Bog! Welcome to this week's digest. This week is a very special "Ugh" edition, which is a rough approximation of how the day after NYE celebration felt (thank you alcohol, weed, sugar, and 3am bedtime =/). While it was fun embracing all of the festivity and ridiculousness of the holiday season, the second and third order negative consequences of how I chose to celebrate serve to reinforce the value of 'standard' rituals like early bed time, sobriety, eating clean, etc. Variance, experimentation, and serendipity are important, but so is analyzing the feedback objectively, and commensurately changing course (sustainably). The best part of this week was not the celebrating, but the restoration and recovery to get back to feeling normal. I just need to remind myself of that whenever the celebration temptations arise (GOOD LUCK ;D).

This week's topics include embracing creativity, setting goals, enabling silence (again), groups in conflict, dead American novelists, screen time, and the importance of meaning in our lives. Enjoy!

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Did you miss a recent digest? Read recent digests 63, 62 (or dive into the full archive).
  • DOCUMENTARY - Wild Wild Country by Chapman and Maclain Way  - When groups with different fundamental values come into conflict, the ridiculousness of human dynamics can unfold in unbelievable ways.
  • MOVIE - The End of the Tour by James Ponsoldt  - No one is too "smart" or "brilliant" or "aware" to suffer from mental health issues. Embrace a mental health toolkit and do the work, the world is better with you in it and fully alive.
  • ARTICLE - TechCrunch: We finally started taking screen time seriously in 2018 by Catherine Shu - As evidence stacks up against screen time, we have opportunities to leverage existing tools and perform self-experiments to optimize our usage for our individual goals and context.
  • BOOK - Man's Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl (My revised Kindle notes) - Finding meaning, embracing our freedom to choose, and forgetting ourselves are important keys to a happy life, regardless of external circumstances.

"The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life." ~ Dr. Viktor Frankl
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (AKA I have a lot to learn from you)

Minh, 'Answering The Drucker Question' for Big Magic about embracing creativity
: I took the last newsletter's Drucker question to heart and finished a painting I've put on hold for quite a long time, and also went into a hip hop dance class :)

Beautiful! It's amazing what we can accomplish with a little focus and catalyzing energy :D

Misha, asking about goal setting: How do you approach strategy planning/goal setting for the year in an intentional, authentic, holistic, and achievable way? My natural tendency is to get too ambitious, and then fail to keep up; I try to think about SMART goals, but just because something is easily measurable/trackable, it doesn't mean it's the right thing to measure. Further, my interests and goals evolve throughout the year, and I'd like to balance working steadily towards the longer term vision (and not tossing aside creative or difficult pursuits for the next shiny object) with staying flexible enough to follow my curiosity and allowing valuable or necessary changes along the way.

TL;DR: Track the outcomes you care about, but set goals based on processes that you feel comfortable adjusting as you get more feedback.

You are incredibly thoughtful about goal setting already! I love your insight that a metric being measurable =/= the right metric to track. Two guiding principles that can be helpful for goal setting:
  • (1) Focus on processes, not outcomes - The process is within your control, and the outcomes are not. You want to measure and track your outcomes, too, to see if your processes are making an impact. But your ultimate goal focus should be on doing the work. For example, last year, I 'failed' at using this principle when it came to strength training. I was focused on specific strength benchmarks (i.e., lift X weight), and not simply doing the training. So when I would do the necessary foundational work in support of my goals that did not involve improving my goal metric, it did not feel like progress. This year, to better adhere to this principle, I'm simply counting the number of sessions, i.e., am I adhering to the process that I know works.
  • (2) Embrace an experimentation mindset - Additionally, we often do not know the discrete processes to reach our desired outcomes. In this case, we often use the outcome as the goal, and assume we will get creative. This can work for some. I would rather recommend engineering experimentation into the process and turning that into the goal. For example, this year, I'm attempting weekly experiments (e.g., this week I experimented with more silence) across the spheres of life. The issue with outcomes-based goal setting, or even rigid year-long process goal setting, is that it does not sufficiently accommodate us being 'wrong' about the process on January 1st. If we can broaden our processes to embrace experimentation, then we can hit our 'goal' while not being too rigid.

Results from Prior Week's Experiment, Silence (Part 1)The increase of 'silence' in my life at the gym and in transit was a net positive last week!! In particular, it enabled more reading (in cars and on the subway), more focus at the gym (shocker! turns out I was paying too much attention to song selection and not enough to the workout), and a small improvement in my typical phone call reticence. The 'cost' was consuming fewer podcasts, which ended up meaning that I became more selective. This ended up being a trade of the bottom 30% of my podcast listening for more reading, focus, and phone time, which I am very happy to continue into the foreseeable future!

Hypothesis[Same as Silence (Part 1)] Embracing more silence in my life will restore the balance of inputs vs. processing time, leading to more creativity, serendipity, appreciation, and focus on what matters most.

Genesis[Same as Silence (Part 1)] Listening to James Altucher's podcast recently, he described a recent experiment that he ran to not use his phone when outside his home or office. This resonated deeply with me because: (1) It helped me realize that I was not intentionally running experiments in my life, trying out new ways of being or innovating; (2) It dawned on me that I have wanted more silence and less phone time, and not taking action, for most of 2018. I want to get to work and try to change both of these :D

Specific Action(s): Build on Part 1, this time with phone screen time. One of my defaults when waiting around is anxious checking of the phone - quickly cycling through text and e-mail to see if there's anything I can process. This week, I want to substitute silence, meditation, or reading into that waiting time. If I can more habitually either focus on my breath, or have my book (kindle) with me more often, I am confident that will be a net positive compared to compulsively checking my phone.

Specific Outcome(s)[Same as Silence (Part 1)]  A very unscientific, qualitative evaluation of net impact, positive or negative. Also, with Screen Time on my iPhone, I can track time on screen and pickups.

DOCUMENTARY - Wild Wild Country by Chapman and Maclain Way  - Incredible documentary exploring a transplanted religious community's battle with the state of Oregon in the early 1980's over their right to exist and practice. Unbelievable at times, and absolutely better than fiction. Long (~6 hours broken into six episodes), and totally worth it.

One-Sentence Takeaway: When groups with different fundamental values come into conflict, the ridiculousness of human dynamics can unfold in unbelievable ways.

Answering The Drucker Question: Identify a group conflict in your life (e.g., U.S. politics, departments at work, etc.), and try to see the conflict from the other group's perspective. Is it possible for them to be good people simply doing their best to protect their most important interests?

Complement with Groups in ConflictThe Righteous Mind, and Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru.

My high level takeaways:
  • There is an arbitrary dividing line between "religions" and "cults": Are cults just new religions where the leader is still alive? The line between the Rajneeshee's 'crazy' beliefs and widespread religions' beliefs are blurry. The outrage towards Rajneeshee beliefs feels like it was driven simply my newness and first-mover advantage of existing religions, as well as the highly sexual nature of this group (which is not illegal, just subjectively questionable by some moral codes). If Rajneeshees had established America, and Puritans tried to setup an experimental community, would the narrative have unfolded much differently?
  • Individuals and groups will go to extremes to protect their interests: My read of the violence and escalation between Antelope / Oregon / the U.S. and the Rajneeshees is that this can be explained simply (Occam's Razor!) as a persecuted minority trying to protect itself (albeit through extreme and unethical measures). As the perception of external threat escalated, the reactions of the persecuted minority escalated. This can be further applied to the internal 'elite' group dynamics of the Rajneeshees - as Sheela's inner circle felt more threatened internally, her measures to protect the inner circle and the broader Rajneeshee community got more extreme. I am curious to see how that community would have evolved if it was given full religious autonomy and freedom to run its city as it saw fit (within broader U.S. law, so perhaps sans the relatively minor immigration fraud).
  • The allowance for exercise of state and local community rights seemed inconsistent: I failed to see serious violations of state and local rights by the Rajneeshee community. There is a relatively large swathe of political sympathy for more state and local rights (e.g., abortion laws), yet when it comes to practices people don't like (e.g., naked dancing, poly-amorous relationships), all of a sudden many will change their tune on the broader principle.
  • Non-feasibility of "self-sustaining" communities: The Rajneeshee community seemed to be sustained primarily by (1) Imported skills and expertise provided at subsidized rates (e.g., lawyers trained in law schools); and (2) Donations. I'd love to see the P&L for the community to understand if there was ever long-term viability as a 'self-sustaining' community. Also, for all of the dreams of a Utopian community, the fallibility of humans and our group dynamics always seems to get in the way. Basically, Animal Farm feels destined to play out in all of these 'flat' hierarchies.
  • Questionable rule of law in the face of "existential" threats: Oregon and the U.S. go to extreme lengths to 'defend' against the Rajneeshee community, including suspending the rule of law (i.e., in the case of not allowing the 'new' Oregon residents to register to vote), and "Al Capone'ing" Bhagwan on the minor immigration fraud charges. The legal system did was it thought was right, but there was definitely a mix of major and minor suspension of rule of law and procedural justice. I have mixed feelings here.
  • The importance of meaning, love, and acceptance: For many people, from rich Europeans to American homeless, the Rajneeshee community provided feelings of meaning, love, and acceptance that bonded them strongly to their community, because they couldn't find this in the rest of the world. When we fail to provide these 'basic' needs to people, we see the extremes to which they will go to create their own system (N.B., Trumpism). At any point in time, given the finite nature of external contexts and a wide variety of preferences, there is probably always a group of 'lost' people who can be coerced into joining novel communities like this.
  • Our distortion of memory to suit personal narratives"I remember everyone was in a good mood always". Sheela's internal narrative and justifications for terrible acts of violence and other crimes. Holy shit do we lie to ourselves to keep up our hero narratives. Bhagwan seems to represent the human manifestation of the community members' personal growth and sense of belonging - they attribute all of that positive affect to him and his teachings (and thus strongly love and are loyal to him).

A couple related thought experiments to push our thinking:
  • Mirroring this story with the U.S. conquest of Native American peoples: At a macro level, this story starts as forty citizens and two ranchers feeling uncomfortable with the practices of a new, experimental community of ten thousand who have 'invaded' their land. Is this how the Native Americans felt about U.S. explorers / homesteaders? When the perspectives are reversed, what does that story look like? Who is 'good' and 'evil'?
  • Mormonism and Las Vegas: Why are Mormon communities (Utah) and Las Vegas allowed to exist, but not this community? Which communities violate 'American' (Christian) values more, and how? Which ones offer a 'better' way of living? Why is this one OK and the other not? Mormonism feels like a fair comparable in terms of novelty and impact on local communities (i.e., both espouse novel moral values, but ought to be able to stay), and Las Vegas seems outright ridiculous relative to this group's values (i.e., it feels absurd to me that Las Vegas is legal and this is not).

MOVIE - The End of the Tour by James Ponsoldt  - This movie is the story of a nearly week-long Rolling Stone interview of David Foster Wallace, a renowned American novelist (he wrote Infinite Jest, and is also known for an incredible commencement address, This is Water) who struggled with mental health issues and eventually committed suicide in 2008. The movie offers a meaningful glimpse into David's life and philosophy. The film itself is OK, I share it with you because of David's thoughtful perspective (and monologues in the movie), and to draw more attention to his incredible work, particularly This is Water. Watch this movie or don't, but definitely take a few minutes to learn more about David's philosophy. And appreciate that even "brilliant" minds can succumb to mental health issues.

Note: According to my kindle, I made it ~8% of the way through Infinite Jest before putting it down. *Fuck* it is long.

One-Sentence Takeaway: No one is too "smart" or "brilliant" or "aware" to suffer from mental health issues. Embrace a mental health toolkit and do the work, the world is better with you in it and fully alive.

Answering The Drucker Question: Identify two cultural consumption norms where you'd prefer to stay "weird" in your consumption patterns, to optimize for your needs.

Complement with Man on the Moon and The Acceleration of Addictiveness.

My highlights:
  • As the internet grows in the next ten, fifteen years... we're gonna have to develop some real machinery inside our guts to turn off pure, unalloyed pleasure... The technology is just going to get better and better, and it's going to get easier and easier, and more and more convenient, and more and more pleasurable to sit alone with images on a screen given to us by people who do not love us but want our money. And that's fine, in low doses. But if it's the basic main staple of your diet, you're going to die. In a very meaningful way, you're going to die.
  • The not very sophisticated diagnosis is that I was depressed. At that point my ego was all tied up in my writing. It's the only thing I'd gotten food pellets from the universe for. And I felt very trapped. "Uh oh, my five years are up, and I got to move on, I don't want to move on." And I felt stuck... I felt like my life was over at 28, and I felt really bad, and I did not want to feel that and so I did all sorts of stuff. I would drink real heavy, I would fuck strangers. Sometimes I would not drink at all for like two weeks, but instead I would like run 10 miles every morning in a desperate, very American, I will fix this somehow by taking radical action sort of thing.
  • When you're used to doing heavy duty literary stuff that doesn't sell well, being human animals with egos, you accommodate that fact by the following equation: If something sells really well, gets a lot of attention, it's gotta be shit. The ultimate irony is if your thing starts selling well, gets a lot of attention, the very mechanism you used to shore yourself up when your thing didn't sell well is now part of the darkness nexus when it does. So you're totally screwed. You can't win.
  • I just think that to look across a room, and to automatically assume that somebody is less aware, or that their interior life is somehow less rich and complicated and acutely perceived as mine, makes me not as good a writer. Because it means I'm going to be performing for some faceless audience, instead of trying to have a conversation with a person.

ARTICLE - TechCrunch: We finally started taking screen time seriously in 2018 by Catherine Shu  - Catherine's piece provides an excellent summary of how the conversation on phone screen time has evolved this year (TL;DR - The evidence is stacking up against screen time). It also offers an insightful glimpse into her personal experience experimenting with various ways to curb her screen time use. The screen time issues she (and many of us) face are similar to that of food diets because we *must* eat (and use our phones, at times), but we have to eat the right way for us. There is no option to stop cold turkey. To continue the metaphor, I'd advocate that dieting won't work with phone screen time, just like it doesn't work with nutrition - we each need to find a sustainable consumption pattern, probably with the help of expert guidance and self-experimentation.

One-Sentence Takeaway: As evidence stacks up against screen time, we have opportunities to leverage existing tools and perform self-experiments to optimize our usage for our individual goals and context.

Answering The Drucker Question: Take the Smartphone Compulsion Test (linked below) and identify any misalignment between your actual phone use and your goals for phone use. If there are gaps, get curious and see if there are opportunities to take action and bridge them with an experiment or two.

Complement with the Smartphone Compulsion Test. Note: I scored a six (!!). Sheesh. The questions helped me draw out that my phone behavior is OK, but my mindset about my phone can still improve (e.g., feeling anxiety without service, like while hiking).

My highlights:
  • [Catherine Price] writes that “phones and most apps are deliberately designed without ‘stopping cues’ to alert us when we’ve had enough—which is why it’s so easy to accidentally binge. On a certain level, we know that what we’re doing is making us feel gross. But instead of stopping, our brains decide the solution is to seek out more dopamine. We check our phones again. And again. And again.
  • Just as sugar changes your palate, making you crave more and more sweets to feel sated, I was worried that the incremental doses of immediate gratification my phone doled out would diminish my ability to feel genuine joy and pleasure.
  • I found my concentration really did improve significantly after just a week of limiting my smartphone use. I read more long-form articles, caught up on some TV shows, and finished knitting a sweater for my toddler. Most importantly, the nagging feeling I had at the end of each day about frittering all my time away diminished...
  • [Tim] Kendall stresses that Moment does not see smartphone use as an all-or-nothing proposition. Instead, he believes that people should replace brain junk food, like social media apps, with things like online language courses or meditation apps. “I really do think the phone used deliberately is one of the most wonderful things you have,” he says.
  • Many smartphone users are probably in my situation: alarmed by their screen time stats, unhappy about the time they waste, but also finding it hard to quit their devices. We don’t just use our smartphones to distract ourselves or get a quick dopamine rush with social media likes. We use it to manage our workload, keep in touch with friends, plan our days, read books, look up recipes, and find fun places to go.

- Man's Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl (My revised Kindle notes) - An absolute must-read if you are feeling stuck or unsure of your path forward! This book is one part description of living through the holocaust in a concentration camp, and one part psychology thesis as a result of that experience. Viktor provides thoughtful analogies and analysis on topics like the importance of meaning in our lives, our freedom to react, and the hidden opportunity embedded within seemingly terrible situations. Whatever is going on in your life, this book really helps put everything in perspective and empowers you to constructively move forward.

One-Sentence Takeaway: Finding meaning, embracing our freedom to choose, and forgetting ourselves are important keys to a happy life, regardless of external circumstances.

Answering The Drucker Question: Identify seemingly negative situations in your life. Take a mental step back and observe them as if they were happening to someone else. See if their are opportunities for positivity and growth embedded within these situations.

My highlights:
  • The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life.
  • Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation...
  • [S]uccess, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the byproduct of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.
  • [A] man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.
  • But in robbing the present of its reality there lay a certain danger. It became easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of camp life, opportunities which really did exist… people forgot that often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself.
  • ...we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct.
  • It is apparent that the mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing. Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn. The boundaries between groups overlapped and we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils... The rift dividing good from evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss...
  • Thus it can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become… What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.
  • This emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of logotherapy, which is: “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”… invites him to imagine first that the present is past and, second, that the past may yet be changed and amended. Such a precept confronts him with life’s finiteness as well as the finality of what he makes out of both his life and himself.
  • The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself… [S]elf actualization is possible only as a side effect of self transcendence.
  • At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence...
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