#133: Problems and failures, and Tom Brady on hard work

One thought from me: Picking the problems

This one’s not new. Maybe there’s no such thing as originality, anyway.

But it is something I’ve been attentive to for at least the last year.

It’s the idea that there is no end to life’s problems.

If you’re lucky, today you will face a series of little problems: the milk goes sour, the electricity bill arrives, the lawnmower doesn’t start.

If you’re unlucky, today you are dealing with one or more major problems, the kind that makes all the little problems fade away.

Two things about this:

  1. If you don’t have one of the major problems, be grateful for your little problems.
  2. There is no such thing as a day without problems; the game, then, is not to try to aim for an impossible life without any problems, but to invest your thoughts and energy on getting good at dealing with the problems you face, because over a lifetime, that is perhaps the most important skill to master

One thought from someone else: Tom Brady on hard work

Tom Brady is one of my heroes, if it’s okay for a 42-year-old man to have a hero (Tom is 11 weeks older than me.)

I always admired his achievements on the field, over 20 years with the New England Patriots, when he appears in nine Super Bowls and won six and set all sorts of records for longevity and achievement.

He became the greatest of all time, without much debate, even though 198 players were picked ahead of them in that NFL Draft all those years ago…

The Tom vs Time documentary is well worth seeking out, and his recent interview on the Armchair Expert podcast with Dax Shepard was full of things to contemplate.

For example, on hard work:

Inherently we’re taught that hard work is going to get you to where you want to go.

If you work out once a day, then working out twice a day is better.

My view of that is that if you’re working hard at the wrong things you’re getting better at getting worse.

How to know we’re working at the right things? We don’t, not for certain, but regular reflection helps us get closer to the mark.

The full interview with Tom Brady is available on the Armchair Expert podcast here

A question for you

List out some things in life that you’ve made a habit of seeing as failures.

Now, ask yourself this.

How can I view these instead as successes, or seeds of success?

 

#132: Modes of thought, a pandemic of fear and three natural ways to beat depression

One thought from me: How we might move forward amid the pandemic of fear

It’s been a strange and different year for everyone.

The pandemic of fear and anxiety has been worse in many ways than the pandemic of illness.

Covid-19 has taken hundreds of thousands of lives, and each one is a tragedy.

Alongside it, an atmosphere of fear and anxiety has exploded — fear for our survival and the survival of our loved ones, fear for our livelihoods, anxiety about the food supplies, anxiety about meeting people.

The fear and the anxiety can easily, over time or in a moment, tip over into aggression and hate and violence.

Technology’s promise to connect us had already left us more disconnected (from nature, from each other, from ourselves) than we’d ever been.

The reality of living through the Covid pandemic has further disconnected us, fragmenting us into fearful individuals.

Some well-meaning advice during this time has been to “Behave as if you already have the virus”. And if we do so we become more disconnected than ever, in a perpetuating cycle that drives wedges between us all that we might never be able to bridge.

It’s tempting for some to cry conspiracy theories — the outcome of the past few months, with limited rights on gatherings, heavy restrictions on travel, and the quick move to face coverings as mandatory, could easily be taken out of the playbook of the millennia-old military and rulership strategy of “Divide and Conquer”.

Definition via Wikipedia:

gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy.

The use of this technique is meant to empower the sovereign to control subjects, populations, or factions of different interests, who collectively might be able to oppose his rule.

Niccolò Machiavelli, in Book VI of The Art of War (1521): A Captain should endeavor with every art to divide the forces of the enemy … this act should be achieved either by making him suspicious of his men in whom he trusted, or by giving him cause that he has to separate his forces, and, because of this, become weaker.

Are we being controlled? Or are we good citizens, doing what’s necessary?

Are we more suspicious of each other, and everyone, and if so, are we weaker as a result?

A few things come to mind:

  • There is no such thing as simple explanations.
  • Government is not all good, or all evil.
  • Conspiracy theories are, the overwhelming majority of the time, just theories.
  • What happens in practice is a complex soup with millions of ingredients. Government policy may in some cases be as detached from practical reality (however we define reality) as conspiracy theories are.

What should we do?

As always, our most powerful asset is how we think.
 
Our thoughts influence our feelings, and our feelings influence our actions, and our actions influence our outcomes.
 
The best we can do, maybe, is to think about the way things work, and our place in the way things work, and how we can influence things.
 
We are more powerful than we might ever know. That power starts with how we think.
 
By thinking about how we think, we might notice the feelings and emotions that lie behind how we act.
 
That is a powerful first step.
 
When we act from a place of love and compassion instead of fear and anxiety, we bolster ourselves against the worst things in the world.
And we lay the foundations, little by little by little, to make things better: for ourselves, for the people we love, for our communities, and for the world.
 
We can only change the world if first we change ourselves.

One thought from someone else: Ways to naturally beat depression

Marisa Peer is a speaker,  trainer, author and practitioner of Rapid Transformational Therapy. She has nearly three decades of experience as a therapist and has been named Best British Therapist by Men’s Health magazine

In a recent video she posted on YouTube, she said that her decades of experience of working with people with depression, she has found that there are three big causes, and that if you know what they are you will be better equipped to get over depression.

Number 1: Depression is caused by harsh, hurtful and critical ways that you say to yourself on a daily basis.

Number 2: Failing to follow your heart’s desire.

Number 3: Being disconnected. We need people. We are tribal people living in modern bodies. In a tribe you were never alone. Now we don’t need to ever speak to people or see people. In Africa there’s intense poverty but strangely enough very little depression. The more community you have, the less depression you have.

What to do about them.

Number 1: Stop criticising yourself. Remember this. Criticism withers people’s soul. Make a commitment to stop being your own worst critic.

Number 2: It’s a myth if you haven’t made it by 35 you never will. Some of our most eminent artists and writers and performers find success later in life. It’s never, ever, ever too late to follow your heart’s desire. There’s always a way. Follow your heart’s desire. It will stop depression in its tracks.

Number 3: Remember connection is vital to your soul. People need people. You can find a tribe.

Lots more detail on these, including lots of sage advice about antidepressant medication, in this 11-minute video by Marisa Peer.

A question for you

How are you thinking about things right now? In what ways are your thoughts and your mode of thinking influencing your feelings, actions and outcomes?

 

#131: The mind-body connection, and Singaporean thoughts on self-reliance

One thought from me: Bridging the gap between mind and body

For many years there was a convincing school of thought that said the mind and the body were entirely separate things. Rene Descartes, a 17th century French scientist and philosopher, was the first to present the concept of “dualism”, where the mind and body might be considered to be distinct and separate.

The idea was not a new one, even then. For millennia philosophers have considered the mind and the body as part of an ongoing and still far from finished search for the meaning of life.

But in the context of health, the idea of a disconnect between mind and body seems ludicrous to anyone who has experienced a breakthrough in mental health by first making physical improvements.

Often, the advice, “Exercise more”, falls flat and seems daunting and inconsiderate, especially when one is locked in a spiral of negative thoughts, which bring about a two-way connection to the body, and ultimately make it difficult to get out of bed and think about the day, never mind put on runners and take a spin down the road.

But however we need to do it, we need to realise fully and finally the tight bond between the physical body and what goes on in our minds.

Your body is more powerful than your mind will ever know. Your body (and therefore your mind) is stronger already than you think, and it has the capacity for additional strength in the future that seems unthinkable now.

Whatever physical improvements you make — to the food you eat, or the rest you take, or the exercise time you create — the impact on your mind will be even more pronounced.

Because the mind and the body are one, an investment in one always leads to dividends in the other.

One thought from someone else: Lee Kuan Yew on the basic concept of civilisation

Lee Kuan Yew was the first Prime Minister of Singapore, serving for over 30 years until 1990. He died in 2015.

Henry Kissinger, the American political and military strategist and Presidential adviser, once said that it is one of the paradoxes of history that great leaders are sometimes the leaders of tiny countries, and great countries sometimes have the most ineffective leaders.

He was referring to Lee Kuan Yew.

I liked this passage from a 1994 interview with Lee, in which he talks about a Chinese idea of self-reliance as a more powerful and more enduring form of being in the world than reliance on government.

He talks about it in the context of single mothers and the part the government plays, which is no doubt a provocative subject, but it is interesting for me to read his perspective, and consider whether it’s still relevant almost three decades on. [Let me say that I’m reading this from the male perspective, and the fundamental requirement, as I see it, for a man to accept the consequences of his actions and do what he needs to do, within all accepted laws and mores, to provide for and nourish his family and community. It is not that the family unit is sacrosanct to all provocations, or should ever be immune to a man’s general misbehaviour outside the home and pent-up fury and aggression inside it. It is that men should be expected to behave better, lead better, be better in fulfilling our roles and responsibilities than many of us routinely are.]

Here’s Lee Kuan Yew’s view on the basic concept of civilisation, as he sees it, as told in a long interview with Fareed Zakaria in Foreign Affairs in 1994:

In the West, especially after World War II, the government came to be seen as so successful that it could fulfil all the obligations that in less modern societies are fulfilled by the family. The approach encouraged alternative families, single mothers for instance, believing that government could provide the support to make up for the absent father. This is a bold, Huxleyan view of life, but one from which I as an East Asian shy away. I would be afraid to experiment with it. I’m not sure what the consequences are, and I don’t like the consequences that I see in the West.

You will find this view widely shared in East Asia. It’s not that we don’t have single mothers here. We are also caught in the same social problems of change when we educate our women and they become independent financially and no longer need to put up with unhappy marriages. But there is grave disquiet when we break away from tested norms, and the tested norm is the family unit. It is the building brick of society.

There is a little Chinese aphorism which encapsulates this idea: Xiushen qijia zhiguo pingtianxia.

Xiushen means look after yourself, cultivate yourself, do everything to make yourself useful;
Qijia, look after the family;
Zhiguo, look after your country;
Pingtianxia, all is peaceful under heaven.

We have a whole people immersed on these beliefs … It is the basic concept of our civilisation. Governments will come, governments will go, but this endures. We start with self-reliance. In the West today it is the opposite. The government says give me a popular mandate and I will solve all society’s problems.

A question for you

Is there an area in your life where you are too reliant on someone or something else? What could you do to take some small steps towards carving out some independence and self-reliance away from that dependency?

 


Quick Magnificent Irrelevance update…

I’m grateful to have had some wonderful encouragement on this new project, a new publication to showcase new and original sportswriting from around the world.

One or two people have been surprised by the new direction, so it started me thinking: what has this project got in common with writing about the self, mental health, personal development, self-reliance and happiness here in these emails and on the blog these past couple of years?

The main thing, I think, is the glory of humanity.

Your life is a unique, one-time event in the great endless expanse of history. There has never been anyone else just like you, with your set of genes and thoughts and experiences and skills and talents and desires.

That is what Magnificent Irrelevance is, in the sphere of sports. It is not, and never will be, about who won or who lost. It will always be about the people and their stories, and sports, everywhere from cricket in Pakistan to under-14 athletics to the multi-million world of the NBA finals, offers a limitless array of stories of will and endurance and adversity just waiting to be told.

The writers will tell those stories, and that’s what I hope to bring with Magnificent Irrelevance over the next few months and years. You can sign up to follow along with the weekly project update here, listen to a 4-minute intro episode of a new related podcast “The Sportswriter’s Life” on Spotify here.

If this isn’t for you, but you know someone who loves sports and loves stories, please feel free to share the website with them.

Here’s the new podcast artwork, provided by the wonderfully talented designer and illustrator Dmitry Klimakov.

The Sportswriter's Life Podcast | Magnificent Irrelevance | Shane Breslin

 

#130: The enduring appeal of fakeness, and the path to true identity

One thought from me: The appeal of fakeness

The phrase, “Do as I say, not what I do”, has approximately 300,000 results on Google. It’s often reserved for politicians, but it’s also offered up in relation to preachers, parents, and almost any public figure.

For all that we say we value openness, honesty, transparency, integrity, there’s a strong sense in what we do that we find great appeal in fakeness too.

Whether it’s a magician’s sleight of hand, or our enduring vulnerability to falling victim to too-good-to-be-true scams, or our aspiration to be seen in a better light than we see ourselves — resulting in the multi-billion-dollar industry that produces everything from the lipstick in the bathroom cabinet to the growth of permanent make-up tattoos to cosmetic surgery that nips here and tucks there — fakeness seems to appeal greatly to us.

It’s greatly apparent in these times we’re living through, as broadcasters make TV sports without stadium crowds more palatable with either fake fan noise or CGI-implanted fans in the seats.

So it’s worth asking the question: what do we truly value? Do we value integrity and transparency and honesty? Or is fakeness easier to deal with? Is fakeness in the moment more palatable than considering the big questions of truth and authenticity?

Perhaps it is something ingrained in human nature itself, but it’s worth considering, because it seems impossible to have both. It seems impossible to value truth while hiding that truth from the world.

One thought from someone else: The path to true identity

Steven Pressfield is a novelist and screenwriter. His first published novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, which was later made into a Hollywood movie directed by Robert Redford and starring Will Smith and Charlize Theron, was published in 1995, when Pressfield was 52.

He had worked a long array of jobs as he tried to make a go of his true calling to write and create art, and lived out of his car for a spell while doing so.

He is perhaps best known these days for The War of Art, a sort of self-help bible for creatives … and he classifies creatives as a broad expanse of humanity, “from starting a plumbing supply business to running for political office”.

As a part of that vocation, he writes Writing Wednesdays, a short weekly blog for writers about writing.

This week’s piece — “Get to True Identity” — jumped out at me, and not for the act of writing at all, but for what it says about our lives. We are on a quest to get to true identity. To find a way, however we can do it, to shuffle off the fakeness that protects us, and to fully inhabit our true identities.

Here’s a pathway. Pressfield writes:

Pick any one of a thousand books or movies (dramas, tragedies, comedies … the principle applies across the board) and you’ll see more often than not this paradigmatic progression:

Act One: Hero starts with a warped and deformed self-conception (Huck, Thelma, Bogey).

Act Two: Hero is compelled by events and her own decisions to embrace a new and initially terrifying (to her) view of herself.

Act Three: In climax, hero embraces this new identity-what we as viewers and readers can see clearly as her true identity-whole-heartedly and in a manner that permits of no going back.

Read the full “Get to True Identity” piece here

One question for you

Where are you adopting true authenticity in your life? Where are you relying on any lingering fakeness?

 


Quick update about Magnificent Irrelevance…

This is a new project. A shot in the dark with the aim of delivering something meaningful for a small but committed niche of people around the world.

Magnificent Irrelevance got a new homepage headline this week — Soul-searching sportswriting — and I really like where this is going. It feels right.

The project is called Magnificent Irrelevance, and you can find all about it here. or sign up for separate Friday updates on the development of that here.

Magnificent Irrelevance - Soul-searching sportswriting

#129: Adding things without taking things away, and three ways to see time

One thought from me: On adding things without taking things away

It’s easy to add things.

New purchases, new opportunities, new projects, new commitments.

New friendships and new relationships are more difficult to add, or take longer, but still most of us are continually in the process of adding and building new relationships, whether that’s professional, personal or intimate.

There’s a phrase in software development: “scope creep”. It relates to how so much software development can go off course by the desire to add new things, so much that the original idea or vision is lost.

As humans, we are in one long series of cycles of birth and rebirth, growth and development, and decay or pruning.

But we can’t keep adding things without taking something away.

I’ve realised that if I keep adding and choose not to take something away, something will in the end be taken away from me anyway.

I’ve also realised that it’s better to make a tricky but voluntary choice about what to remove now, rather than go through a difficult but involuntary experience when something is forcibly removed later.

One thought from someone else: How the Ancient Greeks saw time

This one came to me for the first time during my most recent podcast interview, with Professor Carlos Moreno, who has devised the concept of the 15-minute city.

Prof Moreno explained his four motivations for the work that he does, and one of those is how life in cities (and, there’s an argument, for much of the rest of humanity too) has lost two of the three ways of seeing time as

He said:

In the ancient times, in particular for the Greeks, time was thought of in three ways.

● Chronos, of course, the linear time. One hour, two hours, 24 hours
● Kairos, the time of creativity, the time of new ideas, the time of inventivity
Aion, the time for my own spirituality, my intuition, myself and the cosmos, and my inner way

And I consider that in fact the modern way for building cities, we have lost the time. We have lost the creativity for time, the kairos, we have lost all the time for spirituality, the aion, because the only time that exists is the chronological time, one hour, two hours, 24 hours.

You can listen to the full podcast interview with Prof Carlos Moreno here (or on any of the regular podcast playing services: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or just by adding a new feed to your podcast app and searching for the Life Well Lived Podcast).

[My podcast dropped this week at almost the same time, and very coincidentally, as the latest podcast by the Irish economist David McWilliams, which is also about the 15-minute city and the future of cities. These two podcasts might go well as a pair. You can listen to the David McWilliams podcast on Apple Podcasts here.]

One question for you

Where in your life have you made commitments that it might be liberating to remove?

 


Quick update about Magnificent Irrelevance…

This is a new project. A shot in the dark with the aim of delivering something meaningful for a small but committed niche of people around the world.

Magnificent Irrelevance got a new homepage headline this week — Soul-searching sportswriting — and I really like where this is going. It feels right.

The project is called Magnificent Irrelevance, and you can find all about it here. or sign up for separate Friday updates on the development of that here.

Magnificent Irrelevance - Soul-searching sportswriting

#128: The invisible Trust Ledger, silence and insecurity

One thought from me: The Trust Ledger

I wrote a new essay this week.

It’s called How to Build Trust: Investing in The Brand of You.

Trust is almost impossible to define, but it’s essential to our progress in anything that needs the contribution of other people… which, unless you’re living off the land halfway up a mountain, is almost all of us, most of the time.

People keep a Trust Ledger on promises kept, and promises broken.

The notion of the “little black book” isn’t so common anymore, so the Trust Ledger likely does not exist in written form.

But just because it’s not bound and stacked on a shelf in someone’s office doesn’t mean it’s any less real.

And all of us, no matter how conscientious we think we are, have some entries on both sides of the Trust Ledger.

Every time we say we will do something, and we do it, there is a silent, invisible entry on the plus side of the ledger.

And every time we say we will do something, and we don’t, it also goes in.

There are ledger entries for all of us, multiple times every day.

Read the full essay, How to Build Trust: Investing in The Brand of You, here. 

One thought from someone else: How our insecurity can fill silence

Bret Burchard is a US basketball coach who has co-written a new book about mindset with a friend of mine, Chris McAlister.

The book is called Catching Confetti: Developing the Mindset of a Champion, and was launched this week.

Bret and Chris talked about mindset in a webinar this week and one thing Bret said really jumped out at me.

We fill the silence with the voice of our insecurity.

He was talking about the coach-player relationship, and how so many of us insert words and voices and judgments into the silence when we don’t receive praise or positive feedback.

While it related specifically to sports coaching, it applies to many other situations too.

We fill the silence with the voice of our insecurities.

You can find Catching Confetti on Amazon here

One question for you

How can you build a gentler, more loving, more trusting relationship between you and your inner voice?


One more thing…

I’m working on a new project. It’s a shot in the dark that could become a proper business. That’s the aim, anyway.

It brings together a number of things that are essential to me and my life:

  • Writing. Because great writing is exhilarating.
  • Stories. Because stories make sense of a confusing world.
  • People. Because nothing is of any value without people to share it with.
  • Sport. Because sport at its best (from Afghan cricket to football in the favelas to U14 Gaelic games) gives us insights into everything that’s good about human ambition, endeavour, competitiveness, honour and glory.

The project is called Magnificent Irrelevance, and you can find all about it here. 

#127: Preparing for the present moment, life lessons from business growth, and a question for you to ponder

One thought from me: Consciously planning for the moments that matter

We plan for many things. We plan holidays, we plan car hires or purchases, we plan car repairs or home maintenance.

But for some of the most important things, we are often too content not to plan at all, but just expect that we will recognise them and do the right thing when they arrive.

This is a dangerous approach. It may work, but equally, it may happen that those moments pass by without us noticing, or just as bad, we notice them when they’ve gone, and regret that we didn’t approach it a little differently.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can sit down and consciously plan to be present when the moments that matter come along. And unlike car repairs or home maintenance or holiday planning, it doesn’t need any money and it takes only a regular dedication of even a few seconds of conscious thought and presence to prepare ourselves to be ready for them.

Everything in life is geared towards the small moments that matter.

Last night, a warm, quiet, clear August Friday night in Ireland, I was fortunate to be able to lie down on the dew-wet grass as the night sky darkened and the salt-spill vastness of the starry universe appeared above us.

I’d seen a shooting star the night before, and read that on clear, warm nights in the northern hemisphere in August, the Perseids are often visible.

From the website almanac.com:

Meteors occur when Earth rushes through a stream of dust and debris left behind by a passing comet (the Swift-Tuttle comet, in the case of the Perseids). When the bits strike Earth’s upper atmosphere, friction with the air causes each particle to heat and burn up. We see the result as a meteor. See more facts about meteor showers. The Perseid meteor shower occurs every August, and its fame comes from the fact that it reliably has the brightest and most numerous meteors. Even if the viewing conditions aren’t the best, you’re likely to spot some meteors during the maximum nights of the Perseid meteor shower.

I’d told our kids, and they stayed up late, and in their jackets and pyjamas and welly boots they lay down on the grass beside me, and we saw about ten meteors, including one or two dazzlingly bright shooting stars that left a wispy white trail in their wake.

There’s no doubt that the me of five years ago would have been too preoccupied with a million other (less important) things to have even noticed the possibility for this moment, but these few minutes were the highlight of my year. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do this, and grateful to be able to notice the gift that is the present moment.

[If you’re reading this the week it’s written and you’d like to catch the meteor shower for yourself, you still have time — the Perseids peak between August 11th and 13th, 2020]

One thought from someone else: On business growth, and nature, and life

From a real value perspective, infinite growth just does not make sense. It is the optimal, not the maximum size that counts. In the optimum, economies of scale and efficiency advantages are used to a certain extent, but not to the detriment of the deeper, emotional value that the organization can still create for its customers, employees, and partners. That’s actually how growth works in nature. No doubt, plants and creatures have to grow to survive — but only until they reach the optimal size that their species needs to thrive. Beyond that point, they may grow in complexity, in experience, or in wisdom. They may still embark on a qualitative growth path, but they no longer grow in size. Unchecked growth only occurs when a natural system gets out of control. For instance, in the case of unstoppable cell growth, we have a name for this phenomenon — cancer.

This is from a powerful little book called Digging Deeper: How Purpose-Driven Enterprises Create Real Value by three authors, Dietmar Sternad, James J. Kennelly and Finbarr Bradley. I interviewed Finbarr on one of the earliest episodes of my podcast.

One question for you

Where in your life are you trying to grow just for the sake of appearance, or for the sake of growth itself?

——

#125: The way time passes, the sources of wealth, and a question about 2020

One thought from me: The way time passes

Time seems to pass in three different ways.

  1. Time flies by, beautifully
  2. Time flies by, horribly
  3. Time drags

I’m grateful to say that I haven’t felt #3 for several years. Usually, when I experienced it, it is was in some job which I either really loathed or hadn’t learned how to appreciate.

The other two, I’ve noticed them a lot.

The first one can happen when you’re in a moment of flow state, when ideas and creativity and work just seems to flow through you, or it can happen in a moment with family or friends, when an hour or two or three zips past unnoticed.

The second one can happen when you look at someone you love and realise how much time with them you’ve missed: an older relative, now suddenly frailer; or a younger one, now suddenly grown up.

Of course, “suddenly” doesn’t really happen with time. The only thing that’s sudden is the realisation of what has passed, unclaimed.

While we cannot reclaim the past, we can reclaim the present and the future by practising on noticing things in the present, simply by bringing our awareness to right now.

Even once or twice a day. (I wrote a little about these moments of mindfulness earlier this week.)

One thought from someone else: The source of real wealth

The tiny speckles of life are infinitesimal sources of wealth.

I’ve been reading quite a bit by Khe Hy, who is a productivity expert, but a lot more than that too. This short piece, “Real Wealth is Perishable”, references Alan Watts and a searingly tender and beautiful passage from a book I’m not familiar with, Not Fade Away by Peter Barton.

One question for you

In your inner life, does 2020 feel like a constriction or a liberation? What can you learn about yourself from this global collective experience?

——

#124: Boredom and economic growth, a theory about genius and a question about experiences

One thought from me: How boredom drives economic growth

Distraction from boredom is the main driver of economic growth.

If enough of us become more accepting of our tedious present moments, we might collapse the economy.

Global economies rely on our inability to be okay with ourselves.

It doesn’t have to be this way. It wasn’t always this way.

It has been made this way by developments in four types of technology:

  • entertainment technology (including Netflix, Spotify and YouTube, which have made on-demand entertainment a habit that billions of people will never be able to break)
  • communications technology (including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, which bring the best elements of the lives of others into our consciousness on a daily — or hourly — basis, and stealthily compel us to feel dissatisfied with our own existence, which we mistakenly think of as mundane)
  • commerce technology (including Amazon and eBay, which make it simple for us to salve our desire to buy things as a treatment for our boredom with our mundane existence)
  • financial technology (including all the world’s biggest banks, which generate profits out of our indebtedness on month-to-month high-interest credit cards)

It’s true that human nature has been susceptible to this for thousands of years.

The Roman political leaders followed policies that were labelled “bread and circuses” by the poet Juvenal:

to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace — by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses).

In general, people will be susceptible to costly distraction. As two people described when I wrote a little about this on Twitter, it’s akin to a “mass hypnosis” or “mass hallucination”.

So in general, this susceptibility has been around for thousands of years.

But at an individual level, we don’t have to fall victim to it. At an individual level, we can notice when we’re being gently coaxed to purchase a balm against boredom, and once we notice it, we have a much greater chance at resisting it.

A more sustainable balm, I think, is mindful creativity, which I wrote about in last week’s bulletin.

One thought from someone else: A theory of genius

I suspect if you had the sixteen year old Shakespeare or Einstein in school with you, they’d seem impressive, but not totally unlike your other friends.

Which is an uncomfortable thought. If they were just like us, then they had to work very hard to do what they did. And that’s one reason we like to believe in genius. It gives us an excuse for being lazy.

If these guys were able to do what they did only because of some magic Shakespeareness or Einsteinness, then it’s not our fault if we can’t do something as good. I’m not saying there’s no such thing as genius. But if you’re trying to choose between two theories and one gives you an excuse for being lazy, the other one is probably right.

— Paul Graham, writer, entrepreneur and investor

From “What You’ll Wish You’d Known”, an essay of advice for school students who may be about to embark on a college or work career

Paul Graham has written several long essays on life and business, and all of them are worth reading. The piece referenced here was initially to be delivered as a speech to a high school class many years ago, but the speech was cancelled, and he wrote it up as an essay instead.

One question for you

What is one big experience you’d like to have in your life which, for whatever reason, you’ve been putting off for a long time?

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#123: Mindful creativity, visualisations of depression and anxiety, and a question for you

One thought from me: How creativity and mindfulness might save you, and save the world

The world is strange right now — you might have noticed.

Leave aside, if you can, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the precipice of economic depression the world may be facing into, and the unrest that is growing as far afield as the United States and Hong Kong.

Far from the worst of what is happening, it is strange also just to be in one’s local town or village, with many businesses closed and those that are open struggling valiantly for some form of normality amid the hand sanitizer and face coverings and social distancing.

A series of related thoughts spring to mind:

  1. The world before the start of 2020 was characterised more than anything by an unsustainable consumption of the earth’s natural resources
  2. While it will bring short-term uncertainty and pain, it is in humanity’s long-term interest not to return to that old way of being (our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren may never forgive us if we rush back into the unsustainable old normal)
  3. Much of what was loosely called “economic growth” was based on the unsustainable old normal
  4. Boredom is perhaps the biggest driver of economic growth (the type of boredom that compels us to eat fast food, to make absentminded weekly trips to cinemas and pubs and restaurants, and to make large shopping centres a temple)
  5. The only antidotes to boredom, I think, are either to engage oneself in creative work or to become comfortable with self-reflection.

Exercises in creativity and mindfulness could save you, and also save the world.

Mindful creativity is the opposite of mindless consumption.

Mindfulness is not necessarily about sitting cross-legged up a mountain, or savouring the flavour of a single raisin. Mindfulness is about drawing the mind to the present, away from the endless thoughts about the past and the future.

Mindful creativity — a poem you’ve been meaning to rewrite, a painting on the canvas, a specially prepared meal for a loved one or a business idea you’ve been thinking about trying — is good for your soul.

Mindful creativity is also good for the souls of others, because it is a window into the heart of things that truly matter.

One thought from someone else: A visualisation of depression, anxiety and peace of mind

I’ve always felt that depression and anxiety were extremely closely related.

In my experience, they often go hand-in-hand, the Batman and Robin of mental health conditions.

In the past I’ve thought that depression is usually a deep-seated and negative preoccupation with a version of what has already happened, and that anxiety was a similarly negative preoccupation with things that had yet to happen.

I saw these visuals on Instagram this week, and they hit home for me.

They’re from the Taohaus account, which offers a visual guide to ancient wisdom.

Depression:

Anxiety:

A visualisation of anxiety

Peace of mind:

A visualisation of peace of mind

 

One question for you

What creative endeavour have you been putting off? And what would it take for you to return to it this week?

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