0620 – consider Aleppo

I’ve avoided reading too much about Aleppo because I know it would be depressing and frustrating as hell, and I’m probably not going to be able to do very much about it. I’ve seen snippets of it on social media that people are sharing – apparently people are living videos and tweets and messages with their last words, saying goodbyes, asking to be remembered – expecting to be massacred imminently.

It’s pretty crazy to think that there are thousands of people alive right now living with that sort of fear. That they’re about to be slaughtered.

What can the international community do about it, realistically? How many killing fields and holocausts and genocides must Earth witness?

If I were my own grandpa – wise and old and mature and knowledgeable – what would I advise me to do?

The serenity prayer comes to mind. You focus on making the difference that you can actually make. Well, what difference is that? I’m so far from the chaos. My life is a privileged one. I’ve written about my frustrations about living in a box, going from box to tube to box to tube, living a mundane, frustrating cycle of mediocrity – but looking at the fear in the eyes of the Syrians, it’s clear that I live in what they’d consider to be paradise. They’d give anything to be frustrated by the trivial things I get frustrated by.

Am I using them as some sort of feel-good prop now? Fuck, man, what can you do? What’s the way out? What’s the right thing to do? I’ve avoided posting about this on social media because I think drawing attention to myself in a space like that is not going to help anything. I don’t want to do any overt virtue-signalling – though I suppose if anybody reads this then it will have some of that effect anyway. Well fuck, man. Sometimes things are just messy and there are no clear answers and… life is meaningless and purposeless.

What would Obama say? What would Admiral McRaven say? I Googled it and news headlines say Obama is ‘deeply concerned’. Everybody’s goddamn deeply concerned about everything. And I’m sure they’re good people with good intentions and good wishes. Nobody wants innocent little girls to be bombed to death, to be screaming and running in fear. Right? Does anybody wish that on the young daughters of their enemies?

I’m thinking now about the quiet that came over a group of friends at a void deck when we learned about a friend’s father’s cancer. Everyone just got really somber and morose and spoked in hushed tones – even long after the friend had left the area. What were we doing? It didn’t feel like we were helping with the situation. We were really just soothing ourselves. That’s what we do, don’t we, humans? Self-sooth. Everything is self-soothing. Everything is to make ourselves feel better about ourselves one way or another. Rationalisation, sour grapes.

I wonder if I can ever become somebody significant enough to actually have anything meaningful to say or do about future crises like Aleppo. And now I’m thinking about all the other crises that have happened – Orlando, Paris, all the outpouring of concerns and prayers and thoughts, all the hashtags and profile pictures and sad statuses. What difference does any of it make? Shouldn’t we know by now? Do we care? Does it matter?

I suppose this is my way of trying to troubleshoot my own philosophy, my own view of the world. Should I be concerned or should I not? Should I be a selfish prick that’s only focused on my immediate surroundings? And is that really a selfish thing to do, actually? What if that focus helps me be achieve more, make more of a difference to myself and those around me? Would it be worth it then? If I inspire my peers and my family and challenge them to be better? Then maybe we could do more. I’ve noticed in the leadup to the 2016 elections that many of the people who I thought were much more accomplished or influential were still wringing their hands just as I would’ve if it were directly relevant to me. How much time and energy have I spent following the American elections – does it really matter? Do I really need to care? No, I just need to be anti fragile to all of it as much as I can, and then just do what I like.

Well – Taleb talks quite a bit about honor himself. I don’t know what honour is. I don’t know if I can be an honourable man. I think I should try, but I don’t want it to be because I want some sort of shallow virtue signalling BS. It should be for myself. I suppose I should slow down, breathe deep and feel in my heart what I really want. I don’t think neurotically thinking about it is going to make a difference.

Either way, the song always ends the same. I have to finish this vomit, shower and go to bed, wake up early and start the day strong. Tonight’s the last night of my leave, tomorrow I have to get back to work. Start filling out spreadsheets, looking at data, writing blogposts, reply to emails, schedule posts, publish, think, plan, followup. A part of me wishes I could stay on leave for longer, but another part of me knows that that probably wouldn’t help. I’ve gotten the benefit of decompression that I wanted. So right now all I need to do is just get to bed, sleep well, wake up early, shower, be fresh and leave home. Then when I get to work I have to start breaking things down into pieces and get them done.

I have to believe in myself. I don’t want to play catch-up anymore. I want to be proactive. I want to be a better version of myself. I might not be able to save the kids in Aleppo, but I can at least do right by myself, and hopefully then move on to seriously helping others.

 

0619 – focus on troubleshooting yourself

So here’s a bug in my mind that I’ve noticed. Very often when I’m bored or stuck or lost, I end up trawling the internet to pass the time. Maybe a part of me hopes that I’ll find some sort of inspiration or stimuli, but historically that doesn’t work out so well for me.

More often then not, something random catches my attention and I get involved in that. It might be something on /r/singapore, or on reddit at large, or something on Twitter or Facebook.

If it’s something that one of my friends is involved in, then it makes a little bit of sense to participate because it’s sort of a way of investing in that social relation. (But even that that’s a rather… weak way of doing things – but let’s leave that for now.)

But what totally doesn’t make sense is when it’s just a bunch of strangers talking or arguing about something or another. Then it really doesn’t make sense to get involved. But I do. I enjoy pointing out the mistakes in other people’s thinking, the assumptions that they’ve made, so on and so forth.

Why do I do this?

It’s cheap. It’s fun. It’s addictive. There’s no cost. I get this fake stimulation from getting Likes or upvotes when I get it right. I rationalise it as me getting better at the game of discourse, and I tell myself, “Oh, it’ll benefit me somewhere down the line when I eventually write essays or novels about this sort of thing.” Which might be true, maybe, but it’s definitely a suboptimal way of doing things. I shouldn’t be doing these things unless I deliberately want to. I have on occasion spent hours on such things. Worst of all is when I get angry and frustrated and invested in some internet argument with some stranger who doesn’t have anything to do with my life, at the expense of the things that I know actually matter to me.

Now – one way to approach this would be to try to stop doing it altogether. I’ve done that in the past by going cold turkey on social media, and I do recall that it felt pretty good.

Another thing I’ve been thinking though, is – why don’t I apply this sort of rigorous troubleshooting to myself, to my own mind? Why am I not questioning myself, evaluating my daily habits and routines, and so on? I do it in these word vomits a little bit from time to time, but it’s pretty obvious to me that I really ought to make it a bigger part of my life. I ought to be almost constantly troubleshooting myself, becoming a better, stronger version of myself that makes fewer mistakes, that moves faster. I want to refashion myself into Visa Prime, over and over again.

How do I do it? I know I have this body of work – these word vomits. I have over 600 of them. What do I do about them? Why don’t I spend more time re-reading them? It’s a little daunting, I suppose. How do I get myself to start reading them more regularly? Should I start from the start? God, that sounds boring and tedious. I’ve read the first few vomits over and over again, and I know they’re pretty crappy. I should start somewhere in the middle. I should start at, say, 200, or 300. I printed out a whole bunch of them a long time ago – I think I have bound copies of word vomits 1-500, or 1-550. I read the first few. I had some grand idea at some point of taking them all apart and moving them around, connecting the dots, putting the similar ones together. But I don’t have the right energy for that. And I suppose I’m not super clear what the final end state is supposed to be.

It’s tough to do something without a clear sense of what you’re doing it for. I think it doesn’t need to be like this grand larger vision with this epic payoff – I just need smaller, simpler reasons to revisit old word vomits and connect the dots. And I need to do it a little bit at a time, rather than pretend that I’m going to someday have this amazing productive day where it all comes together. I already know that’s a myth. Work needs to be done in the trenches of everyday life.

I’ve been on leave from work for a week and a half. Tomorrow’s my last day of leave, and then I’m going back to work. I think I had this vague intention of having this ‘personal productive week’ where I’d read and write a lot, and get all sorts of little niggling tasks done. I did very little of that. I spent most of it just decompressing. I spent hours playing video games. I don’t feel too guilty about that, I feel like it soothed me, calmed me down. I was having lunch a couple of days ago and I found myself just smiling and feeling really chill in the moment. I last felt that way when I was on holiday over a year ago, and prior to that I think I last felt that way when I had just completed national service.

A part of me wonders if – if I had another week off, or a month, would I start getting more productive after the ‘decompression’ phase is over? Or would I turn into a slob that didn’t get anything done? I’m guessing I’d have gotten a bit slobby. That’s a rather sad thought. I’m 26 years old (I keep thinking that I’m already 27, which is funny because when I was younger I’d often feel like I was younger than I was.) I need to make more progress in the next year than I have in any of my preceding years. And I believe that I have the capability. I just need to breathe deep and psyche myself up, manage my own psychology and motivations and challenge myself to do better. To break things down into little steps and to do one thing at a time. I have all the information I need, I just need to put it into practice.

 

0618 – magic adulting powers

What are the magic adulthood powers?

# Monotasking

This means doing the thing that you’re supposed to do, and tuning out everything else. A problem I’ve always had is doing tonnes of different things all at once, and then ultimately never getting anything done at all. In the short run it can seem like it’s a way of optimising for things – when you don’t know what the most important thing is, you do a bunch of things and hope that you learn something along the way.

By that I mean – along the way you learn what’s the most important thing, maybe there are some surprises, maybe there are some shortcuts, you don’t know and so you open a few things. It’s like listening to music while watching a video on Facebook with subtitles on and talking to a couple of friends all at the same time – you can’t do this for any meaningful work. You need to focus. And focus is something that you need to train.

# Prioritising

You need to pick something. If you have a bunch of things to do, the worst thing to do is to dither between all of them and then do nothing. You have to quickly devise a system of deciding what to do, and then start doing it. This is a sort of fractal thing. OODA loops, I suppose. You want to observe what you have ahead of you – how big is the landscape or context that you’re operating in? If it’s small (relative to you and your ability and so on), you might want to just get started straight away and reevaluate after some amount of time. If it’s massive, you may want to do a quick scan to figure out if it’s worth figuring out in greater detail, if you know what I mean.

It’s like… I mean, think about how sometimes your computer is a bit dumb when it comes to say, deleting tonnes of stuff. My wife tried deleting some Time Machine stuff a while ago and the computer just kept counting files until it was in the 500,000 files range. That’s silly, isn’t it? At that point the computer should realise that it’s probably smarter to batch the problem. Yeah. So you have to figure out if the thing you’re doing requires batching. I suppose this is where the various sorting algorithms come into play. Once you cross certain sizes, it starts making sense to figure out if there’s a superior sorting algorithm. But you never want to spend too much time on a sorting algorithm either, because the one thing you know is that you don’t have infinite time. You’re going to die eventually.

Here’s a funny meta moment – why am I here, in this document, writing this? I’m in the middle of a bigger project where I’m trying to tidy up my evernote. Most of it has been touch and go – add a comment, add a note, delete or transfer to an appropriate context. A sort of global sort. And then I found this note, which had 4 points: mono tasking, prioritising, saying no, putting yourself first. And I thought hey, let’s develop this. And so I started writing. And after making a bit of progress on the first point, I jumped to point number 4. Build that a little, then jumped to point 2, and here I am. There’s a sort of sorting algorithm taking place right now, as I decide what to write, how to spend my time. I’m going to publish this one as a word vomit.

# Saying no

I wonder if this is distributed differently for different people. I never really learned to say no. As a child, you don’t really get to say no to your family and to your teachers and whatnot. I think very young children get to do it with their parents, but I don’t remember that phase of my life. After that your life isn’t really yours for a while – you have to go to school, you have to do as you’re told. Elliott Hulse has a great video about this that bears watching.

This ends once you’re an adult, but I still don’t fully appreciate it. I don’t appreciate that I can say no to my wife, to my colleagues, to my boss. I mean, there’s always a cost to the no, as there was even when you’re a kid. But saying no is the single fastest way to cut things out of your life and make your life simpler. I’m saying no to staying up all night. I’m saying no to staying up past this word vomit. I’m going to publish this once I finish these few sentences, and then I’m going to wrap up and start winding down for bed because Sleep is my #1 priority.

# Putting yourself first

It’s hard to know how you’re doing. You have to really listen to your body. I’ve always been surprised by people who seem to know when exactly they’re tired, when exactly they’re hungry, when exactly they’re beginning to get burned out and so on. I’ve always felt like a fraud on all of these things. When I’m running, how do I know if the discomfort I’m feeling is the natural discomfort of doing something physical, or if it’s something that’s going to cause me pain? Yeah, excruciating pain is obvious, but what about a dull ache? At what point does a dull ache go too far? I’ve heard from people who say that it’s all in the mind and that the body can take a lot more punishment than you think. I completed a 21km half-marathon without training once. I had to walk about half of it, but I still passed the finishing line – there were several actual runners in their proper marathon running gear and whatnot who had to drop out and be transported to the finish by a van. Maybe they wanted a good time, pushed themselves too hard, and then decided that finishing wasn’t a priority? I don’t know, I wonder.

Anyway so I’m learning that it’s important to put yourself first – particularly your health. Your physical health, your mental health, your well-being. The thing is I used to spend all my time playing video games and random nonsense, surfing the web and so on. Was that healthy or unhealthy? Smoking is obviously unhealthy but sometimes it seems like a useful tool for managing my psychology. You could say that that’s just the addiction talking, but people do that sort of thing with all kinds of things. It’s clear that ultimately most people are just full of shit, and the only people you can really trust about this sort of thing are the high-performance folks – and even then you have to ask if it’s the sort of high-performance you want. Kobe Bryant said that being the #1 basketballer was his #1 thing, and as a result he had to sacrifice relationships with other people. He’s an okay friend, but he’s not to going to remember birthdays and things like that.

This goes back to priorities. What’s most important to you? And this is something you have to figure out for yourself. You can’t outsource this to a parent or a spouse or a teacher or a boss. You have to figure out what’s most important to you, decide that it’s something you’re going to be able to live with – e.g. if family comes first then you’re going to have to live with that decision when you make some choices that maybe means not being #1 at work. You can’t do it and then whine about it later on.

I wonder how much people avoid making decisions so that they can reserve the right to bitch and whine about it later on, at the bar, with all the other sympathetic people who want to bitch and whine too. Must be a disturbing number of people. See: any comments section. Anyway, sleep is #1 for me so it’s time for bed.

Before I go though – what are some of the other magic adulting powers?

7 Habits come to mind –

  • being proactive,
  • making plans ahead of time, preparing in advance.
  • Doing the homework when it’s painful and boring (buying life insurance, doing the savings stuff, figuring out compound interest and investments). Identifying good people and
  • investing in good relationships
  • Taking time off
  • Sharpening your saw / working on your big picture system
  • cause-and-effect / desired-end-state thinking
  • working backwards from your desired end-state
  • taking care of your body/mind

 

 

0617 – systematically, deliberately improve your golf swing

I’m taking a week off from work next week (today’s Saturday). I want to spend that time really getting to know myself better. Cleaning out my brain-closet. Throwing out whatever is no longer relevant. Saying thank you and farewell if necessary. Tidying up whatever remains, and figuring out how to make the most of what I have left.

I want to live a good life and die happy. To do that, I need to earn my own respect. To do that, I need to face my fears and do difficult, challenging things. I need to break out of the box that I was born into and raised in, and become as much of a free agent as I possibly can. To do that, I have to correct the bottlenecks that are currently limiting me. My #1 bottleneck is sleep. When I don’t sleep enough, I am unable to function effectively. Some people can do it. I can’t. I have years of experience telling me so. Enough so that my new years’ resolution from 3 years ago was to sleep better. Well, the past 3 years haven’t been great for me sleep wise. So it’s 10:34pm now, and I’m in bed, and I’m going to switch off the lights and sleep the moment this word vomit is done.

Once I can consistently sleep well – and the important thing there is to make it a priority the moment I get home from work, or the moment I have dinner – I think my next biggest bottleneck is mindfulness. Even when I sleep well I still sleepwalk through my days, reacting to random stimuli. That doesn’t cut it. Again, I have years of evidence that prove that being reactive is suboptimal. I need to be proactive instead. To be proactive I need to properly set aside time for reflection, evaluation, planning. I have been keeping up a weekly habit of reflection so far. It’s doing okay. But to do better I need to zoom in on the specifics. Particularly my daily calendar and the tasks I do on a day to day basis. To make a dent in this I need to have a clearer routine in the morning when I wake up, and again when I get to office. I need to be precise about these things before I start replying to emails, opening up a bunch of tabs. I need to spend more time offline so that I can be more effective in the time that I do spend online, working.

I also need to learn to enjoy doing one thing at a time. Right now I still have a bunch of tabs open. I’m going to take a few seconds to close everything else… alright, that’s done. Now I have everything closed except this single Evernote window that I’m typing in. Doesn’t that feel good? It does. It feels good to focus on a single thing. I’ve turned off my Wifi so I’m not going to get any notifications, and I’m not going to be able to Cmd+Tab into chrome and then open up Facebook or Reddit or anything else. That’s another habit that I need to change. I need to get into the habit of really focusing hard on one single thing at a time – mono tasking – and then get my pleasure from completing each single thing one at a time. And then I need to build chains of these completed tasks. That would make me much, much more effective at a faster rate that I can even imagine right now. But it starts with one thing. As Steve Vai said, your success at a thing is a function of how well you were able to focus on it.

I was reading an essay by Charlie Munger earlier (summarized/notes at visakanv.com/blog/munger) and he has this bit about how it’s natural for humans to use approximations and shortcuts rather than rigorous thinking. And doing that is like being a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest, it guarantees that everyone else will take advantage of you. (Here I’m thinking about banks in particular, with their credit card shilling and their interest rates and so on, and also just consumerism in general.) He also used a great analogy about how “just winging it” is like playing golf by just swinging in a ‘natural’ way. If you want to realise your full potential as a golfer, you’re going to have to break down your swing – your grip, your posture, the twist of the waist and so on. A proper golfer swing is very ‘unnatural’ in the sense that you won’t get it just by throwing yourself into it. You have to break it down piece by piece by piece. And so it is with guitar, too. Deliberate practice comes to mind.

I find myself thinking about something else now – I was listening I think to a Tim Ferriss podcast and someone was talking about excellence – how the way we do something is the way we do everything, how it’s important to get the little things right. And I’m reminded of my boss asking me about my personal feelings about punctuality. It’s all connected. My truths might be contained in boxes, but my lackadaisical attitude isn’t – that, somehow, permeates everything I do. My goal in life right now then is to take the isolated truths and then apply them, apply them in such a way – consistently, systematically – that it permeates everything else in my life, and in the process snuffs out the shitty attitude that I still struggle with. It starts with sleeping early. It starts with deciding to do one thing and then doing it. It applies even with little things like deciding to go to buy dinner at 8pm, and then doing it instead of delaying it. I need to respect my own word. My subconscious needs to respect my own word. I might feel like I can do another word vomit after this, but the point is that I wanted to finish one and then go to bed, so it’s important that I do exactly that. So that my subconscious learns that I am to listen to myself when I say that I’m going to do something.

Well, we’re done here. Now to go to bed. See you tomorrow.