Friday, January 27, 2017

How to Stop Worrying About the Future and Start Living in the Moment

3 Minute Read (6 if you count the Snoop Dogg video)

Humans are the only animals able to think about the future. According to several books I’ve read recently, this is because our brains are larger and more complex than those of any other being. Daniel Gilbert (not the Quicken Loans guy, but the Harvard Psychology Professor) writes, “the greatest achievement of the human brain is its ability to imagine objects and episodes that do not exist in the realm of the real, and it is this ability that allows us to think about the future.”

Known to many psychologists as “the ape that looks forward,” we humans owe our unique ability to imagine the future to our somewhat-recently acquired frontal lobe.

But don’t take my word for it, let me introduce you to the compelling story of Phineas Gage. A railroad worker in the mid-1800s, Gage experienced an accident that sent an iron rod through his cheek and up through his brain, boring a tunnel through his head and taking out a sizable chunk of his frontal lobe. The result? Gage walked himself to the hospital and seemed--all things considered--remarkably ok. He went on to live a relatively normal life with one catch: He lost the ability to think about the future. Gage could no longer plan or feel anxiety, and seemed to live in a permanent present.

After learning of this, I went skiing for a few days. I noticed that, on the chair lift and when gliding along gradual slopes, my thoughts often drifted to the future ("I'm thinking chicken fingers for lunch," "I sure hope I get a window seat on the flight home," "I don't know man...Trump with access to nukes?"). These thoughts instantly vanished, however, when I was forced to navigate steep runs, moguls, and other fast-moving skiers. In other words, when I was forced to live in the moment, my frontal lobe turned off. I was in the zone.

According to the 2011 documentary Happythis "zone" is when we are at our happiest. 

Don't get me wrong, this is not a call to action for all of us to have our frontal lobes removed (known as a lobotomy). The frontal lobe of Homo Sapiens is responsible for some of the best shit we have going today, including (but not limited to): the wheel, college basketball and Snoop Dogg's Plizzanet Earth:1


Here's my point: Our frontal lobes--allowed to run amok--can drive us mad with worry about a future negative event (which usually doesn't end up happening anyway) and lead us to believe we can control the uncontrollable. Further, according to Gilbert, fantasizing about the future can be so pleasurable that we become certain that our futures MUST unfold as such. Ideal futures rarely pan out, thus leading to exclusively human emotions such as disappointment and regret...just ask anyone who has been to Vegas.

 Vegas according to our frontal lobes

Vegas in reality

So how do we turn this stupid frontal lobe off and live in the moment? Here are a few suggestions:

Exercise: Especially team sports. When playing basketball, your 401(k) doesn't cross your mind.

Meditate: Train your mind so that you are in control, not your ignorant-ass forehead. There are several apps that can help with this.

Write: When you write well, you think well.

Monotask: Zen proverb - When walking, walk. When eating, eat. When out with your friends, put your goddamn phone away.2

Appreciate: It's impossible to worry and be thankful at the same time. Go ahead. Try it.

Read: Books, you asshole. Social media doesn't count. Here are some recommendations. Let me know when you need more.

Establishing these habits has been helpful for me. What am I missing? Would love to hear from you.
Also, just figured out how to add footnotes to blogger. Who doesn't love footnotes?

1 Sliced bread does not make my list.

2 I added the part about the phone. Seemed appropriate.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Dwight Eisenhower and Draymond Green: More Alike Than You Thought

Hitler and the Nazis were able to swiftly conquer neighboring countries like Poland and France by way of a startling and intimidating strategy known as the German Blitzkrieg (which is where you football fans get the term “Blitz,” by the way). By concentrating troops into narrow, piercing units (usually tweaked out on the crystal meth, mind you), the Germans assumed the look of an overwhelming force and caused opponents often to give up rather than try to fight what seemed to be an unwinnable battle. 

Similarly, when LeBron James has the ball on a fast break, every player in the NBA knows it is best to get out of the way and let him score as opposed to getting posterized (see entire Detroit Pistons team in game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals), or giving King James an and-one opportunity. Every player, that is, except for my main man Draymond Green. 

After the successful D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied France in 1944, Allied forces knew they would face the German Blitzkrieg again. How would they stop it? How to resist a force that had made such quick work of every army in Europe to that point?
Fortunately for all of us, a great leader named Dwight D. Eisenhower stepped up and saw the opportunity within the impending attacks. By letting the Nazis through the Allied front lines (similar to the strategy invoked by Sunshine from Remember the Titans), the Allies could lure the Nazi meth heads into a “meat grinder,” surrounding and attacking them from their exposed flanks and from behind.

A few days ago, Draymond used a similar strategy as LeBron caught the ball in the open court and seemed destined for a thundering dunk. Green, who has earned a reputation for standing up to James (or for punching him in the balls, depending on where you’re from), was not intimidated. He took it to LeBron and, by doing so, exposed what might be the only flaw in the eventual Hall of Famer’s game: his propensity to flop like a European soccer player.

But that wasn’t all, as the Flop King played dead on the floor of Oracle Arena, Draymond showed further insubordination by mocking LeBron’s theatrics to the delight of courtside Silicon Valley billionaires. The reaction of the ESPN commentators, coupled with the condemnation of Draymond by journalistic hackjob Stephen A. Smith tells you all you need to know. The Warriors went on to blow out the Cavs, and the undersized butterball from Saginaw got the best of the greatest player since Jordan—perhaps exonerating himself from the dick pic he tweeted over the summer.

Bless you, Draymond Green. You give us all hope.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Conditional Happiness and the Hedonic Treadmill

There are two ways to be happy:
  1. Get everything you want
  2. Want everything you have
Which seems more attainable here and now? In my recent reading endeavors, I’ve picked up two psychological concepts that have helped me understand happiness:

Image result for hedonic treadmill

Conditional Happiness: I’ll be happy once I graduate, when I make more money, when I can finally take a vacation. We’ve all said something like this out loud or to ourselves at one time or another. Conditional happiness is directly linked to pursuit of external factors we think will fulfill us, and is the cousin of materialism

The Hedonic Treadmill (aka Hedonic Adaptation): Psychologists figured this one out relatively recently (late 1990s), and it refers to our tendency to revert back to our original state of happiness relatively soon after acquiring whatever it is we’ve been longing for. Finally got that new car you've been saving for? It’ll make you happy for a short while, then it becomes the norm and you’re back to where you started. Get a pay raise? Good for you! It won’t be long until you’re seeking another one. Further, it would be downright devastating to receive a pay cut. To quote the philosopher Chris Rock, “If Bill Gates woke up one day with Oprah’s money, he’d jump  off a bridge. ‘Oh no! I can’t even put gas in my plane!'”

One example (of presumably many) of me falling victim to this way of thinking recently:

Heated Seats: I got a new car last summer and it happens to have heated seats. I’ve long scoffed at the idea of paying extra money for ass-warmers (honestly, when’s the last time you were uncomfortable due to a cold ass?), and now it’s the first button I push when I start my car. In fact, I’ve caught myself getting frustrated when the seat has taken longer than usual to warm my ass, and I'm disappointed when I find myself a passenger in a car without this feature. I'm embarrassed.

So if conditional happiness and jumping on the hedonic treadmill are so engrained in our culture, how the hell do we avoid falling victim to this? A few suggestions:

  1. Prime the mind every morning: According to legendary performance coach Tony Robbins, when we begin the day in a lowered emotional state (tired, overwhelmed, hungover, etc.), we see only problems in our lives, not solutions. This leads to us telling ourselves self-defeating stories (“I can’t succeed,” “Woe is me!). To fix this, Robbins suggests, have a morning routine that primes the mind for the day. This way, Robbins suggests, we’ll begin to see solutions to life’s problems. Further, we’re more likely to recognize and appreciate the good in our lives. Without fail, this leads to gratitude and, to paraphrase Robbins: It’s impossible to feel negative emotions and gratitude simultaneously. Up to you how you want to prime your mind, but after reading this (in Tools of Titans), I’m forcing myself to work out, meditate and write before starting each day. So far, so good.
  2. Stop being so goddamn distracted: Once we’ve taken care of the basics—food, water, shelter, heated seats—money and possessions are just a story. The goal of advertising and marketing is to get us to believe their story—that our lives are inadequate and that we can achieve happiness by purchasing their product. We don’t have to listen.
  3. Realize happiness comes from within: As my man Van Morrison says, “Look for happiness—always—within your self. And don’t go chasing, thinking that it is out there—somewhere else.”

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Goal for the New Year and Beyond: Be Ruthless to Distractions

I’ve come to realize that our minds and bodies are those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Without getting overly scientific, here are a few truths I’ve picked up recently:
  • Humans have been evolving for roughly 2.5 million years
  • For all but the most recent 12,000 of those years, we’ve been hunter-gatherers
  • Evolutionary adaptations generally take about 25,000 years 
    • This means we’ve got about 13,000 more years until we adapt to our current lifestyle. Don't hold your breath.

Here’s my point: Our minds are easily distracted because our DNA still thinks we’re living in small tribes and camps on the savannah. Back then, if we heard a rustling in the bushes or caught some movement in our peripheral, it was either trying to eat us or was an opportunity to sustain our own lives by eating it. In other words, we’re programmed to react to each and every stimulus we encounter, and it’s no longer necessary.

Be aware of all movement/sound in this scenario...

Image result for times square advertising
...But this one?

And my, how advertisers and sensational journalists take advantage of this. You’re probably reading this on your smartphone or computer (in fact, I can’t think of another way). Take a moment to consider how many billions of dollars are being invested into stealing your attention. Silicon Valley is working overtime to create apps as addictive as crack (Candy Crush, Pokemon Go), food companies are pumping out sugary nonsense to exploit your tastebuds (Funfetti, anyone?). and media is coming up with clickbait and sharebait to ensure nothing ever gets done.

Image result for clickbait south park
Make it stop!

It took me 35+ years to figure this out, and this quote from the homeboy Ryan Holiday summarizes why I’m fighting back: The more we say no to things that don’t matter, the more we can say yes to things that do.

A few things I am eliminating in 2017 and beyond:

  • Smartphone addiction: I recently realized that, since purchasing an iPhone in 2011 and using it as my alarm clock (amongst other things), I have looked at my phone immediately upon waking every day for the past six years. This means I’ve started every single goshdarn day in a state of distraction. As of January 1, my phone charges in another room while I sleep. I use an old-school alarm clock, and begin my day in relative peace.
  • Push Notifications: Just turn 'em all off.
  • Bullshit Food: If it’s true that addiction is defined as when we no longer have the ability to abstain, then I’ve long been a junk food addict. Those days are now over.
  • Marginally Enjoyable Social Events: These have gobbled up quite a bit of my 20s and 30s. From now on, if it’s not a “Hell Yes!” it’s a no.
  • Pants: On second thought, I’ll keep it up for the time being. Pants matter. Put it on a shirt.
If anyone is aware of a software that will limit the number of tabs/windows I can have open at a given time, please let me know in the comments. At the moment, I have five tabs open--four of them unnecessary.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Top Five Books I Read in 2016

For eight bucks, we can purchase a life-changing book. Is there a better eight dollar investment? A sandwich? A drink? Sunglasses at the gas station (maybe)?  In 2016, I cut the crap and made reading habitual. Further, I downloaded the Audible app and jettisoned BS radio and my Bone Thugs N Harmony collection in favor of audiobooks and podcasts.
Shoutout to the homeboy Rory Hughes for recommending the Tim Ferriss podcast, which has been a regular source of recommendations and motivation to learn.

Without further adieu, my top five and how they've influenced me:

Image result for natural born heroes

Recommended by: My dad (good dude; you'd like him)

This author also wrote Born to Run and anyone who knew me in 2010 is aware of McDougall's ability to persuade me.  Heroes makes a similar claim: Our bodies are capable of far more than we understand, and we can get the most out of them by acting according to evolutionary principles.

Standout Excerpt:
"Humans are superb endurance athletes who've roamed farther across the planet than any other species, and we didn't do it on Gatorade and bagels...You want to burn more fat and less sugar. As it stands now, your body is a sugar-burning, fat-storing monstrosity."

Impact on Me:
This book passed the "stare off into space and nod" test for me (I'll come up with a better name as we go). I read this book on a beach, and would gaze and the ocean while mumbling, "dammit, he's right" after several passages. The result? I've stopped eating sugar and carbs (with a few exceptions), have loaded up on leafy greens and healthy fats, have lost 20 pounds, and find myself being less of a jerk.
Not bad! How is this one only #5?

Image result for Tools of Titans

Recommended by: Well, Tim Ferriss (podcast)

Although we've yet to meet, Tim has had quite an impact on me. This book is a collection of habits and "life hacks" pulled from his 200+ interviews with elite performers, and includes responses to questions such as "what does the first hour of your day look like?" "What have you changed your mind about in the last few years? Why?" and "What is the book (or books) you've given most as a gift?"
Great questions beget great answers.

Standout Excerpt:
"Meditation is a 'meta-skill' that improves everything else. You're starting your day by practicing focus when it doesn't matter (sitting on a couch for 10 minutes) so that you can focus better later when it does matter (negotiations, conversation with a loved one, etc.)  If you want better results with less stress, fewer "I should have said X" mental loops, etc., meditations acts as a warm bath for the mind. Meditation allows me to step back and gain a "witness perspective" so that I'm observing my thoughts instead of being tumbled by them."

Impact on Me:
A staggering 80% of those interviewed have some form of daily meditation or mindfulness practice. After learning this, I've used Headspace (smartphone app), to guide me through 10 minute meditations each morning. Now 35 days into it, I am a believer.

Image result for meditations marcus aurelius

Recommended by: My friends Bill Gray and Dan Wielechowski. Also several guests on the Ferriss podcast, and my #1 on this list frequently pulls quotes from Marcus Aurelius.

Overview: Before reading this, I knew Marcus as the old guy in the movie Gladiator (not Russell Crowe or Joquain Phoenix, who play Maximus and Commodus, respectively). Little did I know, his Meditations, which he wrote only for himself while he was Roman Emperor (and thus the most powerful man in the world) some 2,000 years ago, is considered a "must-read" by contemporary leaders such as Bill Clinton and Steve Forbes. Further, my new favorite author Ryan Holiday has read Meditations 100 times over the past 10 years. 

Standout Excerpts (written between 170 and 180 AD, mind you):
"Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil...I can neither be injured by any of them...nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are made for cooperation...To act against one another is contrary to nature."

"Choose not to be harmed--and you won't feel harmed. Don't feel harmed--and you haven't been."

Impact on Me: It's comforting to know the most powerful man at the height of the Roman Empire was dealing with many of the same challenges we deal with today. He writes to himself about struggling to get out of a warm bed on a cold morning, avoiding distractions, and making decisions for the common good. Meditations has now replaced social media and other nonsense as my "bathroom reading".

Image result for sapiens a brief history of humankind

Recommended by: Sebastian Junger (author I've never met, who said "Thank God someone wrote this" after reading Sapiens) and Naval Ravikant (Silicon Valley investor I've never met), both as guests on non-consecutive episodes of the Tim Ferriss podcast.

Overview: Yuval Noah Harari, a professor of history in Israel, offers up a mind-blowing and orthogonal (meaning it doesn't align with your normal way of thinking) view of our species. Harari takes the perspective of an anthropologist, studying Homo Sapiens like we're just another animal on this planet (because really, we are). So what's different about this animal? How has this animal evolved to go to the moon, send SnapChats, and worry about the future when no other animal can do so?
Harari comes to some pretty startling conclusions, such as the idea that we're the only animals able to create fiction and myths. As story-telling monkeys, we've been able to organize by the millions based on belief in nations, religions, corporations, money--all of which are created in the imaginations of Homo Sapiens and no other animal can understand.

Standout Excerpt:
(On why we gorge on junk food)
"A typical forager 30,000 years ago had access to only one type of sweet food - ripe fruit. If a stone age woman came across a tree groaning with figs, the most sensible thing to do was eat as many as possible on the spot, before the local baboon band picked the tree bare. This instinct to gorge was hard-wired into our genes. Today, we may be living in high-rise apartments with over-stuffed refrigerators, but our DNA still thinks we're in the savannah. That's what makes some of us spoon down an entire tub of Ben & Jerry's when we find one in the freezer and wash it down with a jumbo Coke. This 'gorging gene' theory is widely accepted."

Impact on Me: 
I'm only beginning to realize the impact of this one, and as I write about it I'm realizing I need to revisit it. The quote above forced me to realize my body is that of a hunter-gatherer, and proper treatment of it is to eat and exercise like my foraging ancestors. In other words, eat what exists in nature and make time to run, climb and lift each day.
There is so much more to this one.

#1 (and it's not even close).

Recommended By: I kinda discovered this one on my own. Obstacle was published in 2014, while Ryan Holiday's more recent book (which was on the top 5 borderline), Ego is the Enemy, came out this past June (2016). Tim Ferriss released an audio chapter of Ego this past summer, and I was hooked. After listening to Ego on Audible, I researched the author and discovered that the 2014 New England Patriots players and coaches read Obstacle and used it as a team mantra. What's good enough for Brady and Belichick is good enough for your boy SG.

Overview: Pulling from the minds of ancient Stoic philosophers (Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca) and weaving their teachings into the stories of people you may have heard of (Amelia Earhart, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, Nick Saban, Ulysses S. Grant), Ryan Holiday shows us how to flip our obstacles into opportunities.
The book is divided into three sections: Perception, Action, and Will:
First, see clearly. Next, act correctly, finally, endure and accept the world as it is.

Standout Excerpt (my lord, there are so many):
"Whatever we face, we have a choice: Will we be blocked by obstacles, or will we advance through and over them?"
"The phrase 'this happened and it is bad' is actually two impressions. The first--'this happened'--is objective. The second--'it is bad'--is subjective...There is no good or bad without us. There is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means. That's a thought that changes everything, doesn't it?"
"Focusing exclusively on what is in our power magnifies and enhances our power. But every ounce of energy directed at things we can't actually influence is wasted--self indulgent and self destructive."
"A good person dyes events with his own color, and turns whatever happens to his own benefit."

Impact on me:
Those who know me well might be rolling their eyes right now, as I haven't shut up about this book--and I don't plan to. This was the first book to achieve triple crown status for me (meaning I own it on Kindle, Audible, and in print--although I keep giving my print versions away). I've gifted this book over 30 times since reading it in September, and it has become a way of life.
Here's a quick story of how I put it into practice:
Shortly after purchasing a new car, I returned to it in a parking garage to find some lady had sideswiped it while backing out of the space next to me, and left some deep scratches. Instead of choosing anger (which wouldn't help anything), I called the woman and thanked her for doing the right thing and leaving a note for me. Now she's advising me on public relations for my nonprofits and helping me to perform a TED Talk. Thanks, Ryan Holiday!


So there's my top five for 2016. A few honorable mentions that just barely missed the cut:
Tribe by Sebastian Junger
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

What's on tap for 2017, you ask? Already in progress are:
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Thanks for reading. Blogging will be a regular thing for me in 2017...more to come!