Start Planning Experiments — 7 Takeaways No. 112

A walk on the beach.

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1. “I don’t know”

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity – Ryan Holiday, Stephen Hanselman – (ebook)

One of the most powerful things you can do as a human being in our hyperconnected, 24/ 7 media world is say: “I don’t know.” Or, more provocatively: “I don’t care.”

In reflecting on this it became apparent just how much we’re not just encouraged to see/know/read/do/be aware of everything, but how much of a stigma it seems to be to not do so. And yet, we need boundaries. With each other, but with the world as a whole. There are things that we just don’t need see/know/read/do/be aware of, and that’s ok. Powerful, even. (I’m less convinced about “I don’t care”, but even so — it’s also OK to care, without needing to take on the burden of knowing.)

Do this: Be okay with not knowing. Really.

2. “I’m not capable”

10 Dangerous Lies We Tell Ourselves – Sahil Bloom – (Curiosity Chronicals newsletter)

I picked that one because it’s one I see so often in the tech space. It often comes in the guise of “I’m too old” (spoiler: you’re not), but it manifests in many other ways as well.

The problem the list addresses is a common one that we rarely pay attention to: our self-talk. What we tell ourselves about ourselves carries more weight than anything anyone else might say. It molds us into a self-fulfilling prophecy of a person, regardless of whether that self talk was even true.

You are capable. Among many other things. Trust me.

Do this: Listen to how you treat yourself.

3. “The storm does not interfere with the pilot’s work, but only with his success.”

Letters from a Stoic – Lucius Annaeus Seneca – (ebook)

Seneca is a difficult read for me, and yet I’m enjoying many of the tidbits I come across as I make progress. This one stood out as he explained a difficult concept for many: the quality of our work (or effort) isn’t neccessarily judged by the outcome. A ship’s pilot, to use his example, can do truly excellent work, and still find his ship dashed against the rocks in a storm. That doesn’t diminish the quality of his work.

We often judge ourselves based on our outcomes, not the effort or quality of work we put into them. There are no guarantees. At best … perhaps ideally … we’re stacking the deck in favor of positive outcomes by our (hopefully excellent) work, but that doesn’t mean any specific outcome is certain. All we can do is the best we can do.

Do this: Focus more on your inputs, your efforts, and less on the outcome.

4. “Synthesizing the previously unarticulated”

Notes Against Note-Taking Systems – Sasha Chapin – (Sasha’s ‘Newsletter’)

I have a love/hate relationship with note-taking. To begin with, I suck at it. Always have. I was supposed ot be taking notes in my college courses, and what few I took turned out to be either irrelevant, unintelligble, or both. They didn’t help me one whit. But I survived.

There’s quite the note-taking industry right now with apps and books and courses all designed to help you take better notes. But to what end? It’s complicated. I take notes in the sense that I bookmark and highlight passages, often for this newsletter, but I rarely re-interpret those items in my own words, as, apparently, I’m “supposed to” to make note of it.

At least, not until I actually use them, as I’m doing now.

Leonardo da Vinci kept all of his notes in one big book. If he liked something he put it down. This is known as a commonplace book, and it is about how detailed your note-taking system should be unless you plan on thinking more elaborately than Leonardo da Vinci.

What I do is more akin to that, I guess. I have a tool (digital, of course) where I write random things down, mostly a) writing helps me remember that there’s something to recall later, and b) collecting it digitally means I stand a chance of actually finding it.

Do this: Take note of your own note-taking style. Do what works for you, not what people say you should be doing.

5. “Walk around. Pay attention. Take pictures.”

The 30-minute noticing workout – Austin Kleon – (blog)

Kleon’s a huge advocate of going for walks, and I can’t say he’s wrong. I should do it more often myself.

The twist, if you like, is the “take pictures” part. This simple activity forces us to pay attention to our suroundings more closely, and in a different way. It doesn’t really matter if you do anything with the pictures, it’s the act of taking them that makes the difference.

Bill says there’s two ways to pay attention while you’re walking:

  1. “Ambient noticing” — you’re just soaking in everything, taking in the big picture, and letting things come at you
  2. “Purposeful attention” — you have a goal of seeking out specific things, such as colors, signs, sad chairs, etc.

As I write this I’m struck by the similarities to the preceding takeaway. “Take pictures” is a kind of alternative to “take notes”.

Do this: Pay attention to the world around you, in whatever way works for you.

6. “We continue to need as much sleep as we did when we were younger”

When Sleep Won’t Come – Don Akchin – (The Endgame newsletter)

I know many people who struggle with sleep-related issues. I know it’s trendy when young to believe in the “all nighter”, or feel like you don’t have enough time for sleep. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it only gets more important as we age.

It’s not unusual for sleep patterns to change as we age. That’s normal. Unfortunately, sleep issues may well be the result of other medical conditions, or even a partial cause of them. Moreover, sleep deprivation seems to trigger molecular processes in our bodies that drive biological aging. Researchers believe detecting sleeping problems and intervening early will produce long-term health benefits.

The article outlines several strategies. The concern I have is that these are strategies that are known to work (admittedly, not always, but often), and yet are routinely ignored regardless.

Do this: Get enough sleep.

7. “Start planning experiments”

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World – David J. Epstein – (Audio book)

I’ve mentioned this book before, and finished it this week. I highly recommend it for anyone who has a passion for thought, the mechanics of thinking, idea generation, research and so on. The fundamental premise is simple: a breadth of experience generates highly valuable and often unexpected insights and solutions to problems at hand. Whether than be the breadth of experience of an individual, or a system open to a breadth of experience from a wide variety of sources, fostering serendipity is not just valuable, but it can also be critical.

… research in myriad areas suggests that mental meandering and personal experimentation are sources of power, and head starts are overrated. As Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a century ago, of the free exchange of ideas, “It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.”

Do this: Experiment.

8. “To be a caring human is to worry”

Acknowledging Anxiety – Leo A. Notenboom – (Personal blog)

This is something that’s been bouncing around in the back of my head for a while, brought to the forefront by some random and ultimately meaningless concern.

The point is this: we all have anxiety. What differs is only the degree, and the topics. To be a caring human is to worry … about each other, about the future, about our family, about so many things.

Do this: Be kind.

More links & thoughts

What I’m Reading

In progress:


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