You do not need to always agree with someone in order to have that person on your list of inspirational sources. First of all, the arguments presented just simply provide fertile ground for thoroughly thinking about an issue and forming your own opinion or insight. In this case, you could almost argue: the more you disagree, the better it is.
Secondly, not agreeing with someone on one issue, does not mean you cannot completely agree with this person on another topic. Being open-minded is a great virtue but also requires work; continuously challenging and questioning yourself. Questions like 'do I really still believe that?' 'what do I think of that?', or 'What would change my mind on this?' come to mind as helpful tricks.
One such person for me is Canadian Jordan Peterson. Most of the time, I very much enjoy his highly-intellectual and deep-philosophical podcasts (I often have to pause the podcasts because my brain needs time to digest all the information and frankly, sometimes also to look up words in the English dictionary). At the same time, his basic ideas of how society (should) function are too conservative to my liking.
Episode 381 of his podcast series triggered not only a renewed interest in listening to his podcast which I had stopped doing 18 months ago. It also made me think again about the importance of being open-minded and having a very practical approach to source your inspiration. Sometimes the title alone can lure you into listening, watching or reading without taking a second judgment call by looking who's presenting, who wrote it or who's acting it.
This particular episode is called 'Change Your Mindset, Your Health, Your Life' in which Mr Peterson sits down with Dr. Ellen Langer to talk about her views on and experiences with mindfulness and its impact on health. I thought it was fascinating what they discussed.
One example is a study that was conducted concerning the relationship between body and mind(set). A group of people living in an eldercare home were placed in an environment where everything was designed as if it was 20 years earlier. They were also assigned tasks to do as if they were 20 years younger. Within a week (!), vision, memory, hearing, and bodily strength had noticeably improved with all persons involved. Researchers also reported that they 'looked younger'.
Another experiment involved chambermaids, who were first asked how much exercise they thought they had. Most of them responded just about the exercise they did outside of work. Part of the group were made to realise that their work itself involved a lot of exercise as well. This very realisation, just changing the mindset, resulted in this group showing weight-loss, BMI reduction and lower blood pressure.
Mindset change seems to have physical impacts as well, reaching far beyond just feeling different. How to make this practical? How to find the motivation to pursue this? Dr. Ellen Langer mentions during the interview:
"There is a way to make everything exciting."
It requires mindset change, creativity, the will to make something exciting and being practical. This all starts with being open-minded.
Increase what you want, decrease what you don't want. That's the formula we discussed a couple of months back. Taking a cue from plants, who add mass where the light is, growing to where the energy can be found. Finding the activities that give you energy can be tricky though, as it requires the ability to notice.
I really like 'behind the scenes' footage of acts of creativity, as they hold clues to pinpointing where the magic happens. It's why I had no problem spending 9 hours watching The Beatles creating 'Get Back' while having fun and playing around with all the inspiration that surrounded them.
A short interview with Vulfpeck guitarist Cory Wong reveals how the band never rehearses before shows. Even guest players join the stage unaware of what's going to happen and get told where to plug their instruments on the spot.
"You get raw instincts, there's nothing but magic", Cory explains, "I don't know what's going to happen, and then that makes for something really fun, but it's not for everybody. Some people would get extreme anxiety over that. I live for those moments"
These high-risk, high-rewards setups only work when you leave the comfort zone, knowing that you can likely handle what's coming. Most of their musical guests are world-class, so their creative confidence is strong.
Cory's explanation made me identify my own unrehearsed highlights. I love being confronted with new business challenges, being part of a team that starts structuring, coming up with new ideas and dreaming big on the spot. The initial 'stage fright' that is always present, quickly turns into energy that fuels the creativity.
Linking back to the theme of this piece, I can only say: more of this, please! What are the moments you feel most alive? What are the moments you 'live for', as Cory put it? And how would you be able to make more of them?
A few years back, author Yuval Noah Harari teased our worldview by stating that AI would bring us a world where our smart fridge would be better at reading our mood than our life partner. As the current developments have squashed any lurking normalcy bias, I can only assume that a lot of us consider this scenario feasible in the near future.
The interesting part of this shifting imagination for me, is how it affects us on an emotional level. Inspecting my own feelings, I discovered a small sense of fear, of inadequacy. Being a male hasn't put me in the highest scoring category for reading feelings anyway, but a household appliance potentially outdoing me on this front feels threatening. It might make me a lesser kind of husband, right?
A recent plug-in application for Zoom made the mood-reading tech even more clear and present. Automatic transcription is nothing new, summarization neither. But having 'mood scores', highlighting engagement and even links to the topic at hand is a whole new game. I haven't seen the technology in action yet, but its mere presence in the Zoom app store is an indication of how close we are getting.
Seeing this tech reframed my anxiety a bit as well, as it also provides a good examples of the 'augmentation' that AI can bring. The same kind of technology is being used in Customer Service centers, where voice analysis provides cues to the agents on possible routes in the script and warning signs, should they be missed by the agent itself.
If I'm ok with my EV gently nudging me when I accidentally leave my lane, why can't AI make me a better husband? I feel no less for writing down our Anniversary in my diary, right? So, forms of technology are supporting me already. I might be able to appreciate a small nudge when I'm overly focused on myself. Even from my fridge.
Practicing non-judgement has been one of the key techniques bringing me joy these past years, while also being the terrain where I feel there is still tons of progress possible. Both in personal endeavours as well as business environments, passing on your immediate judgement has brought me wonderful outcomes.
Earlier, we shared how Bill Clinton and Celeste Headlee always assume there is a big story behind every person they meet. I think this might be the best possible mindset to practice non-judgement. It's not about forcefully squashing the thoughts that come to mind, it's about adopting a conviction that there is a story that explains why people behave like they do; we just haven't found it.
A few weeks ago, the mighty YouTube algorithm decided to serve me a video called '$1 vs $1,000,000 Hotel Room!'
I had heard of MrBeast, the video's creator before, and his other videos ("I spent 50 hours buried alive", "I ate a $70,000 golden pizza") bypassed any non-judgement-y reflex I might have developed over the past period. Clickbait, flashy bullshit for teenagers on a doomscroll. Period. Right?
Two videos down a potential rabbit-hole (the engineer in me could not resist an experiment with concrete walls as a gentle stopping mechanism for freight trains..) 'The Origin and Rise of MrBeast', a documentary on his life so far, turned up in my feed, revealing a different side of the story. Obsessed with making videos since his childhood, he gave away the first $5,000 he ever received in sponsorship to a homeless guy down the road, simply to see his reaction. Helping thousands of people with cheap, but life-changing eye surgeries and hearing aids was another of his projects.
While his business empire is valued north of a billion dollars, he still lives in what can best be described as a dorm room. Should the fairytale end, his lifestyle wouldn't suffer much, his reasoning goes. He just likes to spend his time doing what he enjoys most: doing fun and helpful projects with his friends.
Evidence + 1, more proof supporting a growing conviction. For the next person you meet who triggers a judgement, consider starting with a question and see where this gets you.
"We tend to think of major personal transformations as big, loud and sudden. We imagine an explosion of fireworks or, conversely, an earthquake that brings everything crashing down. But personal transformations don’t always follow a ‘bang’. Sometimes they build from a whisper."
It's a thought that resonated with me, luring me deeper into the article that featured it. For me, it connects with the idea that we all have a unique set of capabilities and talents. We 'just' need to find them.
We're, however, not taught how. Being social animals that tend to prefer structure over chaos and mingling in the crowd over standing on the sideline, we experience a lot of pressure to conform. Conform to whatever our surroundings have defined as 'normal'. Furthermore, we remember well the big and profound life-changing events, tricking us into believing that thát is something to strive for.
I personally believe the big events are often just a catalyst or a culmination of many, smaller steps. We can create and cultivate a lifestyle and processes that make it easier to take those small steps. Almost like a habit.
The mentioned article provided some interesting signals to look for, teaching us where to find those 'whispers' and how to actively listen to them. It appears that our dreams and day-wanderings (which apparently are a form of dream) provide clues to who we really are, what we aspire to and how we can actively (and subtly) change course.
"When our minds wander, we step back from ongoing events, reassess what has just happened, and imagine alternative possibilities for what we might do next."
The trick is, more often than not, your dream is ... just a dream, a random concatenation of different experiences and made-up events. The article explains that you can however actively induce dreaming and by creating more of it, chances are you'll get more inspiration out of it. It boils down to what is called 'freedom from immediacy' and 'freedom from repetition'. In other words, try to reduce reacting to immediate needs and actively look for variation, different activities and experiences. It'll enrich your imagination and thereby your toolkit for transformation.
For an experiment, plan a 1-hour 'daydreaming' appointment in your schedule, or come up with a way to change a routine. Wether it's your workout, your walk or your meeting format, switch it up for the sake of variety.
It is a source of discomfort for me: people having (strong) opinions and trying to make you choose a side. I guess it makes people feel comfortable, because based on your opinion, one can classify and label you better. That makes things neat and organized. However, we have covered the drawbacks of labelling. Amongst others, it is rather asocial and a simplification of reality.
It takes courage to admit it, but it is not always necessary nor possible to have an opinion. Why, for instance, would you get involved in a discussion on a topic you're not familiar with? Once you pay attention, you'll notice how often this happens. In fact, I find it shocking.
The media plays an important role. Being opinionated attracts an audience, which is their source of income. At the same time, the opinions conveyed will start leading their own lives with the audience. When individuals forget to think for themselves, they can be easily influenced and become supporters of a certain media's view. Combined with media's often relatively short-term focus, there's the danger of losing ourselves in matters that have little value. To use the words of young philosopher Ferre Clabau:
"Let's live in reality, not in actuality."
Let's practice to be 'opinion-less' every so often. Certainly, when it is about a topic you're not familiar with or when it is outside your realm of influence. Rather, focus your energy on the (small) things you can influence or being a neutral judge. Every little wind of change has the potential to grow into a hurricane.
I tend to focus on subjects for a period of time monomaniacally before moving on and letting the subject fade out a little. If I really want to learn, there is no multitasking for me. While I used to think this behaviour was at odds with my convictions about life in general (being consistent over time), I tend to find more and more proof of the utility of this behaviour.
The first part lies in the myth of multitasking. With complex problems and concepts, it can take a while to get the 'wetware' loaded in your brain. Getting knowledge and connections top of mind just takes time. In that sense, it makes sense not to do too much things in parallel, but use all the focus you can on just one subject to get meaningful progress.
Another bit of the puzzle was handed to me in a Tim Ferriss e-mail about a 2010 article by Paul Graham of Y-Combinator. His article, called "The Top Idea in Your Mind" wonderfully links 'top of mind' with finding solutions.
I already knew what the value is of having your 'favourite problems' top of mind, because solutions tend to come spontaneously. Professor Richard Feynman's modus operandi was continuously checking new information against the problems he would like to solve. If problems are top of mind, you're feeding your unconscious with the riddles you would like to get solved.
Paul Graham concurs. While in the shower, you should be thinking about the most important issues you would like to solve. Which is why he found entrepreneurs having 'raising money' or 'solving legal issues' as their priorities, lacking in real progress. What are your thoughts in the shower, and are they the ones you want them to be?
On January 22, spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh passed away at the age of 95. I read several of his works, which often resonated immensely with me. Only after visiting his Wikipedia page for this small piece, did I grasp the full extent of what he spent his life on, which I find nothing short of impressive. An activist in Vietnam, messenger of mindfulness to the West, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, creator of a large Buddhist monastery in France, writer of beautiful poems and a long, long list of books.
As a small tribute, let me share two of his lessons that resonated and informed my course in life. The first one is on choosing your surroundings, environment, people and (especially these days) media:
"Before we can make deep changes in our lives, we have to look into our diet, our way of consuming. We have to live in such a way that we stop consuming the things that poison us and intoxicate us. Then we will have the strength to allow the best in us to arise, and we will no longer be victims of anger, of frustration."
The second one is on 'indifference', a feeling that caught me on several moments in the past. Knowing to perceive it as a signal of something deeper made me better equipped to turn the ship and enjoy life.
"When we are indifferent, nothing is enjoyable, interesting, or worth striving for. We don’t experience love or understanding, and our life has no joy or meaning. We don’t even notice the beauties of nature or the laughter of children. We are unable to touch the suffering or the happiness of others. If you find yourself in a state of indifference, ask your friends for help. Even with all its suffering, life is filled with many wonders."
In our bathroom, there is a small note on the wall that reads:
"Think before you speak:
Is it ... True?
Is it ... Helpful?
Is it ... Inspiring?
Is it ... Necessary?
Is it ... Kind?"
There won't be a lot of people that will disagree with this. Still, I observe a lot of conversations and discussions could benefit from applying this simple technique more frequently.
However, the trick is how to actually apply it. In the heat of the moment, being confronted with a new situation, a surprise or something exciting, will often make you forget about these guidelines and instill a spontaneous reaction. Moreover, how does this reconcile with trusting and following your gut?
Taking a couple of seconds to actually think before you speak is a great starter. Next practice is to not think too long to leave ample room for your gut, intuition and creativity to keep its influence on your response. Think before you speak and if it takes too long, just keep quiet and capture another moment with your brilliant insight. Spontaneity is admirable as well. Let's not lose it.
I sense a lot of fear and anxiety around us these days. For good reasons, but I feel the element of fear is getting too pronounced. There is an imbalance. I believe this could be one of the reasons why we experience irrational behaviour and anger, both by civilians as well as by leaders and politicians.
But how to take a break in the middle of a crisis? I came across an article by Maria Popova, explaining how to turn fear into love by using four simple mantras. Maria's website 'brainpickings' is frequently a source of inspiration.
Using mantras, often in combination with meditation, is a mindfulness practice that focuses you on a 'purposeful, devoted intent'.
The four mantras to turn fear into love are:
Whether you believe in it or not, it sure doesn't hurt to say these four simple sentences daily. It will at least change the focus of our mind for those few seconds. A few seconds without fear, being present in the moment, thinking about yourself and others.
“When you love someone, the best thing you can offer that person is your presence.”
"After all, what can a first impression tell us about someone we've just met for a minute [...]? For that matter, what can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven, or a brushstroke about Boticelli. By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration - and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour."
A beautifully written piece of wisdom from the book "A Gentleman in Moscow" by Amor Towles that triggered some thinking. To withhold an opinion is easily said, but rather difficult in practice. It takes great effort. It means work, investing time, reaching out and holding back, applying subtleness ánd judgement, cook and simmer.
'Reconsideration' really seems to be the key word. A great balancing act. However, this could mean you'll never reach a conclusion. Would that be beneficial in any way? Would a final conclusion really be much different from a first impression?
My personal experience sometimes leads me to really trust my intuitive, first impressions. Conducting job interviews, for example, I have experienced that my impression after the first couple of minutes is a pretty good (>90%) predictor of my final conclusion. Or is my first impression guiding me to the conclusion and do I conduct the remainder of the interview in 'confirmation bias'?
One of the unique capabilities of the modern human being is its thinking abilities. Our brain does not only regulate our body's physical and metabolic needs, it is also able to plan, invent and create. In addition, it seems to continuously create thoughts. Thoughts of all kinds, sometimes pleasant, more often apparently aimed at keeping you in a state of readiness.
In an article, Rémy Furrer, PhD candidate in social psychology at the University of Virginia, describes his research in whether we are able to direct our thoughts.
"Given the endless forms our thoughts can take, why wouldn’t we –when given the opportunity to withdraw from the external world– dive into our own minds and entertain ourselves with our thoughts?"
Findings from his and other research are fascinating. First of all, it turns out that a lot of people, especially men, will not consciously take the opportunity to spend some time alone with their thoughts. In the experiment done, they rather opt for the only other choice given to them: to shock themselves. Apparently, they do not enjoy spending time with their own thoughts.
Secondly, they found that "thinking pleasurable thoughts is not intuitive" and it may require practice and the right motivation to do so. Putting this knowledge into practice in another experiment, they found that just thinking pleasurable thoughts is not enough. The thoughts also need to be meaningful.
"The findings were consistent across cultures, which demonstrates the universality of people’s preference for activities that provide an external source of entertainment, rather than spending time thinking about pleasurable topics of their own making."
Still, like the author of the article, I believe spending time with your own thoughts is useful. The trick seems to be to really have the intention to have a pleasurable experience. That makes it meaningful.
A couple of weeks ago, when I found myself low on energy, off the normal schedule and generally not having the feeling to be in control, I decided I needed to dive back into my early-morning meditation habit. To 'properly' prepare, I searched for inspiration and came across an interview with Deepak Chopra by Jay Shetty called 'how to be more present and not be overwhelmed with life'.
Please do not be alarmed, I was not attracted to this podcast by the last part of the sentence. During the interview, Mr. Chopra shows how meditation can support your quests by applying some simple techniques. One of them is by asking four questions during meditation:
Once you raise one question, your mind may start to look for answers. However, the target of this exercise is not to find the right answers. It is essentially about framing the right mindset to be receptive to inputs that may give the answers during the days and weeks that will follow.
Thinking about this, it occurred to me that asking questions is really about preparing yourself mentally, like we prepare ourselves physically by exercising for some enduring task that lays ahead. The trick seems to be to have the right exercises or questions for the task at hand.
Let's start exercising and asking ourselves questions. Please do remember that a wise person once said: "you can only ask the right question when you're not afraid of the answer". Be prepared!
We often praise the benefits of deep work, being in the zone, flow. The pitfalls of distraction, the dangers of ruining your streak. And while I still consider a great uninterrupted 2-3 hour session of creative work the best ingredient for a successful day, sometimes, just wandering off and letting yourself being drawn to something completely random has its merits.
Boris Veldhuizen van Zanten, CEO of TNW, sings the praises of distraction is his (great, IMO) weekly letter. One particularly interesting insight is his idea of selectivity in being distracted:
"And who knows, maybe there’s a reason you let some things distract you, while you ignore others. Perhaps you let the things through that might help you in the long run?"
In light of the growing insights into our intuition, this does not even seem that strange to me. Following your gut is great advice in any kind of scenario, so why not trust it with distractions as well. Einstein summed it up quite nicely when stating "Creativity is the residue of wasted time". Apparently that formula worked great for him.
Japanese 'organising consultant' Marie Kondo is best known for her radical methods for keeping your house free of clutter. Her method, known an KonMari has its origins in Shintoism and revolves around only keeping items that 'Spark Joy' or 'Tokimeku'. She published a book on the subject, selling millions of copies, has a franchise with KonMari consultants all around the world and even inspired a Netflix series in which she helped several American families re-organise their lives.
I had a flashback of Marie's methods when reading Seth Godin's blog on Meeting Nullification in which he tries to come up with fun but also challenging experiments to get rid of unnecessary meetings.
His first experiment is called 'Meeting abstention'. Anyone invited to an internal meeting has the power to opt out by asking 'Send me the summary please'. You give up your ability to have a say, but you can get back to being actually productive. The second experiment is even more drastic. 'Meeting nullification' gives all participants the right to disband the whole thing and the meeting organizer is obligated to send everyone the memo that they probably should have sent in the first place.
Seth challenges organisations to try these two experiments, if only for a week. The results can be confronting and revealing, even if no one has the guts to abstain or nullify.
If only truly valuable meetings are called, our schedules will be a lot emptier and we might get some joy out of the ones that remain. Do we have the guts to actually clean up?
I think mindfulness and meditation practices have many benefits in our daily lives. Getting to the present moment makes it possible to stretch the tiny space between an impulse and your reaction, opening up tons of possibilities and insight. Learning and practicing meditation is quite an investment though.
Since I wanted to use some of its benefits in coaching people on innovation, I asked meditation teacher Marisa Löwenstein for an '80-20 technique' that would allow us to reap some of its benefits without the investment. She immediately responded with the advice to use the 'Come to your senses' exercise, involving the use of our senses to return to the present moment. 'Coming to your senses' has been folk wisdom for ages, but I had not seen it in that light ever before.
The week after, a creation from animator Chad Moore showed up on my Twitter timeline, nicely illustrating a variation of the exercise. He got the exercise from his therapist for use when he felt stress and overwhelm. I interpreted the re-appearance as a signal to share 😀
I find it amazing how such a simple exercise can achieve real results. Next time you feel like you're in need of some mindfulness, give it a try!
In the past weeks and months, I have frequently recommended people 'The Book of Joy' written by the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams. The book describes the week-long visit of Desmond Tutu to the Dalai Lama in 2015 and the discussions they are having. It's full of gems for everyone who is looking for inspiration on how to live a more joyous life.
"You are made for perfection, but you are not yet perfect. You are a masterpiece in the making.”
At the same time, the book is also an honest reflection on life's difficulties. It can be confronting to realise how the self-centred attitude of present-day societies lies at the root of the hardship we experience. The authors propose that whilst suffering is inevitable, our response to it is our own choice, which is why the lessons on how to instill joy are important:
"Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.”
Joy, as we learn in the book, is much more than happiness, which tends to be dependent on external circumstances. Joy is the happiness that does not depend on what happens:
"It is the grateful response to the opportunity that life offers you at this moment."
The first time an Agile coach explained to me the principles of Kanban, using a big whiteboard filled with Post-it notes, I immediately started making the case for using a computer system for that. A database is accessible by everyone at every location, and typing makes for notes that are much more legible than the average handwriting. He then went on to explain the value of an Information Radiator, something that is 'in your face' at all times you pass it.
Stoic writer Ryan Holiday writes on information radiation in '33 Things I Stole From People Smarter Than Me on the Way to 33':
"I’ve been in too many locker rooms not to notice that teams put up their values on the wall. Every hallway and doorway is decorated with a motivational quote. At first, it seemed silly. Then you realize: It’s one thing to hear something, it’s another to live up to it each day... You have to put your precepts up for display. You have to make them inescapable. Or the idea will escape you when it counts."
While I was no fan of the 90s craze of lining office walls with motivational posters, I do try to surround myself with items that remind me of values and intentions. A nice balancing act if you're also a fan of clean desk 🙂
If you're the type of person who keeps browser tabs open, sometimes for weeks, you might benefit from closing them as you shut down your computer for the night. The article 'Close All Your Tabs. Just Close 'Em' on Lifehacker makes the case that open browser tabs are not just clogging your computer (they're notorious for taking up humongous amounts of memory) but also capture part of your focus while working.
"you can think of open tabs like your subconscious noodling away at something you don’t have time to devote your full attention to. Metro UK’s Ellen Scott likens the functionality to 'task-switching'; it allows us to move on to a new activity when we grow bored—but also invites distraction."
Having a neutral state to start your work from is a well known tactic for increased focus and productivity. In yoga, practitioners come back to a neutral posture between each exercise. In the book Work Clean, writer Dan Charnas explains how this neutral state is a key element in all great kitchens across the world, part of 'mise en place'. If you're not working from a clean workspace, resetting it after every job, you are more likely to stumble in the course of a busy service.
So, take some time every day (or even every hour) to get back to a neutral digital state and see how that feels!
Persons that have suffered from amnesia as a result of a serious brain injury behave -on average- most like themselves in circumstances where they can act as they used to do. This may sound rather obvious. However, the important word in this sentence is 'act', because it is meant literally: how you use your arms, legs, hands, feet, body.
Ben Platts-Mills, who works for a charity that supports survivors of brain injury, notes:
"The places where they [red: amnesia patients] are most confident in their identities are the ones in which they are supported not merely to think but to do the things they love."
This phenomenon is ground for the theory that memory is not only constituted by the conscious recollection of past events but that it "involves the whole body". Another insight is that memory is often seen as the foundation of identity. This way of looking was first elaborately described by the English philosopher John Locke, regarded as one of the most influential of enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the "Father of Liberalism".
Combining the two insights feels natural to me. Someone's personality and position in this world is not solely determined by the mind or the body. It's the entire body. I even would like to go one step further: it is determined by the interaction between (human) beings. Memory will thus exist between people and will defy any damage done to your brain or your body, whether by injury or age (think of dementia!). That's comforting.