The first thing that most people do after waking up in the morning is check their phone.
I do it too.
But after scrolling through the twittersphere and seeing yet another coffee consuming startup company raised another gazillion dollars in their series gamma, I make my bed.
I haven’t always made my bed. In fact, I only started making my bed within the last couple of months. And although it may seem like the most menial and pointless of tasks, (I mean you’re just going to mess it up again not too long later) it has strangely added a sense of structure to my life.
I’ve talked about habits on a couple different posts before, and what strikes me about making my bed is that it’s a ritual that follows another ritual every morning. (there are very few times where I forget to sleep)
That way, by the time I get up to start my day, I know that I have gotten at least one thing right. A neat bed means I can start and end my day in an organized way. No matter how good or bad my day was, it always feels good to crawl into a neatly folded bed at the end of the day.
In fact, so many things pertaining to life is just like making my bed, because most things in life can be broken down into simple routines that are executed over and over. With just a little effort, so many of the little things add up to make huge differences.
It’s the little things in life, that when done right, contribute to the bigger picture. It’s the small wins that make up the big wins. You can’t run a marathon without learning how to take the first steps, just like you can’t get a degree without going through the first day of school.
I’ve noticed that there are a few areas personally for me to regularly maintain to keep myself at my best condition.
- Food and Water
- Creative Expression
What are your most important rituals?
Everyone has hundreds of thoughts everyday, and for most of us, it can be extremely paralyzing.
But as I’ve learned from a basic meditation training I’ve done recently through headspace, navigating your can be summarized in this analogy.
Consider that your mind is like a street, and each thought is like a car on the street. Instead of chasing the cars when the come by like we usually do, having peace and control over your thoughts and emotions is about just sitting on the side of the road and observing the cars that come by. Observe and acknowledge the cars, but let them pass.
The point of this exercise is to allow you to have more control over where your energy and thoughts go, instead of being tossed around and stressed out by all the different things on your mind.
And even if you don’t meditate in the traditional sense of the word, the essence of meditation is nothing more than being present and mindful about yourself.
When looking at an outcome and trying to replicate it, I often try to break it down by analyzing the things that contributed to it’s success. It makes logical sense that if I can break down everything that happens, I can figure out the reasons that things happened the way that they did.
People do this all the time. Books are written, talks are given, and curricula are organized all with the intent of formulating a step by step process to achieve a certain goal.
But it’s rarely that simple. As The Black Swan argues, “no evidence of black swans does not mean evidence of no black swans.”
In my experience, I find that even when I follow all the rules, and do everything that I theorized based off what I learned from other people, that the outcome is rarely the same outcome as someone else. Human life is so complicated that taking a specific habit or routine directly out of someone else’s life will work when applied to yours.
For instance, consider the area of health and nutrition. In my recent study of nutrition (reading In Defense of Food), it was brought to my attention that the results of eating natural, organic vegetables is completely different and much more positive than eating the exact nutrients known to mankind within the vegetables. In other words, having a healthy diet is much more than simply counting the nutrients in the foods, even though much of nutrition-ism claims equivalence.
The truth is, most things are so utterly complex, circumstantial and unpredictable that simply trying to sum parts together will leave gaping holes and blind spots that are impossible to be aware of.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that people should stop learning as much as possible from as many people as possible. The value in sharing experiences and learning from people isn’t in applying things verbatim, but having a wider range of perspectives in how to approach your own endeavors.
On one end of the spectrum, having too much information can be paralyzing and overwhelming, but with the right attitude and framework for learning, a vast wealth of information can be used to create a breadth of understanding that allows a person to be well rounded and wise in all areas, being open to the vast ranges of possibilities of things to come without the expectation of a single outcome.
Summing the parts you know doesn’t always result in the outcome you want, but it’s better than nothing.
I read a lot of content every day, but one of the few that I revisit often is Paul Graham’s “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule“. Essentially, Paul writes about the difference between how a maker schedules their time and how a manager schedules their time.
The reason I found that article so memorable and fascinating is because I found myself able to relate to both sides on a fairly deep level. Sometimes I work well on hourly divisions of my day, and sometimes I just need to focus in on one thing for a whole day and not be interrupted.
But most days, it’s a combination of the two. I’m generally a maker by early morning and late at night, and a manager by day and afternoon. In fact, I generally feel more productive in the mornings and evenings much more so than the afternoons. I call this “bookend productivity”, the reason why I have lost so many afternoons to unproductive slumps.
I’ve tried a lot of things to be as productive as possible, but somewhere along the line I realized that I was looking at time management all wrong. Connecting it with Paul Graham’s ideas, I realized that to be effective at time management, I had to learn how to be effective at energy management. In other words, it’s not so much about dividing up my time as it is dividing up my energy in a way to get over the humps of the days, weeks, months, and years.
That simple shift in thinking changed almost everything. I began paying more attention to where my energy was going, and what kind of energy certain activities were using. For example, I found that listening to podcasts and reading books work best for me late mornings / early afternoon. I also found that since afternoons seem to be too difficult to get any work done, I generally use that period to meet with people / do more social things.
In the past couple months that I’ve been paying attention to where my energy goes, I’ve found that there are a couple different areas:
- Social energy, the energy that I expend when I’m around people.
- Cognitive energy, the energy used when I’m working on a problem, writing code, etc.
- Linguistic energy, the energy used when reading, writing, or listening.
- Physical energy, the energy used when exercising.
- Emotional energy, the energy used in personal relationships, movies, or other forms of entertainment.
And instead of looking at these energy sources as a reservoir that gets used up, think of it as a muscle that needs to be trained. The more you work on one of these, it will feel good but drain you in the short term, but work you up to be more capable in the long term, and if you work any one of these too hard at any given time, it can drain you to a point where you can’t do any of them.
I’ve found that my most satisfied, productive, and fulfilled days are days in which I have a good combination of all areas and aspects of life.
I’m learning how to drive manual.
And in learning how to drive, like any other active learning process, there are two mentalities that emerge. The Inner Game of Tennis talks about these two mentalities that often are at odds with each other, often leading to a self-sabotage of the learning process.
The first, called the outer self, is the part of the learning process that thinks logically about the situation. For example, in driving stick, the outer self sets specific speeds at which to change gears, and attempts to give specific instructions on what to do with the stick at what point.
In contrast, the inner self is the part that learns intuitively and by feeling. When someone learning to drive stick stalls the car, the inner self assesses how the car felt during the time, and internalizes the feelings associated with failing.
As Timothy Gallwey argues, the inner self is what allows tennis players to achieve mastery through proper focus and mental performance. Most of the time, the outer self is much louder than the inner self, and reacts negatively whenever a mistake is made.
Thus, the challenge in letting the inner self learn properly is about knowing how to quiet the part of the mind that is micromanaging every action. It’s about learning to direct your focus on how things feel, and trusting yourself in the process.
While learning manual, accidentally stalling the car at a stoplight brings out the intense conflict between the inner and outer self. The outer self is calling myself stupid, while the inner self is attempting to learn from the mistake. Of course, since it all happens so fast, it’s easy to let the outer self take over, panic, and stall the car three more times at the same intersection.
Quieting the outer self is about being intentional about recognizing and acknowledging thoughts, but not engaging with or judging them. It’s about learning to focus deeply on what is happening, and how your focus or lack of focus on the task itself is affecting the outcome.
It’s not positive thinking, it’s properly directed focus.
Everything in life whether it be business or family or otherwise, all boils down to interactions and relationships with people.
Everyone knows the story of Rosa Parks, A black woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus during the era of racial segregation. But the reason Parks was able to spark such a movement was not because of her brave act. Many blacks during that time were also standing up for themselves when whites mistreated them.
But why was Rosa Parks so successful?
Simply put, Rosa Parks was extremely well connected. She was known by government officials for her work in the NAACP and known by communities for being extremely supportive in schools and churches. She had a way of building rapport with everyone around her.
Then, when the famous event happened on the bus on that historical day, it united everyone who knew her and stirred up a reaction big enough to put the event into history.
The same goes for countless of other instances in history.
It’s easy as a creative or an entrepreneur to think that as long as I build something of quality, people will come. It’s easy to just focus on our craft and not get to know the people and the markets around us. Especially with the internet it’s easy to assume that posting on facebook or tweeting a message will get engagement, but that has no comparison to truly getting to know and building a relationship with someone else.
If you just know how to connect people and don’t have anything of quality, people won’t stay. But when you are both connected and have something incomparable to anything else out there, you can start a movement.