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Writing Day 21 – Notes on Willpower

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Started: 2018-05-14
Finished: 2018-05-14

Willpower is like a muscle.

There’s only so much of it that you can use if you don’t train it.
And it gets tired and depleted of its energy reserves, if you just use it rashly.

You need to train it, bulk it up and make it strong so that you can then use it to create change.

As Baumeister states in the conclusion of the book,

Self-control is ultimately about much more than self-help.
It’s essential for savoring your time on earth and sharing joy with the people you love.
People with stronger willpower are more altruistic.
They’re more likely to donate to charity, to do volunteer work, and to offer their own homes as shelter to someone with no place to go.
Willpower evolved because it was crucial for our ancestors to get along with the rest of the clan, and it’s still serving that purpose today.
Inner discipline still leads to outer kindness.

Notes from the book

Willpower 101, First Lesson: Know Your Limits

No matter what you want to achieve, playing offense begins by recognizing two basic lessons
1. Your supply of willpower is limited, and
2. you use the same resource for many different things.

Watch for Symptoms

Do things seem to bother you more than they should? Has the volume somehow been turned up on your life so that things are felt more strongly than usual? Is it suddenly hard to make up your mind about even simple things?
If you notice such feelings, then reflect on the last few hours and see if it seems likely that you have depleted your willpower.

While you’re depleted, frustrations will bother you more than usual. You’ll be more prone to say something you’ll regret.
Impulses to eat, drink, spend, or do other things will be harder than usual to resist.

Pick Your Battles

You can’t control or even predict the stresses that come into your life, but you can use the calm periods, or at least the peaceful moments, to plan an offence.

When you pick your battles, look beyond the immediate challenges and put your life in perspective.
Are you where you want to be? What could be better? What can you do about it?
You can’t do this every day, of course, and certainly not during busy, stressful times, but you can set aside at least one day a year—maybe your birthday—to do some reflection and write down notes on how well you spent the previous year.
If you make this an annual ritual, you can look back over the notes from previous years to see what kinds of progress you’ve made in the past: which goals were met, which goals remain, which ones are hopeless.

Tactics

  • Make a To-Do List—or at Least a To-Don’t List

    • Write & Prioritise stuff
  • Beware the Planning Fallacy

    • When was the last time you heard of a highway or building being completed six months early? Late and over budget is the norm. One way to avoid the planning fallacy is to force yourself to think about your past.
  • Don’t Forget the Basics

    • While cutbacks might seem a fair price to pay in order to channel all you energies into preparing for exams, In the long run, slovenliness can leave you with less energy—and fewer healthy relationships.
      Self-control will be most effective if you take good basic care of your body, starting with diet and sleep.
  • Use The Power of Positive Procrastination (like The Nothing Alternative)

    • Do what Raymond Chandler did to write his books. Use the Nothing Alternative; a marvelously simple tool against procrastination for just about any kind of task.
      Set aside time to do one and only one thing. You can look out of the window or stand on your head or writhe on the floor, but you are not to do any other positive thing.
      You might, for instance, resolve to start your day with ninety minutes devoted to your most important goal, with no interruptions from e-mail or phone calls, no side excursions anywhere on the Web.
  • Keep Track

    • Besides offering immediate encouragement, monitoring lets you improve your long-term planning. If you keep records, you can periodically check how far you’ve come so that you can set more realistic goals for the future.
  • Reward Often

    • When you set a goal, set a reward for reaching it—and then don’t stiff yourself. If you just use willpower to deny yourself things, it becomes a grim, thankless form of defense. But when you use it to gain something, you can wring pleasure out of the dreariest tasks. We’ve criticized the everybody-gets-a-trophy philosophy of the self-esteem movement, but trophies for genuine accomplishments are fine.
      Which incentives work? A mix of frequent small prizes with occasional big ones.

Writing Day 17 – Practice Makes Perfect

“Since I was very young, I’ve played all kinds of music: bar mitzvah music, Sousa marches, strip-club music, jazz, pop.

Everything.

I didn’t have to learn a thing to do Michael Jackson.”

“You’re supposed to use everything from the past.
If you know where you come from, it’s easier to get where you’re going. Musical principles exist, man. Musicians today can’t go all the way with the music because they haven’t done their homework with the left brain.
Music is emotion and science.
You don’t have to practice emotion because that comes naturally.
Technique is different. If you can’t get your finger between three and four and seven and eight on a piano, you can’t play. You can only get so far without technique. People limit themselves musically. Do these musicians know tango? Macumba? Yoruba music? Samba? Bossa nova? Salsa? Cha-cha?”

— Quincy Jones

via the ever awesome Tren Griffin.


Writing Day 16 – Thank you James Tanton!

I recently subscribed to the The Great Courses Plus, so that I could bring myself up to speed on the Math needed to do my 12th standard exams.

All these years, whenever I’ve tried to teach myself trigonometry (or other people have tried to explain it to me) it has always been an exercise in frustration, followed by the general exhortation to just mug it up.

My brain sadly is not wired that way. I can and I will mug it up.
But I do want to know what the first principles are, so that I have the ability to derive what I need.
I need to understand.

Professor Tanton’s Geometry course was this eye opener for me.
I thought him slightly pretentious in the beginning, when he repeatedly says, he doesn’t know what the answer is … and then goes on to figure it out.
A few lectures in, though, and I’m suddenly a rabid fan of the approach.
Prof Tanton puts himself in my place and with glee, figures things out, just like a new learner would.
I find myself pausing the video, when he says he does not know and then try to figure it out just like he would (or rather he would, that I would … by slowly reasoning and being ok with mistakes)

His love for the subject shines through all he does.
There are ropes and knots and hand motions and sound effects (shoom!) and boards and screens and ugly drawings (just like mine) and folded pieces of paper and tiles and he bounces between all of them to explain stuff and make his point.

Here’s what I’m talking about.


This is one of my later classes, and I’m barely halfway through.
In fact, I’m at the point in lecture 18, where he tries to explain how to sum up two sines.

So why the gratitude rush?
Because Prof Tanton just lit the biggest light bulb in my head, and gave me my biggest a-ha, I’ve ever had in a long time.
Lectures 16 & 17 explaing circle-ometry, naturally leading into the basics of trigonometry, suddenly made sense of so much stuff for me.
All the advanced algebra I’ve been doing, the basic calculus I’ve been learning suddenly just “clicked!”

And there’s another reason.
He showed me that genius is not the norm for doing maths and science.
Persistence, slow methodical work, gentle reasoning and practice will get me there.
If James Tanton PhD. Mathematics, Princeton University, 1994, & Mathematician in Residence at the Mathematical Association of America in Washington D.C. does it this way, so can I.
He’s made me fall in love with maths.

And for that, dear Professor Tanton, I’m eternally grateful.

P.S.
Not to toot my own horn, but Prof Tanton responded :P

prof-tanton-replies


Book Notes – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

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Started: 2018-03-11
Finished: 2018-03-13

Imagine the school bum, mending his ways, becoming a success and then sharing his stories and experience.

Well, that’s what this book is.
A pithy summary for a pithy book. Punchy, wise and brief.
Mark Manson is the Dale Carnegie for millenials.

There are f*cks strewn galore, so if you’re not comfortable with such language, stay away.1

Here’s a few things, I took away from the book

  • Learn to be comfortable with pain and failure and suffering and hardship
  • True joy comes from experience, from tackling pain and hardship, from living
  • Live a life of intention. Know what your enough is. Choose your struggle. Care deeply only about these few things
  • Learn to be self aware. Meditation helps.
  • Have good values
  • There are no ready made, cookie cutter solutions to your problems or to finding your path. You have to make your own way. And that is a good thing
  • Don’t be dogmatic. Be comfortable changing your mind as you learn and experience more
  • Learn to be ok with rejection. Also, learn to say No.
  • Be disciplined, focussed, and committed to the things you care about
  • Memento Mori.2
    So make the most of the life you have left. Learn to live, so that you leave with joy, not regret.
Quotes I loved

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of.
You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”
— Albert Camus

“I used to think the human brain was the most wonderful organ in my body.
Then I realized who was telling me this.”
— Emo Philips

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”
— Sigmund Freud

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life.
A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
— Mark Twain

On Commitment

I’m quoting this passage wholesale, because this was the thing that resonated with me the most; the fact that Deep Work matters.
Discipline, dedication and commitment to the few things that do matter in your life is what will make your life enriching.

… more is not always better. In fact, the opposite is true.
We are actually often happier with less. When we’re overloaded with opportunities and options, we suffer from the paradox of choice. Basically, the more options we’re given, the less satisfied we become with whatever we choose, because we’re aware of all the other options we’re potentially forfeiting.
So if you have a choice between two places to live and pick one, you’ll likely feel confident and comfortable that you made the right choice. You’ll be satisfied with your decision.
But if you have a choice among twenty-eight places to live and pick one, the paradox of choice says that you’ll likely spend years agonizing, doubting, and second-guessing yourself, wondering if you really made the “right” choice, and if you’re truly maximizing your own happiness. And this anxiety, this desire for certainty and perfection and success, will make you unhappy.

So what do we do? Well, if you’re like I used to be, you avoid choosing anything at all. You aim to keep your options open as long as possible. You avoid commitment.

But while investing deeply in one person, one place, one job, one activity might deny us the breadth of experience we’d like, pursuing a breadth of experience denies us the opportunity to experience the rewards of depth of experience. There are some experiences that you can have only when you’ve lived in the same place for five years, when you’ve been with the same person for over a decade, when you’ve been working on the same skill or craft for half your lifetime. Now that I’m in my thirties, I can finally recognize that commitment, in its own way, offers a wealth of opportunity and experiences that would otherwise never be available to me, no matter where I went or what I did.

When you’re pursuing a wide breadth of experience, there are diminishing returns to each new adventure, each new person or thing. When you’ve never left your home country, the first country you visit inspires a massive perspective shift, because you have such a narrow experience base to draw on. But when you’ve been to twenty countries, the twenty-first adds little. And when you’ve been to fifty, the fifty-first adds even less.
The same goes for material possessions, money, hobbies, jobs, friends, and romantic/sexual partners—all the lame superficial values people choose for themselves.
The older you get, the more experienced you get, the less significantly each new experience affects you. The first time I drank at a party was exciting. The hundredth time was fun. The five hundredth time felt like a normal weekend. And the thousandth time felt boring and unimportant.

The big story for me personally over the past few years has been my ability to open myself up to commitment. I’ve chosen to reject all but the very best people and experiences and values in my life. I shut down all my business projects and decided to focus on writing full-time. Since then, my website has become more popular than I’d ever imagined possible. I’ve committed to one woman for the long haul and, to my surprise, have found this more rewarding than any of the flings, trysts, and one-night stands I had in the past. I’ve committed to a single geographic location and doubled down on the handful of my significant, genuine, healthy friendships.

And what I’ve discovered is something entirely counterintuitive: that there is a freedom and liberation in commitment. I’ve found increased opportunity and upside in rejecting alternatives and distractions in favor of what I’ve chosen to let truly matter to me.
Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous.
Commitment gives you freedom because it hones your attention and focus, directing them toward what is most efficient at making you healthy and happy.
Commitment makes decision-making easier and removes any fear of missing out; knowing that what you already have is good enough, why would you ever stress about chasing more, more, more again?
Commitment allows you to focus intently on a few highly important goals and achieve a greater degree of success than you otherwise would.

In this way, the rejection of alternatives liberates us—rejection of what does not align with our most important values, with our chosen metrics, rejection of the constant pursuit of breadth without depth.
Yes, breadth of experience is likely necessary and desirable when you’re young—after all, you have to go out there and discover what seems worth investing yourself in. But depth is where the gold is buried. And you have to stay committed to something and go deep to dig it up. That’s true in relationships, in a career, in building a great lifestyle—in everything.


  1. It’s mostly for shock value, sprinkled liberally through the first third of the book. It peters out to almost nothing, as Mark gets into the meat and potatoes 

  2. Remember, you will die! The Daily Stoic explains it far better than I ever could