The Backlash of Yes

“When you say yes to something you don’t want to do, here is the result: you hate what you are doing, you resent the person who asked you, and you hurt yourself” – James Altucher

Do you remember the goofy movie with Jim Carrey where he was saying “yes” to everything for a whole year? That movie is so far from reality. You would say “yes” to everything for a year and you would be crippled by hundreds of shitty obligations that would make you want to puke every goddamn day that you wake up.

A while back, when I was younger, I was still going to University part-time to get some knowledge on the side. I had a bit of free time and I wanted to get involved in my student association. I happily volunteered to help. The president of the association asked me if I wanted to be on the committee for the organization of the end of the year party, it would take three hours a week max. I thought at that moment that it was a cool involvement. So I said, “Yes”. It didn’t count the 10-12 emails I had to read and answer every day. You can guess that each email was asking people to do tasks. Since I didn’t want to look bad, I said, “Yes”. What started as a 3-hour gig a week for fun, ended up as 10-15 hours. It was like having a second job. It wasn’t something I wanted to do anymore, it was an obligation.

A quick example of how much we say “yes” is our email inbox. A snapshot right now of your inbox would probably show a good deal of publicity or subscription you don’t care about. I’m in the same boat. I saw a newsletter from Quora today in my inbox, I don’t even remember when I registered to that website (and I sincerely don’t know what it is). I’ve probably used it once 3 or 4 years ago and I’m still receiving newsletters from the website. This is crazy.

Saying “no” more often should be a daily practice. Look at your calendar or agenda for one moment and you’ll probably see a bunch of appointments that are purely obligations. If we want more time for the important, to the stuff that we really want to do, we must say not somewhere else.

That’s the problem with modern life. We have so many choices, so many possibilities, that we end up losing sight of what truly matter.

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The Next Chapter

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“Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.” – Duke Leto Atreides (Dune)

Deep inside, we fear change. We are afraid of going out of our comfort zone. Why do we feel that fear? It’s because what comes next is unknown. We can’t predict the future, therefore we cannot anticipate the chaos and turbulence that could happen in consequence. Still, it’s critical for each individual to embrace change.

Societies has evolved through time with revolutions, inventions, wars, new ideas and big changes. We aren’t where we are today because of stagnation. We are here because some people did it. They went beyond their threshold to make the human race evolve.  Without changes, we would still be in the stone age.

It’s the same for each and every one of us. We need to confront fear. We need to go beyond the comfort zone. That’s the only way to grow. Stagnation was never the answer. Make the next chapter happen, whatever it is.

Enemy Mind

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“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” Isaac Asimov

What I’m about to say will look nerdish. I was checking at a PC game on Steam the other day, Crusader Kings II, for those of you who care about it. For the others, it doesn’t really matter. My friends talked about that game for the past three years. They always told me how much I would like it. A historical game of conquest…well I guess that is exactly the kind of stuff I like! Having a shitty laptop, I told them each time that sadly I couldn’t run the game.

The other night, I saw the demo online. I had a doubt. You know….kind of a “what if” situation. I downloaded the thing. I started the game and…it worked! IT FUCKING WORKED! I sent an sms to my friend telling him that I made probably the stupidest assumption of the decade. He found it very funny. And he told me something like our assumption are most often bad. My first thought was: “If I was wrong about that all the time, what else could I be wrong about?” Here we are.

It made me see that these kind of stupid assumptions can crawl into our brains and affect much more important stuff in our lives than a video game. What if you’re not making the most important move of your life because of that? It’s worth thinking about it.

How to (Really) Read a Book

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A good book deserves an active reading. The activity of reading does not stop with the work of understanding what a book says. It must be completed by the work of criticism, the work of judging. The undemanding reader fails to satisfy this requirement, probably even more than he fails to analyze and interpret. He not only makes no effort to understand; he also dismisses a book simply by putting it aside and forgetting it. Worse than faintly praising it, he damns it by giving it no critical consideration whatever.Mortimer J. Adler

This is the logical follow-up How to Read 50 Books in a Year. Reading a book doesn’t finish with the last page. Far from it. Work needs to be done afterward. That is in my opinion the most important part of reading a book. That will be the make or break in what you’ll get out of the book. Really reading a book means to be an active reader. If you go from point A to Z without any work, chances are that you will forget 99% of the book in a year. Here are some thoughts about my reading process.

*I’m active during my reading. That mean I highlight things of interest. It can be interesting quotes, stuff to apply in my daily life, interesting resources (books, movies, authors, music, etc.) or just interesting facts. In other words, highlight everything you find interesting. I don’t hesitate to write ideas or comments inside my books. They are my personal working tools. They aren’t meant to stay blank. You will read at a slower pace. That’s fine, it’s not a race. No need to rush.

*Once the reading is done, I write a summary of the book in Evernote. You can use whatever tools you want for that. I used to have a desktop folder with summary written in Word documents. To each is own way. You could write them on paper sheet if you want. In the summary, I’ll write about: the author, the subject/themes, what I thought about the book (make a critic of it), what I learned and whatever ideas that comes to my mind.

*After that, I will transcribe all book notes (things that we’re highlighted) after the summary. I’ll usually keep the most important stuff. I think notes should be well-organized for a later consultation. Dividing by chapters is probably the easiest way. Writing all your notes will boost the retention of what you just read. It can be a long process, but you’ll get use to it with time.

*As you can see, Fiction don’t follow the same pattern. I won’t use the summary/notes organization. I will start by saying what I thought about the book. Then, I will make a longer summary with quotes here and there if the book is like Game of Thrones or Dune. What I mean is that the book main point is to tell a story. The other option is to write you summary around the themes of the books. Here I’m thinking about Fight Club. Sometimes, you’ll have book that fall in between.

*The way you do your summary is personal. The important point is to do it. The way of doing will differ from person to another. Some people will keeps pages and pages of notes. Others will prefer the one page rule. It’s up to you. You can write on computer or by hand. You can use tables, images, whatever you want. The idea is to make it useful. For example, for my summary of The Borgias, I’ve included a map of Italy in 1492.

*I would suggest to keep a task list (if you read a non-fiction) when you are transcribing your notes. It’s a good way to make things you learn actionable. By doing that, you’ll commit to apply what you learn it the real world.

*I keep a system to check at least 1 or 2 old summaries/notes every week. That point is very important. You need to go back to your notes once in a while. It’s interesting to add new thoughts to your book notes after a year. You’ll see things differently each time you’ll return to it. I suggest adding new comments each time to make it a perpetual work.

I would rather read 20 books in a year with an active reading mindset than 100 in a passive reading way. I believe reading is an activity to make us grow. Making the most out of it make sense. See it as your personal school. You need to do your homeworks if you want a good grade. It’s the same for books. You need to do the work if you want to get the most values out of them.

The Unmistakable

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They criticize me for harping on the obvious; if all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves.” – Calvin Coolidge

Have you ever search for your keys only to find out they were in your hand? The answer can be straight in our face and we can be blind to see it.  What we search can be so obvious, it’s natural to look elsewhere.

A while ago, I was trying to find ways to improve my strenght at the deadlift and overhead press. My first instinct was trying to find shortcuts. Maybe a new supplement could be my savior? Maybe I could add a new assistant exercise to my training? What if I wasn’t stretching properly? You can see where this was going.

After thinking about it, I concluded that if I wanted to get stronger, I needed to do more strength. As simple as that. I’ve added a few sets of singles (doing the maximum for 1 rep) to each session and after a week I was already seeing a big difference. We often try to find shortcuts, hacks, tips, tricks or whatever. We want to find the easy way to do things, because we want to avoid the hard way.

You want more money? Instead of cancelling your Netflix account, you could just find an another job or ask for a raise. You need to lose weight, drinking Coca-Cola Zero won’t make a big difference. What you need is to eat less carbs period.

We don’t need the new cool apps, the next productivity hacks or that new trendy idea. What we need is to stop bullshiting ourselves for one moment and do what fucking matters.

Judgment Day

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My whole outlook on life is, never judge a book by its cover.Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Last week I was at home with my girlfriend. As usual, we were fighting over which movie we would watch. She suggested Paddington. My first reaction was:”It will be total shit“. After a few minutes I surrendered. We watched to whole thing. To my surprise…it was good. Nothing amazing, but good entertainment.

I remember when my brother was reading Game of Thrones.  He introduced me to the TV show right after the first episode was aired. I seriously thought it would be awful. I watch it and I was instantly sold. I’ve been a fan of the show ever since. I’ve read all five books of the series.

Why am I telling these little stories? Good question. As you can see, both these anecdotes as one thing in common: we make ignorant judgment. The same pattern repeat itself everywhere. This can go from people to cultures to ideas. We judge what we don’t know.

I could say that Winnipeg is a boring city (nothing personnal Winnipeggers). I’ve probably already said it in the past. The truth is that I’ve never set my foot there. I have no idea if it’s boring or not. In that case, I should simply shut my mouth. I could say that “it look boring“, but that I would need to see for myself to make a proper judgment.

The wise abstain from making judgment until he experience. That’s what we should aim for.

The Soothsayer

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We love to make predictions. But, clearly we are bad at making them. Take a look at sci-fi books from half a century ago and you’ll see that most of the predictions never happened.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a man was interviewed by the Time magazine. He said this:

Everything that can be invented has been invented.

That man was Charles H. Duell the commissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Shortly after the interview, he resigned from his position.

The First World War was expected to last a few months. It finally last 4 years and around 8.5 millions people died. Making it the most violent conflict in history at that time. Nobody could predict that. And nobody could predict that it would happen again 21 years later.

Nassim Nicolas Taleb explain in Black Swan that we are often mistaking a naïve observation of the past as something definitive or representative of the future.

Last year, Warren Buffet offered 1 billion dollars for correctly guessing all the game of the NCAA March Madness. The result? Not a single soul won.

Most of my and your predictions are dead wrong. You don’t believe me? Start taking notes of every guess you make. You’ll see how bad you are. We have a problem of overrating the success of our forecast.

The end isn’t near. Maybe it is. We have no fucking clue about it. It’s as simple as that.