proficiency

“Proficiency and the results of proficiency come only to those who have learned the paradoxical art of doing and not doing, of combining relaxation with activity, of letting go as a person in order to that the immanent and transcendent Unknown Quantity make take hold.”

~ Aldous Huxley

Via The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman – highly recommended

strategic incompetence

“Strategic incompetence is the art of avoiding undesirable tasks by pretending to be unable to do them, and though the phrase was apparently only recently coined in a Wall Street Journal article, the concept is surely as old as humanity. “

Oliver Burkeman #

it’s turtles all the way down

There’s an old apocryphal story from 16th-century where a young man climbs a large mountain to speak to the sage at the top. Supposedly this sage knew, like, everything and stuff. And this young man was anxious to understand the secrets of the world.

Upon arriving at the top of the mountain, the sage greeted the young man and invited him to ask him anything (note: this was way before Reddit threads). The young man then asked him his question, “Great sage, we stand upon the world, but what does the world stand upon?”

The sage immediately replied, “The world rests upon the back of a number of great elephants.”

The young man thought for a moment, and then asked, “Yes, but what do the elephants stand upon?”

The sage replied again, without hesitation, “The elephants rest upon the back of a great turtle.”

The young man, still not satisfied, asked, “Yes, but what does the great turtle rest upon?”

The sage replied, “It rests upon an even greater turtle.”

The young man, growing frustrated, began to ask, “But what does–”

“No, no,” the sage interrupted, “stop there–it’s turtles all the way down.”

via Mark Manson

productivity

“The trouble isn’t simply that we subjugate our non-work lives to work, but that we subjugate the present to the future – which, as you might have noticed, never arrives. In seeking to spend life as productively as we can, we bring upon ourselves the ultimate ironic punishment: we miss it.”

Oliver Burkeman – New Philosopher #20

loneliness

“Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties — all these chase away loneliness by making me forget my name’s Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion — these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.”

David Foster Wallace on Loneliness: I often like being alone – but I don’t like being lonely

should > could

“One of the biggest lessons is given a challenging situation — kids who want pizza — we all tend to default to what we should do instead of asking what we could do. My colleagues and I did an experiment in which I gave participants difficult ethical challenges where there seemed to be no good choice. I then asked participants either “What should you do?” or “What could you do?” We found that the “could” group were able to generate more creative solutions. Approaching problems with a “should” mindset gets us stuck on the trade-off the choice entails and narrows our thinking on one answer, the one that seems most obvious. But when we think in terms of “could,” we stay open-minded and the trade-offs involved inspire us to come up with creative solutions.”

When Solving Problems, Think About What You Could Do, Not What You Should Do

Cognitive behaviour therapy has taught me to avoid using and thinking of the word should as it discourages flexible thinking. Could thinking is a nice replacement.

→increasing complexity

“We chose to increase the complexity of our lives by having children”

I found this article and diagram by Austin Kleon very insightful—as a five person household I now realize we have 12 10 relationships to manage. You can apply the same concept to work teams.

Even though I’m a big fan of simplicity, I don’t necessarily see our family complexity negatively, as Marcus in About A Boy says:

“Suddenly I realized – two people isn’t enough. You need backup. If you’re only two people, and someone drops off the edge, then you’re on your own. Two isn’t a large enough number.”

nature as an antidepressant

“I have to say”, Professor Howard Frumkin—one of the leading experts on this subject in the world—told me later, “that if we had medication for which preliminary results showed such efficacy, we would be all over researching that medication… Here is a treatment that has very few side effects, is not expensive, doesn’t require a trained or licensed professional to prescribe it, and has pretty good evidence of efficacy so far”. But the research is very hard to find funding for, he said, because “a lot of the shape of modern biomedical research has been defined by the pharmaceutical industry,” and they’re not interested because “it’s very hard to commercialise nature contact.” You can’t sell it so they don’t want to know.

From Lost Connections by Johann Hari

When I hear ‘antidepressant’ I immediately think of a pill. One of those many pills I’ve taken over many, many years.

But one of the best antidepressants I’ve found isn’t chemical, it’s simply spending time in nature. Part of this I believe is that nature makes me feel like my problems are pretty trivial when you put them into a larger perspective: I’m a small thing in a large, complex world part of an even larger universe.

That, and oh, the fresh air.

Update: just saw this on my desk calendar:

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what is something that you can accumulate that no-one else can steal?

One of the many things I love about my Toastmasters club is hearing stories from fellow Toastmasters; seemingly ordinary people often with extraordinary life stories. Maurice grew up as a poor child in Sri Lanka. He worried about accumulating things as these would inevitably be stolen from him. So he spent his money accumulating knowledge through eduction. This allowed him to eventually migrate to Australia.

Sri Lanka
Elephants in Sri Lanka – Taken during our 2013 visit

anxiety and depression are like cover versions of the same song by different bands

“I started to see depression and anxiety as like cover versions of the same song by different bands. Depression is a cover version by a downbeat emo band, and anxiety is a cover version by a screaming heavy metal group, but the underlying sheet music is the same. They’re not identical, but they are twinned.”

Johann Hari in his new mind-changing book Lost Connections

know who you are; don’t let others change you with their own inadequacies

A recent ‘Vendor Week’ edition of The Big Issue had a section titled ‘Letter to My Younger Self’ where Big Issue vendors from around Australia offered words of advice, reflection, consolation and love to their teenage selves. I found the the letter from Mark W from Adelaide to himself was particularly insightful.

“Dear 14-year-old me, Hi mate, this is your 41-year old self. If you don’t want a life of depression, anxiety and OCD, then listen up.

Firstly, yes, your parents have just divorced, but listen, don’t resent them. The resentment will lead to depression and misery later on. They will always do the best they can at the time, and they will always love and care for you. Love them back. Don’t rebel so much.

If you’re going to rebel, if you’re going to experiment with drugs and booze, that’s okay, most teenagers do. Just don’t let these things rule your life, and change who you really are.

Addiction will lead to anxiety and it will take over. Learn the skill of moderation; you can’t go full steam forever. It’s impossible. But even moderation should be observed in moderation – you can still have fun. The road of excess sometimes leads to the palace of wisdom.

You are special. Remember the unlikelihood of your birth – you are lucky to be here, a true wonder. Be confident, believe in yourself, love yourself. Because a lack of this love will ruin your confidence and your life, and will lead to something called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. You are a good person, believe it. Don’t let negative comments get you down. Know who you are; don’t let others change you with their own inadequacies.

Make better choices. If something immediately feels wrong, it probably is. Don’t chase wealth – some of the happiest people are the poorest. Money isn’t everything. Gambling is for suckers, and quite literally, losers.

Live, love and let it be. And if all else fails, and you can’t find love, live and create, and if you find yourself desolate and homeless, sell The Big Issue! It might just save your life.

And you will again learn to love yourself. Love Me, to You, I.

graduation speech

I recently completed the first main Toastmaster’s club achievement and my final assignment was to deliver an inspirational speech aimed at an appropriate event. I choose a graduation speech which I would deliver to a graduating class of 2018.


Good evening graduates of the class of 2018. Tonight you graduate, you finish, but tonight isn’t just about finishing: it’s about new beginnings too. Tonight you begin the rest of your life.

If I rewind my life by 16 years and I imagine myself sitting just like you in the audience here tonight, I realise I’ve learned so many things in that time. Tonight I’ll share some of those things with you.

The comedian Wil Anderson says you either spend your life running from things, or running to things. Up until I graduated I spent my days running away from my childhood. Since then I’ve spent my time running towards a better life, for myself and my wife and three children.

There’s an old saying “no grit; no pearl”. It’s a perfectly succinct way of stating the benefits of adversity. You will all suffer in various ways, the key is to use your suffering to your advantage.

They say life is like trying to swim down the middle of a river – there are two riverbanks: on one side is the riverbank that represents chaos – this will pull you in at various times of your life, like for example when you have young children. The other riverbank represents rigidity. It’s almost too tempting to swim to that riverbank, especially when you’re on the chaos side, but rigidity can be just as bad for you as chaos can be. Your goal in life is to not get drawn in to either side of the river: go with the flow and float down the river, otherwise you’ll spend your time fighting against the currents pulling you to either side.

During the times of your life that will be chaotic you will have a great deal of stress. Don’t avoid stress, deal with it and use it to your advantage. William James once said “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another”.

There’s also a good chance you’ll get addicted to things, if you’re not already. This may be something as simple as Instagram or Caramello Koalas. Addiction isn’t a disease: it’s not something you can recover from. To overcome your addictions you’ll need to develop through them by changing your desires and establishing human connection.

Someone one said that to be successful in life you need three distinct hobbies: one to make you money as we all need that to live. Another hobby to keep you active and fit, as that’s a really important part of health, and finally a hobby to express your creativity that we often bottle up inside us.

To be successful in your hobbies and life focus on systems not goals. Examples of goals are to lose weight or get a promotion. An example of a system is establishing a regime where you’re active everyday and you crave healthy fresh foods. Another system is making yourself so valuable to your employer they have no choice but to keep you around.

When you’re successful you’ll become passionate about something. That’s right, passion comes from success, success doesn’t come from being passionate about something! There are plenty of passionate people who are unemployed, on the dole, or have started failed businesses and are bankrupt.

When you are successful, resist the urge to outsource your life and hard work. We alienate ourselves from our true lives when we do this. Sweat pays us back with meaning.

You’ll have days when you’re so anxious you don’t want to do anything or even leave your house. During these times you need to ask yourself whether you would rather die doing something you love, or lead a comfortable risk-free life that you hate?

You don’t need to be happy all the time. Happiness is a fleeting state and that only happens sometimes! Aim to be emotionally healthy instead of always being happy.

In the end a great life is just a series of great days, so ask yourself what will make today great?

Some of the oldest teachings in the world focus on the theme of personality reactivity. No matter what happens in life, no matter what is thrown at you, no matter how much chaos or uncertainty there is, the only thing you can fully and always control is your reaction. Choose your reactions.

I’ll leave you tonight with a story.

Once there was a farmer who had a beautiful horse. One day the horse ran away. The farmer’s neighbours leant over the fence and said to the farmer: “oh, that’s very unlucky” to which the farmer responded “maybe”.

The next day the farmer’s horse returned to the farm and it bought with it three of the most beautiful wild horses one has ever seen. With the horses on the farm the neighbours visited and said “you now have four beautiful horses, that’s very lucky’ to which the farmer said “maybe”.

The next day the farmer’s adult son was taming one of the wild horses when the horse bucked him violently across the paddock where the son landed on his leg and shattered it to pieces. At the hospital the doctors told the farmer his son would never walk straight again. When the neighbours heard about this they said “oh, that’s very unlucky” to which the farmer replied “maybe”.

A few months later the army was coming through town conscripting all the young adults to serve in war. They had a look at the farmers son and said he couldn’t possibly serve in war as he walked with a permanent limp. The neighbours overheard and they said “oh, that’s very lucky about your son” to which the farmer answered “maybe”.

Congratulations on your graduation and all the best in your lives ahead!

this part of the ride always creeps me out

On my home office desk sits a calendar of cartoons from The New Yorker.

I enjoyed this recent cartoon:

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It reminded me of this Bill Hicks quote:

”The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we … kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok … But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”

Like all my favourite cartoons it works on so many levels.

lost connections

“Professor Andrew Scull of Princeton, writing in the Lancet, explained that attributing depression to spontaneously low serotonin is “deeply misleading and unscientific”. Dr David Healy told me: “There was never any basis for it, ever. It was just marketing copy.”

I didn’t want to hear this. Once you settle into a story about your pain, you are extremely reluctant to challenge it. It was like a leash I had put on my distress to keep it under some control. I feared that if I messed with the story I had lived with for so long, the pain would run wild, like an unchained animal. Yet the scientific evidence was showing me something clear, and I couldn’t ignore it.”

From an extract from Johann Hari’s new book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions. I’ve ordered it from my library.

this is the end

“Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”

It might sound like something straight out of a horror movie, but for 38 minutes terrified Hawaiian residents thought the world was going to end.

At 8:07am on Saturday (local time), locals and tourists on the small island woke up to a message that many have feared amid North Korea’s development of a ballistic nuclear weapon.

Panicked residents gathered family members, ran out onto the streets and desperately sought shelter as they awaited the attack.

Cars were reportedly abandoned on highways and people who were outside at the time hid in the homes of neighbours as others prepared to flee.

Those watching television also had their broadcasts interrupted by the ballistic missile threat alert, according to NBC.

I can’t stop thinking about this and what people did during those 38 minutes where they thought it was the end. I imagine phone calls reconciling broken relationships, and millions of messages of love.

Last year I was reminded that that any one of our lives could end at any time, and therefore to cherish every moment. Hopefully this message is realised by those who unfortunately had to be part of this unfortunate technological blunder.

the biology of desire

9781925113914“If the brain region that allows us to imagine the future is synched with the brain regions that propel us toward our goals, and if that linkage is practised and reinforced, so that synaptic highways become smooth and efficient, then addiction need be no more than a stage in the development of the self. And that often seems to be exactly what it is. Despite the misery they may have experienced, quite a few former addicts have told me that they wouldn’t be who they are now without the struggles they endured while trying to quit. As a neuroscientist, I view this passage the way a city planner might recall the construction of an overpass to relieve snarled traffic. As a developmentalist, I see it as a vivid instance of the role of suffering in individual growth. And as someone who has known addiction personally, I recognise it as the bounce our lives can take when they hit bottom once too often.”

from The Biology of Desire by Marc Lewis, a fascinating book that explains addiction as a part of regular human development and desire. 💯

2017 in review

We moved house in May to save on rent and to continue spending as much time as possible with the boys. Clare contracted necrostising facisitis during our move which meant she was suddenly fighting for her life in intensive care. During the longest time we’d ever spent apart, looking after our boys who’d she’d never spent a night apart from, I thought it was the worst year of my life. But it turned out to be the best year of my life because we got to keep Clare. Everything else became unimportant. Started meditating. Somehow suddenly stopped biting my finger nails for the first time in my life.

Time meditating: 86 sessions 13.5 hours
Trips abroad: 6
Countries visited 4: NZ x 2, Malaysia, Singapore, USA x 3
Books read: 37
Books abandoned: 4
Mountains climbed: 22
Firsts: 4 (saw my first red-sunflower, first time looking after the boys myself without Clare, first time meditating, first time not biting my finger nails everyday)