Archive for January, 2010
Ed. note: The subtle irony of this post is that this is how I start just about everything on this site: I debate internally about how to get started. I write the first paragraph a few times, I go get a refill on my drink, I check Twitter three times. I struggle with the point of the post itself. I put it off until tomorrow, and then the next day. And then… I wise up and just write something.
Procrastination is a funny word. It’s a long, strange sounding expression that strikes fear and a knowing empathy in the hearts of people around the world. Putting things off until a later date, even important things, is what humans are best at. You have to assume that even our biggest accomplishments and creations as a species came with equally large bouts of “I’ll just do it later” sentiments.
Could the Egyptian pyramids really have been completed without an architect taking one look at the enormity of his day’s work and saying “tomorrow… I’ll do it tomorrow”? I doubt it.
Assumptions that we can “just do it”, or that we’re supposed to get things right on the first try don’t help us. In fact, I’ve found that the reason so many people can’t get past their own thinking relates to a misunderstanding about the people around them. People frequently overestimate the talent, dedication, and circumstances of others while underestimating their own. They actually believe that the people who have been able to “do it”, did it without the same level of internal battles of procrastination that they themselves have. That these people either got lucky or got it right on the first try. And of course, that they don’t have the same ability to do so as these more capable people – that they’re either too lazy, stupid, or just aren’t in the right place or right time.
A few weeks ago, Jack Kinsella asked me to write something short for his blog about 2010; my “highest productivity message” of sorts. Jack collected this piece along with seven others and posted it here:
Since I wanted to cross-post the snippet here for my readers, I waited a few weeks before doing so… since technically, I wrote this for Jack’s blog:
If I were to pick my most important message for 2010, it would boil down to one word which can set a tone for the year ahead: CHOICE. There’s a big difference between people who CHOOSE what they want their life to be about and people who let others – or their circumstances – decide for them. This “power of choice” is something each of us have – it’s part of our human nature – yet so few people make their own choices about who they want to be, how they want to contribute to the world, or what things matter most to them.
Many times this apathy is related to fear, lack of information, or ingrained limiting beliefs about their potential. Lack of information leads to fear of the unknown, which in turn leads to a victim mentality and an inability to see yourself for the person you could be… and so the cycle continues. The end result is someone who never chooses to take ACTION and instead justifies inaction through statements and behaviors motivated by fear (usually fear of humiliation). The key is to get out of that dangerous spiral by taking control of the fear and gathering as much information on the thing you’re most frightened of. People who LEARN and have experience with something are rarely afraid of it, and once they realize that the worst possible outcome isn’t that bad at all, light bulbs go off about what’s POSSIBLE for them.
That’s how you start to make choices and change your life one bit at a time. We all have the ability to influence the world around us and how we perceive our place within it. It starts with CHOOSING to do so (and a little work!)… so make 2010 the year you start making your own choices.
Check out the rest of the messages on Jack’s blog if you’re curious about what others chose as their 2010 message. Many of these names were new to me, though I’ve since started following them to see what else they write about!
A few years ago my wife and I went on a two-week trek through Italy. Our final stop was Positano, a sleepy coastal town on the Amalfi Coast, and we read voraciously in the sun for days. It was fantastic. It was during this time that I read Mind Performance Hacks by Ron Hale-Evans (the picture is proof – that’s my 2006 self on a deck in Positano, with my then new glasses and a glass of Italian wine, reading this book. Skip to the bottom of this post to see one reason why it was so much fun to read there!)
The book in general was a fascinating read – I took lots of notes in my Moleskine (which have since made their way into Evernote along with everything else). The biggest takeaway I had, and something I’ve referred back to time and time again at work and play, relates to ways to improve short-term memory. I’ve used some of these “hacks” during games with family where memory is the limiting factor. I’ve surprised myself more than once with just how easily I’m able to remember things just by converting them to the visual representations described below.
Memory is critically important in everyday life, yet we’re outsourcing our memory to search engines, Wikipedia, and other tools on a daily basis. For most of human history, people have been exercising brain power out of sheer necessity. We didn’t have digital to-do lists and access to all the world’s information on our smartphones; if we wanted to speak intelligently about a subject, for the most part, we had to store that information in our brains (the horror!)
We’ve since gotten lazy. And that’s OK for most things, but it means that when our memory is needed, it’s not always ready. We haven’t trained ourselves to be able to recall things at-will, and that ultimately has an impact on our lives (where was I going with this again? I can’t remember).
If you find yourself struggling to remember things – and if you feel this is impacting your life in a negative way – there are some things you can do to work around it. With just a little bit of practice, you can improve your chances of remembering your landlord’s last name, your girlfriend’s phone number, or your credit card’s 4-digit PIN.
The basic idea is this: for thousands of years, our ancestors spent a lot more time processing spatial data than they did with numbers. The difference in the size or color of a predator or plant made a big difference in terms of survival, but remembering sets of numbers or a list of Starbucks drinks to buy for friends didn’t. So most of these hacks rely on your brain’s ability to remember a short static list of things (“pegs”) to start from, and clear images to go along with them that you “burn” into your mind.
Every year I work to increase my reading output by figuring out unique ways to squeeze more books into my schedule. It isn’t always easy, but I do view reading as a priority given the clear benefits (and joy) of learning and growing as an individual. Americans in general are reading less every year; the last stat I saw said less than 40% of the population read at least one book last year. Yikes! Each year it seems as if our reading behavior becomes more fleeting; more geared towards the mindset of impatience in a world filled with 140 character ramblings.
The hardest part about sitting down to read a book these days is that there are so many other things competing for your attention, almost tricking you into believing you’re actually reading. As an example, on a typical day, I could read 350 Facebook status updates, 75 Twitter updates, 250 emails, and 75 blog posts. The first two types of “reading” are completely passive – days go by before I learn anything interesting about myself (or others for that matter). The last one, blogs, are far more useful in that many times full ideas are presented in a clear, coherent manner. Most of the bloggers I follow have unique and interesting things to say, and I value the time I spend reading their work (and if I don’t, I don’t follow them).
But blogging is still what I’d consider “short-form” in that most blog entries are fewer than 5,000 words. While still far more than the 140 characters of Twitter, they aren’t (usually) long enough to form a complete “story” about a topic. They don’t always go into any reasonable depth on the research they cite, and many times they don’t do their own research like published authors do. You just can’t always learn as much as you can from a well-written book. Most importantly, you can’t get lost in a blog entry. It’s awfully hard to find any sense of flow while reading a 2,600 word blog post. And I value flow.
So I read books. I appreciate the depth.