Jan 16, 2019

Mind over matter

Imagine how cool it would be if you could change the material world by using your mind. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Well, you can. You already do.
You do it without realizing it.
You can do it better if you know how.

How you use your mind to change matter

Your brain always changes. Left alone, it deteriorates.
When you repeat an action your brain offsets deterioration in the part of your brain that controls the action.
With more repetition, your brain changes itself so that it can carry out that act more efficiently.
But most of what you do is mindless, so you don’t determine what changes. Your brain decides.
But eventually, the act is about as efficient as it can be. Simple practice—mere, mindless repetition—will no longer significantly change the brain.
When you do something mindfully—with intention and with careful attention to the outcome—your brain changes differently than if you do that same thing mindlessly.
Repetition with clear intention to achieve a result and careful attention to how well the result was achieved is called “deliberate practice” or “deep practice.”
Deliberate practice changes your brain in ways that lead you to mastery.
Your brain is made out of matter.
You change it with your mind when you use intention and attention.
So deliberate practice is mind over matter.
QED

What changes

In the short term, deliberate practice changes which neurons fire and when they fire; it changes which neurotransmitters are released and taken up, and where.
In the long term, your brain rewires itself. Neurons grow branches in different directions, shrink other branches.
All these changes are the result of your mind’s effect on the brain’s matter.
Intention and attention are critical.
You need deliberate intention and focused attention; the intention sets the desired outcome, and the attention focuses on the degree to which the result matched the intention.
Then the brain rewires.
That’s all it takes.

TL;DR

You can change the material world with just your mind.
It’s a skill and one that you can improve.
You use intention and attention.

Meta

You can also intend to use intention and attention more consistently.
You can pay attention and see how well you’re using intention and paying attention.
The more you do it, the better you get.
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Jan 13, 2019

Mediocre Me

“Only mediocre people are always at their best.”

Mediocre Mike

Mediocre Mike is the person I am when I’m running on autopilot.
Mediocre Mike is my everyday self. He’s the person that I am unless circumstances or intention require me to be better.
I’ve written about him before. I’ve called him MikeSim
and AutoMike. All the same guy. More references are at the bottom of the post

Mediocre Mike in “action”

Mediocre Mike drifts along in a dream. He reacts. He responds. He rarely reflects.
Something arises in his field of awareness, and Mediocre Mike runs a program that deals with it. He’s got lots of good programs. AutoOptimizer improves them from time to time. He’s done it well enough to have a moderately successful life.
Once in a while, the environment presents a crisis or an unmistakable opportunity. A challenge. Mediocre Mike handles it, still dreaming. He might seem more than mediocre to most people. But he’s just running programs and doing the least he can do.
But once in a while, the challenge takes more than Mediocre Mike can deliver. He goes off autopilot. He wakes Mike.
Mike does something. If it doesn’t work, Mike does something else. Mike creates new solutions. Mike deals with the unique situation.
Then Mike adds his new solution to his program store and goes back to dreaming.
Next time he won’t need to wake up.
Mediocre Mike does useful things. Sometimes they’re quite helpful. But they’re always the least he can do. They’re always a waste of potential: his potential and the potential in the situation.

Maximum Mike

Maximum Mike is an ideal: he’s the best version of myself that I can imagine being. I can never be Maximum Mike, but I can aspire to be him. I can move in that direction.
From a distance, I can envision Maximum Mike.
Maximum Mike wastes no time. He wastes none of his potential and wastes none of the potential around him. He’s awake, aware, and present. He’s filled with joy and love and shares his delight easily.
I can never be Maximum Mike, but when I wake up, I try to be More-than-Mediocre Mike.
“What’s a good word for that?” I ask Bobbi and explain what I want. “Meritorious,” she says without hesitation.
Meritorious. Exactly!
I love my brilliant wife.

Meritorious Mike

Meritorious Mike is a worthy version of me. Meritorious Mike deserves praise. From me, at least.
Sometimes I’m Meritorious Mike. I really like it when I am.
Here’s how I become Meritorious Mike.
  1. I’ve got to wake up. But that’s not enough.
  2. Once awake, I’ve got to do some work to become Mindful Mike. It’s not hard, but it’s not a habit. I need to build the habit.
  3. Being Mindful is necessary, but not sufficient to being Meritorious. Once I’m mindful, I’ve got to do the work. Mindful to meritorious his hard. But I’ve done it. I’m getting better at it.
Some people might be Effortlessly Mindful and even Effortlessly Meritorious, but not me.
For me, it takes work.
You’ve got to set goals, Jordan Peterson says. Here’s a post by a guy who has done an excellent job of distilling some of Peterson’s ideas. It’s worth stopping and reading.
Here’s my favorite quote, from Peterson’s TED talk:
You have to have an aim in order to do something. If you actually knew what success was, you would want to grasp it. You are an aiming creature. You have an aim; it sets up a world around you. It organizes your emotions and perceptions. What you see and you don’t see. The day manifests itself as a set of challenges; if you solve them properly, you are progressing to your aim. You can live in the day. That makes every moment of every day meaningful. That will sustain you in your life.
My aim is to become Maximum Mike, but Mindful Mike and Meritorious Mike are achievable goals that are on the path to Maximality.
It takes work. It takes practice. It takes having an ideal and a goal.
Blogging helps me. I hope it helps you.

References

Here’s some earlier stuff I’ve written about AutoMike and MikeSim.
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Jan 8, 2019

Ideas, ideas, ideas

Today I’m writing about a big idea. It’s stupidly simple.
To solve problems, create ideas!
Lots of them. Here’s how I got this one.
I wrote about James Altucher here . He said:
“Every day I write down ideas; I write down so many ideas that it hurts my head to come up with one more. Then I try to write down five more.”
I decided that was a great idea.
I found that his wife, Cynthia, had written a book based on James’ idea: “Become An Idea Machine: Because Ideas Are The Currency Of The 21st Century”.
I bought it. I read it. It’s great. I’m going to follow it.
Also, it doesn’t go far enough.
I’m going to the ten-ideas-a-day exercises in Cynthia’s book to build my “ideas muscle.”
Meanwhile, I’m going to work the hell out of the muscle I’ve got. Every time I’ve got a problem, I’m going to create lots of ideas.
That’s it. That’s the great idea.
Also, the idea is to stop doing what I do today.

Ten crappy ways I deal with problems today

I’m not always this crappy. I have gotten some things done. But I get thrown off the trail too easily. These are some of the crappy things that I do:
  1. Gut it out and grind my way to a solution. (That’s not totally crappy, but pretty crappy.)
  2. Wait for the problem to solve itself.
  3. Wait for something that I did earlier to solve the problem.
  4. Think about the problem. (Most common)
  5. Try the first thing that comes to mind that isn’t too hard.
  6. Give up.
  7. Stare at my computer.
  8. Do something that’s low effort and that might, once in a million years, solve the problem
  9. Do some internet research, related to the problem
  10. Do some internet research unrelated to the problem
Writing this was harder than I thought.

What I do instead

When I have a problem, I create at least ten ideas. If one of them looks really promising then I execute; otherwise, I do another ten.
When I start executing and run into a problem, same thing: I create at least ten ideas to solve it—possibly changing the plan so that the problem no longer exists. I pick the best one.
I keep moving forward. Any time I get stuck, I create ideas that get me unstuck. At least ten.
Suppose I need specialized knowledge. I create ten ideas for getting that knowledge. Sometimes it’s ten people who have the knowledge. Sometimes ten places to find the people.
When I’ve found someone who has the knowledge but don’t know how to contact them? Oooh! A problem! I create ten ideas for getting to them or ten ideas for finding people with better ideas for reaching people.
There’s more to it than that. This idea is not flight tested or stress tested. It’s not been thought through thoroughly. Maybe there are situations where I don’t go all the way to ten. I don’t know.
But I know that it’s the idea that I need right now.
And I know I needed to share it.
And if I discover a problem making it stick I know what to do: ten ideas for that problem.
It’s part of a much bigger story that I’m writing about later.
Right now, I’ve got work to do.
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Jan 6, 2019

Fresh starts

I’m great at fresh starts. I’ve fresh started hundreds of times. And failed almost as many times.
I could say: the only fresh starts I have not failed at are the ones that are too new to have failed. Give them time! I may fail at them, too.
I could say it. I did say it. And that’s unfair.
It’s also not true.
It’s how it seemed when I started writing this. I’ve failed a lot, but most of my failures have not been complete failures.

What’s left over after I fail is success.

I have improved (and I have!) through the accumulation of small successes, many in the aftermath of failure.
Last year I wrote 107 posts. Each was a small success. I failed to write a post a day. That was my goal when I started. I’ve failed to complete hundreds of posts that I’ve started. I’ve failed to start thousands of posts.
Failure. And success.
The way I write now is better than the way I used to write. That’s a success born of many failures.
I’ve been taking cold morning showers for more than six months. Now it’s harder not to take a cold shower than to take one. That’s a success from doing The Stoic Shallenge in October. I failed a few times getting there. Like in February when I wrote about doing the hard stuff. Or not doing it.
I’ve been getting up at 5:30 AM since October. Fairly reliably. I might miss one day out of ten. That’s a success. Yesterday I failed. Who cares?
I’ve gotten rid of resentment by practicing gratitude and forgiveness. I’ve been working at it since July 2017, around the time that I wrote Thank you, Past Me. Thank you random stranger. I have a lot to be grateful for. I’ve learned that there’s no downside to forgiveness. Not as far as I can tell. I failed to be grateful and to forgive before it became a habit. Failure led to success. Since then I’ve learned about The paradoxes of gratitude and forgiveness.

The smart money says I won’t stick to it

If I say that I’m going to clean up my act, the smart money says I won’t stick with it. Bobbi is smart. I’m sure she could predict failure, but I can’t remember a time that she has. I’m grateful for that. Not the bad memory. But that it’s so long ago that I can’t remember.
I asked her. She can’t remember a time either. She’s pretty sure she’s been cynical in the past. She’s probably right. It makes sense to be cynical. But neither of us can remember a time. I’m grateful for that.
She says she’s learned not to be overly hopeful. But she says that she is hopeful every time. I’m grateful for that.
New beginnings are fragile. It doesn’t take much to kill a seed before it sprouts. I’m glad that she doesn’t tell me that she expects me to fail even if she does. It’s bad enough when I expect failure. I’m getting better at not failing, and better at getting up and going again.
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Premortems

You know what a postmortem is? Not that kind. I mean a project postmortem.
The project’s over. You review it. What worked? What didn’t work? What can we learn? What do we do next time?
A premortem is like that, but pre, not post. You have a plan. You haven’t started the project yet. You get the team together. You look at the plan. You assume that it failed.
How did it fail? Sometimes the answer is obvious. There’s a giant hole in the plan. Once you assume failure rather than success the answer leaps out at you.
Of course, this plan will fail!
So you fix it.
And you repeat the process.
And finally when you ask “How did we fail?” everyone looks at everyone else.
“Fucked if I know.”
“Maybe the sun went nova?”
“Did the aliens arrive?”
Maybe it will fail, but not for an obvious reason.
Then you’ve got a plan that’s at least pretty good.
You shouldn’t be surprised if your plan fails. Most plans fail.
But if it fails, you should be surprised at how it failed.
Otherwise, you had a stupid plan.
You should always do premortems at the start. 
You should do them at other times to avoid plan rot.
Put periodic premortems in the plan.
I didn’t invent this. Here’s some links for y’all:
Pre-mortem - Wikipedia
Performing a Project Premortem-Harvard Business Review
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Jan 5, 2019

An alphabet made out of rain

Daniel wrote this in a hangout that we share:
During my run today (listening to Eminem…) - I remembered this article from a while ago…
He continued with:
The lessons in there have stuck with me since I first read it.
Mike would probably get a kick out of this guy.
He quoted some stuff from the post. And he said:
Holy smokes - this guy IS Mike.
So went and read the stuff he’d linked to. An hour and a half later I replied:
HOLY CRAP!!!!!!! Thanks, buddy
HOLY CRAP!
The guy’s name is James Altucher. Today he’s my hero.

Why I waste my life writing

“Why are we addicts?” I asked my friend.
“What do you mean?”
“My kids don’t’ even know who the Beatles are. Everything you write, everything I write, will be forgotten within three days of us dying,” I said.
I’m addicted to my past. Afraid of my future.
The past is often too painful. It’s an alphabet made out of rain.
I want to assemble the letters into something sensible. So I can live. Live forever.
Me too. I want to live forever. I don’t think I’m addicted to the past. I don’t think I’m afraid of my future. Most of the past is not painful, but it’s only because I’ve done a lot of work to remove the sting.
But I do want to assemble letters into something sensible. I need to do it so I can live right now. And I want to live forever.
And the phrase “an alphabet made out of rain?” It sings to me.
The dude’s name is James Altucher.

James Altucher

That’s his name. James Altucher. I’ve spent hours over the past 24 reading his blog, skimming two of his books ($0.99 each on Kindle) listening to his podcasts (well, only a couple of bits of a couple of them). I wrapped up my expedition into Altucherland with a visit to Wikipedia James Altucher and Quora Is James Altucher program a scam?.
Is it a scam? I don’t care. Probably it is. But I don’t care. He writes things that are brilliant and inspiring. He takes risks and inspires me to take risks. So fuck it if he’s a scammer. We can’t all be perfect.
I’ll start with the The New York Times profile: Why Self-Help Guru James Altucher Only Owns 15 Things. The article quotes some of his advice:
Chapters include “How to Be Less Stupid” (“I lose at least 20 percent of my intelligence when I am resentful”) and “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Mediocre People.”
How to be less stupid is something that I can use. Losing intelligence when I’m resentment is another reason to declare war on resentment.
A key tenet of the book is the Daily Practice, a wellness regimen that comprises the physical (eat well, try to go to sleep by 9 p.m. and rise by 5 a.m., break a sweat for at least 10 minutes a day), emotional (be around people you love, who love you), mental (write a list of 10 ideas each day to exercise the “idea muscle” before it atrophies) and spiritual (feel gratitude every day).
The practice is worth some detail.

The practice

He explains “The Practice” in this post How to be THE LUCKIEST GUY ON THE PLANET in 4 Easy Steps.
  1. Physical – being in shape. Doing some form of exercise. (Wake up at 4:00 to 5:00 AM every day; go to sleep early, so you get 8 hours; no eating after 5:30 PM; exercise and break a sweat)
  2. Ideas “Every day I write down ideas; I write down so many ideas that it hurts my head to come up with one more. Then I try to write down five more.” I’m going to adopt that one.
  3. Spiritual-
    Being grateful – “I try to think of everyone in my life I’m grateful for. Then I try to think of more people. Then more. It’s hard.” It is hard. I’m going to adopt that one.
  • Forgiving – I picture everyone who has done me wrong. I visualize gratefulness for them (but not pity). Also that one.
  • Studying- If I read a spiritual text (doesn’t matter what it is: Bible, Tao Te Ching, anything Zen related, even inspirational self-help stuff, doesn’t matter)
  • Also, he says, pray and meditate.
  1. Emotional “Family, friends, people I love – I always try to be there for them and help.” I agree. But: “If someone is a drag on me, I cut them out. If someone lifts me up, I bring them closer.” is a slippery slope. Sometimes people can be a drag on you because they see you heading in a bad direction and want to keep you from wrecking your life. There’s no telling whether Altucher many catastrophes would have been prevented if he hadn’t cut out people who gave him good counsel, but he thought were drags on him; no telling whether his many successes were the result of his cutting drags out of his life. So on this one: proceed with caution.
“Nobody is sacred here. When the plane is going down, put the oxygen mask on your face first.”
I don’t like the goals that he sets out at the start of the post:
A I want to be happy.
B) I want to eradicate unhappiness in my life.
C) I want every day to be as smooth as possible. No hassles.
There’s no evidence that he lives his life that way. Somewhere else I think that he’s set out some better goals, but again, I don’t care. Nobody’s perfect.

Meditation

His ideas on meditation are unorthodox and brilliant Naked girls, astral projection, and achieving Nirvana in 60 seconds or less
It sounds like he’s got horrible ADD so a ten-minute meditation session is more than he can take. That’s OK. Nobody’s perfect. So he’s got one minute, two minute “waking up” exercises.
Elevator. In an elevator filled with people, take a deep breath, feel your anxiety at not being able to look at your blackberry. How many deep breaths can you do before the elevator reaches its destination?
Waking. When you wake up, take three deep breaths, count them. Try to list all of the things you hear that moment. Do you hear cars outside? Birds? Your house creaking? Kids downstairs?
Alien. Imagine that you are an alien from outer space and you were just transported into this body. You have no idea who you are, and you have to start with a completely blank slate. Spend the next minute figuring it out.
Dishes. Stop yourself from daydreaming. Really try to do a good job washing each dish. Not a speck on them.
Surrender. Spend sixty seconds completely dedicating this day to whatever higher power you want to believe in. They are going to take over your body and mind and do their thing today. Hand over the keys to your body and mind during those sixty seconds and know that today will be dedicated to doing their mission. You are just the vehicle.
Gratitude. Make a list in your head of all the people in your life you are grateful for. Only takes a few minutes, drastically reduces stress.
Hate. Think of one person you really hate. Now, truly and sincerely wish him the best in your head. This person is just trying to get through life also. Wish him or her the best. And mean it. (Don’t pity them. Everyone is suffering. Wish them the best.)
Walking. When you are walking around in the city if you are anything like me you probably hate most of the people who you pass, even if you don’t know them or have never seen them before. Catch yourself doing that. Try the reverse. Try liking all of them.
There are all great practices.

Quotes from Quora

TL;DR - yes…it is essentially a scam - virtually no actionable info, long-winded self-hype, nothing worth anything, complete pain to refund
James Altucher is the human version of clickbait. Everything he does is designed to be attention-grabbing rather than substantive.
James’s stuff used to be really good. Now I get constant junk emails from some guy named Doug with a bunch of crap like this.
So maybe he’s a scammer.
I don’t care.
Nobody’s perfect.
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Jan 2, 2019

I know my job

If no one makes the world better, the world gets worse. Fortunately, the universe often forces us to do things that make the world better. Otherwise, we would not be here.
As thinking beings, we have choices. We can sit back and hope other people make the world better; we can submit to the forces of the universe when they force us to do things that make it better; we can make it our job to do what we can to make it better—even when we don’t have to. I choose to work to make it better.
To survive, we must work; even begging and thievery take work. We can’t choose whether to work, but most of us can pick what kind of work we do. We can select the type of work that helps maintain the world; we can choose work that helps improve the world. If we’ve accumulated enough, we can live off what we’ve put aside. We can live off the work of others—under laws intended for the greater good, or by individual agreement. We can live off others by deceit or theft. I choose to maintain and improve the world.
Responsible parents make the world better by converting useless zygotes into productive people. Bobbi and I made the world better by producing three capable, responsible, socialized, educated women from our zygotes. They set to work making the world a better place. And now, parents themselves, they work with their husbands to make the world better by raising responsible children.
Work and parenting don’t take all our time or all our resources. What we do with the rest of our time is our choice. We have plenty of time to spend making the world better and plenty of time to spend letting the world get worse.
My Past Self improved the world somewhat, but he always believed he did less than he was capable of doing. In a sense he was right, and in a sense he was wrong. He did try to improve himself so he could do more but failed at most attempts. In that sense, he did as much as he was able. But all problems can be solved with the right knowledge. If he’d known what I know, he could have succeeded. But he didn’t know. He had no one to teach him and did not know how to get the right kind of help.
He stumbled on, looking for answers and slowly he’s found them. Generations of Past Selves have accumulated the knowledge that they’ve delivered to me.
We are each the best tool that we’ve got for making a better world. I now see that my purpose and responsibility is to improve the world—starting with myself. If you have a similar purpose, I hope that what I’ve written can help you.
If you don’t have a such a purpose—or any purpose, I recommend you choose one that improves the world. If you don’t select a purpose, the universe will force one on you. Fortunately, the universe forces most of us to spend at least some of our time making things better—otherwise, life would not have arisen and evolved, and civilizations would not sustain themselves and grow.
If you don’t make it your job to improve the world as much as you can, that’s your decision to make. But please step aside. I know my job, and I’ve got work to do.
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