Questions from Tim, Part 1

There are 11 questions that Tim Ferriss poses to some of the best and brightest individuals in the world in his new book, Tribe of Mentors. Since I’m interested in hearing answers to these questions from individuals like myself (those that are not necessarily the best and brightest, but are driven toward achieving an extremely high level of happiness), I thought I would offer my answers to them!

Here are two from his list of 11.  I will return to these questions in future posts.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life? 

I haven’t gifted many books so I’ll address the second question.

Deep Work by Cal Newport helped me focus more on the most important work that needs to get done. This book also helped me identify what type of situation is best for me to do deep work in.  It helped me carve out the time I needed to study for and pass an actuary exam.

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt helped calm my aggressive and impatient mind, especially with those who do not see eye to eye with me on subjects like politics and religion. This book dives deep into the morals of individuals and how those are the forces behind many of our fervently held beliefs.

The Art of Learning by Joshua Waitzkin was read this year, and has yet to influence me on the scale that I believe it will. Both this book and Mindset by Carol Dweck have paved a path that I will most likely continue on for the remainder of my life.

The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson and Primal Endurance by the same author along with Brad Kearns were read in 2016 and 2017 respectively. These offer lifestyles that will stick with me to my dying day.  There is a wealth of information in these books on dieting and exercising that works.

Finally, I would also recommend reading highly recommended books from individuals on the opposite side of your spectrum. As an example, there are many recommendations to read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, both by Ayn Rand.  I was reluctant to pick either of these books up, but finally read Atlas Shrugged. While I would never recommend this book to anyone, I do think you should pick up something from the other side of the aisle from time to time.

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

This question easily stems from the first. I think there have been two new things that have happened around the same time that have significantly improved my life. They both come shortly after reading The Primal Blueprint in 2016, and then shortly after reading The Righteous Mind in 2017.

The first offered me a diet and lifestyle change that I am extremely happy with. It has been over 2 years that I’ve stuck closely with the diet (with some exceptions, of course –  you have to make it your own) and have had great results.  The diet/lifestyle is similar to a Paleo or Slow-Carb diet.

I finished the second book during my absence from Facebook.  I learned quite a bit from that absence, and talked about it in My Six Month Vacation from Facebook.  In a nutshell, I’m a much happier individual when I’m not trying to change people’s opinions in the incorrect way (via Facebook).

The 2nd Noble Truth

Since moving out of the home at 18 until moving to Topeka in 2015, my life had been a roller coaster ride on repeat.  The long slow climb to the top of acquiring more and more material goods, before plunging down the track with arms up purging much that had been acquired.  Then the process would start over again.

Then, with help from Erin and the book Minimalism by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, I was able to put a name to an innate philosophy of mine, and put a stop to the roller coaster.

It takes work, however, and I constantly have to assess and review where both of us are in our lives, and if we are living up to the tenets we have adopted.

In reading Siddhartha by Herman Hesse recently, I encountered something that made me dive deeper and think more on this 2nd Noble Truth of Buddhism.

Desire and ignorance is at the root of all suffering.

That’s not to say that all desire and ignorance leads to suffering. A desire for health, happiness, and general comfort is probably a good thing. Also, I’m fine with being ignorant (in this sense of the word, not knowing) about a neighbor’s fetish of stepping barefoot into ground beef. To each their own, but I’m perfectly happy remaining blissfully ignorant of something like this.

To keep it in a Buddhist context, the desire they are referring to here is that of material goods, pleasure, and immortality.  While on many levels, I agree that the desire of material goods does lead to suffering, I wanted to dissect this desire in terms of happiness and freedom.

Happiness

When a desire for a material good awakens, and we have the resources to acquire that material good, many of us would not balk at obtaining such a good. Those of us that are disciplined take the time to ask questions like

  • How much joy will owning such a material good bring me?
  • How much grief will it bring me in maintaining this material good?
  • Where am I going to put this material good?
  • Can I purge 1 or 2 material goods from my house with the entrance of this new material good?
  • Can I do without this material good and be just as happy?

That last question can be a tough one. We sometimes have the false belief that simply eliminating the desire to have something will make us happy, when in fact, that desire is quickly replaced with a desire for the next thing. Indeed, you continue into never ending desire (suffering).

If you read much about happiness, you will find that it does not grow linearly with income (which is directly related to the amount of stuff that you can acquire), and that instead, it plateaus.

Accumulating more stuff, or bigger and better stuff, doesn’t seem to rid us of desire. We simply desire more bigger and better material goods.  At some point beyond the plateau, others begin to covet and desire your stuff. Your bank account is more likely to get hacked. You are more likely to be robbed. You need more protection, have to pay more bills, and have to worry about other things you didn’t have to before. Your suffering increases, and as a direct consequence, your happiness begins to decline.

Combat your desire in more fruitful ways, since we’ve learned that satisfying your desire is not a way to defeat it.

Freedom

How free is a person who can fit all of their possessions into a single bag?

How free is the person who can fit all of their possessions into a single vehicle?

How free is the person whose possessions fill an apartment or house? Is there a difference if they are renting or owning?

True freedom includes your freedom of mobility; freedom to go anywhere you want on this earth. That freedom comes when you can free yourself from desire.

Erin and I own our home, which is filled with our possessions, so we’re nowhere near the freedom that we both have our eye on some day.  We both think it would be neat if we could simplify our lives down to living out of a tiny home or tiny RV.

Whether you agree with the 2nd Noble Law or not, it is definitely worth pondering. The exercise is worthwhile, and can potentially lead to a little more happiness.

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.