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books contemplation habits

Reflections: Spring 2021

The winter seemed to shed me of some of my need to prove myself. I stopped feeling like my self worth was dependent on my productivity. I slowed down on work. I said no to new projects. I meditated more. I slept a lot.

In this time of slowing down, emotions surfaced—probably because I was no longer in fight-or-flight mode. Spring’s theme became learning how to relate to my emotional experience with greater skill. I picked up Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach and thus learned what Tim Ferriss has been raving about all these years. Working with Nathan Vanderpool, I came to stop judging myself for being so emotionally sensitive and embraced my empathy as a gift I can work with. I’ve come to stop expecting myself to be like others, and realised that I will always need space and time to sit with my emotions.

This emotional process is reflected in my spring playlist.

Meditation

I completed Tasshin Fogleman’s Build a Meditation Habit course. The course got me into a positively-reinforcing meditation habit loop (I am meditating because I want to!) instead of a negatively-reinforcing habit loop (I am meditating to not be mad at myself!). The course focuses on lovingkindness (Metta) meditation, which I had written off before but discovered is an amazing antidote to many things, particularly social anxiety (spending several moments wholeheartedly wishing for another’s happiness seems to resolve any tension you might have with that person). I got so much out of this course that I’m planning on taking it again.

Exploring Therapeutic Modalities

Having more time, I started trying different therapeutic modalities.

Like seemingly everyone else, I became curious about IFS (Internal Family Systems). I did ten sessions with IFS coach Lucie van Leeuwen. I had a ton of emotions kick up through the process—it really did seem like my psyche’s system was changing. I got to know different aspects of myself (or “parts” as they are called in IFS) in new, much deeper ways. I was glad I booked the sessions because that ensured that I really dove in and investigated this system, and I really enjoyed having Lucie as a guide.

I’ve also done several sessions with Nathan Vanderpool. His “trauma mapping” therapy draws upon many modalities as well as his own songwriting. Nathan seems equal parts shaman, psychologist, and bard, and I felt uniquely comfortable working with him to explore and heal traumatic experiences. I highly recommend giving his modality a try.

Books Read

My annual book list is long overdue, but here’s a few titles I’ve loved recently.

As noted above, I loved Radical Acceptance. It’s a wise manual on how to navigate emotions, and I think anyone would get something out of it.

As part of my effort to become more knowledgeable about history, I read The End is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses by Dan Carlin, a book which was just as entertaining as his Hardcore History podcast. This is a great volume about how many times the world has “ended” from the point of view of that era’s inhabitants. Being in COVID times, it was especially interesting to learn more about history’s pandemics. The Black Death makes COVID look like a walk in the park.

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman is an interesting look at why many modern self-help techniques often make us more unhappy, and how practices like stoicism and mindfulness are more effective. It’s a particularly modern (and American) concept of happiness that you should always be feeling gleeful and jolly, whereas the stoic version of happiness is more like calm and centered contentment. I was also curious to read his take on why goal-setting is a cause for not just unhappiness but ineffectiveness. I appreciated his inclusion of Eckhart Tolle’s mindfulness instruction: notice for thoughts like a cat watching a mousehole. It was also a great reminder that stoicism is the shit.

Caffeine: How Coffee and Tea Created the Modern World by Michael Pollan – I loved this short audiobook and found myself drinking ever more caffeine through it. Michael Pollan’s writing is such a pleasure.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey is a soulful, life-affirming autiobiography. McConaughey’s narration makes the audiobook even more addictively entertaining, and I polished off the book in a weekend.

Habit Update

Intermittent Fasting
I’ve been intermittent fasting for over a year and a half now, and I’m pretty sold on it. Even though my enthusiasm for and adherence to IF has waxed and waned over that time, my results are pretty great: my hunger/satiety mechanism is at a much better place, and I’ve managed to lose and keep 10 pounds off without much effort. If you feel like you’re inexplicably always hungry, or if thoughts about eating and dieting consume more of your mental space than you’d like, I recommend trying IF. For those giving it a go, I second Gin Stephen’s recommendation in Delay, Don’t Deny: try different IF approaches and times of your eating window until you find what works for you.

Cold Showers
I cemented the cold shower habit during a 12-week team series on Konnektwork. In that series I had set it up so that cold showers was one of the easiest way for me to accrue points, and I seem to have permanently internalised that ending a shower on cold is an easy win.

Habits in Progress
I’m working with the Konnektwork crew on another team series. For this twelve-week series, I’m cultivating habits in standing meditation, qi gong, gratitude journaling, and the wildcard: no complaining (or saying one thing I’m grateful for each time I slip up).

Causes Supported

So far this year I’ve donated to Charité’s MDMA trials in Berlin (part of the MAPS European MDMA trials that need funding—let me know if you’re interested in contributing!), 5 Gyres, Monastic Academy, Dharma Gates, and Effektiv Spenden’s environmental organizations.

I wrote about donating 10% of my income in a previous post.

Categories
ideas

Some thoughts on giving

Many years ago I ran across Giving What We Can, a community of people who donate 10%+ of their income to effective charities. The idea resonated: if you say you care about various causes in the world, then you should put your money on it.

So I decided to take the pledge to give away at least 10% of my income each year for the duration of my life. I like envisioning receiving ten dollars and keeping nine of them, while shooting the tenth off to a cause I really care about. I also like being able to help the world while pursuing a career outside nonprofits, and I find it easier to donate to animal charities rather than face those horrors myself (thank you, brave ones!).

Around the same time I came across Giving What We Can, I ran into a “law of abundance” claim that giving away at least 10% of your income will actually attract more money to you. I know this is magical thinking, but I haven’t found this not to be the case, and I’ve grown fond of envisioning myself in some cycle of ever-growing giving and receiving.

In Buddhism, generosity is Dana, one of the most highly-regarded virtues. The practice of Dana is said to “purify and transform the mind of the giver,” and it’s thought that generosity developed through giving can lead to an experience of material wealth in this life or the next.

Ironically, one of my triggers to donate is when I’m feeling bad about my financial situation. I click a few buttons to give money away, and then I feel more grateful, present, and content with what I do have. Likewise, if I feel a nagging concern about plastics, I’ll use that as an opportunity to donate to an organization fighting for a plastic-freer world (shout-out to 5 Gyres!).

When I found it challenging to give 10% of my income, I did a series of interviews with Giving What We Can members to get inspired by some truly altruistic people. I noticed that these people excel at comparing what little additional comfort the money will grant them versus what the money can do for others.

I found it interesting to notice the variation in people’s giving preferences. Some are into eradicating disease or defending us from future AI overlords, while I think it’s most important to protect animals and save our environment.

Give where you want—I believe what’s most important is effectively using your money to create the world you want.

Further resources:

Categories
Uncategorized

In Gifs: Breathing Techniques

Try the 4-4-4-4 box breath to foster a calm alertness.

Try the slower 5-5-5-5 breath for a stronger calming effect.

Try the 4-7-8 breath to reduce anxiety and get to sleep faster.

Categories
ideas motion design

In GIFs: Centralized, Decentralized, and Distributed Systems

Categories
contemplation the truth about life

10 Questions for Finding Your Calling

Some quickly find their calling—they find a career that engages, satisfies, and pays them. But for many of us, it’s not that simple. We end up drifting about, meandering down one path and then another, always wondering what it is we’re really meant to do.

After many years of having only a vague sense of career direction (and often grateful just to make ends meet), I pondered a series of questions and finally reached clarity about what I want to do.

But before sharing the questions I used, I want to point out that it’s perfectly fine—and often part of the process—to not be clear on what you want to do in life. Life is not a straight line from A to B, and sometimes you need to go through several transformations to gain the necessary context to find your calling.

During times when you’re unclear, the following advice may be helpful:

  1. Follow your curiosity, as Elizabeth Gilbert says. I’ve had several life junctions where I felt an overwhelming desire to study something, spend time with someone, change cities, or travel. Those whims often didn’t feel logical at the time, but pursuing them led to opportunities and insights that brought me further down my path.
  2. Put in the hard work to gain valuable skills. Cal Newport argues that ‘follow your passion’ is bad advice, and advises instead to “put in the hard work to master something rare and valuable, then deploy this leverage to steer your working life in directions that resonate.” His book So Good They Can’t Ignore You and the tl;dr blog post version are highly recommended.

Without further ado, here are the questions for finding your life’s calling:


1. If I died today, what would I be sad that I didn’t do?

Imagine you were to die tonight in your sleep. What are you most sad you didn’t get to do?

Another way to approach this: “If I were to die happy and satisfied, how would I have lived?”

2. What did I like doing when I was young?

Reflect on your childhood and see if any memories call to you.

I have a vivid memory of coating an elementary school worksheet in stripes of glitter crayon. I was worried that this act would be admonished, but I couldn’t resist making the drab worksheet more attractive. It turns out that this root desire to make ideas and information more alluring is my calling!

3. If I had all the money I needed, what would I do?

Often our sense of career is deeply intertwined with the obligation to make money. While of course our career must sustain us, this question can help us see past any money issues that may be skewing our perception.

4. What brings me satisfaction?

This question helps calibrate the previous one. If in the last question you pictured yourself laying in a pool sipping champagne, you’re unlikely to envision the same in this one.

Related questions: “What do I feel proud of?” or “What would I feel proud of?”

5. What do I do where I lose track of time?

Losing track of time lost in an activity happens when you are in a “flow state.” This state is often deeply satisfying and brings about our best work, so your answer to this question may indicate an activity to double-down on in your professional career.

6. Where do I gain energy, and where do I lose it?

Do you gain energy from working with people or working alone, or in a particular combination? What sort of challenges inspire and motivate you, and which drain your batteries? This question is posed to help you find a sustainable work situation.

7. Whose life am I jealous of?

I found this question after becoming green with envy upon hearing Tim Ferriss’s writing schedule. His schedule was something like waking up, taking a swim, doing writing, eating the same daily lunch, reviewing writing, and then meeting up for friends in the evening. I wanted that life so much—me against a blank canvas, every day—that I realized I should orient my career around that sort of “maker” schedule.

Related question: “What does a perfect Saturday look like?”

8. What am I good at?

Alternative questions: “What do friends ask me to do for them that I find easy?” and “What am I bad at?”

9. What are my “factions,” and what do they want?

This question is a way of finding a calling that encompasses all the different aspects of you.

I have three factions—aka inner drives—that are often in conflict with each other:
The caring faction that wants to save the world.
The artistic faction that wants to excel at creative expression.
The fearful faction that wants to be secure.

If I spend too much energy tending to any one or two factions, the omitted factions will start rebelling and demanding all of my energy.

Many times I’ve tried to go a path that only satisfies one of the three (e.g., a high-paying job for the fearful faction, or renouncing financial security to live a life of service), but inevitably I become unhappy because I haven’t fulfilled all of my drives.

10. What would I do if I could start over?

You might resist your calling because there’s a sizable gap between where you are now and where you would need to be to pursue that calling. Perhaps that’s a gap in skillset, knowledge, degree, network, funding, or identity. This question is a way to get around any resistance of the “but I don’t have X so…” or “but it’s too late to…” variety.


You may find as I did that the answers to these questions may not come all at once, but after many months of reflection.

What questions and processes have you found helpful? Please comment below!

Categories
Motion Graphics

Social distancing party parrots