Unplug to Reconnect

I could really do with some me-time.

I want to just chill out.

I don’t have time for myself.

I just need to…get away.

Sound familiar?

These are the words of people who are most likely spreading themselves too thin.

Because to every yin, there must be a yang.

And if you’re feeling this way, then you may need to take some time to fully unplug.

By unplugging, you’re reconnecting.

People say they’ll unplug on holidays.

But how many times a year do you go on a holiday?

Twice?

We need this form of mental and physical escapism much more often than that.

In the bustling day to day where you’re bouncing around from errand to errand, meeting to meeting, you need to be able to switch off, to recharge, and centre yourself once again.

Go to your special place, if you have one. For me it’s a walk in a park or relaxing in a coffee shop I frequent.

Or even exercise. Exercise has always been a refuge where I do some of my best thinking.

Get in touch with yourself and your inner voice.

Relax. Think. Reflect. Meditate.

“Your soul needs to reset”

Filmmaker, artist, and founder of the Webby awards, Tiffany Shlain emphasises how important it is to unplug by drawing an analogy to the ritual of Shabbat:

“Shabbat is a very old idea. If you really look at what some of the scholars from a long time ago wrote about it, it’s as though they’re talking about today. The idea is that one day a week, you need to get your mind in a different mode, you need to not work. Every week, your brain – and your soul – needs to be reset.

Your soul needs to be reset. That’s a great metaphor. It’s like hitting the reset button on my sense of balance (…) Some people say, ‘oh, on vacations, I unplug.‘ But when do vacations happen? Once or twice a year. There’s something about the weekly practice of getting a different mode of experiencing the world back that’s really important.”

The importance of renewal

If you’re working in a stressful job or find yourself spending a lot of time in a stressful environment, your body will mirror this stress by producing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.

These are the emergency hormones that keep you alert, get you going, and fuel you to get stuff done at work.

Sometimes though, I get back from a hectic day and I still feel activated, as if I haven’t “turned off” completely.

Scientists called this a state of prolonged activation.

I don’t know about you but other times, I’d come back from a busy day and I’d feel myself becoming deflated, as if these stress hormones were flushing themselves out of my system.

Deflated, I’d vegetate, operating at the lowest cycles, realising how low my baseline energy levels are without these stress hormones to carry me.

But this is where you realise how important it is to do something restorative, something that will reset and renew you.

This is crucial because our capacity is limited.

Tony Schwartz, author of the New York times bestseller Be Excellent at Anything and president and CEO of The Energy Project, writes in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind about this.

Here’s Tony:

“Your capacity is limited. The challenge is that the demand in our lives increasingly exceeds our capacity. Think of capacity as the fuel that makes it possible to bring your skill and talent fully to life (…).

Human beings aren’t meant to operate continuously, at high speeds, for long periods of time. Rather, we’re designed to move rhythmically between spending and renewing our energy.

Our brains wave between high and low electrical frequencies. Our hearts beat at varying intervals. Our lungs expand and contract depending on demand (…) Instead, we live linear lives, progressively burning down our energy reservoirs throughout the day.

It’s the equivalent of withdrawing funds from a bank account without ever making a deposit. At some point, you go bankrupt.”

When you finally reset and unplug after a long time of not doing so

So you finally take a prolonged break from your usual hectic and stressful work environment.

During the first few days of your break from work will be you just realising how low your baseline energy is. You might realise that, in the productivity sense, these days are a complete write off.

You’ll realise you’re tired all the time and need some downtime where you can focus on nurturing your body through restorative exercise and nourishing yourself with clean healthy foods.

You’ll also be catching up on all that lost sleep. Throughout the weeks at work it’s normal to lose a lot of sleep. When you lose sleep, cortisol levels in your body increase because how else would you remain conscious.

People go back to work after a week off saying, semi-jokingly, “a week’s worth of holiday isn’t enough.”

Because it isn’t.

If you don’t unplug and recover frequently, you’ll accumulate too much stress and exhaustion and burnout will slowly creep up on you.

What you can do to unplug better

“Be mindful of who you let into your stream of consciousness”

Unplugging is as important as it is inevitable.

But it’s good advice to also just look out for the reasons that accelerate the need for unplugging.

Especially if it’s a toxic personality who drains you.

For this reason, Tiffany emphasises the importance of who you let into your mind.

Here’s Tiffany:

“You’re letting those people into your brain and they’re going to influence your thoughts. I find that I even dream about some of the people I follow [on social media]. We need to be really mindful of who we let into our stream of consciousness.”

Create windows of non-stimulation in your day

Scott Belsky, author of bestselling book Making Ideas Happen and co-founder and head of Behance, the leading online platform for creatives to showcase and creative work, writes in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind about the importance of being alone and creating windows of non-stimulation in your days

“Creates windows of non-stimulation in your day. Make this time sacred and use it to focus on a separate list of two or three things that are important to you over the long-term. Use this time to think, to digest what you’ve learned, and to plan.”

 

4 Practical Ways to Recover from Work (Backed by Science) – Part 2 of 2

This is the second part of a series full of practical tips on how to properly recover from work (you can read part 1 here).

Let’s dive right in shall we.

5. Take frequent breaks rather than save them up

If you need a break – take a break.

If you want to maintain high levels of productivity at work then you have to take regular breaks.

If you need a holiday – go on a holiday.

When you work for long stretches of time without taking a holiday, it can be exhausting and such an approach will only hurt you in the long-run.

You risk over-depletion.

Through over-depletion, you end up digging into your compensatory resources.

So when you take your holidays too late, it is likely you will face a more prolonged and difficult recovery process.

In fact, a lot of your holiday will probably be centred around bringing yourself (and your personal resources) back to baseline rather than expending energy to do new things or travel.

After all, if you’re in an over-depleted state – you don’t have much energy at your disposal.

Take regular holidays because if you deplete yourself, it will be difficult to recover from that and bring yourself back to baseline.

6. Don’t check work email during off-job time

If you get work email over the weekend and decide to check it, you are activating work-related systems during your leisure time.

Not only are you robbing yourself of 100% unadulterated leisure time, you’re actually doing yourself a tremendous disservice to your overall well-being in the long run.

What this means is that you are not recovering from work properly and that you are risking burnout in the long term.

Studies have shown that better psychological detachment in employee leisure time predicts better performance in the long-term.

In fact, employees who don’t respond to emails on weekend tend to perform better at work in the long run.

Easiest way to help your cause?

Don’t have email on your phone.

7. If you’re a workaholic, focus on exercising into your recovery time

You can read more about that here.

8. Get rid of hassles – Cut toxic people out of your life

Fritz et al. 2010 paper prerequisite

But you know how stress hormones are summoned by your body to tackle job-related assignments in the workplace?

Well, emotionally taxing people will draw on the same stress-related functional systems in your leisure time and will burn you out.

In his book Gorilla Mindset, Mike Cernovich emphasises that you cut out the negative people and spiritual vampires from your life because, otherwise, “you are fighting off stress, anxiety, and worry rather than pushing forward toward what you want to achieve.”

Toxic and emotionally draining people also affect your overall productivity, as filmmaker, artist, and found of the Webby awards, Tiffany Shlain posits in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind:

“You’re letting those people into your brain and they’re going to influence your thoughts. I find that I even dream about some of the people I follow [on social media]. We need to be really mindful of who we let into our stream of consciousness.”

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more psychological insights into everyday life.

Why Mistakes Are Good and How to Feel Better About Making Them

Mistakes are good.

As James Victore, author, designer, filmmaker, and educator writes in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, & Sharpen Your Creative Mind:

“Mistakes are a part of life and often the path to profound new insights – so why try to remove them completely? Getting lost while driving or visiting a new city used to be an adventure and a good story. Now we just follow the GPS.”

Mistakes can show you possibility, an alternative perspective.

But mistakes have to be made if you or I are to learn and grow.

Mistakes open up a world that can facilitate unapologetic self-improvement.

According to Grayson Perry, the amount of mistakes you make can be treated as a gauge of how much effort you are putting into your work:

“You have to make mistakes, this is how you learn. If you’re not making many mistakes, I hate to worry you but you’re not working hard enough.”
If it weren’t for mistakes, the microwave wouldn’t have been invented.

The Microwave

Percy LeBaron Spencer loved nature.

He would always carry a peanut cluster bar in his pocket to break up and feed squirrels and chipmunks during lunch.

It’s funny how this bar would aid Percy in discovering the microwave.

How?

Here’s what Scott Belsky writes in Making Ideas Happen about the accidental discovery:

“One of the most famous examples of discovery by mistake is the invention of the microwave oven by Raytheon scientist Percy LeBaron Spencer during World War II.

While working on the development of a radar system to assist the Allied armies in the detection of Nazi warplanes, Spencer stood in front of an operating magnetron.

Later, the unassuming scientist realised that the candy bar that had been in his pocket had melted. Further experimentation to understand this accident created an entire industry.”

How to feel better about making mistakes

We live in a society that celebrates mistakes and glorifies failures.

Indeed, the mistakes don’t have to be yours as you can learn by observing others.

After all, we as humans are – as author of Mastery Robert Greene notes – primed for observational learning.

By learning through the mistakes of others, you are de factor cutting your learning curve into a fraction of the time it would take you to learn by yourself – through trial and error.

However, there is no better education than making your own mistakes and having to learn from them.

Making mistakes can be stressful though.

That’s why people are generally averse to making any sort of them.

They are afraid they might be ridiculed, reprimanded, scolded by others.

Above all however – they simply just feel bad about making them in the first place.

Indeed, areas of the brain related to avoidance are activated when mistakes are made.

So how can we feel better about making them?

It turns out there is a simple psychological answer to this question.

A study published in the journal Nature Communications by neuroscientists Stefano Palminteri and colleagues suggests that if people are given the chance to review and reflect upon their mistakes, they could feel good about making them.

This could also make them become less averse to making future mistakes and better embrace the lessons that ultimately come from them.

Palminteri and colleagues also found that making mistakes could be experienced as rewarding as reward circuits of the brain were activated upon reflection in participants.

Closing thoughts

With mistakes, you either win or you learn.

Microwave inventor Percy LeBaron Spencer won.

But most times, you simply learn.

Heed the lessons from these mistakes and you’ll be golden.

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to the email list for more posts like this.

What Is Your Circle of Competence?

Warren Buffet refers to the Circle of Competence as the useful knowledge we’ve accumulated throughout our life.

Through the experiences we’ve gone through, we’ve picked up wisdom and various life lessons, factual knowledge.

But we’ve also developed, as Charlie Munger says, our own skill-sets and areas of expertise.

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Warren Buffet’s “Circle of Competence”

But I also wanted draw a comparison of the Circle of Competence to Anthony Robbins’ idea of the Comfort Zone.

The Comfort Zone

In his book “Unlimited Power”, Robbins talks about our comfort zone being a circle.

Very much like the most inner circle of our Circle of Competence.

We are perfectly comfortable in and familiar with everything in our comfort zone.

In life, we will encounter various problems – challenges or obstacles.

Robbins conceptualises these as “X’s”. In other words, if there is a problem, an X will stick to the outer rim of your comfort zone.

If you don’t overcome the obstacles and challenges, your comfort zone will shrink

If you successfully overcome that obstacle and get rid of the problem, your comfort zone “eats” the X, and it grows bigger.

Essentially – the more X’s your comfort zone “eats”, the more you grow.

The nuanced point

Through life, you will run into obstacles and confront challenges.

Whether you’re going through life actively or passively, you will inevitably run into these.

But if you navigate life with a bias to action, you will run into obstacles far more often.

Because you are actively looking to expand your comfort zone, the universe will fight back and throw all these X’s and challenges at you.

Because the universe doesn’t care if you grow or don’t grow.

All the universe wants is for you to find your mate, spread your seed, and let someone pump out a vehicle that contains 50% of your genes.

So if you’re actively making life happen for you and not happen to you, you’ll have more challenges to overcome.

“Those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.” – Nicolo Machiavelli

And as you jump over the hurdles that life throws you’re way, you’re comfort zone will widen, you’ll become more adept at overcoming these obstacles, and you’ll become more competent.

Because you’ll learn valuable, hard-earned truths and wisdom as you expose yourself to this growth-promoting experiences.

And you’ll grow as a result.

So if you live with a bias to action, your growth over time will behave like compound interest.

The intersection between the comfort zone and the Circle of Competence

Is the Circle of Competence analogous to Robbins’ concept of the comfort zone?

Doesn’t your Circle of Competence increase in size as you navigate life with a bias to action?

Warren Buffet mentions that though our Circle of Competence can expand slowly over time, you should stick to what you know, to what you’re competent at because if you don’t, you’ll be more likely to make mistakes.

But as a culture, we condemn failure and glorify success.

Are mistakes really that bad?

After all, you’ll grow if you properly heed the lessons from them.

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.

Why Facebook is Junk Food

Facebook appeals to basic, biological needs.

Yes, to some extent these social needs are tended to when you go on Facebook.

But there is a glass ceiling to how much Facebook can fill up your ‘social bar’ (like in The Sims.)

Going on Facebook gives you the impression, the illusion that these needs are being met.

And this, in large part, is thought to contribute to lower self-esteem levels and higher depression rates among the Millenial generation.

I think this is because Facebook is becoming the centrepiece of their social lives rather than a supplement.

Facebook alone can’t feed the need for social connectedness and the need to form strong, meaningful relationships with other people.

It doesn’t completely feed the need of social connectedness; it just gives you the impression that it does.

Facebook is (social) junk food.

You feel like you’ve eaten, but you haven’t eaten well.

After a while, you’re undernourished but all you’re feeding yourself with is crap.

It is a 100% parallel with diet. If you eat junk food all the time, obviously your health will deteriorate.

And there’s this question that keeps floating about:

Does Facebook cause depression? Is it cause or effect?

There is no clear cut answer but one way of looking at it would be to say that it’s a vicious cycle.

Perfectly healthy teenagers will substitute going out for FB and will start to become depressed in the same manner that they would become malnourished on a diet of junk food.

By the same token, a depressed person will go on FB to improve his mood and feel social, but will over time realise that the baseline for being social won’t be met through these means.

What do you think?

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Build Your Own Empire

I understand when someone talks about their struggles in trying to escape.

In trying to escape both the physical poverty they were born in to…

And the paralysing self-doubt and debilitating mental poverty that continues to stifle their growth and self-development way into their 20’s and beyond.

In a banned MTV interview with Tupac Shakur, 2Pac shares a powerful message:

When you’re born, usually you’re born into a dynasty or an empire (…) following in your father’s, grandfather’s footsteps. You’re always told “oh your father, your grandfather did this” so we got this, the family heirlooms…

There’s none of that in the outer city. I call it the outer city ’cause we left out. There’s no nothin’.

We didn’t get any family heirlooms, the family crest…all of that stuff that you would think was so important was meaningless. I mean come on – our family crest was cotton (…)

The only thing we could leave behind is culture, is music, dignity, and determination. That’s all we had.

I feel as though I’m cheated because instead of me fulfilling my prophecy, I have to start one. Instead of doing a good job and carrying on an empire, I have to build one. 

And that’s a helluva’ job for a twenty-one year old. That’s a helluva’ job for any youngster, male or female, to have to build an empire for your family.

Especially when the odds are that you know that somebody else who lives in the inner city – the real inner city, suburbia – who, when he’s born at 16 he gets a car, [it’s] automatic. There’s money in the bank for college, for Christmas you go for vacation somewhere…”

Skip to 3:17-4:43 to watch the bit of the interview relevant to this post, but I urge you to watch the whole thing. It’s illuminating.

Build an empire

It’s easy to get bitter about not getting the springboard to an awesome life that you deserve or to whine and complain about how easy others have it while for you it’s always been an uphill battle.

You can wallow in self-pity, be bitter or angry about the fact that others get things handed to them with no resistance while you’re constantly struggling – but that’s life.

The gazelle can complain about the lion until it goes blue in the face.

Ain’t nothing gonna change.

Accept it.

Own who you are and where you come from.

Adjust your beliefs to enable you to function in the objective world – not in the idealised, fantasy world of how you wish the world to be.

Because you are not entitled to anything and the world owes you nothing.

If you want something – you have to go to get it.

Though you may have escaped or are still yet to escape the physical poverty you might be living in, you also have the job of having to de-programme yourself from the mental poverty that you were conditioned into from a very young age.

Because you can’t build an empire on shaky foundations.

Develop an inner directness whereby you yourself decide how to live and develop the necessary metal support structures to help you along your way like a strong self-confidence, self-assuredness, and high self-esteem.

Those things don’t come from reading only.

You need action; what you do will change how you think.

And you need to win small victories to climb the mountain.

But it’s definitely possible – you can still build an empire.

You’ll just have to work harder for it.

But the best thing about is that it’ll be your very own.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter.

Build on Your Strengths (Don’t Waste Time on Your Weaknesses)

This is what Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s right-hand man and investment partner, has to say about building on your strengths.

“You have to figure out what your own aptitudes are. If you play games where other people have the aptitudes and you don’t, you’re going to lose. And that’s as close to certain as any prediction that you can make. You have to figure out where you’ve got an edge. And you’ve got to play within your own circle of competence.

If you want to be the best tennis player in the world, you may start out trying and soon find out that it’s hopeless—that other people blow right by you. However, if you want to become the best plumbing contractor in Bemidji, that is probably doable by two-thirds of you. It takes a will. It takes the intelligence.

But after a while, you’d gradually know all about the plumbing business in Bemidji and master the art. That is an attainable objective, given enough discipline.

And people who could never win a chess tournament or stand in center court in a respectable tennis tournament can rise quite high in life by slowly developing a circle of competence—which results partly from what they were born with and partly from what they slowly develop through work.”

Working on your weaknesses can be a waste of time.

It’s more work than it’s worth. If you don’t have a natural talent for it, why force it?

So:

“Double down on your strengths” – Gary Vaynerchuk

But be careful with how you interpret this advice. 

Some would use it as an excuse not to focus on things they’re just not good at.

For instance, in high school you can’t just forget about studying maths.

You have to be self-aware in assessing how much effort you have to put in to bring that area up to some respectable level.

Sure, this comes at the expense of focusing your energies on your strengths.

But once you don’t need maths (e.g. because you’re going to studying English literature at university), you’ll be able to shift your focus to the qualities you think make you stand out most.

And if you build on your aptitudes enough, your weaknesses won’t matter.

You will have compensated for them.

Build on your strengths because that will yield the most results.

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.