The Gate Keepers are Dead

I just watched a movie called “Set it Up.” It was a cheesy, pre-packaged rom-com but it had an interesting secondary narrative. The gatekeepers. We all know the story. There are a powerful few that control access to the arts, business, and riches.

Except the narrative is wrong. It’s a last gasp attempt to tell a story that’s dying. The great wall the gatekeepers built is dying the death of a million paper cuts. Social media, personal blogs, and technology all serve as the scaffolding to overthrow the giants.

Yet we still keep the old tired narrative. Why? Because it’s easier to throw up your hands than is it buckle down and do the work.

Unlearning

In order to learn something you must unlearn it first. I heard this today while listening to a podcast and it stuck.

I’ve thought a lot about writing lately — specifically how to become a better writer. Look at the most impressive writers and you’ll notice something peculiar. Their sentences don’t follow a set formula. Think back to grade school. We’re all taught how to structure a sentence. Specifically we’re taught that there’s a “right” and a “wrong” way, yet great writers break rules.

Ryan Holiday is a great writer. He’s persuasive, detailed, prolific, and admits to not giving a shit about grammar. Why? Because grammar isn’t the product. As he says in his article So You Want To Be A Writer? That’s Mistake #1   No one ever reads something and says, “well, I got absolutely nothing out of this and have no idea what any of this means but it sure is technically beautiful.” 

The point isn’t to throw away technical ability, or spurn grammar altogether. Instead we need to realize that any growth comes at the cost of a past truth.

Personal growth is no different. To move from an “I can’t” to “I can” you have to forget the former.

To learn it seems, one must forget.

800,000

That’s the number of people that commit suicide every year. One person, every 40 seconds. In 2015 suicide was in the top 20 for leading causes of death. It’s also a question, or rather a series of questions.

Why are we a threat to ourselves? How many more people attempted? What is it about our minds that can cause the world to seem so dangerous that the only escape is to leave? How can we change? Is it looking at mental illnesses differently? What’s changed over the past 200+ years in our environments and minds?

And maybe the most important question — what can we do now?

The Tortoise

The long way is the shortcut – Seth Godin

Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life. – Jerzy Gregorek

There’s a sentiment echoed through quotes (like the ones above), parables, and cautionary tales. The message isn’t flashy. It’s not particularly fun or exciting.

The tortoise wins.

It goes against the cultural narrative. The get rich, get thin, get 1 million followers, while you sleep narrative.

It requires work, faith, and resilience. We hear it over and over again. Why is it so hard to believe? Maybe because hard work and patience aren’t sexy.

Neither is vaseline but it works.

What to do When Your Day Starts Sideways

I don’t know what to write. I’ve spent most of the day flailing around, exhausted. Sometimes on days like today I get terrible sleep.

Normal people… well what do normal people do in this situation. I usually drink twice as much coffee. Then try to take a nap. Followed by sitting in front of the computer like a zombie muttering profanities.

Once that gets boring I move on to worrying. I won’t get what I need to done. I’m a failure, etc. and so on.

Lately I’ve noticed there’s a better option. It’s painful but it involves gently reminding myself to be present. If I can hold the attention for long enough the downward spiral stops. In that moment I can ask: what one thing can I do that will make today ok?

Kintsugi of the Soul

Kintsugi is a Japanese practice of repairing broken china with golden epoxy.It celebrates, even elevates the imperfect.

What if we could Kintsugi our broken bits? What if instead of wishing we were perfect we could celebrate our many imperfect fragments?

Who would we be then?

Word is Bond

The average human speaks around 16,000 words a day. No wonder we rarely think about the words we use.

Imagine you had 16,000 dollars to spend a day. Would you worry about the $6 coffee or the $100 dinner? No. We treat words in the same way. We say things we don’t mean, gossip, lie, and make promises we’ll never keep.

The problem? Words do matter. Over minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years they construct our reality.

Hip Hop artists know this better than most. Everything in the Hip Hop artist’s world starts with words. Out of these words the artist manifests cars, clothes, and fame.

Words become things.

It doesn’t matter if you’re not a Hip Hop artist. The words you use build your reality.


Originally when I set out to write this I wanted to talk about Hip Hop and Stoicism. I tried to write the post and couldn’t get it to work. I’m going to revisit at some point. There’s a lot of wisdom in Hip Hop.

When The Foundation Changes

There’s a prominent theory in psychology called ego depletion. The basic idea is that you have a limited amount of willpower. It’s kind of like having a tank of gas. Over the day you slowly burn through it all until you binge eat ice cream or spend hours aimlessly watching Netflix.

The only problem? It’s a myth. One that a lot of productivity science is built one. A myth I believed until yesterday.

When the foundation collapses what do you do? I felt a weight lifted. I’d been using ego depletion as an excuse, a way to hide from doing the work.

It got me thinking. Maybe we should seek out the sinkhole.

Further Reading

https://www.fastcompany.com/3065981/this-myth-about-willpower-is-holding-back-your-productivity 

On Laughing at Yourself, Being Wrong, and Self Experimentation

Sometimes you can’t help but laugh at yourself. About a month ago I was heading to Chattanooga TN on an exploratory mission. I had an incredibly early flight. I had to be out the door around 4am which meant I was up around 3am getting ready. I’ve been thinking about a writing side project for a long time and that morning at 3:45 when I hopped in an Uber to logan airport my brain was alive with ideas.

Not wanting to waste the moment I pulled out my iphone and started frantically typing. I was intoxicated. Research I’d read on neuroscience and psychology was flawlessly flowing into a narrative.

I spent the 20 minute car ride in a state of flow. When we arrived at Logan I’d flushed out ideas that previously seemed impossible.

Naturally I’ve been dying to recreate this experience. In a moment of brilliance (aka insanity) I thought to myself that maybe the malleability of my brain at 4am in the morning was the reason for brilliance. So like any sane person I set my alarm for 4am the next morning.

I knew that 4am Tyler was going to be a dick so I devised a clever way to keep myself awake long enough to do more than hit the snooze button. I put the alarm clock in the next room and then proceeded to fall asleep.

I didn’t account for my deep desire to not be awake at 4am. The alarm went off, I got out of bed (cursing myself) proceeded to find the alarm and shut it off. I did spend a few minutes looking out at the sleepy street below and then promptly decided that this was fucking insane and I’d much rather be asleep.

Why am I telling you this? Because it illustrates a good point. Experimentation is not always pleasant. To paraphrase one of my friends “experiments don’t always work out, if they did your methodology would probably be off.”

So embrace your insane experiment. Give a few crazy things a shot and if they don’t pan out laugh a little. Experiments aren’t always supposed to succeed.

Journaling, Why Your Brain Loves It And One Exercise That Will Improve Your Life Now

Why journal? You’ve probably run across countless articles touting the health benefits, productivity gains, or the famous people that journal. This is not one of those articles. Instead we’re going to look at why journaling is such an incredible tool from your brain’s perspective.

Speaking of your brain, have you noticed that it carries on a lot of inner dialogues? No? Think about the last time you were stressed about work. Did you run through different scenarios in your head, maybe even simulate dialogue with the person stressing you out? This is called inner-speech or Self-talk.

Recent research shows that we can process inner-speech at a rate of 4,000 words per minute. This is a whopping 10 times faster than a real conversation. That’s absurd and a bit crazy, right? Doesn’t that mean we’re all walking around talking to ourselves like an insane person?

Yes and no. A lot of the words we process internally are fragments of dialogue, in part because we already know what we’re talking about. In The Voices Within, Charles Fernyhough hypothesizes that we are all fragmented, there is no unitary self, and we’re always struggling to create the illusion of a unitary ‘me’ from moment to moment.

Put another way, we’re using our inner speech to craft and edit a narrative. We’re constantly telling ourselves stories and then discussing them as we move throughout our day and life. It’s poetic to think about writing your own story — kinda like the movie Stranger Than Fiction.

But…. and this is a big but. Wouldn’t it be nice to quite some of the noise? Four thousand words a minute is a lot of static, especially if you’re like me and spend A LOT of time in your head.

This is where journaling can be a huge win for you. Think of it as an output/input tool. Let me explain. Let’s say you’re writing about a recent traumatic event. It could be anything from a sports injury to a death in the family. Let’s keep things light and focus on the injury as an example.

When you sit down to write about your injury you’ll probably start by describing what happened, ponder how it might be avoided in the future, and may even find yourself reframing the experience as a positive event.

Let’s break this down. When you’re describing the crash you’re in output mode. You’re writing down and recording those endless loops in your head. The ones that might be saying things like “you should have known you were going to get hurt” or “I’m so stupid, why did I do that?”

Now that those nagging conversations are gone your brain is able to see the situation from new angles. You can start to see the positives, or at the very least how to avoid hurting yourself again.

This is the input part and it’s pretty cool. By writing about the event you’ve gained distance from it. With this distance you’re able to see it in a new light. By seeing it in a new light you’re able to completely transform your understanding of the event and in the process your thoughts. It’s kinda like brain voodoo.

In fact, research shows that writing about a traumatic event for 20 minutes each day for three consecutive days leads to lower blood pressure, improved immune function, more happiness, less depression, and less anxiety.

Pretty incredible, right? This my friends is just scratching the surface of the power of journaling. In the coming weeks I’ll be diving deep into the science behind journaling and providing you with journal prompts so you can perform all kinds of brain voodoo. In the meantime if you want to try the exercise, I’ve included the journal prompt below so you can get rid of some of those nagging thought loops.

Want to try this for yourself?

Just follow the prompt instructions below (adapted from James Pennebaker’s instructions for clarity and brevity)

  1. Set a timerfor 20 minutes
  2. When the timer starts, begin writing about your emotional experiences from the past week, month, and year.
  3. Forget about punctuation, spelling and so on. The point is to write about the experiences, not create a grammatical masterpiece.
  4. Go where your mind takes you. Be curious, be open, be without judgement.
  5. When done, delete the document, or burn the paper, or don’t. As they say in sailing it’s not about the destination it’s about the journey. Or to paraphrase Pennebaker, the important part is that you’ve started the process of observing your experiences from a different vantage point and now have a new perspective.
  6. Feel happier, less anxious, and healthier

Love it, Hate it, Meh?

Let me know in the comments, share it with someone who will find it useful, or tell me personally what you think at tylerclemmer@gmail.com.