A Confused Ass

Earlier this year, I adopted the habit of reading something short before I go to bed and right upon waking up.  The first book I used to build this habit was Seneca: Letters from a Stoic.

Seneca’s letters were short enough that this wasn’t a huge commitment.  The trick is to find a book with really short chapters or small tidbits of wisdom or advice.  My habit continues with Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, as it also has short sections that can be read pretty quickly.

Recently, I read the section devoted to Derek Sivers. When asked what advice he would give to his 30 year old self, he responded with “Don’t be a donkey.”

This would have been wonderful advice for my 30 year old self, since it has only resonated with me in recent years.

The idea is this: the donkey is right in the middle (equidistant) of some hay and water, and is both thirsty and hungry. The donkey looks left, looks right, and repeats this as the donkey doesn’t know what need to satisfy first until it falls over dead from both thirst and hunger.

At whatever age we are, many of us want to do so much with the life that we have remaining. We’d like to try, learn, or experiment with so many new things, that we don’t know where to start. Sadly, because of this decision fatigue, we don’t start anywhere.

We, like the donkey, die of that decision fatigue, when all we needed to do is understand that if we choose something, there will be time in the future for that other thing as well!

Just last week, my friend Jonathan reminded me of a very important and related concept, that The Time Will Pass Anyway!

Quite some time ago, I remember wanting to learn or strengthen another language. But of what language should I learn more?  I had a few years of Spanish in High School, a few semesters of German in college.  I have visited France and want to return someday.  I wanted to visit Scandinavia, but what country?

I finally made a decision to focus on Norwegian.  “I’m going to learn Norwegian,” I told myself.  This may take several years to get anywhere near fluent.

Those several years are going to pass me by, regardless of whether I had decided to learn a new language or not.  Now that I’ve chosen a path, several years from now, I can choose another path.

I can go toward the hay, now that I’ve had that drink of water (or vice versa).

So what about you?  Are you going to decide on something, or remain a confused ass?

Featured Photo by Spencer Watson on Unsplash

Seeking Failure

It has been two months now that I’ve been training in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. A few things are repeated time and time again:

  • Leave your ego at the door
  • Tap early. Tap often.

The first is in place for obvious reasons. Not leaving it at the door can lead to injuring yourself or a teammate when you become too proud to heed the second point. If we care to deconstruct the first point a little further, we can find very important sub-points. One of which is the idea of seeking failure.

Dr. Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset, taught me about the fixed versus growth mindsets. One can only adopt a growth mindset if and only if one seeks out failure.  Josh Waitzikin, in his book The Art of Learning, describes “Investment in Loss” in one of the chapters, which is the same idea.

My very good friend Jonathan has also written about this idea before in his blog post, Failure is Good. So Are You Failing Enough?  So, I am not writing about anything new here, only providing my perspective.

Why Seek Out Failure?

In BJJ, what good would come from rolling with someone I could beat every time? How does this lead to growth? What would I learn?

We cannot grow and learn as individuals unless we make mistakes. In order to make mistakes, we must seek out challenges we have not yet faced.

On the mat, I prepare myself mentally and physically to embrace the mistakes that I’m inevitably about to make. Then, I capitalize on them by asking and thinking about the following questions.

  • Why was it a mistake in the first place? (How did my competitor exploit my mistake?)
  • What was it that led to making that mistake?
  • What do I have to do to avoid making that mistake in the future?
  • When that mistake is made by someone else on me, how do I take advantage?
  • What can I do after making such a mistake to optimize my post mistake position (because I will probably make the same mistake again and again)?

Each failure creates a rabbit hole of growth! Between training sessions, it is difficult to think about anything else. Sometimes I find myself lost in an hypnotic state of going through moves with and without mistakes, and visualizing the consequences and rewards, respectively.

Understanding Ego

Ryan Holiday’s book Ego Is the Enemy did a wonderful job in helping me understand my ego, and how it gets in the way of my growth.

Leaving your ego at the door is easier said than done. Many can genuinely abide by the rule in specific, but not a broad, setting. Leaving your ego at the door is easiest to the most difficult when it means competing or rolling with

  • a higher belt (someone with a higher level of experience).
  • someone of equal experience.
  • someone of lesser experience.

We easily forget that we can still learn much from those of equal or lesser experience.

As a professor of mathematics and statistics, students will often point out a mistake. They may figure out something faster or in an alternative way than I am presenting it. Each time this happens, I grow right along with them.  This is analogous to the occasional tap or ego check when rolling with someone of lesser experience in BJJ.

Controlling Ego

Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly helped me find better ways of controlling ego. As a shame researcher, she helped me grasp the power of vulnerability and put my shame in check.

It might seem shameful to have to tap out to someone with lesser experience. It potentially could drive me to shame if a student was able to point out a mistake I’ve made that I was unable to correct on the spot. If we do not allow those with lesser experience to not get the upper hand every now and again, then we are inhibiting their growth, which in turn inhibits our own.

Making oneself vulnerable is synonymous with putting yourself in a growth mindset. Without placing yourself into a position where failure is not only a possibility, but a near certainty, there is little room to grow.

We do not know it all and never will. There is an infinitude of growth in front of us.

Let’s truly check our ego at the door, and embrace the power of making ourselves vulnerable.

Let’s seek out failure.

-Much of this post was initially inspired by Josh Waitzkin’s book “The Art of Learning.”  He was the child chess prodigy that the movie “Searching For Bobby Fischer” is based on. Josh would later become a world champion in Tai Chi Push Hands. In December 2011, after his book was published (in 2007), Josh was awarded a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Marcelo Garcia. His interviews with Tim Ferriss along with my wife’s encouragement played a significant role in my entry in the world of BJJ.   

The 2017 Review and 2018 Plan

Failures of 2017

There are many resolutions of 2017 that I did not accomplish or stick with.  I may have been very ambitious with my Resolutions of Twenty Seventeen.

Failure 1. The first personal resolution was to maintain a weight between 163-169. My plan was to have two weigh-ins per week with an allowance of 4-8 weigh-ins above 169.  I failed in having two weigh-ins per week.  By strategically weighing in fewer times, I was able to keep that allowance… but we all know that is cheating.  And cheaters are failures.

Having the resolution in place did keep me in check, however.  Whenever a weigh-in resulted in something above 169, I stuck with the primal diet for the week following so that I could fall back into the range.  Observed a few days ago after the holidays had ended: my highest recorded weight in 2017: 171.6 lbs.

My resolution for 2018 is to drop to 160 at some point during the year, and then let that slowly creep to my maintenance region (163-167).

Failure 2.  Remain off of social media.  At the end of 2016, I had quit Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Untappd.  This had a lot to do with the influence from Cal Newport’s Deep Work, a fantastic read that I recommend to everyone.

While I remained off of Twitter, Instagram, and Untappd, I failed at remaining off of Facebook.  Although I am back, I’m trying my best to post very infrequently, and am trying to make sure that each post is adding value to my life (by perhaps adding value to others).

My resolution for 2018 is to spend less time on Facebook (measured by my Quality Time app) and post less often.

Failures 3, 4, and 5. I failed at making my own limoncello, orangecello, and ginger beer. I failed at kayaking the rivers and lakes around my area, and in the amount that I wanted to.  I failed at completing a triathlon.

Insert a sad face here.

Failure 6. After the election of 2016, and during the first part of 2017, I was really gung-ho about starting my own chapter of Represent.US in Topeka.  I wrote a letter that was included in the League of Women Voters’ Newsletter in Topeka.  I gave a presentation in front of the Sunrise Optimists Club of Topeka. I talked about the organization in front of Washburn’s Student Government.

I know little about politics and political activism, but I learned one very important lesson through all of this.  I would rather sign up for a 50 mile run across a desert packing my own water than try and motivate anyone around a political cause.  Although there may be some initial interest on the surface, nobody (it feels like) has any desire to give time for such a thing.

This deflated me, as I was faced with this harsh reality.

Successes of 2017

Success 1. I rode my bicycle over 2017 miles.  Using the Cottonwood 200, BAK, Ragbrai, and the Buffalo Bill Century Ride, among several other personal rides, I was able to bike over 2017 miles last year.  The weather in 2017 allowed me to ride my bike on January 2 last year!

This will be a new bike year.  In 2018, I resolve to explore more with my new bike, which will be able to ride on peat gravel and gravel trails.  Although 2018 miles will be in the back of my mind, this goal will not make the cut this year.

Success 2. Watch less TV and fewer Movies than I did is 2016. With my post Time Spent Watching TV, I analyzed the data I had collected on my TV and movie watching in 2016.  Here is a summary.

  • I watched TV and movies for approximately 15500 minutes in 2016.
  • This worked out to be about 42 minutes and 21 seconds per day, accounting for 4.41% of my day.
  • Counting time awake as a day (~16 hours, or 960 minutes), I watched TV and movies for a little over 16 days of my life in 2016.

Here is the summary of 2017.

  • I watched TV and movies for approximately 7500 minutes in 2017.
  • This worked out to be about 20 minutes and 33 seconds per day, accounting for 2.14% of my day.
  • I watched TV and movies for almost 8 days of my life in 2017.

In 2018, I resolve to watch less than or equal to the amount I watched in 2017. This year, however, I will also track what I watch on YouTube.

Success 3. Although not part of my resolutions, I picked up some daily habits in the latter part of 2017 that will continue into 2018 and beyond.  In my post Homebrew Daily, I wrote about creating a daily habit of learning something related to homebrewing.

Not long after that post, I began a daily habit of studying Norwegian using Duolingo.

These habits are now a part of me.  Yes, there have been a few days since I have started where I missed a day, but the habit is a part of me now.  So, going to bed having missed a day feels as if I didn’t brush my teeth.

In 2018, I resolve to continue learning Norwegian (even after we travel over there and back in May).  I also will continue learning something about homebrewing each day.

Success 4. Again, this was not part of my resolutions, but I feel like experimenting with something new can lead to a success.

Last night was my 4th class in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  I’m working out and am a student under Cody Criqui, who owns and operates the Criqui Academy in Topeka. After two classes, I purchased my own Gi (pronounced with a hard “g”, they are essentially Japanese pajamas to outsiders), compression shorts, rash guard, and mouthpiece.

This will take priority in my “health” category in 2018.  As long as I can stay uninjured, I resolve to get a few stripes on my white belt by the end of 2018.

A Fisherman’s Buoys: The Most Influential Books of 2016

I’ve only read five of these books. But I plan to read them all.

First, I should mention the book Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Although I read this book in 2015, I believed it has paved the path to all of my future reading by putting a name on a philosophy that was already part of my being.

When it comes to human psychology and philosophy, I think labeling is important. Prior to reading Minimalism, I was like a fisherman floating around an endless sea every now and again finding a spot that was good for fishing.  Then I would aimlessly set out again to find another good spot, sometimes getting lost in the process. Once I had read the book, it was as if monstrous-sized buoys with LED lights were placed in all of my good fishing holes. Not only could I easily see them now, but I could navigate between them with ease.

The buoy system is my philosophy of Minimalism. The buoys themselves are the tenets of that philosophy, focusing on passions, relationships, contribution, health, and growth.  How I decide to navigate between them defines my psych, I suppose.  It was this navigation that led me to all of the books I decided to read in 2016. 
So, which were the most influential? (A total of 33 books were read in 2016, just FYI).
  • Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn
  • Give and Take by Adam Grant
  • The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson
  • Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
  • Republic, Lost by Lawrence Lessig
One of my passions is reading. There are several books I have read for the pure enjoyment of reading them or to learn something new.  One such book that I found very moving was Half the Sky. It is a tough book to get through, but a very important one.  It opened my eyes to a world I think very little about in my own little bubble, and that is the way women are treated globally.

Did you know, for example, that the U.S. is the worst among developed countries and ranks 61st globally in maternal health?

The Primal Blueprint has changed my life health-wise. I now live as Grok would, the fictional primal being referred to quite often in this book.

Republic, Lost has educated me and given me the depth I will need in order to make the contributions that I want to make in society. In particular, advocating for Represent.US and Our Revolution.

Daring Greatly has done wonders for my personal development and growth. I cite this often now, and most recently on the first day of my statistics classes.

Although Give and Take may fit more into the contribution and growth categories, I’m using it here to highlight my relationships with people. In Give and Take, you will read about givers, matchers, and takers, and it will get you thinking of what type of person you are in life. When I thought critically about my relationships with students, I feel like I’ve been more of a matcher. This book has been very influential in how I will develop relationships with students from now on as I strive to be more of a giver. 

Rule of Thirds on Motivation

Topeka just finished its 2016, “Those Who Lead, Read” program last week. I’m excited that they will be continuing the program in 2017.

On November 10th, Erin and I attended a presentation on Leadership Through Self Discovery & Vulnerability. The presenter was Elizabeth Lenherr, the Director of Learning and Development at Advisors Excel in Topeka.  The books she centered her presentation on were Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” and Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly.” 
During the discussion at the end, a gentleman offered a simple rule of divvying your time among mentees, friends, and mentors. He cited Tai Lopez as the source for this inspiration. The idea is that you should be spending about a third of your time each with 
  • Those who you can mentor, educate, or inspire in life
  • Your peers, friends, and co-workers, or those on your same level
  • Those who are far superior than you in areas that you want improvement
These fit perfectly into three of my five areas of philosophy: contribution, relationships, and growth. (Passions and health are the other two). 
In reflection on my own personal growth, I’ve come to realize that mentors are what is missing in my life.  
So, what am I going to do about it? 
  1. Identify the areas in my life where I want some serious growth. 
  2. Find some individuals that are far superior in those areas identified in 1.
  3. Find a way to get past my extreme independence and the mentality that I can do anything or figure anything out on my own.
  4. Reach out to them with a email, phone call, or a face-to-face interaction.
The first time I typed that up, I skipped what is now number 3.  I sat there and pondered the list without the current number 3 and tried to figure out why something so simply put was not so simple. 
Shame. Vulnerability. 
I first have to admit and embrace where I am deficient before I can get better.