Into the wilderness

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The game of goal setting is a choice. Instead of leaving your future to the whims of nature, you create your own course and chase an ideal outcome.

As Hunter S. Thompson advised: “a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.”

Choice, however, does not make the road more predictable.

Setting out a degree of chance and failure is a good thing. Losing one dream often redirects you into other adventures. Success is a corollary to effort, although you must be confidently blind hoping everything works out in the end.

Nothing is stopping you from calling it a day, cease thinking for yourself, and pursuing absolutes. Every school wants obedient students.

But human beings are hardwired to seek meaning, to go beyond the foundation and stretch the imagination. To play servant to autopilot is the cousin of death.

When open enough, optimistic, and thinking a bit different, you’d be surprised at how often your ambitions boomerang back into your life.

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The simple but effective Pomodoro Technique 🍅

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Thirty years ago, college student Francesco Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to help improve his productivity.

Working for 25-minutes intervals with 5-minute breaks in between, he called it the Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro translates to tomato in Italian.

The time-management method intends to help people focus on tackling projects uninterrupted, grouping pomodoros together to track their efforts.

I’ve used the Pomorodo Technique in the past as a placebo just to get me started on a blog post. There are plenty of apps out there like Focus Keeper to track your performance. But you can also buy a physical tomato timer on Amazon to recreate Cirillo’s original experience.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the system, Cirillo is also publishing the official The Pomodoro Technique book. Writes the creator:

“Time passes, slips away, moves toward the future. If we try to measure ourselves against the passage of time, we feel inadequate, oppressed, enslaved and defeated more and more with every second that goes by. We lose our élan vital, the life force that enables us to accomplish things.”

We may not be able to control time but the least we can do is try to take advantage of the time we have. As Jerry Seinfeld says, ‘don’t break the chain.’

You can find out more about Francesco Cirillo and the Pomodoro Technique on his website here.  

Trust the routine

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The writer, blogger, or boxer must always keep in training. The artist or athlete can’t wait for the muse to inject them with productivity serum.

Routine is much more compelling than inspiration, which is fickle, comes in flashes, and rarely sticks.

On the flipside of consistency, is also imperfection. The practician not only faces the resistance, they also face human error.

Showing up every day is one thing, doing it again knowing that a positive result won’t yield is yet another habit to develop.

Error is human. You need some form of struggle to remind you what needs tweaking. However, when the going gets good, you’ll want to maintain it.

If you’re wondering how you’re going to do it all again tomorrow, build off the confidence of yesterday.

I’ll leave you with this advice from thought leader and psychologist Benjamin Hardy.

Get this clear: confidence is a direct reflection of past performance. Hence, yesterday is more important than today. Luckily, today is tomorrow’s yesterday. So, even if your confidence today isn’t optimal, your confidence tomorrow is still within your control.

What holds attention determines distraction

Even checked distractions will lead you to distraction. What holds attention determines distraction

This very day I have been repeating over and over to myself a verbal jingle whose mawkish silliness was the secret of its haunting power. I loathed yet could not banish it. 

What holds attention determines action.

William James, The Principles of Psychology

Was it a rhyme or a sick joke that got in the thinker’s way? What do you think James was referring to?

Fast forward to modern day distraction

The courage to believe

If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?

Faith drives action. Faith drives results. Without faith, nothing works.

Indifference and pessimism are attractive because they’re the easiest to obtain, the most accessible to deploy and practice.

“Ask yourself this: would your childhood self be proud of you, or embarrassed?” — Julien Smith, The Flinch

Pursuing the good stuff requires work that’s never easy. The game of goal-setting aks for obstacles. But that’s where excitement and expectation push you forward.

Beliefs are mere guesses

Wouldn’t you prefer to cultivate courage and confidence rather than cowardice and negativity? Never blind to outcome, but never sold on the end-game of hurdles either.

Always remember that where your attention goes, your energy flows. — Kevin Horsley, Unlimited Memory

Appreciate the grind. Remaining perpetually interested should become part of your mind.

Until belief exists, action has not really begun.

The Bullet Journal: An analog system for a digital age

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You can count me in as one of the people that succeeds from an analog to-do list. I’ve tried countless to-do apps, and none of them push me to get stuff done like the written word.

Keep yourself honest by adopting the bullet journal system, if only to remind yourself what actually deserves your attention.

How a Bullet Journal Works

Here is how it works: you take a blank notebook, any blank notebook. You can, if you wish, buy a special one, but the notebook isn’t the point – the Bullet Journal is a method, not an object. You number the pages as you go along, having set aside a few pages at the front that over time become your contents list. Then each month you handwrite a calendar called the “monthly log” followed by a “daily log” of tasks, events and notes, marked respectively by bullet points, circles and dashes. Each day you manually cross out tasks you have completed and then rewrite the undone ones for the next day.

Read How the Bullet Journal stopped me lying to myself

Fleeting motivation


Here today, gone tomorrow. Motivation is fickle.

But what if you promised yourself you’d get it done regardless of how you felt?

Going to the gym, doing homework, emailing the boss — there is no time like now time.

You’ll feel incentivized if, under no circumstance, you have to do it anyway.

Good habits are non-negotiable.

The plethora of neurocognitive connections that empower your actions know that you don’t always have to like what you do.

You just have to stay grounded in the experience, to avoid leaving the box unchecked. As Jerry Seinfeld encourages us, “Don’t break the chain.”

Productivity occurs when what you must do no longer needs to stay determined to complete it.

Through repetition, you can sculpt your brain to stave off the opposable mind.

PS. If you want to track your progress, consider the bullet journal system.

The nothing special

Look for a way of life, unmoored from staring at the donut hole.

Conversely, the hybrid of work and life is what makes the donut whole.

The game of goal-setting is paradoxically non-interventionist.

You don’t attack the carrot, you chew on it slowly.

The policy of non-engagement holds into force the inertia of nature’s progress.

Overworked and lost in the myriad force of competition and conformity, you inevitably emerge with fewer exuberant efforts and more residual impact.

What remains is essential, remarkably slow, vanished is the hurry.

“No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.” — Virginia Woolf

A little more audience, a little more action

It’s rough and ruthless, but criticism saves you time. People aren’t trying to be mean. They’re just trying to keep you from banging your head into the same wall.

Scientists can’t continue publishing the same paper over and over again. Apple can’t just release another iPhone without drastic improvements. As they say, sameness destroys creativity.

Instead of giving up, what critical advice does is redirect you. Writes Tom Standage in Writing on the Wall:

“Adam Smith. He wrote much of his book in the British Coffee House, his base and postal address in London and a popular meeting place for Scottish intellectuals, among whom he circulated chapters of his book for criticism and comment.”

In search of a little audience, you get the feedback you need to keep iterating until we get it right. Naturally, the process is frustrating for all artists. Writes Fred Kaplan on John Coltrane’s experimental determination.

In a backstage interview with Coltrane during intermission at the Stockholm concert, a local jazz DJ noted that some critics were finding his new sound “unbeautiful” and “angry,” then asked, “Do you feel angry?” Coltrane replied, in a gentle, deliberative tone, “No, I don’t,” adding, “The reason I play so many sounds, maybe it sounds angry, it’s because I’m trying so many things at one time, you see? I haven’t sorted them out. I have a whole bag of things that I’m trying to work through and get the one essential.”

The fear of messing up is good quality control. The feedback loop is a critical ingredient to success. Otherwise, you may just be making something that never sticks.

Alone in the mess


You can never feel alone when you’re enjoying yourself.

Like a magnet, you’re drawn to do what we’re born to do. The vocation calls you like an ambient siren song dangling emotional clarity.

The goals that forced upon you are often dreary. They produce zero enjoyment, so fraught with ‘ought,’ threatening to stain the attentiveness to the present.

Keep your eyes on the prize.

The intuitive self, while sometimes feeling detached, invites you to travel down the road of discomfort for a long time.

Pursue the strength you think you have and embrace the pain.

The middle of the road is already too full of indecisive fence-sitters suffering at the glitch of mental software called FEAR.

Staying edgy…

The audience already exists. The hard part is getting them to pay attention to your story.

How do you gain a fan base in the era of distraction? You select a specific audience, even one person, and write for them.

Different is attractive. 

The first few years of anonymity are hardest but they are also the freest. You get to write what you want with zero expectations. It’s the recognition that threatens your edginess.

“Success blurs. It rounds off the rough edges.” — John Peel

The trick to longevity, therefore, seems to be in the durability of your original pursuit.

If you can maintain your uniqueness while sharpening the tools, why dumb down your art to maximize reach?

Yet, the harshest reality as an artist is that your work may never get noticed. Van Gogh only sold one print while he was alive, and it was to his brother!

Posthumous recognition or not, you can only try to do your best work, to stay dedicated and keep showing up even if no one cheers you on.

The fire within should create enough artistic rage to keep rejuvenating itself.

“We do with our life what we can and then we die. If someone is aware of that, perhaps it comes out in their work.” — Francis Bacon

Freedom is slowing down

It’s a canard to think that you must use an electronic device for everything productive. A computer is a doing machine, not a thinking machine.

Your best thoughts happen when you’re disconnected, in the shower or on a walk. They also happen when you slow down, pen in hand letting each idea match the pace of the ink.

“A good idea doesn’t come when you’re doing a million things. The good idea comes in the moment of rest. It comes in the shower. It comes when you’re doodling or playing trains with your son. It’s when your mind is on the other side of things.” — Lin Manuel Miranda

Human beings aren’t meant to operate in high gear for long periods of time.

There’s a reason commas exist. They prompt intentional interruptions to bring you back down to earth in a mental pace that’s more tortoise-y and less hareish.

The obsession with speed is self-defeating. It thinks without thinking, aiming for security that leaves you more emotionally insecure.

Permit your reptilian brain to breathe into your inner experiences. The key to security is the freedom to be insecure, to live and let go, even if that means doing nothing but float at any moment. The best device is the rest.

Train the mind to see

We all want to be ahead of the game. But nobody knows anything, nor do they want to do the work. They just want to hear advice that sounds good.

The problem with advice is that what usually works for one person rarely works for another. Success happens in so many different ways. All that matters is we keep swimming towards our next destination.

But where on Earth do we go?

Sometimes the best direction is a mere adaptation, we start with what we have and ace it. Elasticity guarantees that we’ll have come out changed.

The best way to verify that you are alive is by checking if you like variations. — Nassim Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

How well we cope with life’s unpredictable challenge predetermines how far we’ll go. Attitude, motivation, these are the variables under our control.

The intention of the mind facilitates the intention of the eye.

There’s no such thing as a four-hour work week. It’s the sorcery of such lifehacks and shortcuts that when unachieved, inhibit the consistent little actions that create waves.

The hidden power of less

Less isn’t necessarily better than more. However, it appears that in most scenarios that it is most often the case.

  • Less participants, more effective meetings
  • Less worry, more action
  • Less ownership, more renting
  • Less eating, more exercising
  • Less internet, more human interaction
  • Less Instagram, more non-filter
  • Less stuff, more happiness
  • Less hate, more love
  • Less cheating, more honesty
  • Less work, more play
  • Less time, more focus
  • Less wishing, more invention
  • Less global, more local
  • Less volume, more silence
  • Less driving, more carpooling
  • Less fighting, more cooperation
  • Less success, more failure
  • Less men, more wom-en
  • Less print, more trees
  • Less self, more generosity
  • Less lizard brain, more confidence
  • Less lateness, more punctuality
  • Less shipping, more digital delivery
  • Less jpegs, more studio visits
  • Less quantity, more quality
  • Less sadness, more laughter
  • Less blindness, more realism
  • Less fright, more audacity
  • Less seeing, more insight
  • Less impulse, more abstraction

If you flip these around with more preceding less (e.g. more lateness, less punctuality), they reflect a bitter insight. Presentation predetermines the prism of observation.