Kon'nichiwa! Welcome to this week's digest. This is a very special "In Bloom" edition, because a visit to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden reminded me of the diversity and beauty available in even the densest of urban jungles (plus this is a teaser for Nirvana at the end ;D).
This week's topics include an information blackout, hip-hop reflecting on societal norms, gratitude strategies, the interplay of relationships and ambition, and teen angst enabling focused work. Enjoy!
If you like this digest and know others who want to live an examined life, share this with them, play shuffleboard, and / or water your plants.
"You know a wise man once said nothin' at all" ~ Drake
TOPIC OF INTEREST - PHYSICAL HEALTH INFORMATION BLACKOUT
TL;DR: I am opting for an information blackout on physical health topics (i.e., nutrition, exercise, and sleep) until 2019. We already know enough to be dangerous, it's time to focus on execution!
Settling into life in NYC, friends ping to see how I am doing, to hear what is new and exciting (thank you :D). The honest answer is that there is nothing new and exciting... there is simply the day to day hard work of cultivating a meaningful life. And as I attempt to re-install my myriad rituals that enable that meaningful life (documented in Sensible Living, and shown way more clearly in this single slide) across dimensions like work, relationships, healthy eating, etc., it dawns on me that we each already know so much about how to cultivate that life. The hardest part is actual execution.
Per usual, there are two people (at least) who are way smarter than me and who figured this out ages ago. First, Dale Carnegie. In his timeless book How to Win Friends & Influence People, Dale espoused a handful of principles that we already know, and yet do not practice often enough. The key to building better relationships is not reading another book or article, it is consistently practicing what we already know. Second, Derek Sivers. Via Tim Ferriss, I discovered his delightful quote, “If [more] information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.” Amazing.
So how to put this into practice? I have decided to stop learning (*gasp*) in realms where I have principles that I strongly believe in, but where I am not executing well enough. To start with, physical health, i.e., nutrition, exercise, and sleep. Over the last decade, I have found (unsurprisingly) that when I live by simple principles in these areas of life, the experience of daily living is meaningfully better (e.g., more energy, better mood, etc.). For example, sleep. If all I do is get my butt to bed on time (~10:30p), sober, without screen exposure immediately before, I'll be fine. And messing with this simple habit leads to immediate negative consequences the next day. I don't need to read a single sentence more about sleep, I just need to get my butt to bed on time. And so the hard work is re-installing this known ritual in a new environment.
Also per usual, I want to put an experimental framework around this. I am time bounding to the rest of 2018 (~2 months), monitoring KPI's around execution in physical health habits, and curious to see what else I do with the free'd up time (and how much time that actually is). This is not perfect scientific method, but this is exciting enough to change my normal patterns of behavior.
Note: If you see physical health related content in the 'Best of What I Consumed This Week' section of the digest for the rest of 2018, *please* call me out on my bullshit! I appreciate the accountability :D
BEST OF WHAT I CONSUMED THIS WEEK
MUSIC - Emotionless by Drake - Words of wisdom from the leading warrior poet of our time.
Good-hearted people are takin' it to extremes | Leavin' me in limbo to question what I believe | Leavin' me to ask what's their motive in makin' peace | Leavin' me to not trust anybody I meet | Leavin' me to ask is there anybody like me?
Missin' out on my days | Scrollin' through life and fishin' for praise | Opinions from total strangers take me out of my ways
I know a girl whose one goal was to visit Rome | Then she finally got to Rome | And all she did was post pictures for people at home | 'Cause all that mattered was impressin' everybody she's known
Look at the way we live | I wasn't hidin' my kid from the world | I was hidin' the world from my kid | From empty souls who just wake up and look to debate
You know a wise man once said nothin' at all
PODCAST - The Tim Ferriss Show: 10 Strategies to Be Happier Through Gratitude by A.J. Jacobs - Installing gratitude rituals in my life has been one of the most positive changes made over the past decade. In this guest host edition of The Tim Ferriss Show, A.J. provides a variety of strategies and rationales for adding gratitude and appreciation to our days. Take a listen and take action! Make a commitment to yourself to live outside yourself :D
The idea was to show that every little thing in our lives involves thousands of people that we take for granted... Learning how to be grateful is one of the most important things I've learned in my life. As psychologists will tell you, gratitude is a key to happiness, if not the key to happiness.
Strategy #1: Declare war on the negative bias... Humans are born with a negative bias. If you hear a hundred compliments and a single insult, what do you remember? The insult... The best weapon [to fight this negative bias] is gratitude. Particularly the type of gratitude where you focus on the hundreds of things that go right every day instead of the three or four that go wrong.
#2: Savoring... Savoring is all about taking a moment and stretching it out, holding onto the moment as long as possible, and shifting our sense of time so life's little annoyances dissolve away. Because otherwise life goes by in a blur, an undifferentiated grey goo.
Strategy #4: Don't forget you're going to die... You can either find that depressing, or you can find that liberating. Realize we only have one [life]... and I'm going to try to make the best of it.
I have a three word mantra that I find very helpful [to be grateful for the world as it is today]: "Surgery without anesthesia."
Strategy #7: Try to discover the hidden masterpieces all around you.
Fake gratitude until you feel it... When you act in a certain way, it affects your thinking... Behavior affects your mind... It's easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than think your way into a new way of acting.
The wonderful paradox is that the more you focus on other people, the happier you are. I spent most of my 20's and 30's focused exclusively on my own happiness. And when you are chasing your own happiness, as the sages will tell you, you're not always going to be happy.
ARTICLE - The Atlantic: Relationships Are More Important Than Ambition by Emily Esfahani Smith - A wonderful piece demonstrating the importance of strong relationships and community in our lives. It is easy (and socially validated in meritocratic societies) to prioritize our careers over meaningful relationships, yet this mental model seems flat out wrong. We leave our family and friends to go to THE BEST [school / job]. We spend our lives at the office to earn money as a way to be there for our families (instead of, I don't know, physically being there with our families but earning less). In a recent podcast, Mihir Desai, a professor at HBS, talked about the two biggest fears of his students: (1) Fear of failure; and (2) Fear of not being loved. The problem we have is that we often strongly (and incorrectly) correlate the two - if I fail in professional life, the people I love won't be there for me. And so we bust our asses to professionally succeed, instead of simply building and accepting the unconditional love that is available for us in strong relationships and community. Fuck the proxy variables for love and esteem like salary and status, let's go after love and esteem directly! /rant
The conflict between career ambition and relationships lies at the heart of many of our current cultural debates... Ambition drives people forward; relationships and community, by imposing limits, hold people back.
...when it came to well-being, the findings were mixed. Judge and Kammeyer-Mueller found that ambition is only weakly connected with well-being and negatively associated with longevity. "There really wasn't a big impact from ambition to how satisfied people were with their lives," Kammeyer-Mueller, a business school professor, told me. At the same time, ambitious people were not miserable either. "People who are ambitious are happy that they have accomplished more in their lives," he says.
[Psychologist Tim] Kasser, the author of The High Price of Materialism, has shown that the pursuit of materialistic values like money, possessions, and social status-the fruits of career successes-leads to lower well-being and more distress in individuals. It is also damaging to relationships...
...community is strongly connected to well-being... social connections—in the form of marriage, family, ties to friends and neighbors, civic engagement, workplace ties, and social trust—"all appear independently and robustly related to happiness and life satisfaction, both directly and through their impact on health."... This may explain why Latin Americans, who live in a part of the world fraught with political and economic problems, but strong on social ties, are the happiest people in the world, according to Gallup.
Reflecting on what he went through when Ruthie was sick, he told me that the secret to the good life is "setting limits and being grateful for what you have. That was what Ruthie did, which is why I think she was so happy, even to the end." Meanwhile, many of his East Coast friends, who chased after money and good jobs, certainly achieved success, but felt otherwise empty and alone.
ARTICLE - NY Times: The Ambition Explosion by David Brooks - Sharing Brooks' work to highlight the benefits of the meritocratic organizational structure, with his important caveats that account for the takeaways from the prior article.
The real contradiction of capitalism is that it arouses enormous ambition, but it doesn’t help you define where you should focus it. It doesn’t define an end to which you should devote your life. It nurtures the illusion that career and economic success can lead to fulfillment, which is the central illusion of our time.
Capitalism on its own breeds people who are vaguely aware that they are not living the spiritually richest life, who are ill-equipped to know how they might do so, who don’t have the time to do so, and who, when they go off to find fulfillment, end up devoting themselves to scattershot causes and light religions.
Capitalist ambition is an energizing gale force. If there’s not an equally fervent counterculture to direct it, the wind uproots the tender foliage that makes life sweet.
MOST FAVORITE FROM THE PAST
MUSIC - Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana - An absolute classic song from the teenage angst days. I used this song to clear my head and get amped up before taking tests in high school and college. At the time, I did not know how to quiet my mind, so I instead relied on drowning out my mind with music. Basically, I lucked out early on in both: (1) Realizing the need for presence and focus in high performance environments; and (2) Finding a tool to realize that presence and focus (with some minor hearing loss as a bonus ;D).