Noticing the end

the-end-by-alice-popcorn

“I’m getting hungry.”

“I’m getting bored.”

“I’m getting angry.”

We do a pretty good job of being aware when difficult or unpleasant feelings start, but we’re often less skilful at noticing when they end.

By not calling out the end of something which we perceive to be tough or negative, we become blind to how fleeting these feelings actually are.

If we feel ourselves becoming angry often, we can begin to believe that we’re always angry. From there it’s easy for us to assume that it’s a fixed trait and not a fleeting experience.

It’s easier to notice in others than ourselves.

When we notice other people acting like arseholes, it’s often because they’re carrying around feelings from one context and applying them to the next. They’re assuming that their old feelings still exist and still apply.

It’s an insidious problem with a simple remedy.

To regain the perspective on how fleeting and ephemeral these feelings actually are, we just need to pay a little more attention to them.

By taking the time to step back from a feeling and call it out objectively we then get a sense of how short it’s life cycle actually is.

And this might be by literally saying to yourself “Woah, there is some real anger there”.

The feeling rises. We notice it. And by stepping back to look at it, we rob it of the fuel it needs to sustain itself, so it then begins to subside. If we watch it for long enough (often just a matter of seconds), we can observe it diminish and then disappearing completely.

We can avoid the trap of being miserable ourselves and of being arseholes to others. By noticing the fleeting nature of the bad vibes we experience, we allow ourselves to approach each new situation with the freshest mind possible.

One thing at a time

Stepping stones in water

We all feel the tension and stress as too many things compete for our time and attention.

It’s being stretched too thin. Buffeted from one task, meeting, engagement or demand to the next. Left with no time to absorb the complexities and nuance of each situation, let alone try to solve it.

The phone in our pocket never stops buzzing:

“Darren has uploaded a new photo.”

“How to make your life better with this one weird trick.”

“You won’t believe how these 10 celebs look after a diet of kale and weasels.”

It’s no wonder that we feel the need to manage these competing demands by tackling a few of them at the same time.

I’ll write the report while I check some emails. I’ll eat lunch while I read the treatment. I’ll finish the proposal while I’m in the meeting.

We double and triple up on simultaneous activities because we think they make us more effective. In fact they have the opposite effect.

Multi-tasking is hugely damaging to our productivity because it comes with such a bevy of hidden costs. It feels like you’re getting more done, but that’s just because your brain is struggling under the burden of all the things you’ve loaded into it.

Multitasking forces us to pay a tax in attention and will power, let’s call it The Brain Tax.

When you switch back and forth between tasks, you pay The Brain Tax.

When you hold more than one subject in your RAM at the same time, you pay The Brain Tax.

When you start something and then leave it incomplete while you move onto something else, you pay The Brain Tax.

Anytime you’re not doing and then completing one thing at a time, you’re paying The Brain Tax which erodes your concentration, efficiency and effectiveness.

If you want to get a lot done, then focus on one thing at a time. Start it, finish it and then move on to the next thing. If you’re worried about the landscape shifting while you’ve got your head down, then do a quick sweep of your priorities between task.

You’ll get more done. You’ll be more effective. You’ll feel better about what you leave behind.

We can’t do everything, but we can certainly commit to one thing at a time.

We are not our thoughts

tiger-tiger-by-id-iom

We identify a lot with our thoughts and give them a lot of credence.

We feel a strong sense of ownership and responsibility for them.

After all, we brought them into this world, they’re for us to deal with.

There is an extent to which this is helpful, to which this ownership of thoughts has evolved as a survival mechanism to protect us.

“I need to eat.”

“I am in danger.”

“I need to get out of here.

Our identification with these thoughts helped turned them into actions which prolonged our life. And in the moments when our lives are in jeopardy, this process is incredibly useful.

But most of the situations for which these mechanisms were evolved, no longer exist. On the level of our day-to-day lives, we face very few existential threats.

Despite this, we are still bombarded with thoughts and messages with which we immediately identify. Unfortunately this identification with our thoughts is often deeply unhelpful.

One of the main reasons we identify with thoughts so quickly, is that we often assume they are true. We assume that our thoughts represent a rational and reasonable point of view about the world and that they are worthy of our attention and belief.

But this is not the case at all. Our thoughts are just messages which bubble up from our neural chemistry like a spring of water from the ground. We don’t ask for them, they just pop into our head.

They often have little basis in any kind of objective reality but we assume that they are telling us truths about the world. We do this partly because our experience of our thoughts is real – and most of the time REAL = TRUE.

It feels real when we have a thought. We can feel the impact of it in our head. We can hear it and we can see it.

We can also watch thoughts appear and disappear. If we take the time to just sit and become aware of what our mind it doing, we can observe our thoughts rise up, float around and then fall away.

But that doesn’t mean that what our thoughts say is true. It doesn’t make them actuate, observations of the world.

And it’s this tendency for us to conflate and confuse our REAL experience of our thoughts, with them being TRUE which causes us a lot of unnecessary pain and distress.

What’s not immediately obvious to us, is that we get to CHOOSE whether we believe our thoughts. We get to choose whether we act on our thoughts. And we get to choose whether they have an impact on us while they flood our mind.

These choices aren’t obvious to us however, because all of those settings are switched to “on” by default. By default, we believe our thoughts, we let them have an impact on us and we often action them.

But we don’t have to.

When we see our thoughts for what they are and don’t accept them as gospel, then we can be more skillful in how we deal with them.

We can choose whether to believe them.

We can choose whether to identify with them.

We can choose whether to act on them.

We are not our thoughts – and we should choose to remember that.

How valuable is your work, to you?

remington-by-mark-grapengater

I’d ideally write this whilst sitting in a house, high on a cliff, by an open window, overlooking the ocean.

I’d ideally write this on a manual typewriter (with a colemak keyboard) and then scan it in so that I can pipe it out to the digital world.

I’d ideally write this after a 6 mile run, uninterrupted by family, phone or any other unsolicited demand on my attention.

I’d ideally have a cup of good coffee on one side of the typewriter and a bowl of almonds on the other. A pair of supportive shoes on my feet and some noise-cancelling headphones on my ears.

If I wrote under these conditions, I’m confident that I could do my best work.

Unfortunately – the conditions have never been just right.

But this is my work, so I still need to write.

The conditions will never be just right for you either, but you still have to do your work.

Not your job, your work. Whatever it is that you have to do.

Because the value of you doing your work – whatever that work is – is greater than the value of you not doing it.

The value of you working, even in a sub-optimal environment is much greater than the value of you not working until the conditions are right.

Sometimes the conditions will be approach ideal, and on those days maybe it will be more fun. Maybe you’ll be more productive. Maybe you’ll have more success.

But don’t make success contingent on ideal conditions.

Conditions are variable, fickle, little buggers.

The only constant you can count on is you doing your work.

Today it’s dark, I haven’t run and the coffee is non-existent but I’m still writing.

Because some value is better than no value.

Can you be happy in last place?

Mens 100m final by William Warby

In almost every, quantified activity, someone has to come last.

Someone has to be the slowest, the weakest, the lowest.

It’s the brutal result of us quantifying our performance and there is no way around it.

Even in the Olympic sprinting finals. Even if each finisher smashes the winning times from all the heats, someone comes in 8th place.

Dead last.

And coming last sucks.

Firstly, there’s the crushing feeling of failure which hits you immediately.

Then there’s the discomfort and pity you receive from the witnesses, both of which can be worse that the original experience.

When you come last, all the effort you sank into the project: the time, the money, the sacrifice, the focus – it all seems to have been in vain.

Because you came last.

But to be honest, all that is bullshit.

If you’re unhappy with last place, then you’re thinking about it the wrong way. If you’re tethering your happiness to elements outside of your control, you’ll be disappointed no matter the outcome.

All you can judge is what you can control. And to be clear, our sense of what we control in this world, is massively over-inflated.

You can’t control whether you beat someone else. You can’t control the outcome, only what you put in.

You can control your training, your outlook, your technique, your focus, your attitude and your commitment.

All the other factors: The weather, competitors, referee, market and environment. They’re all in the hands of other agents and those external factors are going to influence whether you win or lose, just as much as your own performance will.

If you have to judge yourself, then do it by criteria decoupled from those external factors. Focus on measurements of what you control. Your speed, your distance, your time, your effort, your rate of improvement, your personal best.

But even with that kind of outlook, even with all the training in the world, you’re still going to occasionally find yourself in last place.

And at that point, you need to remember:

Dead Last Finish is greater than Did Not Finish which trumps Did Not Start.