“12 Rules for Life” Opening Thoughts

Much, much more to follow. This is just the beginning of some new thoughts on Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life.” I’ve jumped in feet first and am excited to see what more comes from this book. You can buy the book here: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back
  2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you
  4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
  5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
  7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
  8. Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie
  9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t
  10. Be precise in your speech
  11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding
  12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

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The Right Reasons

If you’re doing the right thing for the right reasons, you will win in the end.

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“Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Every problem can be solved by leadership. That has been my mantra since reading this book. I have encountered problems at home and at work and I keep reminding myself that these are my problems. In some way or another I either turned a blind eye to the conditions that allowed these problems to breed, or my actions were a direct cause to the problem I am now facing. Taken through that lens, and owning the problem without placing the blame on anyone else, I have been able to move forward to finding a solution. Here are some excerpts from this phenomenal book. If you are interested in supporting us, buy the book here: Extreme Ownership

-Without a team-a group of individuals working to accomplish a mission-there can be no leadership.

-The only meaningful measure for a leader is whether the team succeeds or fails.

-For leaders, the humility to admit and own mistakes and develop a plan to overcome them is essential to success.

-Leadership is simple, but not easy.

-Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.

-The leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything.

-When subordinates aren’t doing what they should, leader that exercise Extreme Ownership cannot blame subordinates. They must first look in the mirror at themselves. The leaders bears full responsibility for explaining the strategic mission, developing the tactics, and securing the training and resources to enable the team to properly and successfully execute.

-Taking ownership when things go wrong requires extraordinary humility and courage.

-The best leaders checked their egos, accepted blame, sought out constructive criticism, and took detailed notes for improvement.

-Leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance. Whether a team succeeds or fails is all up to the leader. The leader’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team. The leader drives performance- or doesn’t. And this applies not just to the most senior leader of an overall team, but to the junior leaders of teams within the team.

-Leaders must accept total responsibility, own problems that inhibit performance, and develop solutions to those problems.

-When leaders who epitomize Extreme Ownership drive their teams to achieve a higher standard of performance, they must recognize that when it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.

-Teams need a forcing function to get the different members working together to accomplish the mission and that is what leadership is all about.

-Leaders should never be satisfied. They must always strive to improve, and they must build that mind-set into the team.

-Good leaders don’t make excuses. Instead, they figure out a way to get it done and win.

-In order to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish a mission, a leader must be a true believer in the mission.

-When leaders receive an order that they themselves question and do not understand, they must as the question: why? Why are we being asked to do this? Those leaders must take a step back, deconstruct the situation, analyze the strategic picture, and then come to a conclusion.

-Whether in the ranks of military units or companies and corporations, the frontline troops never have as clear an understanding of the strategic picture as senior leaders might anticipate. It is critical that those senior leaders impart a general understanding of that strategic knowledge-the why-to their troops.

-If you ever get a task or guidance on a mission that you don’t believe in, don’t just sit back and accept it. Ask questions until you understand why so you can believe in what you are doing and you can pass that information down the chain to your team with confidence, so they can get out and execute the mission. That is leadership.

-Ego clouds and disrupts everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to accept constructive criticism. It can even stifle someone’s sense of self-preservation. Often, the most difficult ego to deal with is your own.

-If the overall team fails, even if a specific member or an element within the team did their job successfully. Pointing fingers and placing blame on others contributes to further dissension between teams and individuals. These individuals and teams must instead find a way to work together, communicate with each other, and mutually support one another. The focus must always be on how to best accomplish the mission.

-Combat, like anything in life, has inherent layers of complexities. Simplifying as much as possible is crucial to success. When plans and orders are too complicated, people may not understand them. And when things go wrong, and they inevitably do go wrong, complexity compounds issues that can spiral out of control into total disaster.

-All animals, including humans, need to see the connection between action and consequence in order to learn or react appropriately.

-Regardless of how you think an operation is going to unfold, the enemy gets their say as well-and they are going to do something to disrupt it. When something goes wrong-and it eventually does-complex plans add to confusion, which can compound into disaster. Almost no mission ever goes according to plan. There are simply too many variables to deal with. This is where simplicity is key. If the plan is simple enough, everyone understand it, which means each person can rapidly adjust and modify what he or she is doing. If the plan is too complex, the team can’t make rapid adjustments to it, because there is no baseline understanding of it.

-Prioritize and execute: Even the greatest of battlefield leaders could not handle an array of challenges simultaneously without being overwhelmed. That risked failing at them all. I had to remain calm, step back from my immediate emotional reaction, and determine the greatest priority for the team. Then, rapidly direct the team to attack that priority. Once the wheels were in motion and the full resources of the team were engaged in that highest priority effort, I could determine the next priority, focus the team’s effort there, and then move on to the next priority. I could not allow myself to be overwhelmed. I had to relax, look around, and make a call.

-Prioritize your problems and take care of them one at a time, the highest priority first. Don’t try to do everything at once or you won’t be successful. I explained how a leader who tries to take on too many problem simultaneously will likely fail at them all.

-Junior leaders were expected to make decisions. They couldn’t ask, “What do I do?” Instead, they had to state: “This is what I am going to do.” Since I made sure everyone understood the overall intent of the mission, every leader worked and led separately, but in a unified way that contributed to the overall mission, making even the most chaotic scenarios much easier to handle.

-There are, likewise, other senior leaders who are so far removed from the troops executing on the frontline that they become ineffective. These leaders might give the appearance of control, but they actually have no idea what their troops are doing and cannot effectively direct their teams. We call this trait “battlefield aloofness.” This attitude creates a significant disconnect between leadership and the troops, and such a leader’s team will struggle to effectively accomplish their mission.

-Contrary to a common misconception, leaders are not stuck in any particular position. Leaders must be free to move to where they are most needed, which changes throughout the course of an operation. Understanding proper positioning as a leader is a key component of effective Decentralized Command, not just on the battlefield. In any team, business, or organization, the same rule applies.

-A mission statement tells your troops what you are doing. But they have to understand why they are doing it. When the subordinate leaders and the frontline troops fully understand the purpose of the mission, how it ties into strategic goals, and what impact it has, they can then lead, even in the absence of explicit orders.

-There is truly nothing more important than an understanding of the dynamics of Decentralized Command. This is proper command and control in a nutshell. It is one of the most complex strategies to pull off correctly. As a leader, it takes strength to let go. It takes faith and trust in subordinate frontline leaders and their abilities.

-Trust is not blindly given. It must be built over time. Situations will sometimes require that the boss walk away from a problem and let junior leaders solve it, even if the boss knows he might solve it more efficiently.

-Junior leaders must know that the boss will back them up even if they make a decision that may not result in the best outcome, as long as the decision was made in an effort to achieve the strategic objective.

-What mission planning is all about: never taking anything for granted, preparing for likely contingencies, and maximizing the chance of mission success while minimizing the risk to the troops executing the mission.

-Planning begins with mission analysis. Leaders must identify clear directives for the team.

-Following a successful brief, all members participating in an operation will understand the strategic mission, the Commander’s intent, the specific mission of the team, and their individual roles within that mission.

-The test for a successful brief is simple: do the team and the supporting elements understand it?

-A leader’s checklist for planning should include the following:

Analyze the mission: Understand the higher headquarters’ mission, Commander’s intent, and endstate (the goal)

Identify and state your own Commander’s Intent and endstate for the specific mission.

Identify personnel, assets, resources, and time available.

Decentralize the planning process: Empower key leaders within the team to analyze possible courses of action.

Determine a specific course of action.

Plan for likely contingencies through each phase of the operation.

Mitigate risks that can be controlled as much as possible.

Delegate portions of the plan and brief to key junior leaders: Stand back and be the tactical genius.

Continually check and question the plan against emerging information to ensure it still fits the situation.

Brief the plan to all participants and supporting assets: Emphasize Commander’s Intent, Ask questions and engage in discussion and interaction with the team to ensure they understand.

Conduct post-operational debrief after execution: Analyze lessons learned and implement them in future planning.

-As leaders, we must not get dragged into the details but instead remain focused on the bigger picture. The most important part of the brief is to explain Commander’s Intent. When everyone participating knows and understands the purpose and end state of the mission, they can theoretically act without further guidance.

Any good leader is immersed in the planning and execution of tasks, projects, and operations to move the team toward a strategic goal. Such leaders possess insight into the bigger picture and why specific tasks nee to be accomplished. This information does not automatically translate to subordinate leaders and the frontline troops.

-It is paramount that senior leaders explain to their junior leaders and troops executing the mission how their role contributes to the big picture success.

-If your boss isn’t making a decision in a timely manner or providing necessary support for you and your team, don’t blame the boss. First, blame yourself. Examine what you can do to better convey the critical information for decision to be made and support allocated.

-Leading up the chain takes much more savvy and skill than leading down the chain. Leading up, the leader cannot fall back on his or her positional authority. Instead, the subordinate leader must use influence, experience, knowledge, communication, and maintain the highest professionalism.

-In combat, as in flie, the outcome is never certain, the picture never clear. There are no guarantees of success. But in order to succeed, leaders must be comfortable under pressure, and act on logic, not emotion. This is a critical component to victory.

-As a leader, my default setting should be aggressive-proactive rather than reactive. This was critical to the success of any team. Instead of letting the situation dictate our decisions, we must dictate the situation.

-Discipline equals freedom.

-The only way you could make time, was to get up early. That took discipline. By discipline, I mean intrinsic self-discipline-a matter of personal will.

-Nothing is easy. The temptation to take the easy road is always there. It is as easy as staying in bed in the morning and sleeping in. But discipline is paramount to ultimate success and victory for any leader and any team.

-The more disciplined Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) a team employs, the more freedom they have to practice Decentralized Command and thus they can execute faster, sharper, and more efficiently. Just as an individual excels when he or she exercises self-discipline, a unit that has tighter and more disciplined procedures and processes will excel and win.

-If frontline leaders and troops executing the mission lack the ability to adapt, this becomes detrimental to the team’s performance. So the balance between discipline and freedom must be found and carefully maintained. In that, lies the dichotomy: discipline-strict order, regimen, and control-might appear to be teh opposite of total freedom-the power to act, speak, or think without any restrictions. But, in fact, discipline is the pathway to freedom.

-Good leaders must welcome this, putting aside ego and personal agendas to ensure that the team has the greatest chance of accomplishing its strategic goals. A true leader is not intimidated when other step up and take charge. Leaders that lack confidence in themselves fear being outshined by someone else.

-A leader must be calm but not robotic. It is normal, and necessary, to show emotion. The team must understand that their leader cares about them and their well-being. But, a leader must control his or her emotions. If not, how can they expect to control anything else? Leaders who lose their temper also lose respect. But, at the same time, to never show any sense of anger, sadness, or frustration would make that leader appear void of any emotion at all-a robot. People do not follow robots.

-A leader must be confident but never cocky. Confidences is contagious, a great attribute for a leader and a team. But when it goes too far, overconfidence causes complacency and arrogance, which ultimately set the team up for failure.

-A leader must be brave but not foolhardly. He or she must be willing to accept risk and act courageously, but must never be reckless. It is a leader’s job to always mitigate as much as possible those risks that can be controlled to accomplish the mission without sacrificing the team or excessively expending critical resources.

-Leaders must have a competitive spirit but also be gracious losers. They must drive competition and push themselves and their teams to perform at the highest level. But they must never put their own drive for personal success ahead of overall mission success for the greater team. Leaders must act with professionalism and recognize others for their contributions.

-A leader must be attentive to details but not obsessed by them. A good leader does not get bogged down in the minutia of a tactical problem at the expense of strategic success. He or she must monitor and check the team’s progress in the most critical tasks. But that leader cannot get sucked into the details and lose track of the bigger picture.

-A leader must be strong but likewise have endurance, not only physically but mentally. He or she must maintain the ability to perform at the highest level and sustain that level for the long term. Leaders must recognize limitations and know to pace themselves and their teams so that they can maintain a solid performance indefinitely.

-Leaders must be humble but not passive; quiet but not silent. They must possess humility and the ability to control their ego and listen to others. They must admit mistakes and failures, take ownership of them, and figure out a way to prevent them from happening again. But a leader must be able to speak up when it matters. They must be able to stand up for the team and respectfully push back against a decision, order, or direction that could negatively impact overall mission success.

-A leader must be close with subordinates but not too close. The best leaders understand the motivations of their team members and know their people- their lives and their families. But a leader must never grow so close to subordinates that one member of the team becomes more important than another, or more important that the mission itself. Leaders must never get so close that the team forgets who is in charge.

-A leader must exercise Extreme Ownership. Simultaneously, that leader must employ Decentralized Command by giving control to subordinate leaders.

-Finally, a leader has nothing to prove but everything to prove. By virtue of rank and position, the team understand that the leader is in charge. A good leader does not gloat or revel in his or her position. To take charge of minute details just to demonstrate and reinforce to the team a leader’s authority is the mark of poor, inexperienced leadership lacking confidence. Since the team understand that the leader is de facto in charge, in that respect, a leader has nothing to prove. But in another respect, a leader has everything to prove: every member of the team must develop the trust and confidence that their leader will exercise good judgment, remain calm, and make the right decisions when it matters most.

-Leaders must earn that respect and prove themselves worthy, demonstrating through action that they will take care of the team and look out for their long-term interests and well-being. In that respect, a leader has everything to prove every day.

-THE DICHOTOMY OF LEADERSHIP: A good leader must be… confident but not cocky; courageous but not foolhardy; competitive but a gracious loser; attentive to details but not obsessed by them; strong but have endurance; a leader and a follower; humble but not passive; aggressive but not over-bearing; quiet not silent; calm but not robotic; logical but not devoid of emotions; close with the troops but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team; not so close that they forget who is in charge; able to execute Extreme Ownership while exercising Decentralized Command.

-The goal of all leaders should be to work themselves out of a job. This means leaders must be heavily engaged in training and mentoring their junior leaders to prepare them to step up and assume greater responsibilities.

-LEADERSHIP IS SIMPLE, BUT NOT EASY.

 

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“The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F#ck” by Mark Manson

This book moved me because it addresses many of the issues we all face today, namely distraction and inundation by the “exceptional” things around us. On social media we only post the best parts of our lives, or the parts that we want to highlight. That’s not reality, it’s just what we want others to see. The same thing goes for the media. The headlining stories are not that you woke up, had breakfast, and went to work. They must search for the exceptional in order to grab our attention. The honest truth is that most of us are average and that’s okay. We have a choice about what we care about but the resources we devote to those things are finite. You can buy the book here: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.

  1. Self-improvement and success often occur together. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the same thing.
  2. Conventional life advice—all the positive and happy self-help stuff we hear all the time—is actually fixating on what you lack. It lasers in on what you perceive your personal shortcomings and failures to already be, and then emphasizes them for you.
  3. This fixation on the positive—on what’s better, what’s superior—only serves to remind us over and over again of what we are not, of what we lack, of what we should have been but failed to be. After all, no truly happy person feels the need to stand in front of a mirror and recite that she’s happy. She just is.
  4. The world is constantly telling you that the path to a better life is more, more, more—buy more, own more, make more, fuck more, be more. You are constantly bombarded with messages to give a fuck about everything, all the time.
  5. The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about only what is true and immediate and important.
  6. The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.
  7. If pursuing the positive is a negative, then pursuing the negative generates the positive. The pain you pursue in the gym results in better all-around health and energy. The failures in business are what lead to a better understanding of what’s necessary to be successful. Being open with your insecurities paradoxically makes you more confident and charismatic around others. The pain of honest confrontation is what generates the greatest trust and respect in your relationships. Suffering through your fears and anxieties is what allows you to build courage and perseverance.
  8. Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience.
  9. Pain is an inextricable thread in the fabric of life, and to tear it out is not only impossible, but destructive: attempting to tear it out unravels everything else with it. To try to avoid pain is to give too many fucks about pain. In contrast, if you’re able to not give a fuck about the pain, you become unstoppable.
  10. You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of fucks to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving a fuck about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice—well, then you’re going to get fucked.
  11. The old saying goes that no matter where you go, there you are. Well, the same is true for adversity and failure. No matter where you go, there’s a five-hundred-pound load of shit waiting for you. And that’s perfectly fine. The point isn’t to get away from the shit. The point is to find the shit you enjoy dealing with.
  12. To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first give a fuck about something more important than adversity.
  13. Today we’re facing a psychological epidemic, one in which people no longer realize it’s okay for things to suck sometimes.
  14. I see practical enlightenment as becoming comfortable with the idea that some suffering is always inevitable—that no matter what you do, life is comprised of failures, loss, regrets, and even death. Because once you become comfortable with all the shit that life throws at you (and it will throw a lot of shit, trust me), you become invincible in a sort of low-level spiritual way. After all, the only way to overcome pain is to first learn how to bear it.
  15. There is no value in suffering when it’s done without purpose.
  16. That life itself is a form of suffering. The rich suffer because of their riches. The poor suffer because of their poverty. People without a family suffer because they have no family. People with a family suffer because of their family. People who pursue worldly pleasures suffer because of their worldly pleasures. People who abstain from worldly pleasures suffer because of their abstention.
  17. Pain and loss are inevitable and we should let go of trying to resist them.
  18. We suffer for the simple reason that suffering is biologically useful. It is nature’s preferred agent for inspiring change. We have evolved to always live with a certain degree of dissatisfaction and insecurity, because it’s the mildly dissatisfied and insecure creature that’s going to do the most work to innovate and survive.
  19. Pain is what teaches us what to pay attention to when we’re young or careless. It helps show us what’s good for us versus what’s bad for us. It helps us understand and adhere to our own limitations. It teaches us to not fuck around near hot stoves or stick metal objects into electrical sockets. Therefore, it’s not always beneficial to avoid pain and seek pleasure, since pain can, at times, be life-or-death important to our well-being.
  20. “The solution to one problem is merely the creation of the next one.”
  21. “Don’t hope for a life without problems,” the panda said. “There’s no such thing. Instead, hope for a life full of good problems.”
  22. Happiness is a constant work-in-progress, because solving problems is a constant work-in-progress—the solutions to today’s problems will lay the foundation for tomorrow’s problems, and so on. True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.
  23. “Hedonic treadmill”: the idea that we’re always working hard to change our life situation, but we actually never feel very different.
  24. Happiness requires struggle. It grows from problems. Joy doesn’t just sprout out of the ground like daisies and rainbows. Real, serious, lifelong fulfillment and meaning have to be earned through the choosing and managing of our struggles.
  25. Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.
  26. The truth is that there’s no such thing as a personal problem. If you’ve got a problem, chances are millions of other people have had it in the past, have it now, and are going to have it in the future. Likely people you know too. That doesn’t minimize the problem or mean that it shouldn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean you aren’t legitimately a victim in some circumstances. It just means that you’re not special.
  27. The deluge of exceptional information drives us to feel pretty damn insecure and desperate, because clearly we are somehow not good enough.
  28. While there is something to be said for “staying on the sunny side of life,” the truth is, sometimes life sucks, and the healthiest thing you can do is admit it.
  29. When we have poor values—that is, poor standards we set for ourselves and others—we are essentially giving fucks about the things that don’t matter, things that in fact make our life worse. But when we choose better values, we are able to divert our fucks to something better—toward things that matter, things that improve the state of our well-being and that generate happiness, pleasure, and success as side effects.
  30. When we feel that we’re choosing our problems, we feel empowered. When we feel that our problems are being forced upon us against our will, we feel victimized and miserable.
  31. We are responsible for experiences that aren’t our fault all the time. This is part of life.
  32. Fault is past tense. Responsibility is present tense. Fault results from choices that have already been made. Responsibility results from the choices you’re currently making,
  33. Many people may be to blame for your unhappiness, but nobody is ever responsible for your unhappiness but you. This is because you always get to choose how you see things, how you react to things, how you value things. You always get to choose the metric by which to measure your experiences.
  34. You are already choosing, in every moment of every day, what to give a fuck about, so change is as simple as choosing to give a fuck about something else. It really is that simple. It’s just not easy.
  35. Certainty is the enemy of growth. Nothing is for certain until it has already happened—and even then, it’s still debatable.
  36. There is little that is unique or special about your problems.
  37. Don’t be special; don’t be unique. Redefine your metrics in mundane and broad ways. Choose to measure yourself not as a rising star or an undiscovered genius. Choose to measure yourself not as some horrible victim or dismal failure. Instead, measure yourself by more mundane identities: a student, a partner, a friend, a creator.
  38. Here are some questions that will help you breed a little more uncertainty in your life.
    1. Question #1: What if I’m wrong?
    2. Question #2: What would it mean if I were wrong?
    3. Question #3: Would being wrong create a better or a worse problem than my current problem, for both myself and others?
  39. As a general rule, we’re all the world’s worst observers of ourselves.
  40. For any change to happen in your life, you must be wrong about something.
  41. Aristotle wrote, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
  42. Improvement at anything is based on thousands of tiny failures, and the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something.
  43. Dabrowski argued that fear and anxiety and sadness are not necessarily always undesirable or unhelpful states of mind; rather, they are often representative of the necessary pain of psychological growth. And to deny that pain is to deny our own potential. Just as one must suffer physical pain to build stronger bone and muscle, one must suffer emotional pain to develop greater emotional resilience, a stronger sense of self, increased compassion, and a generally happier life.
  44. From the outside, the answer is simple: just shut up and do it.
  45. Learn to sustain the pain you’ve chosen. When you choose a new value, you are choosing to introduce a new form of pain into your life. Relish it. Savor it. Welcome it with open arms. Then act despite it.
  46. Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyway. All of life is like this. It never changes. Even when you’re happy. Even when you’re farting fairy dust. Even when you win the lottery and buy a small fleet of Jet Skis, you still won’t know what the hell you’re doing. Don’t ever forget that. And don’t ever be afraid of that.
  47. Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it.
  48. The thing about motivation is that it’s not only a three-part chain, but an endless loop: Inspiration → Motivation → Action → Inspiration → Motivation → Action → Etc.
  49. If you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, do something—anything, really—and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself.
  50. To truly appreciate something, you must confine yourself to it. There’s a certain level of joy and meaning that you reach in life only when you’ve spent decades investing in a single relationship, a single craft, a single career. And you cannot achieve those decades of investment without rejecting the alternatives. The act of choosing a value for yourself requires rejecting alternative values.
  51. The difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship comes down to two things: 1) how well each person in the relationship accepts responsibility, and 2) the willingness of each person to both reject and be rejected by their partner.
  52. By “boundaries” I mean the delineation between two people’s responsibilities for their own problems.
  53. People can’t solve your problems for you. And they shouldn’t try, because that won’t make you happy. You can’t solve other people’s problems for them either, because that likewise won’t make them happy. The mark of an unhealthy relationship is two people who try to solve each other’s problems in order to feel good about themselves. Rather, a healthy relationship is when two people solve their own problems in order to feel good about each other.
  54. People with strong boundaries understand that they may hurt someone’s feelings sometimes, but ultimately they can’t determine how other people feel. People with strong boundaries understand that a healthy relationship is not about controlling one another’s emotions, but rather about each partner supporting the other in their individual growth and in solving their own problems.
  55. It’s not about giving a fuck about everything your partner gives a fuck about; it’s about giving a fuck about your partner regardless of the fucks he or she gives.
  56. Men stereotypically lie in this situation to make their girlfriends/wives happy. But I don’t. Why? Because honesty in my relationship is more important to me than feeling good all the time. The last person I should ever have to censor myself with is the woman I love. Fortunately, I’m married to a woman who agrees and is willing to hear my uncensored thoughts. She calls me out on my bullshit too, of course, which is one of the most important traits she offers me as a partner. Sure, my ego gets bruised sometimes, and I bitch and complain and try to argue, but a few hours later I come sulking back and admit that she was right. And holy crap she makes me a better person, even though I hate hearing it at the time.
  57. But more is not always better. In fact, the opposite is true. We are actually often happier with less. When we’re overloaded with opportunities and options, we suffer from what psychologists refer to as the paradox of choice. Basically, the more options we’re given, the less satisfied we become with whatever we choose, because we’re aware of all the other options we’re potentially forfeiting.
  58. But while investing deeply in one person, one place, one job, one activity might deny us the breadth of experience we’d like, pursuing a breadth of experience denies us the opportunity to experience the rewards of depth of experience. There are some experiences that you can have only when you’ve lived in the same place for five years, when you’ve been with the same person for over a decade, when you’ve been working on the same skill or craft for half your lifetime.
  59. Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous. Commitment gives you freedom because it hones your attention and focus, directing them toward what is most efficient at making you healthy and happy. Commitment makes decision-making easier and removes any fear of missing out; knowing that what you already have is good enough, why would you ever stress about chasing more, more, more again? Commitment allows you to focus intently on a few highly important goals and achieve a greater degree of success than you otherwise would.
  60. Breadth of experience is likely necessary and desirable when you’re young—after all, you have to go out there and discover what seems worth investing yourself in. But depth is where the gold is buried. And you have to stay committed to something and go deep to dig it up. That’s true in relationships, in a career, in building a great lifestyle—in everything.
  61. I came to the startling realization that if there really is no reason to do anything, then there is also no reason to not do anything; that in the face of the inevitability of death, there is no reason to ever give in to one’s fear or embarrassment or shame, since it’s all just a bunch of nothing anyway; and that by spending the majority of my short life avoiding what was painful and uncomfortable, I had essentially been avoiding being alive at all.
  62. The Denial of Death essentially makes two points: 1.    Humans are unique in that we’re the only animals that can conceptualize and think about ourselves abstractly.
  63. As humans, we’re blessed with the ability to imagine ourselves in hypothetical situations, to contemplate both the past and the future, to imagine other realities or situations where things might be different. And it’s because of this unique mental ability, Becker says, that we all, at some point, become aware of the inevitability of our own death. Because we’re able to conceptualize alternate versions of reality, we are also the only animal capable of imagining a reality without ourselves in it. This realization causes what Becker calls “death terror,” a deep existential anxiety that underlies everything we think or do. Becker’s second point starts with the premise that we essentially have two “selves.” The first self is the physical self—the one that eats, sleeps, snores, and poops. The second self is our conceptual self—our identity, or how we see ourselves.
  64. Becker’s argument is this: We are all aware on some level that our physical self will eventually die, that this death is inevitable, and that its inevitability—on some unconscious level—scares the shit out of us. Therefore, in order to compensate for our fear of the inevitable loss of our physical self, we try to construct a conceptual self that will live forever. This is why people try so hard to put their names on buildings, on statues, on spines of books. It’s why we feel compelled to spend so much time giving ourselves to others, especially to children, in the hopes that our influence—our conceptual self—will last way beyond our physical self. That we will be remembered and revered and idolized long after our physical self ceases to exist. Becker called such efforts our “immortality projects,” projects that allow our conceptual self to live on way past the point of our physical death. All of human civilization, he says, is basically a result of immortality projects: the cities and governments and structures and authorities in place today were all immortality projects of men and women who came before us. They are the remnants of conceptual selves that ceased to die. Names like Jesus, Muhammad, Napoleon, and Shakespeare are just as powerful today as when those men lived, if not more so. And that’s the whole point. Whether it be through mastering an art form, conquering a new land, gaining great riches, or simply having a large and loving family that will live on for generations, all the meaning in our life is shaped by this innate desire to never truly die.
  65. Religion, politics, sports, art, and technological innovation are the result of people’s immortality projects. Becker argues that wars and revolutions and mass murder occur when one group of people’s immortality projects rub up against another group’s. Centuries of oppression and the bloodshed of millions have been justified as the defense of one group’s immortality project against another’s. But, when our immortality projects fail, when the meaning is lost, when the prospect of our conceptual self outliving our physical self no longer seems possible or likely, death terror—that horrible, depressing anxiety—creeps back into our mind.
  66. Becker later came to a startling realization on his deathbed: that people’s immortality projects were actually the problem, not the solution; that rather than attempting to implement, often through lethal force, their conceptual self across the world, people should question their conceptual self and become more comfortable with the reality of their own death. Becker called this “the bitter antidote,” and struggled with reconciling it himself as he stared down his own demise. While death is bad, it is inevitable. Therefore, we should not avoid this realization, but rather come to terms with it as best we can. Because once we become comfortable with the fact of our own death—the root terror, the underlying anxiety motivating all of life’s frivolous ambitions—we can then choose our values more freely, unrestrained by the illogical quest for immortality, and freed from dangerous dogmatic views.
  67. The Stoics of ancient Greece and Rome implored people to keep death in mind at all times, in order to appreciate life more and remain humble in the face of its adversities. In various forms of Buddhism, the practice of meditation is often taught as a means of preparing oneself for death while still remaining alive. Dissolving one’s ego into an expansive nothingness—achieving the enlightened state of nirvana—is seen as a trial run of letting oneself cross to the other side. Even Mark Twain, that hairy goofball who came in and left on Halley’s Comet, said, “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
  68. Confronting the reality of our own mortality is important because it obliterates all the crappy, fragile, superficial values in life. While most people whittle their days chasing another buck, or a little bit more fame and attention, or a little bit more assurance that they’re right or loved, death confronts all of us with a far more painful and important question: What is your legacy?
  69. Without acknowledging the ever-present gaze of death, the superficial will appear important, and the important will appear superficial. Death is the only thing we can know with any certainty. And as such, it must be the compass by which we orient all of our other values and decisions. It is the correct answer to all of the questions we should ask but never do. The only way to be comfortable with death is to understand and see yourself as something bigger than yourself; to choose values that stretch beyond serving yourself, that are simple and immediate and controllable and tolerant of the chaotic world around you. This is the basic root of all happiness.
  70. Whether you’re listening to Aristotle or the psychologists at Harvard or Jesus Christ or the goddamn Beatles, they all say that happiness comes from the same thing: caring about something greater than yourself, believing that you are a contributing component in some much larger entity, that your life is but a mere side process of some great unintelligible production. This feeling is what people go to church for; it’s what they fight in wars for; it’s what they raise families and save pensions and build bridges and invent cell phones for: this fleeting sense of being part of something greater and more unknowable than themselves.
  71. We are so materially well off, yet so psychologically tormented in so many low-level and shallow ways. People relinquish all responsibility, demanding that society cater to their feelings and sensibilities. People hold on to arbitrary certainties and try to enforce them on others, often violently, in the name of some made-up righteous cause. People, high on a sense of false superiority, fall into inaction and lethargy for fear of trying something worthwhile and failing at it.
  72. The pampering of the modern mind has resulted in a population that feels deserving of something without earning that something, a population that feels they have a right to something without sacrificing for it.
  73. Our culture today confuses great attention and great success, assuming them to be the same thing. But they are not. You are great. Already. Whether you realize it or not. Whether anybody else realizes it or not. And it’s not because you launched an iPhone app, or finished school a year early, or bought yourself a sweet-ass boat. These things do not define greatness. You are already great because in the face of endless confusion and certain death, you continue to choose what to give a fuck about and what not to.

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“Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown: Part Two

Please check out Part One of my excerpts here. This is a powerful book. After completing this book I’ve re-evaluated not just my past decisions but I now view my future decisions in a different light. Anytime I expend resources such as time, money, effort, etc., the decision has to pass the question of whether this is what I want to be doing with my resources at this time. If the answer is “no”, pass. If it’s “yes” continue. In order to do that, you yourself has to decide what those priorities are, distill them down to their essence, and then always have them in mind. At least a short list is easy to remember. If you’re having trouble remembering, you should check out “Make it Stick” or better yet, “Moonwalking with Einstein”, both excellent books about memory. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

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  1. The word school is derived from the Greek word schole, meaning “leisure.” Yet our modern school system, born in the Industrial Revolution, has removed the leisure—and much of the pleasure—out of learning.
  2. “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.” ~Albert Einstein
  3. The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we underinvest in ourselves, and by that I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution. One of the most common ways people—especially ambitious, successful people—damage this asset is through a lack of sleep.
  4. While we sleep our brains are hard at work encoding and restructuring information. Therefore, when we wake up, our brains may have made new neural connections, thereby opening up a broader range of solutions to problems, literally overnight.
  5. The 90 Percent Rule: As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then simply give the option a score between 0 and 100. If you rate it any lower than 90 percent, then automatically change the rating to 0 and simply reject it. This way you avoid getting stuck with the 60s or 70s. Think about how you’d feel if you scored a 65 on some test. Why would you deliberately choose to feel that way about an important choice in your life.
  6. Jim Collin’s Good to Great, in which he contends if there’s one thing you are passionate about—and that you can be best at—you should do just that one thing.
  7. You can train leaders on communication and teamwork and conduct 360 degree feedback reports until you are blue in the face, but if a team does not have clarity of goals and roles, problems will fester and multiply.
  8. “If we could be truly excellent at only one thing, what would it be?”
  9. A good film editor makes it hard not to see what’s important because she eliminates everything but the elements that absolutely need to be there.
  10. What is the obstacle that is keeping you back from achieving what really matters to you? By systematically identifying and removing this “constraint” you’ll be able to significantly reduce the friction keeping you from executing what is essential.
    1. “What is getting in the way of achieving what is essential?”
  11. “Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow.” ~Doug Firebaugh
  12. Research has shown that of all forms of human motivation the most effective one is progress. Why? Because a small, concrete win creates momentum and affirms our faith in our further success.
  13. The best place to look is for small changes we could make in the things we do often. There is power in steadiness and repetition.
  14. A Token System for Raising Children: The children were given ten tokens at the beginning of the week. These could each be traded in for either thirty minutes screen time or fifty cents at the end of the week, adding up to $5 or five hours of screen time a week. If a child read a book for thirty minutes, he or she would earn an additional token, which could also be traded in for screen time or for money. The results were incredible: overnight, screen time went down my 90 percent, reading went up by the same amount, and the overall effort we had to put into policing the system went way, way down.
  15. “Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.” ~W.H. Auden
  16. Routine is one of the most powerful tools for removing obstacles. Without routine, the pull of nonessential distractions will overpower us. But if we create a routine that enshrines the essentials, we will begin to execute them on autopilot.
  17. It’s natural and human to obsess over past mistakes or feel stress about what may be ahead of us. Yet every second spent worrying about a past or future moment distracts us from what is important in the here and now. The ancient Greeks had two words for time. The first was chronos. The second was kairos. The Greek god Chronos was imagined as an elderly, gray-haired man, and his name connotates the literal ticking clock, the chronological time, the kind we measure (and race about trying to use efficiently). Kairos is different. While it is difficult to translate precisely, it refers to time that is opportune, right, different. Chronos is quantitative; kairos is qualitative. The latter is experienced only when we are fully in the moment—when we exist in the
  18. Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.
  19. It is easy to get caught up in the “paradox of success.” We have clarity of purpose, which leads us to success. But with out success we get new options and opportunities. This sounds like a good thing, but remember, these options unintentionally distract us, tempt us, lure us away. Our clarity becomes clouded, and soon we find ourselves spread too thin. Now, instead of being utilized at our highest level of contribution, we make only a millimeter of progress in a million directions. Ultimately, our success becomes a catalyst for our failure.
  20. When we look back on our careers and our lives, would we rather see a long laundry list of “accomplishments” that don’t really matter or just a few major accomplishments that have real meaning and significance?
  21. The Greeks have a word, metanoia, that refers to a transformation of the heart. We tend to think of transformations as happening only in the mind. But as the proverb goes, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
  22. When other people are saying yes, you will find yourself saying no. When other people are doing, you will find yourself thinking. When other people are speaking, you will find yourself listening. When other people are in the spotlight, vying for attention, you will find yourself waiting on the sidelines until it is time to shine.
  23. The first is the exquisitely important role of my family in my life. At the very, very end, everything else will fade into insignificance by comparison. The second is the pathetically tiny amount of time we have left of our lives. For me this is not a depressing thought but a thrilling one. It removes fear of choosing the wrong thing. It infuses courage into my bones. It challenges me to be even more unreasonably selective about how to use this precious—and precious is perhaps too insipid of a word—time.
  24. Whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, “What is essential?” Eliminate everything else.

 

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
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“Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown: Part One

This book really made an impact on me. Distilling the minutiae out of our lives and focusing on the few things that are really important can have a tremendous effect on our well-being. We all get caught up in trying to do to much and in doing so, fail to dedicate ourselves to just a few worthy causes, either professionally or personally. I’m personally guilty of that on a daily basis. After reading this book I’ve already noticed daily opportunities to adjust how and where I spend my resources. This has led me to re-evaluate my goals and start to remove the obstacles and distractions impeding me achieving those objectives. Enjoy. If you want something more like this, take a look at “The Signal and the Noise” and how we are inundated by a very noisy world and how it is a struggle to identify the signal amongst that noise.

  1. “Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?”
  2. Instead of spinning his wheels trying to get everything done, he could get the right things done. His newfound commitment to doing only the things that were truly important—and eliminating everything else- restored the quality of his work.
  3. Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.
  4. It is about pausing constantly to ask, “Am I investing in the right activities?” There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in. And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.
  5. If you don’t prioritize you life, someone else will.
  6. The Core Mindset of an Essentialist:
    1. Individual choice: We can choose how to spend our energy and time. Without choice, there is no point in talking about trade-offs.
    2. The prevalence of noise: Almost everything is noise, and a very few things are exceptionally valuable. This is the justification for taking time to figure out what is most important. Because some things are so much more important, the effort in finding those things is worth it.
    3. The reality of trade-offs: We can’t have it all or do it all. If we could, there would be no reason to evaluate or eliminate options. Once we accept the reality of trade-offs we stop asking, “How can I make it all work?” and start asking the more honest question, “Which problem do I want to solve?”
  7. What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?
  8. There are three deeply entrenched assumptions we must conquer to live the way of the Essentialist: “I have to,” “It’s all important,” and “I can do both.”
  9. To embrace the essence of Essentialism requires we replace these false assumptions with three core truths: “I choose to,” “Only a few things really matter,” and “I can do anything but not everything.”
  10. The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away—it can only be forgotten.
  11. When people believe that their efforts at work don’t matter, they tend to respond in one of two ways. Sometimes they check out and stop trying, like the mathematically challenged child. The other response is less obvious at first. They do the opposite. They become hyperactive. They accept every opportunity presented. They throw themselves into every assignment. They tackle every challenge with gusto. They try to do it all. This behavior does not necessarily look like learned helplessness at first glance. After all, isn’t working hard evidence of one’s belief in one’s importance and value? Yet on closer examination we can see this compulsion to do more is a smokescreen. These people don’t believe they have a choice in what opportunity, assignment, or challenge to take on. They believe they “have to do it all.”
  12. “Most of what exists in the universe—our actions, and all other forces, resources, and ideas—has little value and yields little result; on the other hand, a few things work fantastically well and have tremendous impact.” ~Richard Koch
  13. Is there a point at which doing more does not produce more? Is there a point at which doing less (but thinking more) will actually produce better outcomes? (Yes there is, evidenced by the Laffler curve, explained in great detail in “How Not to Be Wrong”)
  14. The “Pareto Principle”: introduced as far back as the 1790s by Vilfredo Pareto, that 20 percent of our efforts produce 80 percent of results.
  15. “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” ~John Maxwell
  16. A Nonessentialist approaches every trade-off by asking, “How can I do both?” Essentialists ask the tougher but ultimately more liberating questions, “Which problem do I want?” An Essentialist makes trade-offs deliberately. She acts for herself rather than waiting to be acted upon. As economist Thomas Sowell wrote: “There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.”
  17. Imagine a four-burner stove. One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work. In order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful, you have to cut off two.
  18. To discern what is truly essential we need space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make.
  19. But by abolishing any chance of being bored we have also lost the time we used to have to think and process.
  20. In every set of fact, something essential is hidden. And a good journalist knows that finding it involves exploring those pieces of information and figuring out the relationships between them.
  21. Look for the lead in your day, your week, you life. Small, incremental changes are hard to see in the moment but over time can have a huge cumulative effect.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

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“10% Happier” by Dan Harris: Part Three

  1. When you lurch from one thing to the next, constantly scheming, or reacting to incoming fire, the mind gets exhausted. You get sloppy and make bad decisions. I could see how the counterintuitive act of stopping, even for a few seconds, could be a source of strength, not weakness. This was a practical complement to Joseph’s “is this useful?” mantra. It was the opposite of zoning out, it was zoning in.
  2. Studies showed that the best way to engineer an epiphany was to work hard, focus, research, and think about a problem—and then let it go. Do something else. That didn’t necessarily mean meditate, but do something that relaxes and distracts you; let your conscious mind go to work, making connections from disparate parts of the brain. (Lots more on this idea in “Incognito”, “How We Learn”, “Blink” and see it all put together in “Einstein: His Life and Dreams”)
  3. The marines were initially interested in mindfulness because they thought it might help them deal with an epidemic of PTSD, but there was also hope that meditation could produce more effective warriors. The theory was that the practice would make troops less reactive, and therefore less vulnerable to the classic insurgent tactic of provoking the types of disproportionate responses that alienate the civilian population.
  4. The difference with meditation was that if it actually took hold, the impact would go far beyond improving muscle tone or fighting tooth decay. Mindfulness, I had come to believe, could, in fact, change the world.
  5. Practice for development of concern for well-being of others, that actually is immense benefit to oneself.
  6. Practice of compassion is ultimately benefit to you. So I usually describe: we are selfish, but be wise selfish rather than foolish selfish.
  7. The fact that my days now included long strings of positive interactions made me feel good (not to mention popular). Acknowledging other people’s basic humanity is a remarkably effective way of shooing away the swarm of self-referential thoughts that buzz like gnats around our heads.
  8. The Buddha captured it well when he said that anger, which can be so seductive at first, has “a honeyed tip” but a “poisoned root.”
  9. When you’re mindful, you actually feel irritation more keenly. However, once you unburden yourself from the delusion that people are deliberately trying to screw you, it’s easier to stop getting carried away.
  10. I had to swallow hard and admit that perhaps the concept of karma did, in fact, have some validity. Not the stuff about how the decisions we make now play out in future lifetime. In my emerging understanding, there was nothing mechanistic or metaphysical about karma. Robbing a bank or cheating at Scrabble would not automatically earn you jail time or rebirth as a Gila monster. Rather, it was simply that actions have immediate consequences in your mind—which cannot be fooled. Behave poorly, and whether you’re fully conscious of it or not, you mind contracts. The great blessing—and, frankly, the great inconvenience—of becoming more mindful and compassionate was that I was infinitely more sensitive to the mental ramifications of even the smallest transgressions, from killing a bug to dropping trash on the street.
  11. “When faced with something like this,” she said, “often it’s not the unknown that scares us, it’s that we think we know what’s going to happen—and that it’s going to be bad. But the truth is, we really don’t know.” The smart play, she said, was to turn the situation to my internal advantage. “Fear of annihilation,” she said, “can lead to great insight, because it reminds us of impermanence and the fact that we are not in control.”
  12. The Sufi Muslims say, “Praise Allah, but also tie your camel to the post.” In other words, it’s good to take a transcendent view of the world, but don’t be a chump.
  13. Striving is fine, as long as it’s tempered by the realization that, in an entropic universe, the final outcome is out of your control, if you don’t waste your energy on variables you cannot influence, you can focus much more effectively on those you can.
  14. The Way of the Worrier:
    1. Don’t be a jerk.
    2. (And/But…) When necessary, Hide the Zen.
    3. Meditate
    4. The Price of Security is Insecurity—Until It’s Not Useful
    5. Equanimity Is Not the Enemy of Creativity
    6. Don’t Force It
    7. Humility Prevents Humiliation
    8. Go Easy with the Internal Cattle Prod
    9. Nonattachment to Results
    10. What Matters Most?
  15. Meditation is the superpower that makes all the other precepts possible. The practice has countless benefits—from better health to increased focus to a deeper sense of calm—but the biggie is the ability to respond instead of react to your impulses and urges. We live our life propelled by desire and aversion. In meditation, instead of succumbing to these deeply rooted habits of mind, you are simply watching what comes up in your head nonjudgmentally.
  16. From a Buddhist monk: “There’s no point in being unhappy about things you can’t change, and no point being unhappy about things you can.
  17. All successful people fail. If you can create an inner environment where your mistakes are forgiven and flaws are candidly confronted, your resilience expands exponentially.
  18. There are a lot of bad reasons not to meditate. Here are my top three:
    1. “It’s bullshit.” I get it. As you may remember, I used to feel this way, too. But there’s a reason why businesspeople, lawyers, and marines have embraced meditation. There’s no magic or mysticism required—it’s just exercise. If you do the right amount of reps, certain things will happen, reliably and predictably.
    2. “It’s too hard for me.” I call this the “fallacy of uniqueness” argument. Welcome to the human condition. Everybody’s mind is out of control. Even experienced meditators struggle with distraction. Moreover, the idea that meditation requires you to “clear your mind” is a myth.
    3. “I don’t have time.” Everybody has five minutes.
  19. Basic Mindfulness Meditation:
    1. Sit comfortably: You don’t have to twist yourself into a cross-legged position—unless you want to, of course. You can just sit in a chair. Whatever your position, you should keep your spine straight, but don’t strain.
    2. Feel your breath. Pick a spot: nose, belly, or chest. Really try to feel the in-breath and then the out-breath.
    3. This one is the key: Every time you get lost in thought—which you will, thousands of times—gently return to the breath. I cannot stress strongly enough that forgiving yourself and starting over is the whole game. “Beginning again and again is the actual practice, not a problem to overcome so that one day we can come to the ‘real’ meditation.”
  20. Another trick for staying focused is to count your breaths. Start at one, and every time you get lost, start over. When you reach ten—if you ever reach ten—start back at one.
  21. When someone cuts you off in traffic or on line at Starbucks, you automatically think, I’m pissed. Instantaneously, you actually become Mindfulness allows you to slow that process down. Sometimes, of course, you’re right to be pissed. The question is whether you are going to react mindlessly to that anger or respond thoughtfully. Mindfulness provides space between impulse and action, so you’re not a slave to whatever neurotic obsession pops into your head.
  22. Meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It’s about feeling the way you feel.
  23. Just because your wife or your kids are driving you nuts does not mean you are a “bad person.” You can’t control what comes up, only how you respond.
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