Focusing Life

I’ve recently discovered Tim Ferriss’ blog and have been making my way through some of his older posts and some videos. I can’t believe I’ve never seen it before. He has an interesting and valuable approach to life. I’m going to steal a few of his ideas and try them out for myself.
In his post on the Superstar Effect, Ferriss paraphrases Steven Martin, stating that “the key to diligence isn’t the work applied to your pursuit, but instead the work you don’t apply to other pursuits.” This phrase hit me. I’m constantly trying out new pursuits, often to the detriment of those which I am already pursuing. In my defense though, trying new things can be extremely rewarding. In fact it’s probably one of the only things I’d really say I’m a master of.
I’ve decided after some thought to try some refinement of my daily activities. I can’t find the quote, but I feel like I read a suggestion somewhere to pick 3 things to be good at. I like this number, but I’m having a hard time coming up with this few. I can clearly see the benefit of at least three. Ferriss mentions this in this video, but I’ve had the same experience where doing something great in one persuit (pulling a PR, learning an aria) can make up for failures or frustrations in another (flat site traffic, injury). Getting up to three is not my problem.
I made a list of activities that I want to continue to improve or start doing while trying to narrow down to three. Here’s my list (in no particular order):
  • Opera Singing
  • A Cappella Singing
  • Coding
  • Guitar
  • Bass
  • Lifting
  • Free Running
  • Making Jewelry
  • Photography
  • Leadership Reading/Writing
  • Nutrition Reading/Writing
  • Creative Writing
  • Learn About Robotics/Electronics
  • Work
  • Cooking
  • Surfing
  • Hiking/Backpacking

And I’m probably missing a few. Looking at this list and trying to narrow it down to 3 things makes me very depressed. It’s not possible. Or rather, it is, but it would defeat the purpose. The purpose of this whole experiment is to make me a happier person, both by simplifying my life and also by allowing me to focus more and become better at certain activities instead of being mediocre at a lot of them.

I tried a few different approaches to narrowing the list down. I made a spreadsheet and ranked them along different variables and I made lists of pros and cons for each one. But in the end I’ve come to realize that 3 is not possible, so I’m going to try something else. The approach I’ve decided on is to select 3 activities at a time and pick some measurable goal to complete. I will then have a list of three things at any given time which I can work towards when I have free time and energy. The hard part will be avoiding taking up other activities until I complete one of those three. My starting list is: Finish a website project I’m working on, play bass for 10 hours, and write a leadership related blog post.

I should also mention that I separated this list in my head into required activities (like work and excercise), group activities (a cappella singing, opera rehearsals), and more one offs (almost everything else). I’m not going to have the required stuff be part of my list, I’m just going to do it regularly. The group activities will likely factor in as part of the list, but in a more granular fashion. For example, “learn song X”, as opposed to “be in this group.” The latter is too hard to measure and account for. Rehearsals will count as regular activities, and thusly will not be included in the list.

Ok, that’s the plan, now it’s just a matter of execution on my part. So far I’m doing ok. I’ve been working on my site, but I haven’t practiced my bass, and I’ve outlined the blog post, but instead I sat down and wrote this one. Oh well, I’m not perfect.

Making something of infinity

Let’s start off with some XKCD:

XKCD: Dreams

I go through a mid-life crisis about every 2-3 months. I probably think too much about everything, but I can’t help it, so I might as well make the most of it. Actually my usual crisis is something along the lines of the comic above. Because we only get one path through life’s infinite possibilities, every second that passes narrows our field of possible outcomes, so I might as well make them count right?

In this string of causality that is daily life, introspection into the routine is important. Maybe I’m already making good decisions, and there’s not a whole lot wrong with routine, if you don’t have tunnel vision about it. I like to keep eyes open and break out of the trenches from time to time. So long as I’m constantly challenging my daily routine, I feel that I’m not in danger of suddenly waking up middle-aged in suburban America with a wife and kids and a house in foreclosure. Maybe I’ll end up there anyways, but at least it’ll be a conscious trip.

As such, I’m going to start posting some life-mods that I’m trying out. Certain little things that I’m trying out to break myself out of the routine. Some may work, some may not, but at least I’m not getting bored.

Book Review: Strangers to Ourselves

Warning: I started writing this review about 4 months ago so I’m going off memory here.

I recently finished reading a book with my grandmother had given to me entitled “Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious” by Timothy D. Wilson. (My grandmother has a Ph.D in Psychology so it’s not all that weird a selection.) I actually enjoyed it a considerable amount. It was, as you might expect quite dense, but I’ve read worse. It was cohesive and presented information in a carefully considered manner.

The book describes a modern model of the human unconscious. It begins by taking a look at the evolution of our understanding of subconscious thought, beginning with Freud. It then walks us through more modern research showing some other possible models of our brains. I read this on the heels of “Blink,” and the two books share a lot of commonalities. I enjoyed “Strangers to Ourselves” more because it presented a thorough model and narrative, paired with good experimental examples.

Probably my favorite concept introduced in the book is that of our conscious brain’s involvement in narrating emotions from our subconscious. While Wilson does not declare this as fact, he describes a possible scenario where emotions arise in the subconscious brain and our conscious brain attempts to explain them by weaving some sort of narrative. Wilson describes how this can be beneficial in the case of coming to grips with traumatic situations. An interesting thought stemming off of this model of thinking is that of how this process can be used to describe the act of dreaming.

Damn, I wish I could remember this book better. I know this is a lame endorsement, but anyways the short version is: It presents a cool model for analysis of how our subconscious functions. I recommend reading it.