Elevator Space

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Elevators present an uncomfortable situation of putting strangers into a temporary box.

People like to give each other plenty of space, with two people often standing on opposite sides of the elevator. The newest rider stands in the middle. Everyone scoots accordingly when the elevator gets too packed, avoiding each other like uncomfortable sardines.

Some people look at their phones to avoid making eye contact, getting so glued that they forget to push the elevator button. Others cough, fidget and act aloof to this uncomfortable but common social experiment that is the elevator ride.

The pursuit of quietness creates awkwardness. After all, an elevator ride is less than a minute, and chances are high you won't see the same people again.

The occasional small talk helps ease some of the tension. Trust fills the elevator. All of a sudden, it feels too early to say goodbye.

But as soon as the elevator doors open up, anonymity refreshes and life goes back to our private worlds.

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gif via giphy

Note: the same things above also happen on an escalator.

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Note to Self

"Each of us constructs and lives a “narrative,” this narrative is us." - Oliver Sacks #quotes #life #gif

Oliver Sacks (RIP) used a different colored notebook for each of his ideas. He selected a green notebook to input his notes on philosophy.

Had he grown up a Millennial, his notebook would be his phone. He might use Evernote to categorize his notes in different folders. He might dump them all into the default Notes app on iPhone.

It doesn't really matter how or where you place your ideas and observations when you’re on the go. The most important thing is to write them down so you can remember them later.

Note-taking is really note-talking, the act of connecting disparate ideas to better understand yourself.

“Each of us constructs and lives a “narrative,” this narrative is us.” 

Oliver Sacks

art via giphy

di-ˈstrak-shən

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via giphy

We pursue distraction because we don’t know what else to do with our time. Social networking and TV (whichever boredom solution you prefer) is a gateway to instant happiness.

Focus means ignoring all the noise that makes your brain fat. It means turning off all push notifications on your phone.  It means sitting down with a blank paper or blank screen and sorting shit out from scratch.

“Every other Friday, I take a tech break by spending the day outlining ideas for new articles on regular old sheets of paper.” – Gregory Ciotti

It’s impossible to see forward when our eyes tethered to the nearest screen. There’s even a screen on the treadmill. Enough already!

My rule of thumb for the age of distraction is to try to produce as much as I consume.  Kids are tweeting and texting these days which means they’re writing more than ever, but is their prose any good? Quality comes from deliberate practice.

The glut of information stays in the gut.

Harnessing Brain Power

Everything is just a matter of organization. The way we organize our thoughts, our fears, and our work helps us understand, perceive, and make decisions in the world around us.

There is no such thing as the perfect organization. There’s only a system that works for you or doesn’t work at all and needs change. But most people prefer to accept their own confusion as stupidity and ignorance rather than a disassembly of thinking systems. The brain is no different than a notepad and a shelf, it just needs to be sorted out so it can remember where it put things.

Smart people may actually have a bigger brain than you, but they also know how to leverage the brain’s hard disk space to create a critical system of folders that allows them to connect different pieces of information more quickly. They also excel at focusing, knowing when to use their brain's bandwidth at its maximum capacity.

You’re not stupid, not at all, but possibly mentally disorganized. The good news is that brain is malleable and can be cleaned up.

The Power of Pause

There are three ways to reflect:

  1. Ask a question
  2. Experience life
  3. Learn something new

Ask a question

Asking a question is the most basic act of reflection, but it may also be the more potent because questions emerge from curiosity. There’s no such thing as a dumb question as long as the intention is to reflect heavily upon the answer, to achieve some clarity even if things remain unclear. Curiosity is at the core of asking questions.

Experience Life

We are the sum of our experience. You only know what you’ve done. But the thirst to know more emerges from thinking about the past and connecting the dots to predict the future. Life's lessons will pass you buy if you don’t reflect on what you experience.

Learn Something New

The history book and today’s newspaper mean nothing without reflecting on their significance. History tends to repeat itself because people forget the lessons they learned the first time. Learning is a process of evaluation. Information becomes valuable when it can be used to make real-life decisions.

Conclusion

Reflection is the process of seeking application in what we’re curious about, what we experience, and what we learn. The Internet’s information abundance and social network’s distractions make it hard to pause and reflect. But reflection is the only way to make sense of it all even if things remain uncertain afterward.

The Irrational Mind

You have to be a little irrational to get what you want. If you’re too practical, you may curb your chances from the start.

The whole point is to at least give it a shot, not because you’ll achieve exactly to your wishes but because you’ll be motivated to keep pushing forward.

Playing in the NBA is a pipe dream for most of us. But by playing basketball you may acquire the leadership and motivation to move on to coaching or take what you learned and apply it to something else like another sport, job, or side project.

The whole point is to build up enough confidence to take action, to persist a little bit, but also to identify your strengths and see new opportunities. Your job is to find the gaps and build up the courage to fill them in.

You have to be somewhat unrealistic to give anything a shot otherwise you’ll hesitate and hold back. You’re just shooting to make a point to yourself that anything is possible if you believe in the unbelievable.

It pays to be ignorant.

Silver Lining

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Here’s my definition of optimism:

Optimism is the ability to persist through bouts of itching negativity while maintaining your equanimity.

What determines your outlook depends on how well you cope with bad and potentially disastrous experiences while keeping realistic expectations and preparing a proper mindset for the future. Thoughts and action usually go hand in hand.

“To succeed, you must persist through C. R. A. P. – Criticism, Rejection, Assholes, & Pressure.” – Richard St. John

In short, “You got to keep on keeping on.”

The Walking Trend

Creative people tend to walk a lot. Walking refreshens the brain and stimulates ideas that may otherwise remain dormant while sitting in a chair.

“Wonderful things happen when your brain is empty.” – Maira Kalman

Studies show that walking is more powerful than meditation.

Walking is clearly beneficial to both body and mind. It’s so popular that Silicon Valley folks conduct interviews and meetings while walking. Walking is even considered a sport.

Walking is taking on new meaning. But are we walking for the sake of walking, the beautiful aimless activity that it is, or are we walking because it’s the new trendy thing to do?

Probably both. We all work 24/7 because of the mobile phone so any time we can live and play while being productive is a huge benefit.

Whether you’re looking to reset, to discover your surroundings, to gather ideas, or to talk business the only thing that matters is the act of walking. It’s like people complaining about social media. At least people are writing again! And now they’re walking too!

Free and cheap makes you fat

Everyone loves free stuff. But free stuff makes you fat. When I was a kid growing up in Texas, every restaurant offered free refills. Naturally, my friends and I always had two sodas.

When I moved up to the Northeast, refills didn’t exist. There was always an additional cost. But this cost-constrained choice. I wasn’t going to make my parents pay for more sugar water.

Just yesterday I got my free birthday coffee at Starbucks. The barista thought I was nuts for just ordering a grande Americano. But that’s all I wanted; I didn’t want the caramel macchiato that she was trying to convince me to order.

Enough is enough. Excess, especially at low-quality, can be more harmful than healthy. This goes for food as well as information. Absorbing too many Tweets, emails, and RSS feeds can leave a mind too bloated to reason.

Money is just one barrier in influencing healthier choices. If you have to pay for it, you may reconsider how you consume. Overall, free typically does more harm than good.

“The mother of excess is not joy but joylessness.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Everything in balance, they say.

Ask more questions

“Asking for a friend” usually means you’re asking a question for yourself.

We’re all just trying to figure shit out so we can move on with our lives a little less stressed.

Got an embarrassing personal issue? Confused about a work task?  It only gets worse if you hold it back and waste time googling or sending additional emails to find a solution.

Honest questions receive quicker answers.  

Asking questions projects ignorance but it’s never as bad as suffering from the unknown. Plus, your questions are never as dumb as you think. The wrong question is the one never asked.

Mindfulness gets its share of attention

“What’s work, what’s not work, it’s all become blurred.”

Sure has, we’re always on, always working, especially if your phone is also your work phone. You’re a touch away from answering an email.

“Not only do I put fewer things on my to-list but I actually get them done and done well. It’s like I’ve learned that to be more successful and accomplish more, I must first slow down.”

Single-tasking in today’s wired world is the only way to focus. Tim Ferriss recommends to make a list in the morning of the things bothering you and try to only do those things. Everything else just takes care of itself.

Stormy brains

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We devour information. We over-prepare our day by scrutinizing the weather. We try to control the future as much as we can.

Never in the history of the world have people been so informed. Cluttered minds gather data but use very little. Neurons stop connecting when they have limited room to breathe.

Subscribe to everything and subscribe to nothing. We are better thinkers with less, not more.