thought about something until they had talked about it with other people. Quentin, on the other hand, was a film geek himself, a person who made films because he was such a fanboy of films.

The fanboys shall inherit the earth!

No but really, the point here is that taste is valuable. The world beats it out of you when it isn’t developed yet– they say you’ll never go anywhere with it, that you’re wasting time, being too verbose, full of yourself, pretentious, blah blah. Or maybe too serious, too arty-farty, too SOMETHING. Too different from the norm. Too unusual. And when you’re new to making stuff, it’s going to be different in a way that is a little laughable, silly, wrong or not-even-wrong.

Heh. Anyway that’s my roundabout way of revisiting and circling around my ideas about taste [1].

Wait, what am I trying to do here again? I was starting with the Scott Adams quote. Prestige, admiration, making good things, being admired and signal-boosted for making good things, appreciating good things in turn. All of this is good because it makes people better off somehow, supposedly.

This vomit is a little sketchy. I think I’m getting sleepy again. Which is good. All of this is just practice, rehearsal, going through laps in my brain in preparation for something better down the line.

All of this is me trying to recalibrate my personal attitude towards my own motivations in life. What matters? What should I be doing? How should I be spending my time? For a long time I carried in my head the idea that I would do a modern translation of George Orwell’s essay ‘Politics and The English Language.’ In the end I decided to just copy and paste it, and format it a little, and add headers and stuff like that. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction, and I’m happy that I’ve done that.

I’d like to do more things like that. I’d like to go back over my own brain droppings and examine the patterns– see what I’ve always said that I’ve always wanted to do, and just push out little oversimplistic prototypes of them – and then share them with the world, and see what sort of feedback I get. Yes, that is what I want to be doing with my time. I also want to finish this word vomit project. I used to have some sort of fantasy ideal for what the project would look like, but I’m getting a little tired and bored and am willing to settle for something messy, hacky, as long as it serves my broader writing goals.

So… what’s next? I can just make a list of these ideas from scratch every time I feel stuck. Previously I thought I ought to maintain a rolling list of sorts, and maybe I might do that again eventually, but I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. This stuff shouldn’t feel like an obligation or responsibility. I should be free to abandon things halfway when I feel like it. I have an obligation to writing itself, but not to any single piece of writing. I have an obligation to my taste, so if I feel something needs doing I should do that. If I make a list of things, and I get tired or uninterested or frustrated, what should I do? I think I should pause / hold that list temporarily and see where my interest leads me.

I recognize that there’s a danger element here – it’s possible to end up starting 10,000 things and never making progress on anything, never finishing anything, giving up on everything when it gets hard. But so as long as each thing is ‘completed’ in the barest, simplest of forms, it’s allowed to live. For example– I once obsessed with the idea of writing about ‘hacking and leveraging the 7 deadly sins’. If you google “visakanv seven sins”, you can find what I’d written about it. I think that’s great – I never got around to writing a big book about it, but I have figured out a way of thinking about that stuff in a way that’s useful to me, that I can share with others if I wish. It could be packaged a little batter even as it is – I think I’m always going to have that opinion because I’m always going to be refining my aesthetic sensibilities.

The point is… I should just ship stuff based on my ideas and ship as fast as I can, and if I get bored or uninterested, I should just follow my nose and do whatever interests me next. Why haven’t I already adopted this, why isn’t this simply a part of how I work, for my personal writing projects? I suppose I’ve been feeling “itchy”, I’ve been wanting to write for public consumptions.

Patience, Visa. Get your house in order. Make stuff you like.

[1] I plan to have a nice, canonical essay about it on my main blog, but I’m beginning to realize that it often takes many drafts and attempts before I can really have a decent version of something.


0576 – contemplate time wasted

I was really tired last night and figured that I must’ve been sleep deprived. So I went to bed at something like 830 pm after eating dinner and showering. And I woke up at about 1230am. I didn’t know what to do at 1230am. I decided to go make myself a protein shake, because I’m still sore from the previous day’s workout. And then I came back to bed, but I couldn’t quite fall asleep. So I ended up just scrolling through Facebook, Twitter and Imgur on my phone. Which amused me at times, but next thing I know it’s 330am. And I’m not sleepy. And I find myself thinking… did I really just spend 3 hours on my phone? My first thought is “That’s not good.” I could’ve spent that time writing word vomits or reading something more interesting, maybe.

But then I’m also thinking, maybe I need to give myself a break. There are at least two parts to thinking about this.

1. There seems to be some sort of wisdom inherent to the body about what it wants. Time you enjoy wasting is time well spent. In praise of idleness, etc. The thing is to be mindful and meditative about it, so you know when to stop. Ideally.
2. At the same time, I find myself thinking about addiction. The smoker will do anything to justify having another cigarette. “Wisdom inherent in the body” be subverted by supernormal stimuli and manifest as things like a sugar addiction, a porn addiction, and an internet notifications addiction of some kind.
3. Can #2 be transcended through meditation and self-love and mindfulness? Maybe.
4. What is somewhat clearer is– you can’t get through #2 by being a disciplinarian. Beating myself up and making myself feel bad about how I’ve “wasted” my time is a sad and shitty way to live, and is not the kind of person I want to be. It doesn’t work. Left unchecked it becomes a cycle of drama, ego, failure.

So let me try to be honest with myself here. What’s really happening right now? I’m writing a word vomit because I feel frustrated. I was hoping to go to bed early and wake early. I did go to bed early, but I woke up in the middle of the night. I suppose I had no clear protocol for how to deal with that. I needed to pee, so I got up and went to pee. And I got back to bed and I didn’t feel sleepy any more. At this point I should probably have started writing– not because I’m obliged to, but because it would’ve made me happy to have written. At some point while exploring thoughts in my head, I found myself thinking “oh I’m just 25 vomits away from 600, that would be nice”. Not that I want to be fixated on the numbers entirely, but you get what I mean.

Having spent a couple of hours on the phone, mindlessly consuming, I find myself thinking that “I need to get this frustration and resentment out of my system so I can get a bit more sleep with some calm, and start the day right”. It’s 4am now. Should I try to sleep? What time will I wake up if I do? I would be annoyed if I didn’t wake up before 9am, because I really want to change my sleeping habits. Should I just stay awake, and maybe work from home and take a midday nap? That sounds somewhat pleasant and doable. Should I try and get more word vomits out after this one? Maybe go through my email, stuff like that? I don’t know. I don’t have a protocol for thinking about this. I suppose I might as well spend the rest of this vomit thinking about it.

I should work backwards from my priorities. What is my biggest priority in life? I guess this is revealing to me that I’m not actually clear about what is most important. I think health should be technically most important but I’m not sure if that’s actually true. I think there are a bunch of things I probably care about more than my health, but have been reluctant to admit. I think I desire social status– prestige and dominance, as described by Melting Asphalt. Why do I want social status? Well, to some degree all humans want social status. We’re human. It’s a human thing. Social status helps us survive, and so it’s pleasurable to have it. But why do I seem to want it more than most people, or want it in a different way than most people? Or ignoring “most people” all together, how exactly do I want it? Before we dig into whether status is something worth pursuing or not, what sort of hole am I trying to fill?

I think it really always boils down to my childhood, my upbringing, my starting conditions. I’m still trying to make up for who I was as a kid. I’m still trying to compensate or overcompensate for those things. And a part of me recognizes that this can be unhealthy, and that I should stop projecting and just let that shit go and start over. Every moment is an opportunity to start over. But I also have this indulgence, I suppose. I’m still angry about the way I was treated by people who “should’ve known better”, but didn’t. I recognize that it’s not their fault– it’s nobody’s fault and nobody’s to blame– but there is still something in my life that I’m compensating for. This narrative might be cheesy and oversimplistic but in a meaningless universe I’m happy to take it and exploit it while it lasts– this idea that I was silly and stupid and naive, and then I got burnt for it, I got hurt, and that I had a “turn” as a result and have been scheming to turn all of that pain and frustration into something beautiful and good. That I would be validated for who I am and what I do, and what I create and produce.

Should I go to bed? Let’s publish this and see if something else comes to mind. I think we’ll have maybe another two vomits before I’ve “discharged” what’s on my mind.


0575 – reduce large, ambiguous problems into small, simple ones

I keep thinking vaguely about a large and ambiguous problem: how can I challenge and inspire the world, make it a better place? And sometimes when I’m a little more reasonable I wonder, how can I do that for my country (0.07% of the world)? But what I ought to solve first is- how can I do that for my friends? How can I do it for myself?

I’ve had a few conversations with friends recently where we’ve been commisarating about what adult life has been like for us in our mid-20s. The common theme has been that it’s hard and depressing. We seem to all feel a little overworked, a little too incompetent. We seem to all feel like we’re burdened with expectations (parents, society, peers) that we might not live up to. And we all seem to be wondering if this is all there is, if life is just going to be an endless Sisyphian struggle from now until we die. It’s easy to appreciate now how some older people are so angry, bitter, caustic.

How can I help? What can I do? There are powerful truths buried in common sayings: be the change you want to see in the world.

I’m trying to imagine how my interactions with myself might be different, and I think I’ve made some progress on that front over the years but it’s hard to quantify and harder to be certain about it. I suppose I should figure out some ways of quantifying, perhaps by periodically interviewing myself. I saw James Clear so an annual integrity report; I think that’s a great idea.

That said, conversations with friends make me think that… well, conversations with friends can be more telling than introspection. With introspection it seems easier to fool myself. When talking to others, different people give me different responses which I can then use to triangulate an idea of who I am, or at least how I’m coming across.

What I’m saying is, I can learn a lot about myself by talking to other people and then evaluating those conversations and trying different things moving forward. Kind of like how a stand up comedian tries out new material on the road. This might seem insincere to some people, but I think the greater insincerity is in trying to remain static (which is a losing game, and really boring even if you do manage to succeed.)

So to review this vomit so far- I want to challenge and inspire myself, and my friends. We’ll save the world for later. (Heh.) I don’t want to talk about myself right now, so I’ll think about my friends. What would inspire my friends?

Some words come to mind. Work ethic. Conviction. Focus. Compassion. Kindness. Thoughtfulness. Creativity. Concern.

I think we all want to be in the presence of goodness, and maybe greatness. The second half is a hard hypothesis to test because not many people encounter it- those that do seem to rave about it, but that might be selection bias. Would we enjoy being in the company of our idols? Would it be life-affirming to be buddies with Ali, Jobs, Bryant, Gandhi, etc? These larger than life people can sometimes be infuriating. And even if they were perfectly nice, they might make us feel inadequate by comparison.

I often find myself thinking that I long for true companionship, true peers, people who love their craft and are kinda obsessed about making it good. Well font I have people like that in my life already? Aren’t my colleagues like that? My boss certainly is, and he’s one of my favorite people.

But here’s the rub – I think I don’t have these people close to me because I’m not sufficiently signaling that I’m one of them. I know a bunch of writers who exist, who I could potentially each out to, but I don’t quite feel comfortable doing that because I feel like I lack the appropriate body of work.

Well, what would that body of work look like? I’ve written 575,000+ words (probably 600,000+), but it’s messy. It’s disorganized. It’s not something I’d invite anybody to take a walk through. I have a lot of cleaning up and tidying up to do. I don’t need to have a grand opening or anything like that- I think that just sets me up for failure. What I need to do is be very discerning, and pick out precisely the things that I believe ought to be shared with the world, and then share them. What are the quotes I think the world should read, say about Singapore’s policies and future? I should reconsolidate everything and create a decent user experience and eliminate irrelevant crap- maybe move that stuff over to Tumblr until it’s publish-worthy.

Facebook is a good channel for me to post my thoughts- I have more than a few people who are interested in the things I have to say. If I can post roughly one good thing every couple of days I’d be doing pretty good and I’d develop something worth paying attention to. Then I would have people reaching out to me, and we could share our plans for world domination. Also I should do a link roundup every week. Every Friday maybe?

I stopped writing this vomit last week at 800+ words and I thought I’d resume it and finish it off. I write up a link roundup post but I didn’t get around to publishing it. I suppose I should just publish it anyway and then move on to the next thing. I allow accumulated backlog to suffocate me, when I should really just cut my losses and move forward. And I’ve found this to be a recurring theme for me– I was hit pretty hard by an Alan Watts tweet (Watts is dead, but it’s one of those accounts that tweets quotes)– that Zen isn’t about transcending doing the dishes, but it is to do the dishes– and to see that you only have to wash one dish. And I realize that’s a life skill that I lack, that I sorely need to embrace. I only have one word vomit to write, and that’s this one. And I’m about to finish it, how marvelous is that? And then it is a new moment. I’m a new me. Everything begins again, and I am refreshed.

So. To go back to the original point. I feel the need to challenge and inspire myself, and in doing so, challenge and inspire my friends, and perhaps, if I’m lucky, in doing so, challenge and inspire the world. But that’s just a need. It’s attachment. It’s a hangup, it’s a fixation on an idealized version of me that haunts me all the time. I don’t need that. Kill that guy. I just need to wash this dish.


0574 – turning 26

So, today is my 26th birthday. My 26th trip around the sun. It means that I’m close to 30 than 20 now. I’m approaching my 10,000th day.

I don’t mind or fear aging, I think it’s something to appreciate.

I’m trying to make it a point to write some reflections on every birthday. It’s a little upsetting that I can’t find anything that I’ve written on my 23rd, and that I don’t seem to have said anything before my 20s. I’d like to be able to glance at my younger self’s reflections when I’m old, and birthdays seem like appropriate occasions to do that.

I can no longer pretend to be a boy, or a “young man”. I’m a man now. I’m a young man to the older men, but to the world at large, I’m a man. Men younger than me have raised families, led soldiers in combat, managed employees. I know comparison is a losing game, but it can also provide some useful context. I don’t need to feel shitty about myself just because I haven’t done some of the aforementioned things, but knowing that people my age have done those things gives me a reasonable starting point for assuming what I can or cannot do.

To elaborate on this– a few weeks ago I had a dream that made me realize very intimately that I still live and think as though I were a little boy, going to “school”, worrying about my social life among friends that I encountered via happenstance. I’ve still been avoiding the fact that I am entirely in control of my own life, and that I can change almost everything in an instant if I desire.

I’ve put on some weight over the past couple of years. I’m now 85kg going on 90kg, while I still assume that I must be 65kg or so. I’ve gone from S to M to L and I’ll be XL soon, and probably 2XL or 3XL when I’m finally done. This is a good thing for me. I’m tired (and I’ve said several times before) of having “skinny” be an adjective used to describe me. Tall is fine, skinny is not. I’d like to be described in my late 20s as “tall big strong mountain of a man”. To do this, I need to squat and deadlift heavy, and I need to eat heartily and rest well after. The hardest part of that for me right now is actually the rest bit– I still don’t get enough sleep. In my teenage years, I didn’t get much sleep mostly because I enjoyed staying up late when I could be alone with my thoughts, and with the internet. That’s my backstory, it’s shaped who I am, I accept that. But moving forward in life, I intend to sleep and wake earlier. I’ve been talking about this for 6 years now, maybe longer. Almost definitely longer.

I want to be more effective, efficient and reliable at work. Again, this is about me overcoming the shackles of my childhood, my origin story, my background. Those things were what they were. I’ve written about them to death and I’m not interested in going into those details right now. What matters is that I identify each thread of the rope that binds me, and break them one by one. I would like my 30th birthday reflection to say, “Wow, my early 20s were kinda sleepy but my late 20s were gloriously epic. I was so assertive, so confident, moved so fast, just blazed through life with fury. I really unleashed the beast there, broke out from bondage, from my own limiting beliefs and was just a fucking fireball.”

This isn’t about amazing or impressing other people. I have learnt that other people are incredibly slow to recognize value when it’s in their presence. It’s about amazing and impressing ME.

I’m still scared of stupid things. I’m still lazy. I’m still a lot of negative things. But I think with each passing year, I have less excuse to allow those things to keep me from acting. With each passing year, it becomes clearer that the moment to act is NOW.

I’ve had my body tell me a couple of things. My back started to hurt from sitting and being sedentary all the time. I’ve felt sleepy and lethargic from eating too much sugar and carbohydrates. These are things that I can’t just ignore anymore– I have to deal with them as effectively as I can. I have to be the caretaker of my body and mind so that I can unleash the demon and create the interesting work I want to create.

I have an ego, obviously. I’m not going to pretend I don’t, because that would be false. The thing is, I do honestly believe that the best work comes from exploring what is genuinely fascinating rather than what is cool to the ego. The challenge for me is to create some space for myself to figure out what is genuinely interesting. My taste is arguably my greatest asset to my own self-fulfillment, hand in hand with my work ethic. If I am to have a good life, I have to work hard towards creating things that my taste tells me ought to exist.

I am not too impressed with myself and my life so far. I have done some good things, but at a pace that I find somewhat mediocre. It’s time to pick up that pace. I believe that I am capable of more. I believe that I am capable of running faster, lifting heavier, sleeping better, writing sharper, assisting others… I can’t “have it all”, but I can have more all of the good things that constitute the good life in my estimation. I just need to shed my old thoughts and my old beliefs, and focus harder than I’ve ever focused before on the task at hand. There will be time for idling later. We will make time for idling as necessary. But for now– to action!