Atomic Habits – James Clear

Atomic Habits – by James Clear
Date read: 11/4/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

The idea behind Atomic Habits is that by stacking tiny habits over time you can achieve compounding, remarkable results. Your outcomes, as Clear suggests, are the lagging measure of your habits. He offers great insight into nonlinear growth (breakthrough moments), identity, discipline, and environmental design, as it relates to behavior change. The models used throughout the book help make each concept relatable and are something I will come back to for years to come. The importance of playing the long game and building better systems is hard to undervalue. There’s room for everyone to improve in this capacity, and if nothing else it’s a refreshing reminder: “Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity?"

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

“To write a great book, you must first become the book.” Naval Ravikant

Automatic Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery

Self-improvement:

  • 1% better each day for one year = 37x better

  • “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement."

  • Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Knowledge is lagging measure of your learning habits. 

Nonlinearity:

  • Ice cube example warming from 26 degrees, one degree at a time, to 32 when it finally begins to melt. But no visible progress from 26-31.

  • Breakthrough moments = culmination of actions leading up to that point. 

  • Habits need to persist long enough to break through plateau where you don’t see tangible results or “success” as you’ve envisioned it. 

  • Sorites Paradox: Can one coin make someone rich? No, but as you keep adding/stacking coins (habits), at a certain point one coin makes the difference.

Goals vs. Systems:

  • Goals are good for setting direction, systems best for making progress.

  • “The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game.” Refinement, improvement and commitment to the process.

  • Goal is not to read a book, it’s to become a reader. Not to learn an instrument, it’s to become a musician.

Identity and behavior change:

  • Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want? If it’s a person who could write a book, that means consistent, reliable, etc.

  • Decide the type of person you want to be and prove it to yourself with small wins.

  • “Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity?"

  • At a certain point, the identity itself becomes the reinforcer. Behavior becomes automatic because it’s who you are. 

Keep your identity small:

  • Tighter you cling to an identity, harder it is to grow beyond it and less capable you are of adapting when life challenges you.

  • “When you cling too tightly to one identity, you become brittle. Lose that one thing and you lose yourself.”

  • Redefine yourself so you keep important aspects of your identity even when your role changes. Instead of “I’m the CEO,” “I’m the type of person who builds and creates things."

  • Identity should work with changing circumstances, rather than against them. 

Discipline:

  • “It is only by making the fundamentals in life easier that you can create the mental space needed for free thinking and creativity."

  • “‘Disciplined’ people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations."

  • Create a disciplined environment —> easier to practice self-restraint when you don’t have to use it often.

  • Environmental design: Remove friction, make doing the right thing as easy as possible. Inversion: add friction to make bad behaviors more difficult.

Clarity:

  • Don’t mistake lack of clarity for lack of motivation, make it obvious.

  • Be specific about what you want and how you will achieve it. When you’re vague about your dreams it’s easy to ignore the specifics you need to do to succeed.

Imitation:

  • Proximity has powerful effect on our behavior (both physical and social environments). Running against the grain requires extra effort.

  • Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself.

  • “When changing your habits means challenging the tribe, change is unattractive. When changing your habits means fitting in with the tribe, change is very attractive."

Motion vs. Action:

  • Motion = planning, strategizing, learning. Important, but don’t produce a result. Allows you to feel like you’re making progress without risk of failure. Ex) Making a list of 20 articles to write.

  • Action = behavior that will deliver an outcome. Ex) Actually sitting down to write an article.

  • Start with repetition, not perfection. Habits form based on frequency, not time.

Time inconsistency (hyperbolic discounting):

  • The way the brain evaluates rewards is inconsistent across time. From an evolutionary perspective, you naturally value present more than future

  • Costs of good habits are felt today. Costs of bad habits are felt in the future.

  • “Most people will spend all day chasing hits of quick satisfaction. The road less traveled is the road of delayed gratification. If you’re willing to wait for the rewards, you’ll face less competition and often get a bigger payoff. As the saying goes, the last mile is always the least crowded."

Consistency:

  • Always show up, even on your bad days. Lost days hurt you more than successful days help you.

  • $100 grows 50% to $150. Only takes a 33% loss to take you back to $100. Avoiding 33% loss just as valuable at 50% gain. 

Don’t enter games you’re not willing to play:

  • Maximize your odds by choosing right field of competition. 

  • Think about where you achieve greater returns than the average person and the type of work that hurts you less than it hurts others. 

  • Flow = 4% beyond your current ability.

Checking progress/reflection:

  • Annual review, EOY: 1) What went well this year? 2) What didn’t go so well this year? 3) What did I learn? https://jamesclear.com/annual-review

  • Integrity report, mid-year: 1) What are the core values that are driving my life and work? How am I living and working with integrity right now? How can I set a higher standard for the future?

Grit – Angela Duckworth

Grit – by Angela Duckworth
Date read: 10/30/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

A detailed look at what sets apart highly successful people. Top performers, as Duckworth suggests, are unusually resilient and hardworking. But they’ve also developed something else–a deep awareness of what they want. Grit is this combination of direction and determination. She discusses the importance of effort, deliberate practice, purpose, and stamina over intensity. The best thing about the book and her writing is that she makes it real. It’s not about a magical experience that leads you to your passion, purpose, of life’s work. Instead, she emphasizes that this comes through a discovery period–often messy, serendipitous, and inefficient–followed by years of refinement, and a lifetime of deepening. It’s not going to happen overnight. You have to figure out what you’re working towards and what you can sustain indefinitely.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Grit = Direction and determination
-Highly successful people are unusually resilient and hardworking, AND know in a deep way what they want.
-Grit corresponds with well-being, no matter how you measure it.

Effort:
-An ability to suffer (effort) proves far more important than talent. It factors in twice.

-Talent x Effort = Skill, Skill x Effort = Achievement

-When you quit showing up, effort plummets to zero, skills stop improving. 

Darwin and Grit:
-“For I have always maintained that, excepting fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work; and I still think this is an eminently important difference.” Darwin

-Darwin didn’t possess supernatural intelligence or genius. He made slow, meticulous progress through his power of observation and attention to detail. Forced himself to ponder difficult questions and ideas for years, instead of giving up or tabling it for later and forgetting.

Power of small, calculated actions, decisions, habits:
-“The most dazzling of human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary.” -AD

-“Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities…There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; only the fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together, produce excellence.” Dan Chambliss

-“Greatness is doable. Greatness is many, many individual feats, and each of them is doable.” Dan Chambliss

Prefer mystery to mundanity:
-We want to believe people are prodigies, we don’t want to sit on the pool deck and watch Mark Spitz progress from amateur to expert.

-“No one can see in the work of the artist how it has become.” Nietzsche

Stamina > Intensity:
-“Developing real expertise, figuring out really hard problems, it all takes time–longer than most people imagine.” AD

-“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” AD

-What can you sustain indefinitely? Have to hold the same top-level goal for years. 
*Make sure mid-level goals correspond to unifying top-level goal.

Passion as a compass:
-Think of these ideas as interchangeable with authenticity

-Takes time to get right, constantly adjust, realign, recalibrate. Takes you on wandering journey to where you want to be. The obstacle is the way. 

-“Passion for your work is a little bit discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.” AD

Discovering your interests:
-Not through introspection but interactions with outside world. Can be messy, serendipitous, and inefficient. 

-Early interests can be fragile, vague, and need years of refinement.

Deliberate Practice:
-Clearly defined stretch goal, full concentration and effort, immediate feedback, repetition with reflection and refinement

-Supremely effortful, working at the far edge of your skills. Only sustainable for an hour at a time.

-Deliberate practice is a behavior, flow is an experience. Don’t always go together.

-Deliberate practice is for preparation, and flow is for performance. 

-Self-awareness without judgment. 

Purpose:
-Higher scores on purpose (importance of living a meaningful life) correlates with higher scores on grit scale.

-But purpose isn’t a magical entity waiting to be discovered, requires years of dedication and exploration.

-AD: Someone who had inkling of her interests in adolescence. Clarity about purpose in twenties. Experience and expertise to find and calibrate with single top-level, life-organizing goal.

Leadership:
-Jamie Dimon (JPMorgan Chase), looks for three things on leadership team: capability, character, and how they treat people.

Writing:
-"Writing is failure. Over and over and over again.” Ta-Nehisi Coates

-Challenge of writing is to see your bad writing and go to bed. Wake up, refine it, make it not so terrible, go to bed. And do this on repeat until you have something decent.

The Manual – Epictetus

The Manual – by Epictetus
Date read: 10/24/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Enjoyed the Ancient Renewal translation by Sam Torode. I’m always eager to read any new or updated translation of the classics. I’ve always found Epictetus to be one of the more inspiring Stoic philosophers. This is a great introduction to Stoicism for those interested in the philosophy. It’s also a great refresher for those already familiar. He discusses themes of impermanence, substance, expectations vs. reality, mental toughness, and authenticity.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Sphere of control = free, independent, strong
Beyond sphere = weak, limited, dependent

Impermanence is the nature of all things.

Expectations vs. Reality:

  • “In preparing for any action, remind yourself of the nature of the action.”

  • Going to a pool? Remind yourself of the usual incidents.

  • “Is some oil spilled or wine stolen? Say to yourself, ‘Accepting these annoyances is the price of my peace and tranquility. All good things come at a cost.’"

You are responsible for you:

  • “People who are ignorant of philosophy blame others for their own misfortunes. Those who are beginning to learn philosophy blame themselves. Those who have mastered philosophy blame no one.” 

  • Don’t blame another for your state of mind, your conditions is result of your own opinions and interpretations.

  • “Do not wish that all things will go well with you, but that you will go well with all things."

  • "Follow your principles as though they were laws.” 

Substance:

  • “Do not take satisfaction in possessions and achievements that are not your own…What, then, is your own? The way you live your life."

  • Cannot always choose your circumstances, but you can always act well in your current position.

  • “If you truly wish to become a philosopher, you must gain self-control, give up friends who are bad influences, and be prepared to face ridicule and scorn, and be willing to give up honors, offices, riches, and fame.” Not to say you shouldn’t acquire these things, but the true philosopher is never dependent on these things.

  • “If you can acquire riches without losing your honor and self-respect, then do it. But if you lose what is dearest to you, no amount of money can make up for it."

Humility = Harmony

  • “If you are praised by others, be skeptical of yourself. For it is no easy feat to hold onto your inner harmony while collecting accolades. When grasping for one, you are likely to drop the other."

  • “A philosopher is one whose thoughts and emotions are internally anchored…When she fails, she takes responsibility. When she succeeds, she smiles to herself."

Defer Judgment:

  • “It is not the person who insults or attacks you who torments your mind, but the view you take of these things.”

  • "Do not be fooled by how things first appear. With time and greater perspective, you can regain inner peace."

  • Observe subtleties, “Do not mistake your impressions for the whole truth."

Memento Mori:

  • “Continually remind yourself that you are a mortal being, and someday will die. This will inspire you not to waste precious time in fruitless activities, like stewing over grievances and striving after possessions."

Mental Toughness:

  • “If you are diligent and consistent, those who ridiculed you will come to admire you. But if you abandon the path near the start because of their laughter, you are truly worthy of scorn."

  • “If you find yourself acting to impress others, or avoiding action out of fear of what they might think, you have left the path."

  • Use the world and your current situation as a practice ground for your philosophy

Authenticity:

  • Fulfillment is found in a life best-suited to your attributes and abilities.

  • "Find significance within yourself.” Don’t lose your honor striving for perceived significance.

The Messy Middle – Scott Belsky

The Messy Middle – by Scott Belsky
Date read: 10/20/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

More than a business book, and that’s what I loved about it. It’s a book about embracing the long game and leading through ambiguity–whether you’re a founder, entrepreneur, or artist, you’ll find relevance. Belsky details the endurance it takes to bring an idea to life. It’s not always as pretty as the beginning or end, but the middle is worthy of equal attention since it’s where most of the journey takes place. As a product manager, I found the book to be particularly insightful for my daily work and career. The next time I’m asked for a great product book, I’ll be recommending this. But again, the beauty of this book is that it’s relevant for anyone who’s building something from nothing. Those who are leading others (or themselves) through uncertainty will benefit greatly from it. Far from a generic business book with the same recycled ideas, it’s original, practical, profound, and one of the best books I’ve read all year.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.


My Notes:

You cannot travel the path until you’ve become the path. Embracing the middle is the only way through.

Values/Principles:
-“The truth about telling the truth is that it does not come easy for anyone. It’s not natural or organic. The natural thing to do is tell people what they want to hear. That makes everybody feel good…at least for the moment. Telling the truth, on the other hand, is hard work and requires skill.” Ben Horowitz

-“There is no better measure of your values than how you spend your time.” SB, accounting of how you spend your minutes is hard truth of your values.

-Routines backfire when you do them without thinking. Throw a wrench in every now and then to see if it feels liberating and is no longer relevant/effective.

-Sometimes you guard your time too closely. Fluidity/flexibility to adapt is important, or else you won’t reach full potential. Need to create and preserve some margin of downtime in your day to accommodate opportunities. 

-You deserve this and you are enough. There’s a part of all of us that fights our own progress. Overcome these insecurities and doubts.

-"You are not your org chart, your department budget, or your title. Don’t let success at a company prevent you from pursuing scary and wonderful new opportunities to build.” Hunter Walk

Endurance:
-“You need to do your fucking job.” What Belsky would tell himself before going into a tough meeting, negotiation, or firing someone.

-“Playing the long game requires moves that don’t map to traditional measures of productivity.” SB

-“Curiosity is the fuel you need to play the long game.” SB 

-Resourcefulness is a competitive advantage. “Resources become depleted. Resourcefulness does not.” SB

-80% on boulders, 20% on pebbles.

Lead your team:
-Teams need to be reminded of where they are and progress they’ve made. Call out landmarks you pass and the terrain ahead.

-When discussing your teams efforts so far, weave in stories and leverage the perspective that excites you the most.

-Your perspective during trying times will help your team overcome moments of self-doubt.

-Not all meetings end with a solution, quit seeking a false sense of closure. Instead actively lead through a process of self-discovery.

-Unresolved conversations are draining. If you can’t provide closure, add energy, turn negative into positive. 

-“Your story has more gravity than you realize. Your job is to help your team make sense of the strategy–what they’re seeing, doing, and working toward. You are the steward of your team’s perspective, and there is always a way forward so long as you explain it.” SB

-Don’t aggressively market yourself, celebrate the people on your team and empower great makers. “Ego is rust. So much value and potential are destroyed in its slow decay.” SB

-Pick your fights and don’t deprive others of their own process. Sometimes the best way to instigate change is to plant questions as seeds and let them take root so you can avoid immediate reactions. 

Conviction:
-“For extraordinary outcomes, seek conviction in your work and build teams that value conviction over consensus.” SB

-Hesitation breeds incrementalism.

-Most effective way to communicate a vision is to declare it, rather than blunting blow with a comforting narrative that makes it sound less drastic.

-Progress is only possible once a decision is made. Can always backtrack and adjust as you learn along the way. Keep moving!

-Make your mind up quickly and go with the option that feels most right at first (don’t survey every available option). Otherwise you’ll waste time and energy searching for alternatives that may only be mildly more beneficial.

Self-awareness:
-Self-awareness is the greatest competitive advantage for a leader.

-Your sense of self shifts when you’re at a peak or in a valley. 

-Effort to understand how your mind works is only path to reliable self-awareness during intensity/stress.

-“You cannot win unless you know how you’re most likely to lose.” SB

-“Knowing when to ignore your experience is the true sign of experience.” -John Maeda

Ambiguity:
-Avoid temptation to describe what you’re building in context of what already exists (i.e. “It’s Airbnb for X”). 

-When you feel overwhelmed, remember the vision. Compartmentalize your ideas, look ahead, worry less about day-to-day concerns. 

-When you feel lost in ambiguity, ask a different question. i.e. Not “why aren’t people signing up?” but “what kinds of people would benefit most?”

-When you’re building something new, focus on asking the right questions instead of having the right answers. 

Defy prescribed roles:
-Directing blame and expressing disappointment take more energy than tackling whatever you’re criticizing. Take the initiative, even if it falls outside of your job description.

-“There is rarely a scarcity of process or ideas but there is often a scarcity of people willing to work outside the lines.” SB

-“You’re either a cog in the system or a designer of better systems…challenge every system you find yourself confined by.” SB

-Asking for permission to do what you know needs to be done will yield hesitation at best, rejection at worst.

Prioritize your team:
-“I have met many founders who obsess over product and steamroll their team. Most of them have failed. Team comes first.” SB

-If you want to execute well over time or make great products, prioritize your team over your goals and tend to your team before your product.

Hiring:
-Hire people seeking a journey rather than a particular outcome.

-Closing the confidence gap of new hires is more important than closing skills gap. Building confidence is important if you want to unleash someone’s potential. 

-Maturity and perspective > age and accolades.

-Best reason to fire people who aren’t performing is to keep your best people.

-Salary bands: subconsciously biased by age, years of experience, gender, and other characteristics that don’t correlate with indispensability. 

Founders:
-“What distinguishes great founders is not their adherence to some vision, but their humility in the face of the truth.” Paul Graham

-Greatest thinkers anchors ideas around a central truth they believe is unique and unrealized by others, but embrace questions when someone challenges them…they don’t look the other way.

-Poor leaders are too worried about being loved. The best founders have conviction in their ideas and aren’t hedging by spreading resources thinly across too many ideas. 

-Hold on to the openness, humility, and brashness you had in the begging.

Product:
-Speed through the generic stuff, but take time to perfect the things you’re most proud of. This is what differentiates your product, so it deserves a disproportionate investment of resources.

-Uniqueness of your product needs to be baked in, not sprinkled in at the end. Otherwise it’s likely to taste bland.

-Customers don’t engage with functionality, they engage with experiences. Make it more human friendly and accommodating to natural human tendencies.

-Competitive advantage is as much about what you choose to let go and not be, as it is about what you focus on. 

-One feature in, one feature out. Keeps you focused on simplicity.

-Having to explain your product, least effective way to engage new users.

-Empathy for your customers and humility in your market are powerful filters. Focus on these before you fall in love with your solution.

-Greatest brands developed by playing at far end of the spectrum and not trying to be everything to everyone. “Playing to the middle makes you weak.” Don’t give up your edge to appeal to broader audience.

-Engage emotionally as you create, but detach yourself when you’re evaluating.

Innovation:
-Every product or service in your ilife either helps you spend or save time. Best products remove a daily friction.

-Don’t be too different, familiarity drives utilization. Train customers on something new only when it’s core to what differentiates your product. Helps reduce cognitive friction.

-Big part of innovation is saying ‘you know what I’m really sick of?’ What frustrates you likely frustrates many others.

-True innovators value art up front and compete against incumbents through stuff that doesn’t intuitively scale. Give your customers something precious, uniquely personal, emotional, and seemingly scarce that cannot be easily scaled, automated, or commoditized. Preserving the art in your business gives it a soul that people can connect with. 

-At the beginning, must run manual experiments, spend endless amount of time with customers, and tinker until you find something special.

The Product Lifecycle:

  1. Customers flock to a simple product.

  2. The product adds new features to better serve customers and grow the business.

  3. Product gets complicated.

  4. Customers flock to another simple product.

The First Mile:
-Fewer options, shorter copy, simpler steps.

-Need to prime your audience to know, 1) Why they’re there, 2) What they can accomplish, 3) What to do next.

-30% of your energy should be allocated here. Top of funnel for new users, deserves to be well thought out. 

-Remember, people are lazy, vain, and selfish. You have 30 seconds to engage and address each concern.

-Best hook is doing things proactively for customer. Once you help them feel successful and proud, will engage more deeply and take time to learn and unlock the greater potential of what you’ve created. 

Measuring Success:
-Always ask “what is the real goal here?” Answer is rarely as measurable as you may think.

-Avoid too many measures, the more numbers you’re tracking, the less attention you pay to any of them.

-Boil your business down to one or two core metrics.

-Prefer, a referral network for independent professionals, uses a single metric, “number of working pairs.” Allows them to focus on what matters instead of getting caught in surface measures like revenue or downloads.

-Iconic and breakthrough product insight are not the result of trying to improve a metric. Square’s iconic UX requiring everyone to sign using a finger instead of bypassing small transactions.

Investors:
-“For strong companies, financing is a tactic. For weak companies, financing is a goal.” SB

-Is the team attempting to defy a likely outcome or make it happen in a better way? Invest in the latter. Uses forces already in play.

Editing:
“The question that I find most helpful to ask is, ‘if you had to keep 10 percent, which 10 percent would you keep, and if you had to, absolutely had to, cut 10 percent, which 10 percent would you cut?’” Tim Ferriss

Desire to Learn:
-Warren Buffett spends 80% of each day reading. When asked about keys to success, Buffett pointed to a stack of books on his desk and said, “Read five hundred pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

-Annual letters to investors, Buffett is self-reflective and self-deprecating. Admits when he struggles to understand something or has made dumb decisions. Remarkably open to changing his mind. All because of his persistent desire to learn.

Leonardo da Vinci – Walter Isaacson

Leonardo da Vinci – by Walter Isaacson
Date read: 9/29/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

The amount of information in this book is incredible–biographies by Walter Isaacson are not quick reads. Throughout the book, I’d marvel at not only Leonardo, but also Isaacson’s ability to aggregate so much information and tell a compelling story. He’s brilliant in drawing out subtle themes that help tie everything together. Leonardo feels relatable and human in that his genius was self-made, built from personal experience/experiments, and dedication to his craft(s). But he also feels simultaneously distant in that the breadth of his abilities across disciplines, obsession with detail, and ability to bridge observation and imagination seem otherworldly. This book is an investment, but you’ll walk away with a reenergized curiosity and a newfound appreciation for the finer details in life. That’s what makes books like this worth it–the message resonates far stronger than what you might get out of a 200-page popular nonfiction title.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.


My Notes:

Archetype of the Renaissance Man – combined art, science, engineering, technology, the humanities.
-Ability to make connections across each discipline is key to innovation, imagination, creativity, and genius.
-Benjamin Franklin was the Leonardo of his own era, no formal education, taught himself.
-The world has produced other thinkers who were more profound and logical, and many who were more practical, but none who was so creative in so many different fields.

Genius:
-Leonardo's was a human one, built on will and ambition (not a divine recipient live Newton or Einstein)
-He had almost no schooling, his genius was based on skills of curiosity and intense observation.
-Ability to blur the lines of reality and fantasy, marrying observation and imagination, was key to his creative genius/innovation.
-Obsession is a component of genius.

"Vision without execution is hallucination...Skill without imagination is barren." WI

Teaches us to marvel about the world we encounter each day, appreciate details, and make each moment of our lives richer.

Self-taught:
-Born out of wedlock so wasn't required to pursue family notary business. Instead, able to pursue creative passions.
-Took pride in lack of formal schooling, led him to be a disciple of experiment and experience.
-Freethinking attitude and willingness to question dogma saved him from being an acolyte of traditional thinking.
-Disciple of experience.

Curiosity and intense power of observation:
-Fanatical, and similar to Einstein, about things many people overlook after the age of ten ("why is the sky blue?")
-Aided by the sharpness of his eye which caught details that most of us glance over.
-"Describe the tongue of a woodpecker"
-Most distinguishing and inspiring trait was his intense curiosity.

Environment matters:
-Spent most of his career in centers of creativity and commerce: Florence, Milan, Rome.
-Few places offered better creative environment than Florence in the 1400s (interwove art, technology, and commerce). The culture rewarded those who mastered/mixed multiple disciplines.
-Surrounded himself with students, companions, patrons.
-"Ideas are often generated in physical gathering places where people with diverse interests encounter one another serendipitously." WI (why Steve Jobs liked to have central atrium in buildings, Benjamin Franklin founded a club).
-In the court of Ludovico Sforza (Milan), Leonardo found friends with diverse passions who could spark new ideas in each other. He moved here initially to recast himself as engineer, scientist, and inventor.
-"Genius starts with individual brilliance. It requires singular vision. But executing it often entails working with others. Innovation is a team sport. Creativity is a collaborative endeavor." WI

Apprenticeship with Verrocchio:
-Leonardo began his apprenticeship under Verrocchio at age 14.
-Rigorous teaching program that involved studying surface anatomy, mechanics, drawing techniques, effects of light and shade on draperies, beauty of geometry.
-When mastering drapery drawings under Verrocchio, Leonardo pioneered sfumato–technique of blurring edges (removes sharp edges so objects appear closer to how we see them). Allows room for our imagination to fill in the rest. Outlines of reality are inherently blurry, leaving a hint of uncertainty that we should embrace.
-After apprenticeship ended at 20, continued to work and live there.

Reality should inform, not constrain.
-Leonardo redefined how a painter transforms and transmits what he observes.

Signature marks:
-Sfumato
-Luster: sparkling glint of sunlight in the eyes and curls of hair.
-Flowing curls
-Enigmatic smiles
-Twisting movements

Failures:
-Mistakes in his early twenties with light, perspective, and human reactions.
-First workshop that he opened of his own in 1477, only received three commissions in five years.
-Genius undisciplined by diligence. He frequently gave up on paintings and left them incomplete because they were too much for a perfectionist. His willingness to put down brush is also why he's known as an obsessed genius and not a reliable master painter.
-At age 30, he was known as a genius but had little to show for it. In his gloom, he left Florence for Milan.

Dedicated years and years of work to single projects:
-Would make refinements on many of his paintings for years/decades.
-Knew there was always more he might learn and techniques he might master, so he would often refuse to relinquish paintings.
-Squaring the circle took him years, his notebook filled with attempts.

Know your audience:
-Leonardo demonstrated a knack for swaying patrons because he knew his audience.
-Cast himself as an engineer, architect, and mentioned none of his paintings to Ludovico Sforza (Milan facing threats of local revolt and French invasion).

Unrealized visions:
-Design for utopian city was sensible and brilliant. Was never implemented but might have transformed cities, reduced plagues, and changed history.

Notebooks:
-Always kept a small notebook hanging from his belt
-7,200 pages currently in existence probably only represent a quarter of what he wrote, but that's more than all emails/digital documents from Steve Jobs in the 1990s.
-But he was always more interested in pursuing knowledge than publishing it. Made little effort to share his findings. Had no real understanding of the growth of knowledge as a cumulative and collaborative process. As a result, his work had less impact than it should have.
-"He wanted to accumulate knowledge for its own sake, and for his own personal joy, rather than out of a desire to make a public name for himself as a scholar..." WI

Looking for opportunities in every environment:
-While in the court of Ludovico Sforza, produced pageants. This was a way to channel artistic and technical skills - stage design, costumes, scenery, music, mechanisms, etc.
-Mechanical birds and wings he made during this time led him to observe birds more closely and consider real flying machines.

On Wealth:
"Men who desire nothing but material riches and are absolutely devoid of the desire for wisdom, which is the sustenance and truly dependable wealth of the mind." LDV

Anatomy:
-Saw art and science as interwoven. Art required deep understanding of anatomy, which was in turn aided by a profound appreciation for the beauty of nature. Intense studies here made him a better artist.
-Depicted in multiple layers (which he also later did while deconstructing complex mechanisms, making drawing for each element), using exploded views, multiple angles, stacked-up layers.
-He made 240 drawings with 13,000 words of text illustrating and describing every bone, muscle group, and major organ.
-His study of anatomy informed his art, but his other disciplines also aided his anatomical studies.
-Discovered the way the aortic valve works (vortices between the cusp and its sinus), only recently validated in 1960s.

The "Mona Lisa effect" - creating a stare or gaze that seems to follow viewer around the room. Comes from drawing realistic set of eyes staring directly at viewer with proper perspective, shading, and modeling.

The Science of Art
-Wove together shadows, lighting, color, tone, perspective, optics, and the perception of movements. Helped him perfect his painting techniques. But also pursued these complexities of science for the pure joy of understanding nature.

"Sometimes fantasies are paths to reality." WI

Patterns:
-His quest for knowledge across disciplines of arts and sciences helped him see patterns. But at the same time, his multi-disciplinary approach helped him avoid letting other patterns blind him.

Mark of a great mind is a willingness to change it:
-Willingness to surrender preconceptions, and always remain open-minded was key to his creativity.
-Best example: questioned then abandoned analogy between circulation of water on earth and circulation of blood in the human body

The Mona Lisa:
-Spent the last 16 years of life making additions, distillation of all his accumulated knowledge.
-Shows the development of Leonardo's painterly skills, but also his maturation as scientist, philosopher, and humanist.
-"The science, the pictorial skill, the obsession with nature, the psychological insight are all there, and so perfectly balanced that at first we are hardly aware of them." Kenneth Clark
-Reason he wanted to paint Lisa del Giocondo was because she was relatively obscure (not a famed noble or mistress), meant he wouldn't have to take direction from a patron.
-Flow of the landscape flows in her and becomes part of her.
-Perfected Lisa's elusive smile in his anatomical drawings. Represents his ultimate realization about human nature–never fully know true emotion from outer manifestation.
-Provokes a complex series of psychological reactions (which she also exhibits) why so many find her engaging.

Deluge Drawings:
-Conveyed his belief that chaos and destruction are inherent in the raw power of nature

"Talent hits a target that no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

"Be open to mystery. Not everything needs sharp lines." WI

Awesome takeaways and lessons from Leonardo summarized on pages 519-524.

Your Move – Ramit Sethi

Your Move: The Underdog’s Guide to Building Your Business – by Ramit Sethi
Date read: 9/20/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Ramit Sethi is one of my favorite humans and writers (I Will Teach You to Be Rich is a gem, if you haven’t read it). He’s someone who gets it. Whether it’s finance, or in this case business, he’s always focused on the things that matter and assigning things their proper weight. In Your Move he offers insight into handpicking customers, being more selective about who you target, and why that’s fundamental to success. He emphasizes authenticity and crafting a message that resonates with your target audience’s hopes, dreams, pain points, and fears. It’s a book that should be able to point you in the right direction whether you’re struggling with your initial idea, defining your audience, or putting yourself and your product out there. There’s actionable insight for each.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.


My Notes:

A successful business doesn't mean more money. It means more success, peace of mind and time.

Don't give things away for free:
-People value what they pay for
-Huge difference between free reader and paying customer
-Paying customer is far more likely to engage/open/use whatever they've paid for

"Most people reading this will not become millionaires because it involves extremely hard work and insane perseverance." -RS

Invisible risk of doing nothing > risk of starting a business

If you create value, people will be more than happy to pay for it.

Authenticity matters. Listening matters. When you sit down with customers, encourage them to open up by saying "Tell me about that." Or if you're sending emails, ask "What are you struggling with today?"

Make sure you've identified and are talking with your target market.
-If Ramit had talked to people his parent's age when writing his first book, he probably would have heard something about saving for retirement earlier. That message doesn't resonate with someone in their early 20s who wants to know what to do with their money, make it work for them, and buy a round of drinks for their friends.

Be selective and handpick your customers
-Allows you to target wants, needs, hope, fears, desires of that audience with pinpoint accuracy (and create products they want).
-"Students for life" philosophy.
-Regularly encouraging people to unsubscribe from newsletter (those who stick around are highly committed and engaged).

"Your biggest challenge is customer selection. You pick the right customer, you win. You pick the wrong customer, you lose. Focus on helping great people get better." -Marshall Goldsmith

Learn to embrace mistakes, otherwise, you get stuck in analysis paralysis (thinking instead of acting).

"Focus on being decisive and less on trying to make the 'right' decision. You'll never know until you try, and if you're wrong, you can always try again." RS

Beginners focus on the wrong things – worry about minutiae that won't change a thing and ends up exhausting.

Experienced pros have gone through this and know what to pay attention to (and what to ignore).

"Anyone can be 'efficient'–meaning they can do a given task pretty well. But very few can be 'effective,' meaning they select the right things to work on in the first place. Focusing on the right things is a true superpower." RS

Focus on your audience more, your competition less.

"Be different to be better. Don't be different for the sake of being different." RS

When you nail the right audience, price is a mere triviality. People will pay substantial money if you're solving a problem that's important to them AND they believe you can solve it.

Systems mentality: Life is always going to be messy. Successful people don't rely on "motivation or "working harder" to make things happen. They have systems for the big wins and let the inconsequential stuff fall by the wayside.

To sell you need to know four key things about your customers: their hopes, dreams, pain points, and fears.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. The things that worked from $0 to $100,000 won't always work when you're trying to crack $500,000.

Change the words you use to sell your products and you can drastically increase revenue.
-Focus on the reader and their pains, challenges and frustrations as they relate to your niche.
-Articulate their biggest hopes, dreams, and goals.
-What do they want? What's frustrating? What's going on inside their heads?

Product or service tiers (i.e. intro, intermediate expert) changes the question from if I should buy, to which should I buy?

If you view yourself as their trusted advisor and you have a product that will help them, you should be doing everything in your power to let them know about it.

"Stop and ask yourself: Are your products awesome? Do they really help people? If the answer is 'No,' then you need to make a better product." Graham Cochrane

30% Raise:
-Change the words on your promotional pages (take focus off product, shift towards customers)
-Offer more expensive option (tiered pricing)
-Begin selling sooner and more often

The Consolations of Philosophy – Alain de Botton

The Consolations of Philosophy – by Alain de Botton
Date read: 9/8/18. Recommendation: 7/10.

An introduction to some of the greatest thinkers including Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. Botton wraps each philosopher in the context of consolation for a different human struggle (Seneca = consolations for frustration). If you’re already into philosophy, it’s an interesting format you’ll find both strange and engaging. If you’re not, it provides an accessible introduction to the subject without requiring a college course on abstract thought.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Consolation for Unpopularity

Priority to be liked, rather than speak the truth. Laugh at modest jokes.

Socrates ultimate example of how to maintain confidence in an intelligent position which has met with illogical opposition.

Philosophy provided Socrates with convictions and rational (not hysterical) confidence when facing disapproval.

Philo, love; sophia, wisdom.

Not only the hostility of others that prevents us from questioning the status quo. Also, because we associate what is popular with what is right.

"We stifle our doubts and follow the flock because we cannot conceive of ourselves as pioneers of hitherto unknown, difficult truths." AB

Socrates encouraged us not to be unnerved by the confidence of people who fail to grasp complexities and formulate their views without rigour...established views don't necessarily emerge from faultless reasoning, but centuries of intellectual muddle.

Truth produced by intuition is like a statue without support.
Truth supported by reasons and an awareness of counterarguments ie like statue anchored by cables.

"If we are prone to burst into tears after only a few harsh words about our character or achievements, it may be because the approval of others forms an essential part of our capacity to believe we are right." AB

Two powerful delusions: we should always or never listen to the dictates of public opinion. Instead, strive to listen to the dictates of reason.

Consolation for Not Having Enough Money

Epicureanism suggests we are as bad at intuitively answering 'What will make me happy?' as 'What will make me healthy?'

Epicurus viewed philosophy as a tool to help us interpret distress and desire and help us avoid acting on immediate impulses and instead investigate rationality of our desires (rather than enter into mistaken schemes for happiness).

Sober analysis calms the mind.

Objects mimic in a material dimension what we require in a psychological one. The way we're enticed by commercial enterprises is by the sly association of superfluous objects with other, forgotten needs.

By understanding our true needs, excessive levels of consumption are destroyed by greater self-awareness and appreciation of simplicity.

"Mankind is perpetually the victim of a pointless and futile martyrdom, fretting life away inf fruitless worries through failure to realize what limit is set to acquisition and to the growth of genuine pleasure. [But at the same time] It is this discontent that has driven life steadily onward, out to the high seas..." -Lucretius

Consolation for Frustration

Expectations vs. Reality - We best endure those frustrations which we have prepared ourselves for and understand and are hurt most by those we least expected and cannot fathom.

Seneca's view of anger: Not from an uncontrollable eruption of passions, but from a basic error of reasoning.
-Frustrations are tempered by what we understand we can expect from the world.
-Greatest furies spring from events which violate our sense of the ground rules of existence.

"Rage is caused by a conviction, almost comic in its optimistic origins, that a given frustration has not been written into the contract of life." AB

"We must reconcile ourselves to the necessary imperfectability of existence." AB

"Not everything which happens to us occurs with reference to something about us." AB

Worst-case scenarios:
"If you wish to put off all worry, assume that what you fear may happen is certainly going to happen." Seneca
*bad things will probably happen, but they probably won't ever be as bad as we fear.

Wealth:
"Stop preventing philosophers from possessing money; no one has condemned wisdom to poverty." Seneca
-Stoicism (Seneca specifically) considers wealth a preferred thing. Not an essential thing or a crime.

"The wise man can lose nothing. He has everything invested in himself." Seneca

We might not be able to change certain events, but we are able to choose our attitude, which provides a sense of freedom.

Consolation for Inadequacy

"We ought to find out not who understands most but who understands best." Montaigne

"If I come across difficult passages in my reading I never bit my nails over them: after making a charge or two I let them be...If one book wearies me I take up another." Montaigne
-Wisdom doesn't require a specialized vocabulary, only makes an audience weary
-Writing with simplicity requires courage

"However modest our stories, we can derive greater insights from ourselves than from all the books of old." AB

Consolation for Difficulties

Pain is a natural, inevitable step on the way to anything good/fulfillment.

"The most fulfilling human projects appeared inseparable from a degree of torment, the sources of our greatest joys lying awkwardly close to those of our greatest pains." AB

Nietzsche was striving to correct the belief that fulfillment must come easily or not at all, a belief ruinous in its effects, for it leads us to withdraw prematurely from challenges that might have been overcome if only we had been prepared for the savagery legitimately demanded by almost everything valuable.

Philosophy = voluntary living in ice and high mountains

"The ice is near, the solitude is terrible–but how peacefully all things lie in the light! how freely one breathes! how much one feels beneath one!" Nietzsche

"Don't talk about giftedness, inborn talents! One can name all kinds of great men who were not very gifted. They acquired greatness, became 'geniuses' (as we put it) through qualities about whose lack no man aware of them likes to speak: all of them had that diligent seriousness of a craftsman, learning first to construct the parts properly before daring to make a great whole. They allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than the effect of a dazzling whole." Nietzsche

Endurance:
"Fulfillment is reached by responding wisely to difficulties that could tear one apart." AB

"Not everything which makes us feel better is good for us. Not everything which hurts may be bad." -AB

Everybody Writes – Ann Handley

Everybody Writes – by Ann Handley
Date read: 9/3/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Handley’s background in marketing differentiates this from other ‘how to write’ books. She remains focused on how to write better and the rules of writing, but there’s an emphasis on measurable results. It’s a solid resource for any writer or content creator. It’s a great reminder (and guide) to cut the unnecessary, be more direct, and improve readability. All of which are important because they help you not only capture initial attention, but also preserve/build that momentum between sentences and paragraphs. The end goal is creating something that resonates with your audience and enriches their lives.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.


My Notes:

Writing is a habit, not an art.

"If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." -Stephen King

Many brilliant writers emphasized routines and schedules for writing: Maya Angelou, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Oliver Sacks, Benjamin Franklin. All kept regular hours to cultivate creative rhythms.

"Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life." -Gretchen Rubin

Place the most important words and ideas at the beginning of a sentence.
-Good first impression, builds momentum, encourages the reader to continue.
-Avoid starting sentences with: "According to," "There is a," "It is important/critical/advised," "In my opinion," "The purpose of," "In 2018," "I think..."

Use a customer-centric POV:
-Replace I or we with you to shift focus
-Company-centric: "We offer accelerated application development." "A better way to learn how to cook."
-Customer-centric: "Deploy an app to the cloud at lunch hour. And still have time to eat." "Become a cook in 30 days."

Misplaced modifiers:
Wrong: Only publish good content
Right: Publish only good content.

Use familiar, yet surprising analogies:
-Instead of: "The leaves of the giant pumpkin plant are huge."
-Try: "The pumpkin leaves are the size of trash-can lids, covering pumpkins the size of beer kegs."

Readability:
-White space makes your work readable (readers won't get through massive blocks of text).
-Shorter paragraphs (no more than three sentences or six lines).
-No more than 25 words/sentence.

Use real words:
-Avoid buzzwords and jargon at all costs (e.g. revolutionary, value-added, impactful, cutting-edge, leverage, incentivize, synergize)
-Be real, in all communication. Not: "You're my top resource." But: "I don't know what I'd do without you."
-Use natural sounding language

Active vs. Passive:
-Usual indicator of passive = "was" and "is"
-Passive: "The video was edited by a guy named Joe." Active: "A guy named Joe edited the video."
-Passive: "Duduk theme music is rarely featured on podcasts." "Podcasts rarely feature duduk theme music."

Rules to break:
-You can start sentences with and, but, or because.

Limit moralizing and prescriptive phrases at the beginning of sentences:
-Don't forget...Never...Avoid...Don't...Remember to...

Focus on how your product/service touches peoples lives.

"Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there'll always be better writers than you and there'll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that–but you are the only you." Neil Gaiman

"Your unique voice comes from knowing who you are, and who you are not." Ahava Leibtag

Seek out primary, not secondary sources.

Proper lengths:
Blog post - 1500 words
Email subject lines - 50 characters or less or 6-10 words
Line of text - 12 words
Paragraph - 4 lines or less
Headline - 70 characters or less

Shift mindset from 'always be closing' to 'always be helping.'
-"Focus relentlessly on how you can help your audience by enriching their lives.."

Headlines (less than 70 characters):
-What would make your reader turn and say, "Listen to this..."
-Spend as much time on the headline as you do on the writing itself.
-Use lively words (ultimate, brilliant, awesome, intense)
-Keep it benefit driven.
-"Create successful social media campaigns" headline on landing page, 26% better than "Join today and get access to SmartTools: Social Media Marketing."

Rules to live by:
-Try it again with fewer words
-Trust your own voice
-Use humor, whenever possible

The Invention of Nature – Andrea Wulf

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World – by Andrea Wulf
Date read: 8/18/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

The story of one of the most profound polymaths you've probably never heard of. Humboldt was a Prussian explorer, writer, geographer, and naturalist born in 1769. He revolutionized the way we view the natural world by making connections and framing nature as a unified whole. He viewed everything as reciprocal and interwoven, challenging the human-centered perspective that ruled up until that point in time (i.e. 'nature is made for the sake of man'). Humboldt's fascination with nature brought together art and science, combining exact observation with painterly descriptions, which helped make science far more popular and accessible. His work also influenced generations of scientists and writers including the likes of Charles Darwin, John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau. It's easy to see why Humboldt was so influential–the stories Wulf tells of his expeditions and adventures well into old age, are both fascinating and inspiring. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

Born in 1769 into a wealthy Prussian aristocratic family, discarded a life of privilege to discover for himself how the world worked.

A multidisciplinary approach:
Humboldt revolutionized the way we see the natural world by making connections everywhere. He shaped our modern understanding of nature through his comprehensive/multidisciplined approach. "In this great chain of causes and effects, no single fact can be considered in isolation." AVH

In nature (and in our individual lives) getting the overall conditions right is essential if we want to thrive.
-Neither our lives nor the forces of the natural world are siloed, independent components. Everything is interwoven.

Childhood tendencies:
-Escaped the classroom whenever he could to ramble through the countryside, collecting and sketching plants/animals/rocks.
-Would come back with pockets full of insects and plants, nicknamed 'the little apothecary'

Republic of Letters:
-During the new Age of Enlightenment, scientists around the world started an intellectual community that transcended national boundaries, religion, language. Used letters to pass along new ideas and scientific discoveries. Ruled by reason, not by monarchs.

Relationship with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
-Despite Humboldt being 20 years younger, they became scientific sparring partners.
-Not a traditional master/apprentice relationship. One based on mutual respect, admiration, collaboration, and reciprocity.
-Goethe worked more intensely than he had in years after he met Humboldt.
-Goethe encouraged Humboldt to combine art and science.
-Goethe said that a single day with Humboldt brought him further than years on his isolated path.

"Nature everywhere speaks to man in a voice familiar to his soul." -AVH

Humboldt challenged the human-centered perspective that had ruled humankind's approach to nature for millennia (i.e. Aristotle: "Nature has made all things specifically for the sake of man.") He viewed everything as reciprocal.

Journey through Venezuela in 1800 would change the course of his life. This is where his fascination with the natural world married science and art.

No scientist had referred to nature like this (thanks to Goethe's influence)
Rapids of Orinoco: "Coloured bows shine, vanish, and reappear." Always measured and recorded, but brought the scene to life.

"What speaks to the soul escapes our measurements" AVH

Chimborazo Expedition:
-Snowcapped volcano in Ecuador, 21k feet (believed to be highest mountain in world)
-2,500 mile journey from Cartagena to Lima through harsh landscapes pushed their physical limits
-They were supposed to return home from Quito, but the ship that was supposed to come took a different route than they expected. Rather than despair, became an opportunity with Humboldt's perspective. Allowed them to set out for the volcanoes. 
-"Mountains held a spell over Humboldt. It wasn't just the physical demands or the promise of new knowledge. There was also something more transcendental. Whenever he stood on a summit or a high ridge, he felt so moved by the scenery that his imagination carried him even higher. This imagination, he said, soothed the 'deep wounds' that pure 'reason' sometimes created."

Naturgemälde, a lesson in the importance of the way you present/depict information;
-Drawing of Chimborazo that illustrated nature as a web in which everything was connected.
-By picking a particular height of the mountain, you could trace connections across the table to see temperature, humidity, species of plants/animals at different altitudes.
-No one had shown such data visually before, showed for the first time that nature was a global force with corresponding climate zones across continents. 

Unified Whole:
-He wasn't interested in finding new isolated facts but in connecting them. Less concerned with classifying the world into taxonomic units with a strict hierarchy and categories, like the scientists before him.
-To prove this, he couldn't look at it just as a botanist, geologist, or zoologist. Had to take a multidisciplinary approach and leverage each.

Racial Equality - Reflected his expanded worldview from being well traveled, greater empathy and greater tolerance when you've interacted with different people/societies/cultures. 
-Humboldt believed slavery was a disgrace and the greatest evil.
-All members of the human race were equal, from the same family (much like plants). Humankind just one small part. But nature itself is a republic of freedom (where he differed from Thomas Jefferson).

Location matters:
Returning to Europe after his adventures he chose Paris. Hub of like-minded thinkers, scientific societies, and Europe's publishing center (for fast distribution so he could share his new ideas). 

Broad appeal, reaching new audiences:
Scientists and thinkers were impressed by his publications and lectures, fellow writers adored his adventurous stories, while the fashionable world of Parisian society was delighted by his charm and wit.

Personal Narrative:
-Humboldt's book that followed his voyage chronologically to South America.
-First travel book to ever combine exact observation with a painterly description of landscape.
-Previous writers only measured, or collected plants, or gathered economic data from trading centers.
-Took readers onto the crowded streets of Caracas, across the dusty plains of the Llanos, and deep into rainforest along the Orinoco. Capturing imaginations along the way.
-Influenced British literature and poetry with his depictions of South America (Frankenstein, Don Juan).
-This was the book that inspired Charles Darwin to join the Beagle, and he knew it by heart.

Berlin Lectures:
-1827 arrived back to Berlin (reluctantly) after leaving Paris.
-Gave 76 free lectures over the course of 6 months that were unlike anything Berlin had ever seen. 
-Exhilarating, utterly new. By not charging an entry fee, packed audiences ranged from royal family to students, servants, scholars, bricklayers, and half of those attending were women. Democratized science.
-Took his audience on a journey - talked about poetry, astronomy, geology, landscape painting.
-One of his greatest achievements was making science accessible and popular.

Relishing adventure into old age:
-At age 59 on his journey through Russia, rarely showed signs of fatigue. He would walk for hours, crawl into deep shafts, chisel off rocks, scramble up mountains, then set up instruments at night for astronomical observations. *Similar to Ben Franklin, thriving on adventures in old age.

Humboldt's influence on Darwin:
-Showed Darwin how to investigate the natural world from within and without, not just from isolated approach of zoologist, etc.
-Both had the rare ability to focus on smallest detail then pull back to examine global patterns. Flexibility in perspective allowed them both to understand the world in a completely new way.
-Laid the groundwork for his theory of evolution.

Launch point for Darwin:
-Voyage of the Beagle by far the most important event of his life and determined his whole career, as he acknowledged.

Years of dedication:
-Voyage of the Beagle took five years. Much like Humboldt's voyages, these were years of painstaking work. 

Self-awareness:
-When Humboldt began work on his most influential book, Cosmos, he was aware that he didn't and couldn't know everything. Recruited an army of expert scientists, classicists, and historians to help.

Black coffee = "concentrated sunshine" AVH

Cosmos:
-Three sections: 1) Celestial phenomena, 2) Earth (geomagnetism, oceans, earthquakes, geography, meteorology), 3) Organic life (plants, animals, humans).
-Brought together a far greater range of subjects than any other previous book.
-Shaped two generations of American scientists, artists, writers, and poets.

Humboldt's last words at age 89: 
"How glorious these sunbeams are! They seem to call Earth to the Heavens!"

"Voyages on foot, Humboldt said, taught him the poetry of nature. He was feeling nature by moving through it."

"Not only was his life colorful and packed with adventure, but his story gives meaning to why we see nature the way we see it today. In a world where we tend to draw a sharp line between sciences and the arts, between the subjective and the objective, Humboldt's insight that we can only truly understand nature by using our imagination makes him a visionary." 

Rework – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier

Rework – by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier
Date read: 8/4/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Relevant to anyone building, running, or growing a business. Fried and Heinemeier offer valuable first-hand experience that goes against conventional, mediocre business advice. They discuss the approach and tactics they've used to grow their own software company, Basecamp, to reach over 3 million people around the world. Much of their advice centers around remaining small, frugal, and profitable. They caution against business plans, workaholics, and ramping up as an end goal. Instead favoring adaptability, hiring people who have lives outside of work, and simplicity. They even encourage letting your customers outgrow you, rather than altering your product to add complexity. Keep it simple and build something that makes it as easy as possible for new people to get on board (that's where the continued growth lies).

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

Plans let the past drive the future. They put blinders on you. "This is where we're going because, well, that's where we said we were going." And that's the problem: Plans are inconsistent with improvisation.

The timing of long-range plans creates problems because you're making decisions before you've begun, "You have the most information when you're doing something, not before you've done it."

Following a plan that has no relationship with reality is worse than having no plan at all. 

Ramping up doesn't have to be your goal. Don't be insecure about running a small, fulfilling business. 

Workaholics:
-Try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force = inelegant solutions
-"Workaholics aren't heroes. They don't save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a  faster way to get things done."
-"When people have something to do at home, they get down to business. They get their work done at the office because they have somewhere else to be."
-You want people who have a life outside of work and care about more than one thing -- shouldn't expect the job to be someone's entire life if you want to keep them around for the foreseeable future.

"The easiest, most straightforward way to create a great product or service is to make something you want to use."
-Make hundreds of tiny decisions a day when you're building a product or service. If it's someone else's problem you're stabbing in dark. When you solve your own problem, the light comes on and you know what the right answer is.

"The original pitch idea is such a small part of a business that it's almost negligible. The real question is how well you execute."

"When you want something bad enough, you make the time–regardless of your other obligations. The truth is that most people just don't want it bad enough. Then they protect their ego with the excuse of time."

At Basecamp, they design their product to be as simple as possible because they believe software is too complex with too many features/buttons/confusion. They're comfortable with alienating certain people because the product from competition does more (but at the cost of being less intuitive). 

Basecamp focuses on timeless desires (not trends): speed, simplicity, ease of use, clarity.

After their first product had been around for a while, a few early customers said they were growing out of the application and wanted them to change the product to mirror additional complexities and requirements. They said no. Justification: "We'd rather our customers grow out of our products eventually than never be able to grow into them in the first place."

There are always more people who are not using your product than people who are. Make it as easy as possible for those people to get on board. That's where your continued growth potential lies.

"Do less than your competitors to beat them. Solve the simple problems and leave the hairy, difficult, nasty problems to the competition."

Find the epicenter, ask yourself: "If I took this away, would what I'm selling still exist?" i.e. hot dog from a hot dog stand.

When things aren't working, don't throw more at the problem. Do less. Will force you to make tough calls and sort out what actually matters.

Content and putting in the work >  tools
-Equipment is often a crutch for people who are desperate for shortcuts.

"Momentum fuels motivation." (and the same goes for inspiration)
-Get it out there, get feedback, don't squander your momentum/inspiration.

Inject what's unique about the way you think into what you sell - i.e. Zappos, customer service.
-Competitors can attempt to copy your product, but they can't copy how you sell it, support it, explain it, deliver it.

Enthusiasm for a new idea is not an accurate indicator of worth or priority. Let it marinate.

Build an audience/platform:
-Share information that's valuable to build a loyal audience. That way when you launch and need to build traction, the right people will already be listening.

"Instead of trying to outspend, outsell, or outsponsor competitors, try to out-teach them. Teaching probably isn't something your competitors are even thinking about."
-Forms a bond unlike traditional marketing tactics
-Teaching = loyalty, respect, trust.
-Share everything you know.

"Imperfections are real and people respond to real."
-Don't worry how you're supposed to sound, be real.
-Pare things down to their essence, but don't remove the poetry (too polished sounds robotic).
-Talk to customers the way you would to friends (explain things like you're sitting with them in person).

Give some away for free (free trials). You should be confident that the product/service is so great that people will come back for more. 

"Trade the dream of overnight success for slow, measured growth. It's hard but you have to be patient. You have to grind it out. You have to do it for a long time before the right people notice."

Don't hire someone for a position until you've tried it first.
-Better understand the nature of the work, what a job well done looks like, know which questions to ask, and you'll be a much better manager.

"Don't hire for pleasure; hire to kill pain."
-Pass on hiring people you don't need, even if that person's a great catch. Worse problem to have smart people on board who aren't engaged/doing meaningful work.

"How long someone's been doing it is overrated. What matters is how well they've been doing it."

With a small team, you need people who are going to do work, not delegate. Delegators are deadweight. They love to pull people into meetings where they get to seem important.

Hire managers of one - people who come up with their own goals and execute.
-Look at background, have they run something on their own or launched their own projects?
-Great product advice: find someone who's capable of building something from scratch and seeing it through.

"Writing is today's currency for good ideas."

"Write to be read, don't write just to write."
-Think of one person then write for that person (not a mob). 

"When something goes wrong, someone is going to tell the story. You'll be better off if it's you."

"When everything constantly needs approval, you create a culture of nonthinkers."

Benjamin Franklin – Walter Isaacson

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life – by Walter Isaacson
Date read: 8/1/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

Brilliant look at the multi-disciplinary life of Benjamin Franklin. As a scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, business strategist, and political thinker, it's fascinating how many pivotal moments of early American history he was involved in. In each aspect of his life, he prided himself in practical solutions that served the common good. As Isaacson suggests, Franklin was the first great American exemplar of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason–as defined by an emphasis on reason, education, and a distrust of arbitrary authority. He was unapologetically self-taught and self-made. Isaacson doesn't shy away from Franklin's complexities and does a great job explaining how his legacy has shifted over time, reflecting the values of different eras. There's a reason he's held in such high-esteem by some of the most brilliant minds of our time.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

Multidisciplinary life: scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, business strategist, practical political thinker

But the most interesting thing that Franklin invented, and continually reinvented, was himself.

Franklin's most important vision: an American identity based on the virtues and values of its middle class.
-How does one live a life that is useful, virtuous, worthy, moral and spiritually meaningful?
-Questions are just as vital for a self-satisfied age as they were for a revolutionary one.

Early American settlers were pursuing both religious freedom AND economic opportunity.

"Industry and frugality are the means of procuring wealth and thereby securing virtue." -BF

Maxims from his almanacs:
"Fish and visitors stink in three days."
"Little strokes fell great oaks."
"Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead."
"Diligence is the mother of good luck."
"Love your enemies, for they will tell you your faults."

Franklin excelled in writing, but failed math. Still became one of the most ingenious scientists of his era, but did not transcend into a profound theorist (i.e. Newton). 

"From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books." -BF
*Books most important formative influence in his life. He would sneak books from apprentices who worked for booksellers as long as he returned them clean. Was a vegetarian early in life so he could save more money for books.

His writing lacked poetic flourish, but was powerful in its directness.

His most notable trait was a personal magnetism; he attracted people who wanted to help him.

American individualists sometimes boast of not worrying about what others think of them. Frankin, more typically nurtured his reputation, as a matter of both pride and utility. 
*An apostle of being, and appearing, studious. 

Lesson he learned early: people are more likely to admire your work if you're able to keep them from feeling jealous of you. Indulge their vanity (give them opportunities to demonstrate their abilities), they will praise you in turn.

Franklin easily made friends and intellectual companions, but was less good at nurturing lasting bonds that involved deep personal commitments or emotional relationships, even within his own family. 

On deciding whether or not to take a customer's money and run a defamatory article that violated his principles:
-Paused to make the decision, went home and slept on it.
-Practiced voluntary hardship, slept on the floor, ate plainly.
-Determined that he could live this way, was not worth corrupting his values for a more comfortable subsistence. 

Writing to discover: Franklin began to clarify his religious beliefs through a series of essays and letters.

Moral Perfection Project:
-Made a list of 13 virtues he aspired to master
-Focused on improving one virtue each week (related it to weeding a garden, not all at once, but one bed at a time)

First great American exemplar of the Enlightenment and its Age of Reason. Born in Europe in the late 17th century, defined by an emphasis on reason and observable experience, a distrust of religious orthodoxy and traditional authority, and an optimism about education and progress.

"The general foible of mankind is in the pursuit of wealth to no end." BF

Franklin's subscription library (The Library Company of Philadelphia), first of its type in America. Subscribers pay dues to borrow books. Improved the intelligence of common tradesmen and farmers, as local subscription libraries caught on.

His work focused on lightning and electricity led to his first becoming a popular hero.
-Believed science should be pursued initially for pure fascination and curiosity, then practical uses would eventually flow.

Self-made: Thirst for knowledge made him the best self-taught writer and scientist of his times.

Pride for practical solutions:
Crossing the Atlantic in the summer of 1757, nearly wrecked on the Scilly Isles. "Were I a Roman Catholic, perhaps I should on this occasion vow to build a chapel to some saint. But as I am not, if I were to vow at all, it should be to build a lighthouse." BF

Traveling: Franklin's summer travels were the source of great joy
-Deborah didn't share his love for travel and curiosity for the world.
-She was as independent in her own way as he was in his.
-Spent 15 of the last 17 years of their marriage an ocean away.
-Throughout his life, had few emotional bonds tying him to any one place, glided through the world the way he glided through relationships.

Modern election campaigns are often criticized for being negative, and today's press is slammed for being scurrilous. But the most brutal of modern attack ads pale in comparison to the barrage of pamphlets in the 1764 Assembly election. 

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin:
-His goal was to describe how he rose from obscurity to prominence and to provide some useful hints about how he succeeded, for others to imitate.
-If he found himself writing with too much pride about an event, he would revise it by adding a self-deprecating comment.
-Autobiographies existed, but this was the first masterpiece by a self-made man.

Second continental congress:
-Franklin, nearing 70, was by far the oldest of the 62 participants
-Many of the younger, hotter-tempered delegates had never witnessed Franklin's artifice of silence, his trick of seeming sage by saying nothing (oratory did not come naturally to him).
-No one had a clue where he stood on the question of independence. He was biding his time to convert key figures close to him to the rebel cause.

Distaste for established elites, arbitrary authority, nepotism:
-Chafed at authority, why he ran away from his brother's print shop in Boston.
-Was not awed by established elites – Mathers, Penns, peers in the house of lords.
-Opposed unfair tax policies by Penns, even though they would have served his personal advantage.
-Stressed is all his letters that America should not replicate rigid ruling hierarchies of Old World based on birth rather than merit, virtue, and hard work. 
-Groundless and absurd to honor a worthy person's descendants (should instead honor the person's parents since they had some role in it, like Chinese do).
-Rose up social ladder, but did so in a way that resisted taking on elitist pretensions (fur-capped persona). 

At 70, he was continuing to embark on missions for Congress:
-Cambridge, MA to help Washington with disciplining the militia that would form the nucleus of a true continental army.
-Quebec to support American forces focused on preventing Britain from splitting colonies via Hudson River.
-Showed his eagerness to be involved in practical details, rather than detached theorizing.
-He was also, both as a teen and as an old man, revitalized by travel.

Declaration of Independence:
-Jefferson asked Franklin to help edit. Most important change was to Jefferson's phrase, "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable" to "We hold these truths to be self-evident."
-Changed this phrase from an assertion of religion to an assertion of rationality.

Fate of the Revolution placed into Franklin's hands, just as much as those of Washington and others. He needed to secure support of France–its aid, its recognition, its navy. Displayed dexterity that would make him one of the greatest American diplomats.
-He was instrumental in shaping the three great documents of the war: the Declaration of Independence, the alliance with France, and the treaty with England.

"Moderate your desire of victory over your adversary, and be pleased with the one over yourself." BF

The Constitutional Convention of 1787:
-He was by far the most traveled of all the delegates, and knew not only the nations of Europe but the thirteens states (franchised printing operations, time as postmaster, etc.). More receptive to needs of each state and open to diversity of opinions.

Sensibility, willingness to change mind, and humility to be open to different opinions:
-On crafting the constitution, Franklin realized that they had succeeded not because they were self-assured, but because they were willing to concede that they might be fallible.
-"We are making experiments in politics. We must not expect that a new government may be formed as a game of chess may be played, by a skillful hand, without a fault." BF
-"For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise." BF

Legacy:
-During the three centuries since his birth, the changing assessments of Franklin have tended to reveal less about him than about the values of the people judging him. Reflect, or refract, the attitudes of each succeeding era.
-His reputation was elevated by the emergence of distinctly American philosophy known as pragmatism - holds that truth of any proposition (whether scientific, moral, theological, or social) is based on how well it correlates with experimental results and produces a practical outcome.
-Unfairly attacked over the years by romantics whose real targets were capitalism and middle-class morality. 

In most of the endeavors of his soul and mind, his greatness sprang more from his practicality than from profundity or poetry.

His guiding principle was a "dislike of everything that tended to debase the spirit of the common people."

The Geometry of Wealth – Brian Portnoy

The Geometry of Wealth – by Brian Portnoy
Date read: 7/4/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

A look into the relationship between money and meaning. Portnoy suggests that wealth and investing are about funding contentment and underwriting a meaningful life, as defined by you. Not about getting rich, having "more," and losing yourself on the hedonic treadmill. He explains that simplification is the path towards effectively managing expectations in money and life–and the trajectory of a happy life is shaped by expectations. The Geometry of Wealth is as practical as it is philosophical. À la Charlie Munger, Portnoy emphasizes individual behavior, mainly self-control and self-awareness, as the most important factor in investment success. He suggests we focus on being "less wrong" over being "more right," in the sense that asset allocation is far more important than security selection and market timing. But he also takes a deeper look at experienced happiness, reflective happiness, expectations, and human nature, which adds an entire extra dimension to this fascinating book.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

"Do not hurry; do not rest." -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Examines the relationship between money and meaning, and how wealth figures into a joyful life.

Difference between rich and wealthy
-Rich is having "more" - hedonic treadmill on which satisfaction is fleeting
-Wealth is funded contentment, ability to underwrite a meaningful life, as defined by you
-Wealth is only achievable when purpose and practice are calibrated

Simplification is the smart path toward effectively managing expectations. In general terms, met expectations lead to temporary happiness and unmet ones lead to temporary sadness.

A "good" investment is one that meets expectations. And when expectations of the future don't match reality, we end up with dismal outcomes–not only financially, but emotionally. 

Dual Process Theory: "System 1" versus "System 2" (as popularized by Daniel Kahneman)
System 1: Fast brain loves consistency, biased to confirm beliefs and see patterns even when they don't exist. Avoid ambiguity and doubt.
System 2: Specializes in effortful mental activities, slow brain requires significantly more energy (glucose and other chemicals)

Three factors which determine lifelong happiness:
-Genetic disposition ~ 40%. This is your set point, return to this level (features and attitudes you're born with).

-Circumstance ~ 10%. Only a slight impact (and these are the attributes many of us define ourselves by). Where you live, what type of house you have, physical appearance, family dynamic, job, etc.
How can these have such a small impact? The brain is wired with an ability to adapt to whatever situation we find ourselves in, and it does it so much more quickly than we anticipate. It's a remarkable defense mechanism, for it allows us to transcend most setbacks in life. 

-Intention ~ 40%. Conscious decision-making and deliberate actions have significant impact on our quality of life experiences. Empowering, while you can't get around biological set point, still have capacity to make a big difference through personal drive and self-improvement.

"[Those who far better in life] have better coping strategies in the face of adversity–they confront problems rather than avoid them, plan better for the future, focus on what they can control and change, and persist when they encounter obstacles instead of giving up." -Timothy Wilson

Prepared mind = better life outcomes

When it comes to money, simplicity means having a limited number of clearly articulated concepts that both make sense of a noisy world and drive sharp, reasonable decisions.

Experienced Happiness: Maximize pleasure, narrower in scope, shorter in duration, hedonic, daily mood.
*Impact of money on experienced happiness caps out around $75k/year. Life's basic comforts met (which we become quickly accustomed to). Good and bad moods come at same pace for someone making $100k vs. $1m.

Reflective Happiness: Maximize contentment, broader in scope, longer in duration, eudaimonic (human flourishing), purpose, deeper sense of fulfillment.
*Reflective happiness does not cap out a specific income level. Does not diminish, keeps growing. But it always remains relative to your current position ($1000 raise for new college grad has larger impact than it would for CEO). When money is spent to underwrite sources of contentment, money buys happiness. 

Contentment = control (afford better nutrition, healthcare, more independence, time, flexibility), competence (invest in skills, potential), connection (sociality of experience, networks, memberships, access), context (time to find purpose). 

The "good life" is not the tweak of ephemeral pleasure, but the engagement with more meaningful, virtuous pursuits. Momentary pleasures are distinct from the enduring gravity of meaningful experience. 

"[Success stems not from] beating others at their game. It's about controlling yourself at your own game." -Jason Zweig
*Your own behavior far most important factor in investment success.

Much of what humans are good at does not center on weighing consequences of a possibility many years in the future.

Getting the restaurant right is more important than picking the right dish. Choosing investments works similarly. Big choice at hand is asset classes. Don't fetishize precision. Get it roughly right. Save yourself time and mental energy.

Asset allocation = far more influential than security selection and market timing. 
*90% of performance differences among investors are explained by asset allocation

Prioritize being "less wrong" over being "more right."

Only a handful of basic principles needed to achieve good investment results (but we crave complexity so we fail to execute):
-Buy low and sell high
-Diversify
-Stick to your plan

Crave complexity because we crave choice, which is a proxy for the control we perceive to have over our lives. More choice translates into a greater sense of safety (however false it might be).

A "good" decision is one that leads to a reasonable and appropriate outcome, not one that achieves other arbitrary goals like beating the market or trumping others. A "bad" decision starts with either vague or unrealistic expectations.

Accept the uncertainty of this game, remain humble in the pursuit of better things, and there's a decent chance that things will be okay.

"To achieve satisfactory investment results is easier than most realize; to achieve superior results is harder than it looks." -Benjamin Graham

The trajectory of a happy life is shaped by expectations. When the future meets or exceeds our expectations, we tend to be happy' when it doesn't, we're not.

Assessing annualized returns -- the longer the time frame, the narrower the range of outcomes (+/-10%). Shorter time frame, large (and more erratic) range of outcomes (170 to -70%). 

When we say that stocks make about 10% per year, it would be a mistake to assign the outcome of the entire group to any one member. Individual stock can be a dud or rocket ship. Best bet is to own a broad swath of the market.

With true diversification, there will always be something in your portfolio that sucks (and that's okay).

Compounding is the quiet protagonist in more tales of progress than nearly any of us has considered. Einstein supposedly called it the most powerful force in the universe.

Charlie Munger: "The first rule of compounding: Never interrupt it unnecessarily."

"Approximately 99% of the time, the single most important thing investors should do is absolutely nothing." -Jason Zweig

"The authentic individual is neither an end nor a beginning but a link between ages, both memory and expectation. Every moment is a new beginning with a continuum of history. It is fallacious to segregate a moment and not to sense its involvement in both the past and future." -Abraham Heschel

Our ability to think through time and see our future selves has limitations. Most profoundly, we discount the future: we value today more than tomorrow. Time discounting is an evolutionary instinct. We didn't pass on killing the small animal right in front of us in hopes of maintaining our energy to attack a larger herd of fatter animals that may or may not come later. We tend to live in the now because it seems the safer thing to do.

"Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they're finished." -Daniel Gilbert

Narrative of the book: Stoic playbook for navigating money life, moving from perception to action to will. Self-awareness and self-control are key principles. Embrace adaptive simplicity. 

The Four Tendencies – Gretchen Rubin

The Four Tendencies – by Gretchen Rubin
Date read: 5/29/18. Recommendation 7/10.

Rubin details four main personality tendencies–upholder, questioner, obliger, rebel–that we all gravitate towards based on how we handle internal and external expectations. It's an interesting look into human nature and quite valuable when considering how we should motivate, persuade, or navigate conflict with ourselves and others. There's no one-size-fits-all. She details each of the four tendencies in depth, while conceding that there are an enormous range of personalities, even among people with the same tendency. This dramatically influences how each of the tendencies are expressed. The goal of the book is to help us better understand ourselves and those around us by building greater self-awareness and acknowledging our differences. That way we can leverage our strengths, navigate our weaknesses, and build lives that work better for us.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

My great interest is human nature, and I constantly search for patterns to identify what we do and why we do it.

Upholder (19%): Meets outer expectations, meets inner expectations
Questioner (24%): Resists outer expectations, meets inner expectations
Obliger (41%): Meets outer expectations, resists inner expectations
Rebel (17%): Resists outer expectations, resists inner expectations

When we consider the four tendencies, we're better able to understand ourselves. This self-knowledge is crucial because we can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own nature, our own interests, and our own values.

There's an enormous range of personalities, even among people who share the same tendency...These qualities dramatically influence how they express their tendencies.

There's no best or worst tendency. The happiest, healthiest, most productive people aren't those from a particular tendency, but rather they're the people who have figured out how to harness the strengths of their Tendency, counteract the weaknesses, and build the lives that work for them.

Knowing other people's tendencies also makes it much easier to persuade them, to encourage them, and to avoid conflict.

"Of all the tasks which are set before man in life, the education and management of his character is the most important." -William Edward Hartpole Lecky, The Map of Life

Upholder:
-Find it easy to decide to act and then to follow through, easily form habits
-Independent and reliable, high degree of self-mastery
-Discipline may make them appear rigid to others, but they feel free, effective, and independent

Weaknesses include delegating (doubt others ability to follow through), holding others accountable (since they don't need outer accountability, not sympathetic towards those that do).

Upholders value self-command, so they tend to pay a lot of attention to getting enough sleep, exercising, having fun, keeping gas in the car, and so on. Upholders also least likely to struggle with addiction. 

Although upholders can indeed reject outer expectations in order to meet inner expectations, they don't always have a clear sense of what they expect from themselves. For an inner expectation to be met, it must be clearly articulated. Therefore, upholders must take care to define for themselves what they want and what they value–that clarity is essential.

For me, once I'd clearly heard the voice of my own inner expectation, doing the work wasn't hard. But it took me a long time to hear that voice.

Upholders want people to do things for their own reasons–which is a big demand.

Questioner:
-Deep commitment to information, logic, and efficiency
-Gather their own facts and decide for themselves, object to anything arbitrary, ill-reasoned, or ineffective
-Almost never unquestioningly meet an expectation

Least distinctive tendency, other three tendencies recognize how they're different from other people. Questioners view their questioning not as evidence of a pattern but as merely the logical, universal response to life.

Upholders and questioners are self-centered and self-ish, in the sense that the aims of the "self," which are inner expectations, are at the core of what they do.

Obliger:
-Meets inner expectations by creating outer accountability (must create structures of outer accountability)
-Gain the most from learning about their tendency (and the largest tendency for both men and women)
-Get along most easily with the other three tendencies

Obligers must pick the right kind of accountability for them...vary dramatically in what makes them feel accountable.

Obliger rebellion - obliger keeps meeting expectations that seem unreasonable until the "snap" which is almost always abrupt.

Rebel:
-Resist all expectations, want to do what they want to do, in their own way and in their own time
-Wake up and think "what do I feel like doing right now?"
-Enjoy challenges and defying people's expectations
-High value on authenticity and self-determination (lives should be a true expression of their values)

Rebel/questioners: "I do whatever I choose." Rebel/obligers: "I refuse to do what anyone tells me to do."

For information-consequences-choice to work, it's crucial that rebels do indeed suffer unpleasant consequences. 

Information, consequences, choice. Without lectures or micro-management or rescue.

Rebels become dependent. Their freedom from the mundane responsibilities of life is often possible because someone else handles the duties of daily existence for them.

Rebels respond much better when an action is framed in terms of choice, freedom, and self-expression instead of constraint and duty.

It's all too easy to assume that what persuades us will persuade others–which isn't true. One of my secrets of Adulthood is that we're more like other people than we suppose and less like other people than we suppose.

Upholders want to know what should be done. Questioners want justifications. Obligers need accountability. Rebels want freedom to do something their own way.

Upholders value self-command and performance. Questioners value justification and purpose. Obligers value teamwork and duty. Rebels value freedom and self-identity. 

"Just as coffee can grow...under 7,000 [feet] and cedar over 7,000. I think that every human being requires a certain type of soil, temperature, and altitude, very narrowly defined for some, almost universal for others–in order to feel free and happy, that is to say, free to develop his nature to the utmost of which it is capable. I believe that one can feel completely free both in a Trappist monastery or at the court in Berlin; but I think it would have to be an unusual and an unusually gracious personality that would feel free in both places." -Isak Dinesen

Real Artists Don't Starve – Jeff Goins

Real Artists Don't Starve – by Jeff Goins
Date read: 6/8/18. Recommendation 7/10.

Practical and refreshing resource for smart creatives and entrepreneurs. Goins picks apart the myths surrounding the Starving Artist and offers an improved alternative of the Thriving Artist. There are dozens of useful rules of thumb you can apply to your own position, no matter where you are in the journey. Thriving Artists build their creative dreams step by step (not overnight). They focus on rearrangement and building upon the work of those who have influenced them (not obsessing over originality). They leverage their existing jobs for resources (not quitting too early and without reason). They recognize the value of a multidisciplinary approach and multiple revenue streams (not mastering a single skill and risking it all on a single bet). Goins follows this same pattern throughout the book, detailing the difference in mindsets, how to position yourself in the market, and how to make a living. It's a modern-day guide for living a better, more creative life, without struggling for the sake of struggling. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

Adrian Cardenas left MLB to pursue writing. To begin a new journey, he had to let go of what was expected of him.

Before you can create great art, you first have to create yourself.

The reason many of us never self-actualize is because it's easier to play a role in life than it is to become our true selves. It's easier to conform to what people expect than it is to stand out. But this is not the way great art is made, nor is it the way real artists are made.

Eventually, you have to decide who you are. You have to choose your role and own that identity. 

Creative dreams aren't launched overnight They are built gradually.

Study of 5,000 American entrepreneurs
-In the end, the more cautious entrepreneurs ended up being the more successful ones, whereas the risk takers who quit their jobs early were 33 percent more likely to fail.

The creative life is a series of small steps more than any single giant leap.

"Nothing is new except arrangement." -Will Durant

Creativity is not about being original; it's about learning to rearrange what has already been in a way that brings fresh insight to old material. Innovation is really iteration.

The Starving Artist worries about being original, whereas the Thriving Artist knows that stealing from your influences is how you make great art. (but you have to carefully study your influences before you steal)

Rule of Creative Theft: Greatness doesn't come from a single great idea or eureka moment. It comes from borrowing other people's work and building on it. We steal our way to greatness.

Such discipline is all but lost in our world today. We are far too impatient, too eager to show the world what we have to offer, too unwilling to take the time to learn the fundamentals of a craft. 

For generations, writers have done something similar in copying the words of their favorite authors verbatim. Hunter S. Thompson did this with the work of his idol, F. Scott Fitzgerald, when he wrote out the pages of The Great Gatsby to get a feel for "what it was like to write that way."

The marks of a good apprentice are patience, perseverance, and humility. 
-If you put in the work you will eventually see results.
-If you keep going, you will outlast the majority who quit at the first few signs of trouble.
-And always remember how far you still have to go.

The moment we begin to believe we deserve success is the very moment it will elude us.

Opportunities may come and go, but in the end, hard work is all we can measure.

"Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon, his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course." –Angela Duckworth

An artist's job is not to be perfect but to be creating.

Jeff Bezos: We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details.

Gradatim Ferociter: step by step, ferociously.

Can you stick around long enough to see your work succeed? Do you have enough grit to take a few critical hits and keep going? Or will you get discouraged at the first sign of failure?

If you are going to create work that matters, you are going to need an advocate–a person who sees your potential and believes in your work. This isn't just about money. You need someone to give you a chance, maybe even connect you to the right people.

Any job can be a means to making your art, if you have the right perspective. Employers become patrons when we begin to see them not as obstacles to the work we want to do but as a way of funding it.

One of the most important issues for a member of the Creative Class is location.

You must earn the attention of those already established in the scene. How do you do this? Serve them somehow. Use your gifts and talents to help others succeed.

Put your work where it has the greatest potential to succeed.

Study the people who already are where you want to go.

Rule of the Portfolio: Starving Artists believes she must master a single skill, whereas the Thriving Artist builds a diverse body of work.

In the Renaissance, people embraced this intersection of different disciplines, and those who blended them best were rightly called "masters."

Thriving Artists don't just live off their art. Like good investors, they keep diverse portfolios, relying on multiple income streams to make a living...The challenge, then, is knowing what investments to make and when.

Ability to hold multiple conflicting ideas in tension with each other in a way that they can build upon each other.

Every artist must fight for margin to create.

This is what most of us want: not to get rich off our creations but to have enough time and freedom to create what we want. We want to have the means to focus on what matters to us.

We often live out the stories we've been told, sometimes without questioning the truthfulness of them.

First master the mindset. Then the market. Then the money. 

How to Change Your Mind – Michael Pollan

How to Change Your Mind – by Michael Pollan
Date Read: 5/25/18. Recommendation 9/10.

A look into the renaissance of psychedelics and how a new generation of scientists are testing their potential to improve mental health, including depression, anxiety, trauma, and addiction. Pollan is a brilliant writer, offering a healthy dose of skepticism throughout the book, which helps add a voice of reason to an often fanciful topic. He acknowledges the provocative, often uncomfortable frontier of psychedelic therapy, which sits somewhere between science and spirituality. True to form, his deep interest in the natural world comes through, specifically as it relates to psilocybin (mushrooms). He also digs into the broader cultural and historical significance, detailing the stories of each influential character involved. But the best parts of the book are moments when Pollan examines ambiguous, difficult concepts such as consciousness, spirituality, ego dissolution, and the ineffability of his own psychedelic experiences. Whether you're interested in better understanding the science, potential benefits to mental health, or a new lens through which to view the world and your own experience, this book makes significant contributions to furthering each. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

Psychedelics are having a renaissance. A new generation of scientists are testing their potential to heal mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and addiction.

LSD appears to disable such conventionalized, shorthand modes of perception, and, by doing so restores a childlike immediacy, and sense of wonder, to our experience of reality, as if we were seeing everything for the first time.

What is striking about this whole line of clinical research is the premise that it is not the pharmacological effect of the drug itself but the kind of mental experience it occasions – involving the temporary dissolution of one's ego – that may be the key to changing one's mind.

It is virtually impossible to die from an overdose of LSD or psilocybin (remarkably little toxicity), and neither drug is addictive (animals will not self-administer a psychedelic more than once). But they can create terrifying experiences (most of which turn out to be short-lived panic attacks) and people can be liable to do stupid and dangerous things on them.

Habits are undeniably useful tools, relieving us of the need to run a complex mental operation every time we're confronted with a new task or situation. Yet they also relieve us of the need to stay awake to the world: to attend, feel, think, and then act in a deliberate manner...If you need to be reminded how completely mental habit blinds us to experience, just take a trip to an unfamiliar country. Suddenly you wake up!

Many researchers also focusing on the spiritual effects of psychedelic experiences on healthy normals. Early psilocybin studies show lasting changes to personalities (openness to experience, one of the five traits psychologists use to assess personality) and improvements in well-being.

Two hallmarks of the mystical experience: ineffability and the conviction that some profound objective truth has been disclosed to you. (Noetic quality: the conviction that you have been let in on a deep secret of the universe)

Descriptions of such experiences always sound a little thing. Imagine a caveman transported to Manhattan. Then zap him back to his cave. What does he say? Does he have the vocabulary for planes, skyscraper, cell phone? There are words we need that don't yet exist.

Negative capability: the ability to exist amid uncertainties, mysteries, and doubt without reaching for absolutes (whether science or spirituality) - concept proposed by John Keats.

"Spiritual revival is our best defense against not only soullessness, but against religious fanaticism." -Huston Smith

Somehow, for some reason, these remarkable mushrooms produce, in addition to spores, meanings in human minds.

Mycelia in a forest link the trees in it, root to root, not only supplying them with nutrients, but serving as a medium that conveys information about environmental threats and allows trees to selectively send nutrients to other trees in the forest.

Stoned Ape Theory: Theory that ingestion of psilocybin caused rapid development in the hominid brain for analytical thinking and societal bonding. Epitome of all mycocentric speculation (not really susceptible to proof or disproof, no way to trace consumption). According to Terrence McKenna, Psilocybes gave our hominid ancestors "access to realms of supernatural power," "catalyzed the emergence of human self-reflection," and "brought us out of the animal mind and into the world of articulated speech and imagination."

Why in the world would a fungus go to the trouble of producing a chemical compound that has such a radical effect on the minds of the animals that eat it?

"Nature everywhere speaks to man in a voice that is familiar to his soul." -Alexander von Humboldt

As long as it works, as long as it heals people, why should anyone care? (This is the same discomfort scientists feel about using placebos. It suggests an interesting way to think about psychedelics: as a kind of "active placebo." As Stanislav Grof put it, psychedelics are "nonspecific amplifiers" of mental processes. 

1965, media in full panic mode, urban legends about the perils of LSD spread more rapidly than the facts. Narrative of LSD as a threat took on a life of its own.
-False: LSD could damage chromosomes, cause birth defects
-More people did end up in emergency rooms with paranoia/anxiety attacks, but full-blown psychosis extremely rare unless at risk of schizophrenia. M.D. Andrew Weil saw a lot of bad trips in the 60s, his solution was to tell the patient having an anxiety attack to excuse him as the person in the next room is having a serious problem. They would immediately begin to feel much better

Importance of set and setting: Shamans have understood for millennia that a person in the depths of a trance or under the influence of a powerful plant medicine can be readily manipulated with the help of certain words, special objects, or the right kind of music. Suggestibility of human mind during an altered state can be harnessed as an important resource for healing.

Great lesson of the 1960s experiment with psychedelics: the importance of finding the proper context, or container (steadying set of rituals and rules), for these powerful chemicals and experiences. 

For some people, the privilege of having had a mystical experience tends to massively inflate the ego, convincing them they've been granted sole possession of a key to the universe. This is an excellent recipe for creating a guru. The certitude and condescension for mere mortals that usually come with that key can render these people insufferable.

LSD trip: Ego did not completely dissolve, instead reached pleasantly bizarre mental space between being awake and falling asleep (hypnagogic consciousness). For a few days after, afterglow casted a pleasantly theatrical light over everything, italicizing the ordinary in such a way as to make Pollan feel uncommonly appreciative.

Psilocybin trip: The sovereign ego, with all its armaments and fears, its backward-looking resentments and forward-looking worries, was simply no more, and there was no one left to mourn its passing. Yet something had succeeded it: this bare disembodied awareness, which gazed upon the sense of the self's dissolution with benign indifference.

For me, "spiritual" is a good name for some of the powerful mental phenomena that arise when the voice of the ego is muted or silenced.

The journeys have shown me what the Buddhists try to tell us but I have never really understood: that there is much more to consciousness than the ego, as we would see if it would just shut up...there is a whole world of souls and spirits out there, by which I simply mean subjectivities other than our own...allows us to feel less separate and more connected, "part and particle" of some larger entity. Whether we call that entity Nature, the Mind at Large, or God hardly matters.

Some scientists have raised the possibility that consciousness may pervade the universe, suggesting we think of it the same way we do electromagnetism or gravity, as one of the fundamental building blocks of reality.

The idea that psychedelic drugs might shed some light on the problems of consciousness makes a certain sense. A psychedelic drug is powerful enough to disrupt the system we call normal waking consciousness in ways that may force some of its fundamental properties into view.

"Predictive coding" - model suggests that our perceptions of the world offer us not a literal transcription of reality but rather a seamless illusion woven from both the data of our senses and the models in our memories.
-If you were able to experience another person's mental state, it would probably feel more like a psychedelic state than a 'normal state' because of its massive disparity with whatever mental state is habitual with you.

When the brain operates on psilocybin, thousands of new connections form, linking far-flung brain regions that during normal waking consciousness don't exchange much information...The brain appears to become less specialized and more globally interconnected, with considerably more intercourse, or "cross talk," among its various neighborhoods.

Even a temporary rewiring of the brain is potentially valuable, especially for people suffering from disorders characterized by mental rigidity. A high-dose psychedelic experience has the power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility–entropy–in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly resettles.

Entropy is often associated with expansion–as in the expansion of a gas when it is heated or freed from the constraints of a container. It becomes harder to predict the location of any given one; the uncertainty of the system thus increases.

Alison Gopnik on similarities between the phenomenology of the LSD experience and her understanding of the consciousness of children: hotter searches, diffused attention, more mental noise (entropy), magical thinking, and little sense of a self that is continuous over time. 

Psychedelic therapy - operating on a frontier between spirituality and science that is as provocative as it is uncomfortable.

Existential distress, few tools available to address this, especially common in those confronting a terminal diagnosis. Obsessive self-reflection and an inability to jump the deepening grooves of negative thinking.

"A high-dose psychedelic experience is death practice. You're losing everything you know to be real, letting go of your ego and your body, and that process can feel like dying." -Katherine MacLean

Results of Johns Hopkins and NYU psilocybin cancer studies:
-80% of cancer patients showed reduced anxiety and depression that lasted for at least 6 months after session
-80 patient study (must be repeated on larger scale)

Key themes of psilocybin experience/trials:
-Powerful feelings of connection to loved ones
-Shift from feelings of separateness to interconnectedness
-Powerful emotions - joy, bliss, love
-Egolytic effect - ability to silence or muffle the voice of the ego
-Achieve a new distance on their lives, a vantage from which matters that had once seemed daunting now seemed smaller and more manageable, including their addictions.

Psilocybin studies with addiction (smokers):
-Six months after, 80% were abstinent
-12 months after, 67% were abstinent (much better rate of success than the best treatment currently available)
-Simplicity of feedback: "Smoking became irrelevant, so I stopped." "The universe was so great and there were so many things you could do and see in it that killing yourself seemed like a dumb idea."

"Duh moments" - Under the influence of psilocybin, "insights become more compelling, stickier, and harder to avoid thinking about. Deprive people of the luxury of mindlessness." -Matt Johnson

Countless people have taken psilocybin and continued to smoke. If it does happen, it's because breaking the habit is the avowed intention of the session.

"Psychedelic therapy" is not simply treatment with a psychedelic drug but rather a form of "psychedelic-assisted therapy," as many of the researchers take pains to emphasize.

Dying, depression, obsession, eating disorders–all are exacerbated by the tyranny of an ego and the fixed narratives it constructs about our relationship to the world.

Rat study with drug addiction:
-Well-known study that rats will quickly addict themselves to drugs, in preference to food.
-Less-known aspect is that if the cage is enriched with opportunities for play, interaction with other rats, and exposure to nature, the same rats will ignore the drugs and never become addicted.
-Lends support to the idea that propensity to addiction might have less to do with genes or chemistry than with one's personal history and environment. "Do you see the world as a prison or a playground?"

Peter Hendricks: "Awe promotes a sense of the 'small self' that directs our attention away from the individual to the group and the greater good." An experience of awe appears to be an excellent antidote for egotism. "We now have a pharmacological intervention that can occasion truly profound experiences of awe" (awe in a pill).

Psilocybin studies with depression:
-After 1 week, 8/12 were depression-free
-After 3 months, 7/12 still showed significant benefits
-After 1 year, 6/20 remained in remission
-More than half eventually saw clouds of depression return, so not necessarily a one-time intervention. 

Mendel Kaelen, a Dutch postdoc in the Imperial lab, snow metaphor:
"Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficult to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction. Think of psychedelics as temporarily flattening the snow. The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways."

A happy brain is a supple and flexible brain...depression, anxiety, obsession, and the cravings of addiction are how it feels to have a brain that has become excessively rigid or fixed in its pathways and linkages–a brain with more order than is good for it.

Mental time travel is constantly taking us off the frontier of the present moment. This can be highly adaptive; it allows us to learn from the past and plan for the future. But when time travel turns obsessive, it fosters the backward-looking gaze of depression and the forward pitch of anxiety.

For me, the psychedelic experience opened up...a space where you can entertain all sorts of thoughts and scenarios without reaching for any kind of resolution...occasionally I have emerged from the state with usable ideas, images, or metaphors.

I still tend to think that consciousness must be confined to brains, but I am less certain of this belief now than I was before I embarked on this journey. Maybe it too has slipped out from between the bars of that cage.

The Inner Game of Tennis – W. Timothy Gallwey

The Inner Game of Tennis

The Inner Game of Tennis – by W. Timothy Gallwey
Date read: 5/1/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

I'm usually skeptical of anything that remotely resembles using sports as a metaphor for life, but this a tremendous read. It's less a book about tennis (although there are a few sections) and more about the art of relaxed concentration. It's a simple but profound concept that suggests the secret to performing your best is in developing a quiet confidence, and most importantly, not trying too hard. Gallwey draws a line between Self 1–the conscious teller, and Self 2–the doer. He advocates developing greater trust in Self 2, which helps to cultivate effortless concentration (flow), instead of a more tense, overly controlled approach which creates an unnecessary obstacle. Gallwey also offers an insightful perspective as he digs deeper into concepts including judgement, awareness, ego, and mindfulness, which adds another dimension to the book. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

The inner game: This is the game that takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self-condemnation.

The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence; and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard. He aims at the kind of spontaneous performance which occurs only when the mind is calm and seems at once with the body, which finds its own surprising ways to surpass its own limits again and again.

The concentrated mind has no room for thinking how well the body is doing, much less the how-to's of the doing.

The skill of mastering the art of effortless concentration is invaluable in whatever you set your mind to. 

Self 1 – the conscious teller (does not trust self 2)
Self 2 – the doer, natural capabilities

It is the constant "thinking" activity of Self 1, the ego-mind, which causes the interference with the natural capabilities of Self 2. Harmony between the two selves exists when the mind is quiet and focused.

Effortlessly alert – cat stalking a bird, effortlessly alert, gathering his relaxed muscle for the spring.

Judgments are our personal, ego reactions to the sights, sounds, feelings and thoughts within our experience....it is the initial act of judgment which provokes a thinking process.

In its process of developing, our tennis game gains a great deal from errors.
Bottom line: there is no substitute for learning from experience.

*Student/teacher reciprocal relationship: I had learned and he had learned, but there was no one there to take credit.

Ending judgment means you neither add nor subtract from the facts before your eyes. Things appear as they are–undistorted. In this way, the mind becomes more calm. 

Acknowledgment of and respect for one's capabilities support trust in Self 2 (*and self-confidence). Self 1's judgments, on the other hand, attempt to manipulate and undermine that trust.

Native language of Self 2 is not words, but imagery. Avoid how-to instructions.

It is as if we would like to think of ourselves more as an obedient computer than as a human being. As a consequence, we are apt to lose access to the direct pathway to the muscle memory that carries a more complete knowledge of the desired action.

In short, there is no need to fight old habits. Start new ones. It is the resisting of an old habit that puts you in that trench. Starting a new pattern is easy when done with childlike disregard for imagined difficulties. 

Awareness of what is, without judgment, is relaxing, and is the best precondition for change.

Relaxation happens only when it is allowed, not as a result of "trying" or "making."

As one achieves focus, the mind quiets. As the mind is kept in the present, it becomes calm. Focus means keeping the mind now and here. Relaxed concentration is the supreme art because no art can be achieved without it.

The most effective way to deepen concentration through sight is to focus on something subtle...notice the exact pattern made by its seams as it spins. *Effortless and relaxed, not tense and overly controlled.

When the mind is fastened to the rhythm of breathing, it tends to become absorbed and calm. Whether on or off the court.

It is perplexing to wonder why we ever leave the here and now. Here and now are the only place and time when one ever enjoys himself or accomplishes anything. Most of our suffering takes place when we allow our minds to imagine the future or mull over the past. Nonetheless, few people are ever satisfied with what is before them at the moment.

The need to prove yourself is based on insecurity and self-doubt. Only to the extent that one is unsure about who and what he is does he need to prove himself to himself or to others.

It is only against the big waves that he is required to use all his skill, all his courage and concentration to overcome; only then can he realize the true limits of his capacities.

Stability grows as I learn to accept what I cannot control and take control of what I can.
 

Enlightenment Now – Steven Pinker

Enlightenment Now – by Steven Pinker
Date read: 4/28/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

As the title suggests, Pinker makes the argument for reason, science, humanism and progress–the four themes that tie together thinkers of the enlightenment. He focuses on all the ways the world is improving, stating the case for optimism in a similar vein as The Rational Optimist (Matt Ridley) and The Moral Arc (Michael Shermer). It's a refreshing dose of perspective in a world that seems increasingly convinced that the end is near. Using statistics to back his position, Pinker tackles a range of subjects including inequality, political ideology, wealth, happiness, morality, and religion, to name a few. All this is not to suggest that progress is utopia, we should always strive to improve, but we should also appreciate how far we've come. The only drawback to the book is its density, which makes its ideas less accessible than I had hoped.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

As a sentient being, you have the potential to flourish. You can refine your faculty of reason itself by learning and debating. You can seek explanations of the natural world through science, and insight into the human condition through the arts and humanities. You can make the most of your capacity for pleasure and satisfaction, which allowed your ancestors to thrive and thereby allowed you to exist. You can appreciate the beauty and richness of the natural and cultural world.

Obliviousness to the scope of human progress can lead to symptoms that are worse than existential angst. *Cynicism that institutions of modernity have failed and every aspect of life is in a deepening crisis turns us toward atavistic alternatives.

"Optimism is the theory that all failures–all evils–are due to insufficient knowledge." -David Deutsch

Thinkers of the enlightenment sought a new understanding of the human. Four themes tie them together: reason, science, humanism, and progress.

"If triangles had a god they would give him three sides." -Montesquieu

[Enlightement] was an escape not just from ignorance but from terror. The sociologist Robert Scott notes that in the Middle Ages "the belief that an external force controlled daily life contributed to a kind of collective paranoia."

The invention of farming around ten thousand years ago multiplied the availability of calories from cultivated plants and domesticated animals, freed a portion of the population from the demands of hunting and gathering, and eventually gave them the luxury of writing, thinking, and accumulating their ideas.

Axial Age: Around 500 BCE, several widely separated cultures pivoted from systems of ritual and sacrifice that merely warded off misfortune to systems of philosophical and religious belief...It was not an aura of spirituality that descended on the planet but something more prosaic: energy capture. *Agricultural and economic advances provided more calories per person and shifted focus from short-term survival to long-term harmony. 

To take something on faith means to believe it without good reason, so by definition a faith in the existence of supernatural entities clashes with reason.

Political ideology undermines reason and science. It scrambles people's judgment, inflames a primitive tribal mindset, and distracts them from a sounder understanding of how to improve the world.

Availability heuristic: people estimate the probability of an event or the frequency of a kind of thing by the ease with which instances come to mind. *Why news distorts people's view of the world.

Two other illusions mislead us into thinking that things ain't what they used to be: we mistake the growing burdens of maturity and parenthood for a less innocent world, and we mistake a decline in our own faculties for a decline in the times. As the columnist Franklin Pierce Adams pointed out, "Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory."

*American journalism defines "serious news" as "what's going wrong" which has led millions to quit believing in incremental system change and instead seek revolutionary, smash-the-machine change.

In the mid-18th century, life expectancy in Europe and the Americas was around 35, where it had been parked for the 225 previous years...By 1950, it had grown to around 60 in Europe and the Americas.

For an American woman, being pregnant a century ago was almost as dangerous as having breast cancer today.

For most of human history, the strongest force of death was infectious disease...but starting in the late 18th century with the invention of vaccination and accelerating in the 19th with the acceptance of germ theory of disease, the tide of the battle began to turn. Handwashing, midwifery, mosquito control, and especially the protection of drinking water by public sewerage and chlorinated tap water would come to save billions of lives.

"We are led to forget the dominating misery of other times in part by the grace of literature, poetry, romance, and legend, which celebrate those who lived well and forget those who lived in the silence of poverty. The eras of misery have been mythologized and may even be remembered as golden ages of pastoral simplicity. They were not." -Nathan Rosenberg

In two hundred years the rate of extreme poverty in the world has tanked from 90 percent to 10, with almost half that decline occurring in the last thirty-five years.

National income correlates with every indicator of human flourishing...*longevity, health, nutrition, peace, freedom, human rights, and tolerance.

Not surprisingly, as countries get richer they get happier; more surprisingly, as countries get richer they get smarter.

"From the point of view of morality, it is not important everyone should have the same. What is morally important is that each should have enough." -Harry Frankfurt

The confusion of inequality with poverty comes straight out of the lump fallacy–the mindset in which wealth is a finite resource...which has to be divided up in zero-sum fashion. [But] since the Industrial Revolution, it has expanded exponentially. That means when the rich get richer, the poor can get richer too.

In 2011, more than 95 percent of American households below the poverty line had electricity, running water, flush toilets, a refrigerator, a stove, and a color TV. (A century and a half before, the Rothschilds, Astors, and Vanderbilts had none of these things.) *50% had a dishwasher, 60% computer, 66% washing machine, 80% air conditioner and cell phone.

Inequality is not the same as poverty, and it is not a fundamental dimension of human flourishing. In comparisons of well-being across countries, it pales in importance next to overall wealth.

In some ways the world has become less equal, but in more ways the world's people have become better off.

Ecomodernism:
-Some degree of pollution is an inescapable consequence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. When people use energy...they must increase entropy somewhere in the environment in the form of waste, pollution, and other forms of disorder.
-Industrialization has been good for humanity. It has fed billions, doubled life spans, slashed extreme poverty.
-The tradeoff that pits human well-being against environmental damage can be renegotiated by technology. 

Dematerialization: Progress in technology allows us to do more with less...forty consumer products replaced by a single smartphone...the sharing economy.

Half of the world's homicides are committed in just twenty-three countries containing about a tenth of humanity, and a quarter are committed in just four: Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela...The lopsidedness continues down the fractal scale. Within a country, most of the homicides cluster in a few cities...Within cities, the homicides cluster in a few neighborhoods; within neighborhoods, they cluster in a few blocks; and within blocks, many are carried out by a few individuals. 

Horse-drawn era: The engine of city mayhem was the horse....hose-associated fatality rate was ten times the car-associated rate of modern times.

As indefensible or unworkable ideas fall by the wayside, they are removed from the pool of thinkable options, the political fringe is dragged forward despite itself. That's why even in the most regressive political movement in recent American history there were no calls for reinstating Jim Crow laws, ending women's suffrage, or recriminalizing homosexuality. 

Although the world remains highly unequal, every region has been improving, and the worst-off parts of the world are better off than the best-off parts not long ago.

"The entire concept of retirement is unique to the last five decades. It wasn't long ago that the average American man had two stages of life: work and death...Think of it this way: The average American now retires at age 62. One hundred years ago, the average American died at age 51." -Morgan Housel

Mindless consumerism? Not when you remember that food, clothing, and shelter are the three necessities of life, that entropy degrades all three, and that the time it takes to keep them usable is time that could be devoted to other pursuits. 
*Housework fell almost fourfold from 58 hours a week in 1900 to 15.5 hours in 2011. Laundry alone fell from 11.5 hours in 1920 to 1.5 in 2015.

In 1929 Americans spent more than 60 percent of their disposable income on necessities; by 2016 that had fallen to a third.

Happiness is the output of an ancient biological feedback system that tracks our progress in pursuing auspicious signs of fitness in a natural environment. We are happier, in general, when we are healthy, comfortable, safe, provisioned, socially connected, sexual, and loved.

Goal of progress cannot be to increase happiness indefinitely...but there is plenty of unhappiness that can be reduced, and no limit as to how meaningful our lives can become. 

We now know that richer people within a country are happier, that richer countries are happier, and that people get happier as their countries get richer. 
*But none of us are as happy as we ought to be, given how amazing our world has become.

Not every problem is a crisis, a plague, or an epidemic, and among the things that happen in the world is that people solve the problems confronting them.

[AI] advances have not come from a better understanding of the workings of intelligence but from the brute-force power of faster chips and bigger data, which allow the programs to be trained on millions of examples and generalize to similar new ones. 

Progress it not utopia...there is room–indeed, an imperative–for us to continue that progress.

"We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all before us, and with just as much apparent reason...On what principle is it, that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?" -Thomas Macaulay, 1830

Populism comes in left-wing and right-wing varieties, which share a folk theory of economics as a zero-sum competition: between economic classes in the case of the left, between nations or ethnic groups in the case of the right. Problems are seen not as challenges that are inevitable in an indifferent universe but as the malevolent designs of insidious elites, minorities, or foreigners. 

Education instills a respect for vetted fact and reasoned argument, and so inoculates people against conspiracy theories, reasoning by anecdotes, and emotional demagoguery. 

We are a cognitive species that depends on explanations of the world. Since the world is the way it is regardless of what people believe about it, there is a strong selection pressure for an ability to develop explanations that are true. Reasoning thus has deep evolutionary roots. 

Certain beliefs (i.e. climate change) become symbols of cultural allegiance. People affirm or deny these beliefs to express not what they know but who they are. We all identify with particular tribes or subcultures...make an enormous difference to the respect the person commands in his or her social circle.

Engagement with politics is like sports fandom in another way: people seek and consume news to enhance the fan experience, not to make their opinions more accurate.

A challenge of our era is how to foster intellectual and political culture that is driven by reason rather than tribalism and mutual reaction.

Philosophy grows out of the recognition that clarity and logic don't come easily to us and that we're better off when our thinking is refined and deepened. The arts are one of the things that make life worth living, enriching human experience with beauty and insight.

Historical scholarship has amply demonstrated that holy scriptures are all-too-human products of their historical eras, including internal contradictions, factual errors, plagiarism from neighboring civilizations, and scientific absurdities.

Today, of course, enlightened believers cherry-pick the humane injunctions while allegorizing, spin-doctoring, or ignoring the vicious ones, and that's just the point: they read the Bible through the lens of Enlightenment humanism.

Atheism is not a moral system. It's just the absence of a supernatural belief, like an unwillingness to believe in Zeus or Vishnu. The moral alternative to theism is humanism.

People are vulnerable to cognitive illusions that lead to supernatural beliefs, and they certainly need to belong to a community.

The problem begins with the fact that many of the precepts of Islamic doctrine, taken literally, are floridly antihumanistic...Of course many of the passages in the Bible are floridly antihumanistic too. One needn't debate which is worse; what matters is how literally the adherents take them.

The stranglehold of the Islamic religion over governmental institutions and civil society in Muslim countries has impeded their economic, political, and social progress.

Islam is not a race...Religions are just ideas and don't have rights. Criticizing the ideas of Islam is no more bigoted than criticizing the ideas of neoliberalism or the Republican Party platform.

Remember your math: an anecdote is not a trend. Remember your history: the fact that something is bad today doesn't mean it was better in the past. Remember your philosophy: one cannot reason that there's no such thing as reason, or that something is true or good because God said it is. And remember your psychology: much of what we know isn't so, especially when our comrades know it too.

Keep some perspective. Not every problem is a Crisis, Plague, Epidemic, or Existential Threat, and not every change is the End of this, the Death of That, or the Dawn of a Post-Something Era. 

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

The War of Art – by Steven Pressfield
Date read: 4/15/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Worth the investment for any creative. It's a short read and a manifesto that many hold dear. Pressfield cuts through excuses which embody what he defines as Resistance. He offers blunt advice to eliminate distractions and get on with the work you should be doing. The only thing that matters is sitting down and putting in the effort, every single day. The more you're able to remove your ego from that equation, the less interference there will be. We've all struggled with Resistance in some form–procrastination, fear, low self-confidence, rationalization. The War of Art is a call to overcome that and move yourself into a higher sphere by dedicating uninterrupted time to your craft. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

A writer writes with his genius; an artist paints with hers; everyone who creates operates from this sacramental center.

How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don't do the thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to?

Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity...will elicit Resistance.

The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

Fear doesn't go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.

Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher.

The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight.

Anything that draws attention to ourselves through pain-free or artificial means is a manifestation of Resistance. 

A victim act is a form of passive aggression. It seeks to achieve gratification not by honest work or a contribution out of one's experience or insight or love, but by the manipulation of others through silent (and not-so-silent) threat.

The artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it. He is lucky. He was born in the right place...The fundamentalist cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. 

The truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery.

If you find yourself criticizing other people, you're probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.

The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

The professional takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself...the professional turns down roles that he's done before. He's not afraid of them anymore. Why waste his time?

Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They're the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.

Rationalization keeps us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.

The professional steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. 

A pro views her work as craft, not art.

Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all compromise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.

The professional is prepared at a deeper level...His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily and steadily as he can.

The ancient Spartans schooled themselves to regard the enemy, any enemy, as nameless and faceless. In other words, they believed that if they did their work, no force on earth could stand against them.

The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.

What I call Professionalism someone else might call the Artist's Code or the Warrior's Way. It's an attitude of egolessness and service.

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now." -Goethe

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

An individual who defines himself by his place in a pecking order will:
-Seek to elevate his station by advancing against those above him
-Evaluate his happiness/success/achievement by his rank within the hierarchy
-Act towards others based upon their rank in the hierarchy

Qualities of a territory:
-A territory provides sustenance
-A territory can only be claimed alone
-A territory can only be claimed by work
-A territory returns exactly what you put in

When – Daniel H. Pink

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing – by Daniel H. Pink
Date read: 4/11/18. Recommendation: 6/10.

Easy read with a few interesting takeaways regarding the science of timing. You'll get most of the value this book has to offer within the first 50 pages. Pink details how everyone experiences the day in three stages–a peak, trough, and rebound (not necessarily in that order). Each has a unique impact on our cognitive abilities. The key is to develop a greater awareness of when we should perform certain tasks by identifying our own personal chronotype – individual biological clock that affects performance and mood. Anyone who's dialed in to their own mental and physical abilities has likely built a natural awareness and routine around this, but it's always worth the reminder.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

All of us experience the day in three stages–a peak, a trough, and a rebound. And about three-quarters of us (larks and third birds) experience it in that order.

Emotional balance (happiness, warmth towards others, enjoyment) rises in the morning, dips in the afternoon, and rises again in the evening.

Juror Experiment: Mental keenness, as shown by rationally evaluating evidence, was greater earlier in the day. And mental squishiness, as evidenced by resorting to stereotypes, increased as the day wore on.

3 key findings from studies on the effect of time of day on brain power:
-Cognitive abilities do not remain static over the course of a day.
-Daily fluctuations are more extreme than we realize (daily low point can be equivalent to the effect of drinking legal limit).
-How we do depends on what we're doing (best time to perform a particular task depends on the nature of that task).

When we wake up, our body temperature slowly rises. That rising temperature gradually boosts our energy level and alertness–and that, in turn, enhances our executive functioning, our ability to concentrate, and our powers of deduction. For most of us, those sharp-minded analytic capacities peak in the late morning or around noon. 

Danish standardized tests:
-Four years of results for two million schoolchildren showed a direct correlation between hours tests were administered and performance. Each hour later in the day, scores fell a little more. Students scored much higher in mornings.

Human beings don't all experience a day in precisely the same way. Each of us has a "chronotype" – a personal pattern of circadian rhythms that influences our physiology and psychology. 

Larks (early risers) = 14% of population.
Third birds = 65% of population.
Owls (late risers) = 21% of population.

Chronotypes are influenced by multiple factors:
-Genetics accounts for at least half of the variability...larks and owls are born, not made.
-Age also plays an important factor...young children are generally larks, puberty transitions to owls, return to lark as grow older.

Biological clocks affect our performance, mood, and wakefulness. 

Corporate, government, and education cultures are configured for the 75 or 80 percent of people who are larks or third birds.

Figure out your chronotype, understand your task, and then select the appropriate time.

Whatever you do, do not let mundane tasks creep into your peak period.
*If you're a lark or a third bird and happen to have a free hour in the morning, don't fritter it away on email. Spend those sixty minutes doing your most important work.

Wait to drink that first cup of coffee an hour or ninety minutes after waking up, once our cortisol production has peaked and the caffeine can do its magic. If you're looking for an afternoon boost, head to the coffee shop between about 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., when cortisol levels dip again.

Typical worker reaches the most unproductive moment of the day at 2:55 p.m.

Judges were more likely to issue a favorable ruling in the morning (65%) than the afternoon (almost zero). But also after they took short breaks.

Breaks: Short breaks are effective and deliver considerable bang for their limited buck...Regular short walking breaks in the workplace also increase motivation and concentration and enhance creativity...Tech-free breaks increase vigor and reduce emotional exhaustion.

Beginnings
Long-term negative impact of graduating from college in a bad year often took the unlucky graduates two decades to catch up to the lucky ones who graduated in robust times. Total cost, in inflation-adjusted terms, of graduating in a bad year rather than a good year averaged about $100,000.
*Negative impact on students who graduated during 2010 and 2011 was double. Those who begin careers during such weak market may see permanent negative effects on their wages. 

"When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood." -Margaret Atwood

Midpoints
Wellbeing seems to slump in midlife. Why does this midpoint deflate us?
-Disappointment of unrealized expectations
-Learn that we're lousy forecasters, in youth our expectations are too high.
-Biological? See same trends in apes.

"Punctuated equilibrium" – evolution's path wasn't a smooth upward climb. The true trajectory was less linear: periods of dull stability punctuated by swift explosions of change.

Analysis of 18,000 NBA games and 46,000 NCAA games over fifteen years showed teams that were ahead at halftime won more games than teams that were behind. However, the only exception to this rule was that teams that were behind by just one at halftime were more likely to win. Being down one was more advantageous than being up one (encouraged team behind to exert more effort). 

Endings
Every Pixar movie has its protagonist achieving the goal he wants only to realize it is not what the protagonist needs. Such emotional complexity turns out to be central to the most elevated endings. 

One reason we overlook poignancy is that it operates by an upside-down form of emotional physics. Adding a small component of sadness to an otherwise happy moment elevates that moment rather than diminishes it. 

The best endings don't leave us happy. Instead, they produce something richer–a small rush of unexpected insight, a fleeting moment of transcendence, the possibility that by discarding what we wanted we've gotten what we need. 

Nostalgia, research shows, can foster positive mood, protect against anxiety and stress, and boost creativity.

Like poignancy, nostalgia is a "bittersweet but predominantly positive and fundamentally social emotion." Thinking in the past tense offers a "window into the intrinsic self," a portal to who we really are. It makes the present meaningful.

Writing is an act of discovering what you think and what you believe.

I used to believe in ignoring the waves of the day. Now I believe in surfing them.

Quiet – Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking – by Susan Cain
Date read: 3/27/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Quiet is a bible for introverts. Cain struck a chord with a massive, often overlooked audience, with an insightful look into the place of introversion in our culture that has come to hold extroversion as the highest ideal. But it's an important book for introverts and extroverts alike. For introverts, it offers a resource and the reassurance to be authentic, put yourself in the right lighting, and use your natural strengths. Cain also digs into concepts like restorative niches, soft power, self-monitoring, and deliberate practice–all familiar concepts to introverts. She also gets a bit more granular and discusses the difference between temperament and personality, nature vs. nurture, and the evolutionary benefits to each personality type. As Quiet suggests, the goal is to identify your own preferences along the spectrum introversion/extroversion so you can spend more time in your sweet spot and get the most out of your life. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions–from the theory of evolution to van Gogh's sunflowers to the personal computer–came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.

I have seen firsthand how difficult it is for introverts to take stock of their own talents, and how powerful it is when finally they do.

Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don't socialize enough.

Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration...They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation...Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.

Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. 

On extroversion becoming the cultural ideal in the past century:
How did we go from Character to Personality without realizing that we had sacrificed something meaningful along the way?

In the United States, Don [Chinese American] feels conversation is about how effective you are at turning your experiences into stories, whereas a Chinese person might be concerned with taking up too much of the other person's time with inconsequential information.

We perceive talkers as smarter than quiet types–even though grade-point averages and SAT and intelligence scores reveal this perception to be inaccurate.

We don't need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.

Introverts as leaders:
Introverts are uniquely good at leading initiative-takers. Because of their lack of inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions....Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity. Team members perceive introverted leaders as more open and receptive to their ideas, which motivated them to work harder.

"I am a horse for a single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork...for well I know that in order to attain any definite goal, it is imperative that one person do the thinking and the commanding." -Albert Einstein

Introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation. Solitude is key to creativity for introverts (and the most creative people are typically introverts).

While extroverts tend to attain leadership in public domains, introverts tend to attain leadership in theoretical and aesthetic fields.

Deliberate Practice:
It's only when you're alone (as proven by top students and elite athletes) that you can engage in Deliberate Practice, the key to exceptional achievement. When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly.

Deliberate Practice is best conducted alone because it requires intense concentration, deep motivation (often self-generated), and involves working on the task that's most challenging to you personally. 

"You once said that you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case I could not write at all. For writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind...That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around when one writes, why even night is not enough." -Kafka

Temperament refers to inborn, biologically based behavioral and emotional patterns that are observable in infancy and early childhood; personality is the complex brew that emerges after cultural influence and personal experience are thrown into the mix.

I'm prone to wild flights of self-doubt, but I also have a deep well of courage in my own convictions. I feel horribly uncomfortable on my first day in a foreign city, but I love to travel.

"Many high-reactives become writers or pick other intellectual vocations where 'you're in charge: you close the door, pull down the shades and do your work. You're protected from encountering unexpected things." -Jerome Kagan

The heritability statistics derived from twin studies show that introversion-extroversion is only 40 to 50 percent heritable. This means that, in a group of people, on average half of the variability in introversion-extroversion is caused by genetic factors.

The parents of high-reactive children are exceedingly lucky, Jay Belsky told me. "The time and effort they invest will actually make a difference. Instead of seeing these kids as vulnerable to adversity, parents should see them as mealleable–for worse, but also for better." Ideal parent: "Someone who can read your cues and respect your individuality; is warm and firm in placing demands on you without being harsh or hostile; promotes curiosity, academic achievement, delayed gratification, and self-control; and is not harsh, neglectful, or inconsistent."

Rubber band theory of personality: We are like rubber bands at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much.

Over-arousal doesn't produce anxiety so much as the sense that you can't think straight–that you've had enough and would like to go home now. Under-arousal is something like cabin fever. Not enough is happening: you feel itchy, restless, and sluggish, like you need to get out of the house already.

Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can begin consciously trying to situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality–neither overstimulating nor understimulating, neither boring nor anxiety making. You can organize your life in terms of what personality psychologists call "optimal levels of arousal" and what I call "sweet spots," and by doing so feel more energetic and alive than before.

"There is no single best [animal] personality, but rather a diversity of personalities maintained by natural selection." -David Sloan Wilson

Scientists have found that nomads who inherited the form of a particular gene linked to extroversion (specifically, to novelty-seeking) are better nourished than those without this version of the gene. But in settled populations, people with this same gene form have poorer nutrition.

"Extroversion consists in a high rate of fertility, with low powers of defense and short duration of life for the single individual; the other [introversion] consists in equipping the individual with numerous means of self-preservation plus a low fertility rate." -Carl Jung

Introverts also seem to be better than extroverts at delaying gratification, a crucial life skill associated with everything from higher SAT scores and income to lower body mass index.

Introverts are "geared to inspect" and extroverts "geared to respond."

If genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, then as a culture we tend to lionize the one percent. We love its flash and dazzle. But great power lies in the other ninety-nine percent.

"It's not that I'm so smart. It's that I stay with problems longer." -Einstein

We tend to overvalue buzz and discount the risks of reward-sensitivity: we need to find balance between action and reflection.

The key to flow is to pursue an activity for its own sake, not for the rewards it brings.

Flow often occurs in conditions in which people "become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself." -Csikszentmihalyi

"Success in investing doesn't correlate with IQ. Once you have the ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing." -Warren Buffett

Though Eastern relationship-honoring is admirable and beautiful, so is Western respect for individual freedom, self-expression, and personal identity. The point is not that one is superior to the other, but that a profound difference in cultural values has a powerful impact on the personality styles favored by each culture.

"Soft power" – Leadership by water rather than by fire.

"Soft power is quiet persistence. The people I'm thinking of are very persistent in their day-to-day, person-to-person interactions. Eventually they build up a team." -Preston Ni

Free Trait Theory: fixed traits and free traits coexist. We are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits–introversion, for example–but we can and do act out of character in the service of "core personal projects."

Self-monitoring: Introverts who were especially good at acting like extroverts tended to score high for a trait that psychologists call "self-monitoring." Self-monitors are highly skilled at modifying their behavior to the social demands of a situation.

The highest self-monitors not only tend to be good at producing the desired effect and emotion in a given social situation–they also experience less stress while doing so. 

Three key steps to identifying your own core personal projects:
1) Think back to what you loved to do when you were a child. The specific answer you gave may have been off the mark, but the underlying impulse was not. 
2) Pay attention to the work you gravitate to.
3) Pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth.

"Restorative niche" – The place you go when you want to return to your true self.

Understanding introversion changes one's parenting style. The key is to expose your child gradually to new situations and people–taking care to respect his limits, even when they seem extreme. This produces more-confident kids than either overprotection or pushing too hard.

The school environment can be highly unnatural, especially from the perspective of an introverted child who loves to work intensely on projects he cares about, and hang out with one or two friends at a time...Worst of all, there's little time to think or create. The structure of the day is almost guaranteed to sap his energy rather than stimulate it.

People flourish when, in the words of psychologist Brian Little, they're "engaged in occupations, roles or settings that are concordant with their personalities."

The way we characterize our past setbacks profoundly influences how satisfied we are with our current lives.

Those who live the most fully realized lives–giving back to their families, societies, and ultimately themselves–tend to find meaning in their obstacle. 

Where we stumble is where our treasure lies.

"Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discourage the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again." -Anais Nin

Love is essential; gregariousness is optional. Cherish your nearest and dearest. Work with colleagues you like and respect. 

The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting...Use your natural powers–of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity–to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply.

Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you're supposed to...Read. Cook. Run. Write a story. Make a deal with yourself that you'll attend a set number of social events in exchange for not feeling guilty when you beg off.

Don't mistake assertiveness or eloquence for good ideas. If you have a proactive work force, remember that they may perform better under an introverted leader than under an extroverted or charismatic one.

Introverts are offered keys to private gardens full of riches. To possess such a key it to tumble like Alice down her rabbit hole. She didn't choose to go to Wonderland–but she made of it an adventure that was fresh and fantastic and very much her own.