Tag Archives: Success

The plague that is social media

It might take a moment of clarity or an absolute meltdown, but the realization is the same — we are being bombarded with so much distraction and insignificant ranting that social media becomes a troublesome burden rather than some harmless pass time.

Social media is designed to be addictive. Like almost any domain you want to look at, there is no escaping the corporate imperative of having your brain diverted from it’s course and firmly entranced by some new piece of novelty. Cat videos are usually cited here, but the plethora of friends meals, kid photos and their precious opinion about the election infiltrate your retinas and ultimately take up space in your frontal lobes.

So social media is nothing but candy — junk food that ought only be consumed occasionally but often becomes an addiction.

It turns out addiction isn’t an extreme choice of words in this case either. Author and computer scientist Cal Newport says social media is like having a slot machine in your pocket. It’s inherently addictive to seek out novel stimuli and to doubly get the social proof that comes from getting positive feedback in the form of likes and comments on your own posts.

In this way, social media provides a steady stream of dopamine ‘hits’ throughout the day — little pleasurable snacks that keep boredom at bay.

Seen this way, social media hits can be likened to avoidance strategies. With all the responsibilities and problems on one’s plate, what harm could a little mental detour have?

Therein lies the problem. One needs to see one’s addictive behaviour as a problem in order for it to register as something they need to change. One or two short viewings or interactions isn’t the problem — it’s the compulsion to repeatedly disengage from reality and dive into the online world that is the real cost.

To that end, may I suggest going without all forms of social media for 7 days. Go ahead, try it. You will learn a great deal about your habit, your compulsion to use it and you might find, as I have, that there is a tremendously peaceful mental space that opens up.

That mental space is precious to me now and I have to fight hard for it. So many things are banging on the window of my consciousness wanting in. If I’m not proactively setting boundaries for those distractions, my day will be swayed this way and that with little of my conscious input.

Cal Newport, in his Tedx talk Quit Social Media makes the point that social media companies are in the entertainment business and not a savoury one at that. He says that they hire “attention engineers” who borrow principles from casino gambling to make them as addictive as possible.

Yes, your attention is valued that much by media and social media so why aren’t we waking up and valuing our attention enough to limit our consumption of these apps?

The bigger picture

In Deep Work, Cal Newport outlines what is truly valuable in today’s economy (indeed in any economy ever): “The ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Cal calls this “Deep Work” as contrasted by the most common type mode of approaching life — scattered, distracted and fragmented attention. Cal argues, successfully in my opinion, that Deep Work is a rare commodity and that anything truly valuable that is being created today is coming from a deep work approach.

On the other hand, what the market does not value is tasks that are easy to replicate and produce a small amount of value. He says social media is the epitome of low value work (after all, a 16 year old with smartphone can do it!)

This gels nicely with the idea of craftsmanship, a seemingly antiquated idea that dedication by a craftsperson with exceptional skill and expertise leads to inherently valuable and meaningful products. However, that’s a rant for another day.

For the time being, I encourage you to examine the impact social media is having on your life and take the 7 day challenge. I’m betting you’ll learn a lot about the impact of social media and some things about yourself in the process.

I can’t tell you how much freer my life seems without constant detours off into some meaningless piece of fluff content or rage filled hate post.

Stoic Week 2015 — Hitting the ‘reset’ button

Stoic Week 2015
Stoic Week 2015 commences on 2 November. What is Stoic Week? In a nutshell, it is a chance for anyone who wants to understand what the Stoic perspective and daily practice entails, and to experience some of the benefits that comes with developing a Stoic approach to life and all its complexities.

This will be my second Stoic week, so to make sure I get the most out of the experience I’m starting to get momentum the week prior by really taking seriously the central tenets of Stoicism, including:

  • Virtue is the only true good worth pursuing
  • Living a frugal lifestyle with a reduced focus on the acquisition of external ‘goods’ and the cultivation of a contentment for the internal life and qualities
  • Developing a mindful moment-to-moment approach to “impressions” and learning to use my power of judgement to nip unhealthy desires and fears in the bud
  • Recognising what is in my power and focusing my efforts in those areas
  • Accepting what is not within my power
  • Practising Stoic exercises such as the morning and evening meditations and reading Stoic texts.

If you are new to Stoicism, then I suggest you check out the Stoicism Today site for a complete run down on what Stoicism is and how to take part in Stoic Week.

One of the things I struggled with after Stoic Week 2014 was keeping the momentum going following that 7 days of intense focus on Stoic principles. It is too easy to fall back into patterns of indulgence in excessive irrational pleasure, including food and drink, wanton consumerism and wasting time on the internet.

I’ve found myself focusing too much on things I can’t control and feeling anxious because of this. Modern Western cultures prize insecurity and excessive hedonism, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for us or that we should continue to participate.

Pushing the reset bUTTON

Stoic Week 2015, for me, will therefore be a reset of sorts. By taking a flying start and beginning my Stoic intensive the week before Stoic Week, I believe I’ll be able to better adopt Stoicism as an “operating system” for making better decisions in life.

Stoic Week is a great opportunity to reflect on your life, examine it through a Stoic lens and gain valuable insights on how your life could be better by taking on a more Stoic attitude to life.

A practical philosophy

The success of Stoicism in recent years is in part due to its practicality — it is philosophy you can use to lead a better life.

With that in mind, here are some of the things I’ll personally be doing to put Stoic principles into practice. This is in addition to the Stoic techniques that will be outlined in the Stoic Week 2015 Handbook:

  • Eat only a simple meat-free and dairy-free diet
  • Manage cravings, hedonism with proper use of impressions
  • Cultivate simplicity in all things
  • Perform simple bodyweight only workouts with full presence
  • Be a producer: Make good use of my time in service of producing work rather than consuming (i.e. Being a creator of web content that helps others rather than consuming content on the web).
  • Act from my highest values and virtues, not emotions
  • Cultivate a disciplined mind: Minimise distractions by applying the Pomodoro Technique to ensure sustained attention on the task I am doing
  • Sleep well
  • (New addition) Cold showers

*For an idea of what Stoic Week entails, check out the 2014 Stoic Week Handbook (pdf).

Just do it!

Stoicism has already had a profound effect in my life and the lives of thousands of others. If you’re religious, it will make you a better believer. If you’re not religious, Stoicism will give you an operating system and code of virtue ethics that will make you a better person, family member, friend and citizen of Earth.

Stoic Week also serves as a research project, based at the University of Exeter in the UK so by participating, you can help add vital data in to the mix.

The functional fitness revolution

Fitness and health is such a massive industry that the conventional advice is often never questioned. Despite this, a quiet revolution is happening in the fitness industry.

[This is the first in a 2-part series of posts on how the fitness industry has changed and how you can avoid bad advice and hokey marketing gimmicks].

It was bound to happen. After the heyday of the muscle bound bodybuilding hulks in the 1970s and 80s, physical training had to change.

When I began looking into training and physical fitness in the mid-1990s, pretty much the only resources you could find were of a bodybuilding nature. Many fitness programmes relied on weight training and a bit of aerobics to develop that cardiac-respiratory system (aka heart and lungs!)

While all this is great and the average guy or gal could improve their fitness, these routines were limited in scope and therefore may not have been entirely appropriate for the average gym goer.

Recalibrating fitness goals

Muscle growth in and of itself is great but there must be something more to training than that. Whether this was an overt observation of the fitness community or not I can’t be sure of. What I do know is that sports science and the study of kinesiology (how humans move) have come along way since weight training really took off in the period from the 1950s–70s.

The fitness industry as a whole owes a lot to the pioneers of bodybuilding and strength training. The musclebound hulk like figures (such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno and Lee Haney) were poster boys for an entire generation of trainers.

Bodybuilding is awesome, but in some respects it is a victim of its own success. The huge bulging over-bloated bodybuilders that have become the norm now are such extreme outliers that most guys don’t want to look that way, don’t have the time and simply the perseverance to develop such massive physiques.

Muscle isn’t the end of the story

At heart, all guys are secretly wannabe superheroes. While bodybuilders no longer represent the ideal that most guys are after, professional athletes do inspire awe and respect in the general populace.

It is hard not to admire a Usain Bolt, a Sidney Crosby or a Lebron James. These guys inspire awe in what they can do, rather than in how massive their biceps are.

There’s nothing wrong with big biceps and this post is not an attack on bodybuilding. I’m keen to bloat my chest, shoulders and biceps through training as much as the next guy. An awesome physique is well, awesome! But there is something about a guy who can move like a cheetah, jump like Mike or power his way through opponents like a charging rhino.

What is this functional buzzword anyway?

Modern life combined with the growing realisation that training for just muscular development has led to this functional fitness revolution.

So functional simply refers to the idea that the average person can reach their physique potential in size and ability. Guys can be powerful athletes; ladies can be nimble like a dancer. In fact, these are powerful reasons for why training has gone the functional way — people play sports, hike, cycle, mountain bike and run marathons. Unfortunately for many of us, we spend hours a day de-training ourselves for basic movement by sitting hunched over desks or other suboptimal arrangements.

The sea change in the way training is done can in part be attributed to a number of popular gym disciplines: Pilates, Yoga, Military training approaches and the emergence of Crossfit. Popular exercise magazines are Men’s Health/Women’s Health and Women’s Fitness/Men’s Fitness magazines. There are many more but these publications capture the essence of fitness as a lifestyle rather than an aesthetic only.

Resources

Get off the new year’s resolution merry-go-round

It’s 5 days into the new year and we’re already tempted to cave in on our newly formed, I’m really gonna do this resolutions. Before you get sucked back into the vortex of bad habits, I’ve got a few ideas that might help.

This year, I only have two resolutions — to adopt two very simple principles that will open up the world of possibility in everything else I want to achieve this year. Let’s call these meta-resolutions.

After much failure and frustration in my own life, I realised the problem is busy-ness. In other words, I was doing stuff but ultimately progressing very slowly. This was true in my career, playing the guitar and finances.

The meta-resolutions in a nutshell:

  • Cut your options down — focus on a few things
  • Quit looking for the magic bullet

Too many options

Realise that too many things — be they books, websites, audio and video material or whatever — is ultimately a distraction. To make progress, cut your options down to a few resources, and focus on reinforcing the fundamentals of what you’re trying to learn/achieve.

This is the root meaning of the word “decision” — literally to cut off. The more “stuff” the more time you’ll spend sifting through it rather than actually learning.

Psychological research has shown clearly that it is not always a good idea for a company to expand its product line. There comes a point too many options makes it hard for the consumer to make that snap decision in the store, therefore the decision can be delayed or even completely withdrawn.

Cut to the chase

  1. Find out what the fundamentals are: the 20% you can focus on critical content — those actions that will result in 80% of successful results. (This takes a bit of upfront research).
  2. Take everything you have on the subject you’re wanting to learn and choose the top 3. These resources will cover off all your critical content and action steps.
  3. Focus on these resources exclusively.

It may not be necessary to focus on everything a particular resource has to offer — in fact you can cull even further by finding the absolute essential chapters and action points that will contribute the most to your progress.

Then stop searching for more. If something good comes up, great, but once you’ve decided what is most important, make sure you focus most of your time on that. Stay on the path!

There is no magic bullet

It is human nature to look for the one thing that will change the game but this kind of thinking is illusory. The Next Big Thing (NBT) can at best give you a new idea or approach but the problem  remains: you still need to take action.

Ultimately, the search for the NBT is fruitless because (a) it doesn’t exist, and (b) all you’re really doing is delaying action (and most probably using the search as an excuse for why you’re not succeeding).

The neediness cycle
You see, another thing humans are great at is doing a bunch of stuff that makes us feel better but ultimately is not leading to our goals at all. Once in place, this self-fulfilling failure cycle doesn’t stop. As long as you continue to think there is something better, the more you’ll fall into trap of seeking. and reinforcing that failure cycle. This distracts from what you should be doing which is using what you have and extracting as much juice out of it as you can.Positive momentum
By focusing on the fundamentals right now (which you can usually find in one or two good resources) you create a foundation for success as well as the habits of success in your chosen area. Quit searching for more and start using what you have.

The perfect consumer
Marketers love people in the neediness cycle, in fact they actively try to amplify that neediness. It seems to work.

Central to the chase for the NBT is a scarcity mentality. People that exhibit this form of neediness are essentially saying “what I have isn’t good enough, I need something else”. As mentioned earlier, this insecurity is the symptom of something that “more stuff” cannot fix.

If you’ve seen the TV show Hoarders knows the last point too well, but we all do hoard to a certain extent.

The solution: Use what you have

Whatever you want to do, chances are there are tonnes of material and experience you can draw inspiration and knowledge from. The basics are always present and while approaches vary in scope and effectiveness, the next ebook, next course, next book, next new way is mostly a marketing gimmick and definitely a distraction from what you should be doing now.
So use what you have. It is (often) enough and when you’re in the position to say you’ve conquered your present resources, then you can expand your knowledge.

A contented life in the age of distraction?

There is a subtle, yet pervasive illusion going on right under our noses and it starts with a war for our attention and ultimately our wallets. But does this actually lead to fulfillment, happiness and a well-balanced life?

Many philosophical and religious traditions make light of the fact that there is more to life than mere things and events. While I do not agree that means we should worship some form of imagined deity, it is worth exploring the idea that the deluge of information and ‘stuff’ foisted on us may not be doing us good and could in fact be doing us harm.

There is more to life than the accumulation of stuff, which means we can benefit from a thorough examination of the distractions and illusory needs we are confronted with.

Raising consciousness

This idea of examining our lives is by no means a new one. Philosophers from Socrates to Seneca and Alain de Botton have written extensively about examining at life and all its complexities.

The recent awareness of our daily life morphing to fit a rapidly changing technological age has seen a huge rise even more ‘noise’ in the form of fake gurus and charlatans. The appeal of books and courses on how to streamline one’s life have increased as people are finding out that their lives have centred around accumulating stuff. For instance, I probably use less than 1% of the information I have downloaded or read from the Internet in the past 10 years.

As Bill Hicks so eloquently and forcefully put it, life the way we know is just a ‘ride’:

A couple of features of the ride:
  • The psychology of the purchase and the appeal of accumulation.
  • Advertising and marketing has us chasing more and more. There is no room for contentment under such a pervasive ideology. Marketing puts dollar signs on everything.
  • Attention is a scarce resource. The mind can only hold so much information at one time and can really only consciously focus on one thing at a time.

The underlying fallacy

Modern society is organised around the lie that we need more in order to feel somehow complete. The reason for this is obvious – without rampant consumption society as we know it falls, and besides, they say, we’ve never had it so good. On the one hand we’re told to be financially responsible yet it is far more beneficial to others for us to be in dire debt. It is a fairly retarded situation and one that ultimately cannot continue unabated.

I quite like John Lennon’s take on the craziness of our daily lives, as heard in the song I’m Only Sleeping:

…Everybody seems to think I’m lazy
I don’t mind, I think they’re crazy
Running everywhere at such a speed
Till they find there’s no need.

So what’s the secret to a happier more contented life?

Less. There that’s it. Less.

I’m not saying give up everything and become a hippy or pretend to be doing the world a favour by going all ‘Eat Pray Love’ on us.

I am advocating the kind of analysis that Tim Ferris recommends – a thorough cull of distraction, mental detours and fluff. Tim actually recommends doing an 80/20 analysis in every area of your life – what 20% of X makes the largest impact on your happiness/business/relationships..?

In this 24/7 news, internet information age, we are under constant bombardment from advertising, social media fluff, spam and tempting yet ultimately wasteful mental detours. Filtering these distractions and investing more time in what really makes a difference in your life may well be the most challenging yet exhilarating thing you could do.

If you want your New Year’s resolutions, quit making excuses

It’s that crazy time of the year again when many people finally decide to assess their lives and make some gesture to next year. If you’re one of the serious ones and want to follow through on your resolutions, do what achievers do.

I am not a self-help author but I made it my mission to figure out what achievers do (that I wasn’t doing!) While my findings are hardly original, I hope anyone reading this (all 3 of you) will find something of value here.

The trouble with New Year’s resolutions

This is a funny time of year. Out of nowhere, people begin to imagine what they would like to achieve in the coming year. This is strange behaviour for many who rarely take the time to think about next week let alone a whole 365 days ahead.

Therein lies the problem – if you’re not used to thinking and planning exactly what you want then you’re likely to only do this for the first week or two of the new year. Another thing working against us is the tendency to place huge importance on the new year – forgetting that each day is just the same as the last.

In other words, once we have a setback (say eating far too much cake one week when trying to lose weight) it is easy for one to throw their hands in the air and say, “well, that ruins the goal”.

  • Key #1: When suffering a setback into an old habit or something that works against your goal – refocus and resolve to learn and get back on track.

No excuses

Just get on with it!
But change is hard! It can be, but it helps to be aware that familiarity is an evolutionary in-built mechanism to help us feel a sense order and certainty and to conserve energy.

  • Key #2: Just get started – overcoming inertia of starting something gets you moving. Each time you take the correct action the more familiar it becomes. One of the strongest drives in a human is familiarity.

Stop being the victim
I know a handful of people who repeatedly violate this one principle: If you want some thing to happen, sitting there waiting for it to happen is a sure way to fail.

While the principle applies when you want to attain a skill or acquire something, it also applies to relationships and people.

  • Key #3: When setting goals, put the action steps in your sphere of influence. If goals require others then you need to clarify what it is that you can do to increase the probability of making your goal a reality.

**Warning: Watch out for subtle excuses and non-commitment. Sometimes people unconsciously engineer their own failure by expecting failure. Secretly, they don’t want to commit because then it gives them an excuse that will protect their own ego from the pain of failure.**

There is no try
Watch your language. People who set resolutions often say “I will try to lose weight” or “I am trying to…” Trying presupposes failure and shows a lack of committment. When other people use “try” with you, realise that they are basically avoiding promising what they say will happen.

  • Key #4: Be specific. What is it you want? State it in positive terms, put a date on its completion. “Sometime this coming year” isn’t really going to stir you into action. “I will” is much more definite than “I might” or “I’ll try”.

Review regularly and exercise flexibility
How am I doing? What problems have arisen in the past week/month? Am I on track? What do I need to do in the next week to make my goal a reality? Am I guilty of being lazy?

  • Key #5: Ask honest questions and be open to honest answers. If you’re sucking right now and falling off the path, find out what you need to get back on. It may mean correcting course a bit.

Consistency creates excellence
Create a daily/weekly plan. What exactly am I going to do to make this a reality?

It is okay taking the right actions for a week or two, but real achievement takes time, patience and consistency.

  • Key #6: Break down your goal into bite size pieces. Make it relevant for today by planning concrete actions.

Keep it in perspective

  • Key #7: Remember why you’re doing it. Your reasons must be real and powerful enough to stir you into action without hesitation.

Useful link – Richard Wiseman’s psychological research