Insight

A surefire way to adopt any good habit or rid yourself of any bad one: Gain insight.

Let’s pretend for a second we know everything. Each of us had a benevolent understanding of our life and the world around us.

If this were true, at every moment we would be crystal clear on the right path.

The idea is simple.

If we really want to change something, we simply need to gain real insight into why this change must happen.

Want to quit smoking?

Take the time to understand what’s happening when you smoke.

By truly understanding the damage being done, what start to see it as undesirable.

We think we understand. But if the bad habit persists, then we don’t.

Take the time!

The default

Happy is the default. Unhappy is the norm.

Why is this?

Happiness is found when our mind is free from worries. For most of us, this is rare.

We worry about everything, from the opinions of others, to the safety of loved ones, to our financial future.

What good does this worrying do? No good at all.

The trick then, is to clear these worries. Easier said than done!

But understand this and you’ve taken the first step to achieving it.

In reminding ourselves that happiness is the default, the unsolvable suddenly looks a whole lot more… well… solvable.

Sharpen the axe

“Give me 8 hours to cut down a try and I’ll spend 7 hours sharpening my axe.” – anon.

Warren Buffett et al. abide by something called the 5 hour rule. They spend 5 hours a week engaged in deliberate learning.

That’s equivalent to 1 hour a day, Monday to Friday.

Yet, if you suggest to someone they spent an hour a day learning you’ll often get laughed out of the room.

“How on earth would I fit in an extra hour a day?”

They’d think you were crazy.

Let’s look at it another way:

112-  that’s the number of waking hours we have each week.

How do we spend them?

Well, we’re all different but a typical week might look like this:

50 hours working or thinking about work.

30 hours on socialising and eating.

10 hours on exercise and grooming.

And the remaining 22 hours? Usually social media and watching TV.

What do we get done in these 112 hours? Not a lot.

5 hours works out at about 5% of your waking hours. The idea that we can’t commit to this is crazy!

And if we do make this time for these extra 5 hours?

If we got just 1% smarter each day- after a year we’d be 3700% smarter. The power of compounding!

So why doesn’t everyone do this? Because the results are not visible!

It’s only over time that they start to show. By this point, many of us have given up and got off.

Trust the process.

Let it go

When you’re angry at someone, who suffer? When you’re jealous? Holding a grudge?

You. Every time.

Many of us live on a rollercoaster of emotion. Our days are dictated by the many inconveniences and social interactions that fill them.

Someone cuts us off on our morning commute?

Day ruined.

We get in to work, fuming.

The morning sees us angrily moving from meeting to meeting- a number of spats along the way.

The afternoon drags- we feel rising resentment to the colleagues laughing nearby.

5pm. We’re out the door.

We get home and spend a couple of hours stewing in front of the television. What a crap day.

How ridiculous!

And yet this dynamic plays out all the time.

Whose the loser here? You or the person who cut you off?

You are.

Let it go.

It might sound difficult. But actually it’s the only rational move. You draw all sorts of conclusions as to why someone might cut you off!

“Because they’re a selfish ar**hole!”

Who knows why they cut you off? Maybe they were rushing to see a dying relative in hospital, or they were preoccupied worrying about how they were going to put food on the table this month.

You just don’t know.

And if they were cutting you off to spite you? All the more reason to let it go! Why let them ruin your whole day?

Nothing is worth hanging on to.

In fact the only rational play is to live completely in the present moment. And when we do we see that happiness is the default! Once we clear our mind of all the junk that piles up, all that’s left is contentment.

Try it.

The next right thing

Let’s take a look at the life of a hunter gather, 100,000 years ago.

They’d live in a tribe, roaming through the land, and would either be a hunter or a gatherer.

Pretty straightforward!

To thrive, it was necessary to navigate the social relationships of their tribe, to understand what they could and couldn’t eat, and to avoid being killed.

With such a simple setup, they could navigate life on instinct alone.

But then it all changed.

We evolved.

Life in 2020 is hectic.

The society we live in today is so mind bogglingly complex, and all we have to navigate it us our hunter gather brains. We were built to work in tribes of up to one hundred humans, we’re now a few clicks away from seven billion.

The result?

We must now deal with massive uncertainty in our daily lives. And it’s uncomfortable! We’re not built for this.

There is, however, a simple way to navigate this uncertainty: we just do the next right thing.

Often we grapple with the big picture, when it’s simply too complex for us to deal with. Too many variables. As a result we become overwhelmed and stressed.

But there is a way to defeat this stress! Rather than focus on the whole, we simply look for the next right thing.

Not only does this break the problem down into a more comfortable size, but it is in doing the next right thing that we start to see the path open up in front of us.

When life next gets a little overwhelming, remember:

Just do the next right thing.

The case for quitting

We don’t spend enough time quitting. I don’t mean giving up. We do plenty of that. I mean quitting.

4,680- that’s the number of weeks we have on this planet, assuming we make it to the ripe old age of 90.

936 of these weeks are gone by the time we turn 18.

1,560 by 30. And our best health is behind us!

Suddenly 4,680 doesn’t seem a whole lot. In fact, you’ve lost another one in just the last week…

So what does this have to do with quitting?

And more to the point, what do I mean by quitting? Let’s start there.

Our lives are filled with activities. Whether work, play, or interacting with others. The days are often full.

Quitting is taking the decision to stop engaging in a certain activity. This might be a job, or a hobby, or any number of things. But the key point here is that once we make the decision, that’s it. Finished.

I quit drinking for example. Last November. And, much to the surprise of my friends, am thoroughly enjoying the decision.

So how is quitting different to giving up? Both involve ceasing a certain activity. The difference lies in the motivation behind the decision.

Giving up focuses on the short term. And avoiding the short term pain of an activity. This might be trying to learn a new skill, or starting an exercise regime. We decide the short term price is too great and forgo our efforts.

Quitting focuses on the long term. We quit because we judge the activity not a worthwhile pursuit. And therefore, not worth any short term payoff. This might be the dead end job, the bad habit, or the fruitless activity.

When we quit, we see that we’re wasting our precious time by maintaining this activity.

And the benefits of quitting? Sizeable!

Once we’re comfortable with quitting we can shake off the labels and expectations that shackle us in life. We find ourselves free to pursue activities that energise and excite us, and can become more focused in doing so.

What could you be quitting? There really is no time like the present.

Creativity

All of us have the potential for creativity. And yet so many of us would describe ourselves “not a creative person”. Why?

Creativity appears when the mental state is right. When is stage is set. Whilst we all have the capacity for creativity many of us simply operate in the wrong frame of mind to cultivate it.

And this really comes down to focus.

Our attention is ours to put where we please and yet we so frequently put it in places that cause stress and worry.

Let me expand…

When a problem hits our plate, thoughts appear.

Pretty straightforward.

The difference then, comes in what those thoughts address.

When faced with this problem, we can either ruminate, anger and vent at the injustice of it all, casting our mind around for a scapegoat to blame for this unfairness, or, as the creative does, we can become curious of the problem- probing it and mulling it over for possible solutions…

So much of creativity is just getting out of your own way.

We are all creative. many of us simply stifle our creativity with a blanket of ruminations and worries.

And it works like a muscle! If we can teach ourselves to approach each new problem with a curious mind then magic starts to happen.

Screentime- a poem

Up we get,
what do we do? 
We grab our phones
To see what’s new,

We eat our breakfast,
we take a shower,
We’re out the door,
Before the hour

A crowded tube,
But never fear-
Candy Crush
Is always near,

We’re in the office,
We’re at our spot,
we open email,
What have we got?

The day moves on,
We’re rarely still,
Our buzzing phone
Is quite the thrill,

At last we’re off
And home we go
To catch up on
The latest show,

We watch an hour,
And then we find
Another episode
On our mind.

The hours pass,
And soon it’s late
Perhaps we can
Lie in till eight

We’re up the stairs,
we rest our head,
But even now
Our phone’s in bed,

So as we lie,
We scroll away,
What have we lost? 
Another day.

Enough

There’s a great story about the author Joseph Heller, that goes something like this:

Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer now dead, and I were at a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island.

I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel ‘Catch-22’ has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”

The reason I’m such a fan of this story is that it that the underlying wisdom goes so far beyond money.

We spend our lives looking to external events to make us happy; the promotion at work, the new car, the new partner even. But the truth is, whilst these might cause a short term spike in our happiness, they’ll have no lasting effects.

The trick then, to lasting happiness is that it must come from within. It is only when we’ve made peace with ourselves and where we are in life (wherever that may be!) that we can truly be happy.

This seems to be a lesson we learn too late in life. Which is a shame because we only get one shot and we can’t take anything with us when it’s over.

Our standards come from with in. If we are not happy now then no external stimulus is going to solve it for us.

More is never enough.

Sh*tty first draft

To start anything- write one shitty first draft. Simple.

This concept is borrowed from Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott’s fantastic book on writing and life.

So how does it work?

When you’re faced with a task, from writing to building a company, the way to start is just to get down one draft.

Don’t worry about it being good or making sense, no one will see it.

Just get it down.

And that’s it!

I’ve long been allergic to writing and for most of my life have done a pretty good job of avoiding anything more serious than a scribbled note. But then last year came about…

And I made the, perhaps rash, decision to start a company. And suddenly some sort of written competency became necessary.

Yet try as I might, the writing just did not come.

After a few completely fruitless sessions, I decided to read up on the subject.

To my delight, my prayers were answered in the first book I reached for, Bird by Bird.

The idea was simple, just get down a shitty first draft.

Fast forward a month and I’m writing everyday. And whilst the quality is surely questionable, the consistency holds firm.

Now just to figure out how to do a not-shitty second draft…