Self Programming

These are some of the quotes, ideas, and questions, that I reread on a consistent basis. They fill me with motivation, focus my attention where it should be, aid in my decision making, and give perspective.

It is better to own a few plants, and take good care of them, than to own a large, but neglected garden.

  • I used to have a chronic issue with beginning projects but failing to finish them. Though I still struggle with this, things have gotten much better overall. A lot of the improvement came when I started thinking of projects like plants in a garden. Each requires a certain amount of water, pruning, fertilizer, etc. If you have a finite amount of water, and try to spread it out over too many different plants, none of them will end up maturing and bearing fruit. Projects obey the same principle. I now do my best to work on the projects I have already started, instead of taking on new ones.
  • Another way I like to mentally enforce this point is by asking myself whether I would rather be very good at three sports, or mediocre at ten. You can substitute the words languages, musical instruments, etc, in lieu of “sport,” and will probably come up with the same answer.
  • The point of these quotes can be conveyed even more concisely by writing the word “Simplify” on a sticky note, and placing it somewhere you will frequently see it.

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Do one thing for an extended period of time.

  • Another quote to drive home the “Quality over quantity” theme, this one serves to remedy my once frequent habit of working on / reading about / practicing, a dozen different things per day, and never really digging deep on any of them.
  • A great trick I frequently use to counteract my excessive task switching is setting the timer on my iPhone before beginning an activity, and committing to focusing on it until the timer goes off. It stops me from thinking about when I should stop, and does away with the urge to clock watch.
  • For most creative work, such as writing and researching, I like to set my timer for at least an hour. Recently, I’ve bumped it up to two hours, and have been pleased with the results.

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Explore / Go Somewhere New

  • I believe that positive mental states result largely from achieving the right balance between repetition and novelty. As important as I feel it is to simplify and do one thing for an extended period of time, I also feel that excessive repetition is incredibly dangerous. An excellent antidote to becoming trapped in repetitive ruts is exploration. Exploration can take many different forms. You can, of course, explore the physical world. I’ve begun to put far more effort into doing so, and have been very happy with this choice. That said, there are a nearly infinite number of other ways in which one can explore that are equally legitimate. Reading new books is a form of exploration. Listening to new songs is a form of exploration. As are looking at new paintings, meeting new people, and eating new dishes. Exploration leads to growth and breaks down outdated beliefs and mental constructs.

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Externalize It

  • Much of our frustration in life comes from an inability to externalize the internal. In other words, from not being able to put the general ideas and emotions within our minds into tangible physical form. From not being able to play the songs stuck in our heads on an instrument. From not being able to accurately draw the mental image that appeared while we were letting our attention wander. From not being able to precisely articulate our thoughts.
  • This is the reason why practice is so essential. Practice does something I call “Widening the bridge.” Bridges serve as conduits over which matter can flow from one location to another. A skill honed by extended periods of practice serves as a bridge that facilitates the externalization of the internal. It allows the contents of one’s mind to flow from the etherial mental world into the tangible physical world that can be appreciated by others. The more one practices, the more easily one’s mental contents can flow outward into the latter world.

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Create something you can share.

  • I spent around three years obsessively journaling / free writing. It felt good, and certainly made me a better writer. But eventually, it began to feel like mental masturbation. These days, I try to put consistent effort into creating something that I can share with others, instead of simply writing down thoughts for my future self. This decision has been life changing. It’s akin to playing a sport in front of an audience, instead of simply practicing on your own at a location that is out of sight.

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Do something today that your future self will thank you for.

  • This one doesn’t need much explanation. I try to follow this command every time I am at a loss for what to do.

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What are your top priorities for the day?

  • I do my best to ask myself this question every single morning, write down the answers, and start working on them immediately after breakfast.

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How Badly Do You Want It?

  • The “it” in this sentence, is simply a filler for my biggest goals and highest priorities.
  • I ask myself this question every time I start spending too much time doing things that aren’t “it.”

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Zoom In

  • I often tell myself this during the inevitable periods in which I start spending too much time thinking about the biggest questions (Meaning, purpose, whether life continues after death, etc) and begin to feel like this guy. Lately, I have come to believe that every piece of reality is reflected, to some degree, by every other piece of reality. And that by learning about any individual piece, one comes slightly closer to understanding the whole. Therefore, zooming in and learning about something very simple, such as car depreciation patterns, a few facts about an inspiring person’s life, the dynamics of cloud formation, etc, can get you a little step closer to truly understanding what it’s all about.

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Are you hunting antelope or mice?

  • I got this one from an anecdote that was apparently popularized by Newt Gingrich. I could never actually find a transcript of him telling the story from which the question originated, but I’ll try my best to do it justice:
  • If a lion wanted to, it could eat the mice that live on the savannah. They are slower than antelope, and no doubt easier to catch. However, if a lion tried to survive using this hunting strategy, it would starve to death. Mice, it turns out, contain so few calories that a lion would actually expend more energy chasing them than it would derive from eating them. Therefore, lions must chase antelope in order to survive.
  • The moral of this story, in my mind, is to not spend your entire life chasing petty things and small victories. The big wins are harder to come by, but in they end, they’re worth chasing. I try to remember this story every time I find myself becoming preoccupied with something that probably won’t matter all that much in the long run.

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Think of all the heroes who have hammered for weeks, months, and years, and endured enumerable failures, before finally achieving victory.

  • I have a little screen shot of this quote on my computer’s desktop. I keep it there as a reminder to continue working, even when it feels as though I haven’t made any progress in a long time; Breakthroughs often come after extended periods of frustration.

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If I do X, what will happen?

  • This is probably my favorite question of all the questions in the universe.
  • I try answer it through relentless experimentation. I’m a curious guy, and am often unwilling to accepts others’ opinions about the nature things without doing a little testing myself.
  • For this reason, I’ve spent hours in ice baths, saunas, and deep in meditation. I’ve factored foods into and out of my diet, and recorded the effects. I’ve tried more schedules, routines, and life hacks than I can count. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to stay that I am obsessed with figuring out cause and effect, particularly when it pertains to physical and mental health.

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Read / Listen to Biographies

  • I believe that learning about the lives of others is one of the best ways in which one can develop a solid understanding of reality. While I’m all for delving into the world of the hard sciences, the fact of the matter is that people are a very valuable thing to know about, regardless of who you are. In particular, I love biographies about individuals who have achieved success despite tremendous hardship. They serve as an excellent reminder to keep going, even when the going gets tough.