Category: Life advice

You cant escape your problems through travel

I work from home, but travel quite a bit for the kind of work I do. I’ve noticed how, after three weeks of being based at home, I get restless. The four walls of my home office get a little bit stifling, even if I do augment them with the occasional working visit to the local coffee shop.

Work travel is, of course, different to holiday/vacation. However, as I write this from Montana, USA, I’m reminded how easy it is to slip into the mindset of how travel or money or a relationship can solve your problems in life.

This heavily-illustrated article is a good reminder that your need to sort out your life is independent from external things, including travel.

Travel is the answer much of us look to when we feel the automation of life. The routine of waking up, getting ready, going to work, eating the same lunch, sitting in meetings, getting off work, going home, eating dinner, relaxing, going to sleep, and then doing it all over again can feel like a never-ending road that is housed within the confines of a mundane box.

The reason I read Stoic philosophy every day is that it can give you a perspective of happiness that is independent of location, financial circumstances, or relationship status.

Since much of what we desire lives on the outside (i.e. in the future), we make it the mission of our Box of Daily Experience to make contact with the outer world as much as possible. This touch represents the achievement of our goals and validates our aspirations. We hope that this brief contact will change the architecture of our box, but ultimately, the result is fleeting.

Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher, was lame and, it is thought, an ex-slave. We only know his teachings from the notes that his students made, but his message is pretty clear. Here’s the very first section of the Enchiridion. It might not change your life the first time you read it, but try reading it every day for a month:

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed.

Aiming therefore at such great things, remember that you must not allow yourself to be carried, even with a slight tendency, towards the attainment of lesser things. Instead, you must entirely quit some things and for the present postpone the rest. But if you would both have these great things, along with power and riches, then you will not gain even the latter, because you aim at the former too: but you will absolutely fail of the former, by which alone happiness and freedom are achieved.

Work, therefore to be able to say to every harsh appearance, “You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be.” And then examine it by those rules which you have, and first, and chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are in our own control, or those which are not; and, if it concerns anything not in our control, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.

The only thing that can make you happy, calm, and contented is controlling your reactions to external prompts. That’s it. But it takes a lifetime to figure out.

Source: More To That

The role of Lady Luck

This post on Of Dollars and Data is a bit rambling, at least from my perspective, but I did like this paragraph:

Think about the story you tell yourself about yourselfIn all the lives you could be living, in all of the worlds you could simulate, how much did luck play a role in this one? Have you gotten more than your fair share? Have you had to deal with more struggles than most? I ask you this question because accepting luck as a primary determinant in your life is one of the most freeing ways to view the world. Why? Because when you realize the magnitude of happenstance and serendipity in your life, you can stop judging yourself on your outcomes and start focusing on your efforts. It’s the only thing you can control.

I think this chimes well with Stoic philosophy: focus on the things within you control. There are going to be times in all of our lives when bad things happen. Conversely, there are going to be times when good things happen. We can’t control anything apart from our reactions to these things.

Source: Of Dollars and Data

Tolerating uncertainty

Although claims about the ‘unprecedented’ times we live in can be overblown, I think it’s reasonable to state that we exist in an uncertain world.

This article by Kristin Wong in The Cut talks about the importance of being able to tolerate uncertainty, as this “improves our decisions, promotes empathy, and boosts creativity,” — according to Jamie Holmes, a Future Tense Fellow at New America and author of the book, Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing.

Uncertainty can create cognitive dissonance, the discomfort of holding two contradictory thoughts, opinions, or beliefs. Ironically, though, not being able to deal with uncertainty can be equally distressing. An intolerance of uncertainty is linked to anxiety and depression. So how do you get better at tolerating it?

The article suggests that you start off with a quiz to ascertain your tolerance to ambiguity and uncertainty. However, life is short, so I’d skip that and move onto the meat of the article.

We’re better or worse at tolerating uncertainty and ambiguity in different situations. It’s not like we have a single emotional gear.

There are certain times you might be extra susceptible to certainty, Holmes suggests. “Our need for closure is heightened when we’re rushed, bored, tired, or tipsy,” he said. So when you’re feeling any of those things, or maybe all of them, be aware that you might be prone to cognitive closure at that time.

Your desire for certainty probably also varies depending on the situation. You might be anxious over your bank account, for instance, but you don’t really care how you did on your performance review. Pinpoint these concerns, then avoid what Michel Dugas, a professor of psychology at the University of Quebec in Outaouais, calls “certainty seeking behavior.”

In order to improve our relationship with uncertainty, we need to get our of our comfort zone, and out of our heads.

“Two ways to get comfortable with uncertainty, perhaps surprisingly, are reading fiction and multicultural experiences,” Holmes says. “Make reading short stories or novels a habit. Likely because it invites us inside the worlds and minds of characters unlike ourselves, fiction makes ‘otherness’ less threatening.” He adds that both fiction and multicultural experiences not only lower our need for closure and help us make better decisions, but they also make us more empathetic. Research, like this 2010 study, shows that multicultural experiences fuel creativity, too.

Travel, reading, learning a new language, experiencing another culture — these all present new experiences to your brain, which force you outside of your comfort zone in rewarding ways. Also: They are fun. Sounds like a pretty certain win-win.

I’ve actually read Holmes’ book. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m a Philosophy graduate who’s already done some work on ambiguity, but I found it underwhelming. It is worth, however, thinking about ways in which we can all deal with uncertainty.

Source: The Cut (via Stowe Boyd)

All killer, no filler

This short posts cites a talk entitled 10 Timeframes given by Paul Ford back in 2012:

Ford asks a deceivingly simple question: when you spend a portion of your life (that is, your time) working on a project, do you take into account how your work will consume, spend, or use portions of other lives? How does the ‘thing’ you are working on right now play out in the future when there are “People using your systems, playing with your toys, [and] fiddling with your abstractions”?

In the talk, Ford mentions that in a 200-seat auditorium, his speaking for an extra minute wastes over three hours of human time, all told. Not to mention those who watch the recording, of course.

When we’re designing things for other people, or indeed working with our colleagues, we need to think not only about our own productivity but how that will impact others. I find it sad when people don’t do the extra work to make it easier for the person they have the power to impact. That could be as simple as sending an email that, you know, includes the link to the think being referenced. Or it could be an entire operating system, a building, or a new project management procedure.

I often think about this when editing video: does this one-minute section respect the time of future viewers? A minute multiplied by the number of times a video might be video suddenly represents a sizeable chunk of collective human resources. In this respect, ‘filler’ is irresponsible: if you know something is not adding value or meaning to future ‘consumers,’ then you are, in a sense, robbing life from them. It seems extreme to say that, yes, but hopefully the contemplating the proposition has not wasted your time.

My son’s at an age where he’s started to watch a lot of YouTube videos. Due to the financial incentives of advertising, YouTubers fill the first minute (at least) with tell you what you’re going to find out, or with meaningless drivel. Unfortunately, my son’s too young to have worked that out for himself yet. And at eleven years old, you can’t just be told.

In my own life and practice, I go out of my way to make life easier for other people. Ultimately, of course, it makes life easier for me. By modelling behaviours that other people can copy, you’re more likely to be the recipient of time-saving practices and courteous behaviour. I’ve still a lot to learn, but it’s nice to be nice.

Source: James Shelley (via Adam Procter)

Profiting from your enemies

While I don’t feel like I’ve got any enemies, I’m sure there’s plenty of people who don’t like me, for whatever reason. I’ve never thought about framing it this way, though:

In Plutarch’s “How to Profit by One’s Enemies,” he advises that rather than lashing out at your enemies or completely ignoring them, you should study them and see if they can be useful to you in some way. He writes that because our friends are not always frank and forthcoming with us about our shortcomings, “we have to depend on our enemies to hear the truth.” Your enemy will point out your weak spots for you, and even if he says something untrue, you can then analyze what made him say it.

People close to us don’t want to offend or upset us, so they don’t point out areas where we could improve. So we should take negative comments and, rather than ‘feed the trolls’ use it as a way to get better (without even ever referencing the ‘enemy’).

Source: Austin Kleon