Stay Upwind, Picture and Pixel, Top 5 Regrets, The Opposite of Happiness, Improvisational Productivity, Forget Goals, Write FBR, Who to Hang Out, Emotional Contagion, Breath
This is a special version of Weekly I/O. In this Rumination #1, I will pick 10 inputs that I found worth reviewing from Weekly I/O#1 to Weekly I/O#10 and add my new thoughts on them. I hope you enjoy it :)
Weekly I/O is a project where I share my learning Input/Output. Every Sunday, I write an email newsletter with five things I discovered and learned that week.
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The below is extracted from the email sent on July 18, 2021
1. Stay upwind: Pick the option that gives you more options later, even it is more challenging.
Article: What you’ll wish you’d known
This is from Paul Graham’s blog post, which was supposed to be a talk for a high school, but he actually never gave it since the school decided not to invite him. “Stay upwind” later on become one of the most frequently used tools for me when making hard decisions.
“It’s not so important what you work on, so long as you’re not wasting your time. Work on things that interest you and increase your options, and worry later about which you’ll take.
Suppose you’re a college freshman deciding whether to major in math or economics. Well, math will give you more options: you can go into almost any field from math. If you major in math it will be easy to get into grad school in economics, but if you major in economics it will be hard to get into grad school in math.
Flying a glider is a good metaphor here. Because a glider doesn’t have an engine, you can’t fly into the wind without losing a lot of altitude. If you let yourself get far downwind of good places to land, your options narrow uncomfortably. As a rule you want to stay upwind. So I propose that as a replacement for “don’t give up on your dreams.” Stay upwind.”
2. Life is a picture, but we live in a pixel.
Podcast: Being Weird | Not Overthinking
It is easy to look at someone’s life like Mark Zuckerberg and say “Look, you are CEO of Facebook, you must have a great life” because the overseeing is a broad brushstroke picture.
However, on a given day, we actually live in a single pixel and don’t realize that when we do these daydreamings or when we compare our lives with others, it is just about the day-to-day experience.
Therefore it’s all about optimizing your pixels rather than optimizing the whole brushstroke picture.
This also reminds me of making the distinction between Time and Moments I learned in Weekly I/O #16. The context of time is like pictures, but we live in those little moments like pixels. Sometimes when looking back on memories and feeling depressed, remembering those “moments” instead of the whole “time” can make us less painful.
3. The top of my todo list
Article: The top of my todo list
This is also from Paul Graham’s blog post: The top of my todo list. The blog post mentioned a list of the 5 biggest regrets of the dying made by a palliative care nurse.
The five are
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
- I wish I’d had the courage to live the life true to myself
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
- I wish I’d had let myself happier
- I wish I’d kept in touch with my friends
To avoid these mistakes, PG inverted the regrets to five commands:
- Don’t ignore your dreams
- Don’t work too much
- Say what you think
- Be happy
- Cultivate friendships
He put those at the top of the todo list he’s using.
4. The opposite of happiness is boredom, not sadness. Just like the opposite of love is indifference, not hate.
Book: The 4-Hour Workweek
The concept here is similar to what Ray Dalio mentioned in his book Principle, “I also feared boredom and mediocrity much more than I feared failure”.
The author Tim Ferriss also argued that the question people usually ask themselves, “What do I want”, is too imprecise to produce meaningful and actionable answers. “What would excite me” is a better question than “What do I want” or “What are my goals” since excitement is a more practical synonym for happiness.
5. Improvisational Productivity: The longer you think about a task without doing it, the less fun it becomes to do.
Article: Improvisational Productivity
This is from Daniel Gross’s article. Put things on todo list is effortless. Planning is fun. However, the longer you think about a task, the less fun left for actually doing it. Because you have already gone through all the interesting aspects of the problems, there’s only work left.
The way Daniel Gross deals with this is kind of counter-intuitive: not think about the task until he is ready to fully execute it. He saves the fun of thinking to pull himself into flow. Practically, he said:
- I try and respond to emails the moment I open them. If it’s something that requires desktop work, I quickly close the email.
- I don’t write down ideas for posts until I’m ready to write the entire post.
He stated that “Living in a state of improvisation is more conducive to flow. I try to make my actual work appear as interesting as a new idea by minimizing the cognitive state buildup I have until I am ready to fully accomplish the task at hand.”
To be honest, this Improvisational Productivity concept is unintuitive and sort of mind-blowing to me. But maybe we can try it out by applying it to part of our new year resolution plans. Not planning too much about the new year resolution until we’re fully ready to take the first actions.
6. Forget goals. Build system.
Book: Atomic Habits
Spending “too much” time on goal setting has some disadvantages:
First, achieving goals only changes your life for the moment. Accomplishing the goal to clean your messy room only needs a burst of motivation. But if you maintain the same sloppy habits that lead to the messy environment, you’ll have to pray for another burst of motivation soon. You treated a symptom without addressing the cause.
Second, setting goals restricts happiness. The mindset of “Once I reach the goal, then I’ll be happy” just doesn’t work long term. Chasing goals is like being on a treadmill: wanting something, getting it, acclimatizing to the new normal, and starting to want more. If we only focus much on goals, we never get to have true satisfaction. It is the same as what I mentioned in the article This Is Water about what to worship.
Third, winners and losers have the same goals. Goal setting can suffer from a serious case of survivorship bias.
More about this topic can be found in the book. There’s also an excerpt on James Clear’s blog. It’s noteworthy that it is not that goal setting is useless, but focusing only on goals is dangerous.
For me, indeed building a system is important. But setting a better goal using methods like SMART criteria can be helpful too. Or just make more concrete goals such as “being able to have a five-minute conversation with a Spanish co-worker” instead of “being fluent in Spanish”.
7. When drafting, write FBR: Fast, Bad, Wrong.
Safi Bahcall is the author of Loonshots. He said there are three hats in writing: hunting, drafting, and editing. In hunting, we find the narrative thread that’s going to hold our stories together. In drafting, we write FBR, fast, bad, and wrong. In editing, we get rid of all the glitches and make it shine.
It is like cooking, where we write narrative thread as our recipes, then we go grocery shopping and just fill our cart as fast as we can, and in the end, we do the editing just like we’re cooking.
In drafting, write fast, bad, and wrong. Write as fast as we can regardless of terrible style, terrible grammar, terrible word choice, wrong dates, wrong names, wrong facts. Writing down those bad and wrong things without searching for resources and helping them liberates us to follow the narrative thread and keep going with it. Once you stop, it is like a car going down the highway, it’s easy to stop but then we have to spend all the fuel to get back to speed.
We will eventually realize that all first drafts are shit (in Safi Bahcall’s own words). Everything, when it starts off, is shit. However, with high speed and the courage to produce shit, we will end up with a little bit more creativity. Therefore, it’s okay to have our stuff sound terrible. Just keep going. We fix it up in the editing.
I don’t use grammar check when drafting an article (though it is partially because Grammarly doesn’t support my favorite editor for drafting). Therefore, the results of the grammar check for my first draft are always astonishingly terrifying. But by separating the editing phase from the drafting phase, I get into the flow of creation more fluently. It helps me build the body of an article faster. Again, premature optimization is the root of all evil.
8. We need to hang out with people who fit our future, not our history.
It’s definitely hard but we must think about it. Can’t find the original source of the quote.
A related but may not be that similar idea is “Teachers should prepare the student for the student’s future, not for the teacher’s past” in The Art of Doing Science and Engineering from Weekly I/O #9.
9. The reason we say “don’t be upset” is often because we don’t want to have our emotions synchronized and be upset.
If we’re getting along with each other, or even just around each other for a little bit of time, our biological signals will start to synchronize. Our heart rates and our breathing will synchronize. It’s called emotional contagion.
Human nervous systems regulate each other. We’re social animals and we evolved to have lots of ways to affect the nervous systems of another person. A lot of time when we say “don’t be sad, don’t be angry” to our friends, what we’re saying is “I don’t want to deal with you being angry or sad, and I don’t want to feel that way so I want you to calm down”.
Therefore, it’s really hard to sit with someone else’s distress and just let them be distressed. We will want to help them regulate because we want to help ourselves regulate. We don’t want them to be upset because we don’t want to be upset. It’s not a completely selfish act, it’s just that one part of the mechanism for us to have empathy.
10. Breathing is really the only way that we know of, biologically speaking, to deliberately get a handle on your nervous system.
If we do regularly and deeply diaphragmatic breathing, after a couple of minutes, we can slow our heart rates. Basically, it calms our system down to avoid continuous huge emotional expenditure.
Let’s follow the instruction below to take a deep breath right now if available.
“Put your hand on your torso or tummy. Don’t breathe from your chest, but from your diaphragm. When you breathe in, you don’t want your chest to expand. What you want is your stomach kind of to expand. So breathe in and have your stomach expand. Take in breath down to the bottom of your lungs, instead of just the top. Breath in for three seconds and out for another three.”
You can also find the importance of breathing and how to breathe in Weekly I/O #16.