We’ve covered the what and the why to Effective Living. It is now time to explore the how.
The what (components and relationships) covered the idea that Effective Living is a framework that is meant to illuminate observable properties of life that lead to Effective Action. While we were exploring the what we saw that Effective Living consists of various components. These components were the following:
- This component consist of a set of general, non-negotiable, principles and a larger, more granular, set of foundational principles that can be observed in nature.
- These serve as the premise behind any practical application of Effective Living. If the principles of life are not appropriately addressed then the “practical application” wouldn’t be practical or effective.
- Your actions are often in alignment with who you see yourself as, even if the action is dysfunctional.
- The practical applications we consider will aim to discover your “default identity” and give you the power to redefine yourself.
- Your mind is programmable, you can always change it. The current programs running in your mind dictate the very reality that you experience.
- Each practical application consists of the need to reframe or view a situation from another perspective. The applications will challenge your assumptions and a new mental-filter, through which you view the world, will be developed.
- Whenever something is approached with the “long-game” in mind, it is vital to have a strong understanding of the bigger picture. Meta is taking a step back and having a view from a higher level to gain perspective and understanding without being bogged down by details.
- A repeated theme in the practical applications is that of reflection, through a form of journaling or meditation. This reflection provides an opportunity to gain perspective and to put the pieces together that would have otherwise been missed when you were so up close.
- Most of the routine practices of Effective Living come from an individualized implementation of the framework. This means that you take the insights into the properties of reality, from Effective Living, and decide what that means to you. However, there are a few foundational practices that are encouraged.
- The practical applications that we will discuss can all be summarized by these few Effective Living practices.
These components play a role in each of the practical applications that we will explore. The Principles serve as the foundation while the Practices serve as a summary. The Identity, Mindset, and Meta components apply the Principles and feed into the Practices.
We will explore exercises that address each of these components of Effective Living by emphasizing Exploration. Afterwards we will see a single practice that can be used to tie everything that we have learned into a single system of habits.
Big Idea: Exploration is the tool by which the brain acquires new information.
Basically: Knowledge isn’t enough, exploration provides experience that develops wisdom.
For starters, the overarching idea behind Effective Living is exploration. Every application, from viewing the world as a video game to approaching life with a sense of curiosity, involves a sense of exploration. It was the very first big idea from the Life Simplified series that we considered.
Exploration is so important due to the simple fact that life can be simplified down to a series of decisions. You can only make decisions based on information that you have about the world around you. This information might be something you’re not consciously aware of, it includes input from sensory organs and your past experiences. Better decisions are made when they come from a place of experience, you gain this experience through exploration.
Each new experience provides a new or updated way to view the world. Perhaps you’ve experienced a rapid perspective changing insight or realization. For example, you’re late for an event but you come to find that there is a line or that the event hasn’t started yet, the worry evaporates almost immediately. Or you’re working to solve a puzzle or some other problem and a sudden flash of insight hits you when things just “click” and make sense. These insights require the brain to have acquired the experience in some way.
Exploration provides the brain with the raw experiences to pull from when making decisions.
How you explore is simple, you approach every situation with curiosity and an openness. If you are approaching a situation from a state of ego or with the idea that you already know, then the experience will be contaminated by your prejudices. A contaminated experience has the potential to compound on top of other contaminated experiences leading to a very skewed view of reality, this is where all dysfunction originates.
These contaminated experiences can come in the form of you being “stuck in your head” thinking of what you will say in a conversation to sound smart or to feel special. This causes a disconnect from the present moment and the information that the other individual is conveying gets lost, you remain knowing only what you knew before. If you were to instead listen to the other individual with a strong sense of curiosity, you may find that your mind quietens, you feel more open and present, and the conversation flows naturally.
The concept of exploration can be found all over nature. Evolution is a process of exploration, certain gene mutations occur in species to look for new and improved ways of living in the environment. Babies and young children learn about the world by being in a state of open-mindedness and intense curiosity. Perhaps you may find that any truly meaningful experience that you have (including struggles), came from a sense of curiosity and openness, you were receptive to new experience.
The more disconnected you are from having a sense of exploration the more stagnant you will find yourself. You will probably feel very resentful and as if you’re just “going through the motions”. Any transformation story of someone turning their life around, such as a physical transformation, can likely be traced back to them “having enough”. They finally surrendered the resistance and as a result they became completely open to change. In this state, opportunities are easier to recognize and the individual is more likely to explore solutions that they were reluctant to before. This phenomenon can be seen in those who hit rock bottom and “bounce back”.
So, exploration is foundational. One’s success can be seen as directly proportional to the degree at which they have explored. Technology is the way it is today because of individuals who have explored, through an open mind and a strong sense of curiosity. The success that science has realized is no coincidence. In fact, any organization or entity that is found to remain stagnant and unadapting (and therefore out of alignment with nature) is a direct result of the slowing down of or complete removal of exploration. This includes businesses, religions, and even individuals.
When you were a child you were probably full of curiosity and always exploring, you start out with an open mind, but society has beat you down to the point of being closed off. If you find that you’re stagnating in life, it is likely because you have disconnected from that child-like sense of curiosity and exploration, you’ve allowed society to manipulate you like a puppet to serve those in power.
This relates to why those who finally get the results from weight loss, or some other breakthrough in life, do so after having their life shaken up in some way. This usually comes from that straw, breaking the camel’s back. They’ve “had enough”, a strong sense of commitment and necessity comes over them and they finally do what is necessary to actually make lasting progress.
As you may have noticed, there are a lot of principles that are showing up. Some examples include the Principles of: Simplification, Adaptation, Perception, Exploration, and Compound Impact.
We will consider Exploration from two different perspectives, that of external and that of internal. This is to categorize the concepts being addressed. Afterwards, we will summarize everything with a recommended Effective Living daily practice.
Big Idea: The universe is complex, manage this complexity independently with simplicity.
Basically: Live effectively by focusing on what’s relevant and emphasizing independence.
The universe is vast and abundant, nature expands far beyond what can be conceived. The beauties that we find on this world probably are repeated millions of times throughout the universe, to even more intense degrees. There is a lot to experience in the universe.
With this abundance comes a great amount of complexity, it can be overwhelming to try and perceive it all. A sense of exploration focuses on each moment as its own, curious about the sensations that there are and our thoughts about them.
Simplicity and the removal of crutches promotes one’s ability to experience the universe for what it is without contamination of external view points. These are vital practices when navigating a world of complexities.
Simplify AFTER Adding From Exploration
Perfect is not possible on the individualistic level. This is due to many principles such as the Principle of Relativity and the Principle of Variation. This is also a direct consequence from the fact that nature optimizes for the whole (e.g. species), not the individual. Everyone has their own perception of what good looks like, it is entirely individualized.
However, it could be argued that perfection is possible, it would just be limited to the eye of the beholder. Regardless, you can’t get anywhere near perfect by continuing to add. An ideal state can only be arrived at after periods of reflection, otherwise there is no certainty that what you have is ideal.
You can get closer to an ideal by adding and then subtracting. Removing the irrelevant requires awareness of what is irrelevant, and that requires experience.
Exercise: Cycle Expansion and Contraction
You can make progress towards an ideal by engaging in cycles of exploration and reflection. Start by exploring and then reflecting. Exploring is simply reaching out for information, it is a period of expansion. Reflection can be done through forms of journaling and meditation (e.g. deep pondering on the subject at hand). Reflection is a period of condensing.
For example, if you want to learn a new subject, you’d start by being receptive to information, completely open and curious about the subject. You may research the subject in books and on the internet to get an overview. From this research you gain a better understanding of some important concepts and vocabulary. You reflect on what you’ve learned, actively recalling and pondering the information (deliberately). You then form questions and refine your searches based on what you now know. This repeats many times, each iteration noticing new patterns and relationships that provide context and structure for new information.
The theme here is engaging with the subject, allowing the Principle of Entropy to naturally play its role as you acquire more information. Then, you engage in a period of reflection, actively looking for what is relevant and what isn’t. Simplification is an active process, much like a dance, that operates in a cycle. This leads to clarity.
All knowledge and physical greatness is acquired through a process of Focus mode (intense engagement) and Diffuse mode (e.g. relaxing walk or shower). This is a process of loading followed by reducing. The difficulty that many people face is due to the ambiguity in how much to add and when to start reducing.
Like a dance, personal experience is necessary to properly engage in the art. You can speed up your progress by priming your mind for what is relevant and irrelevant. Approach conversations, subjects to learn, decisions, etc. from a high level vs low level viewpoint. Recognize when you are engaging in thinking or conversation relating to high level information (i.e. the big picture) or low level information (i.e. the details).
Don’t blur the boundary between these two, this ensures structure in your thinking. If anything is to be memorized, it ought to be the big picture ideas, because they form the roots and the trunk from which the branches and leaves (the details) stem off of. Without the root or trunk, the branches and leaves are meaningless. Ideally, the big picture would be internalized and deeply understood.
Summary of Cycling Expansion and Contraction:
- BUILD UP and then CARVE. ADD and then SUBTRACT.
- Ensure cycles of simplification include reflection and contemplation.
- Impatience and fear of ambiguity disrupts the cycle and kills growth.
Take a Step Back to Gain Perspective
Everything is bigger up close. That is the Principle of Relativity at play. When you are sick, you only want one thing, to get better, it seems like the most important thing in the world. When you are under the pressure of deadlines for a big project, it may seem like the end of the world if you don’t hit them.
But regardless, after the sickness, or shortly after the release, a feeling of a large weight is lifted and things come into a new perspective, that of hindsight. The worries you had during arguments or in-the-moment irritations all begin to seem silly.
This new perspective is the result of taking a step back. It is essentially observing the bigger picture, which often makes the slight annoyances in the moment seem small in comparison. Although, this is a practice that many people forget about in the heat of the moment.
There are mindset adjustments that can be made through daily habits that can help promote your ability to maintain a healthy perspective under the heat of the situation.
The mindset that promotes this ability to see the forest for the trees consists of the following characteristics:
- Open Minded
- Principle and Truth Focused
- Lack of Identification and Ego
Being objective is minimizing the influence of your own personal feelings and experience on the current situation. It is to see reality for what it is, or at least for what an outsider would see.
You can develop your ability to be objective and open minded by removing the crutch of having a coach or someone else to guide you. The more you have to rely on only yourself in order to solve a problem or complete some task, the more you need to be objective and open minded. The most independent individuals are usually those who are the most self-aware and objective. In order to do something, effectively, on your own without outside help, you need to be able to self-correct and be extra sensitive to noticing feedback. This is a fast-track way to becoming more objective and open minded.
Additionally, focusing on truth, as opposed to sounding smart or impressing others, trains your mind to focus on what is relevant in getting actual results. You will be better equipped to see the bigger picture, even under the heavy pressure of some deadline, when your focus goes towards seeking truth instead of validation or feeling special. The weight of the moment will simply feel less heavy.
A great way to find the truth and to remain objective and open minded is by constantly asking questions. A question drives focus and primes the mind to recognize opportunities. Recursively ask questions, especially “why?”, while actively seeking answers. This idea was explored in The Ultimate Guide to Connection.
Asking questions also promotes trying on different hats in the form of exploring different perspectives. Basically, you should question any and all, ask more and more questions, especially “why” questions. Engage in the practice of the “Five Whys” where you recursively ask why, asking why to the answer to the previous why to a depth of at least five.
Taking these questions a step further: challenge your assumptions. Recursively ask why you believe something to be true. Find the real root cause. Perhaps it is simply because that’s what your parents have told you, which may go even deeper to the point of because that’s how you feel you will receive love and acceptance, if you adopt your parents beliefs. Assumptions can come up in everyday life as well, just having a conversation with someone else there could be many implicit assumptions at play. When someone doesn’t do what you thought you asked them to do, it could be because the request was implicit, carrying several assumptions. Build awareness around these assumptions, notice them earlier and earlier.
The greatest barrier to being able to see the bigger picture is feeling like there is no bigger picture relative to you. This is to say that you feel superior, you feel bigger than any big picture, so in comparison it isn’t really a “big picture”. This causes you to think that whatever is happening in the current moment is only important as it relates to you and your current physical, emotional, and mental state. If you were under a stressful deadline for a project or school assignment, you would think that the task has greater weight than it actually does.
This problem is further compounded when you identify with the work you’re engaging in. The ego loves identification, it will latch on to any object it can in order to strengthen its grip on you. This makes it much more difficult to separate from that tight deadline and see the bigger picture.
Ways of combating the ego, such as increasing awe-striking experiences that make you feel small in comparison to something, was discussed in our exploration of Connection.
Exercise: Become More Independent
Perspective is gained when you take another vantage point, when that vantage point is further away from a problem, you become better able to categorize the situation. A high-level view of something provides context and generalization that make categorizing an experience easier. This categorization can help in relating the current problem to a past experience. This helps in problem solving as well as seeing the situation for what it is, without the emotions and pressures of the current moment limiting your view.
You can develop this by becoming more independent. Independence has a whole host of benefits and is strongly related to the concept of exploration that we’ve talked about earlier. You simply get more out of life and find far more meaning when you engage in the journey yourself, no shortcuts. It also promotes curiosity and a deep understanding for what makes you tick, making it so that you recognize what exercises your muscles best respond to and your personal approach to learning.
But there are specific benefits that are useful in being able to avoid overwhelm and gain perspective. In particular, the ability to be objective and truth focused become a necessity, you also have to constantly ask questions and drop the ego. This is a very active process and is in strong alignment with the Principles of Effective Living as it engages you with life. You can’t get actual results if your ego is in the way or if you are not willing to look nakedly at yourself and be sensitive to feedback. Independence demands a development of each of these traits, which have compounding benefits throughout your life.
Start by listing the actions you’ve engaged in during the day each night for a week. Notice habits and other patterns of behavior, such as when you engage in some activity or what triggers it. Look for where others have helped you, such as opening a door for you, carrying something for you, or cleaning your dishes. Note that this is a form of journaling, reflecting on your past day.
Find ways to remove the external crutches in doing these things. These may seem insignificant but doing so will reinforce developing the identity of being extremely independent. If you don’t want to be rude in refusing someone who opens a door for you, then you can be more tactful with how you approach the situation. Such as slowing your pace down enough as to decrease the chance of the other person holding the door or speeding up your pace enough to hold the door for them. If you know that someone will offer help when you carry something into the room, try to time your entry for when the other person will not be there or too busy to help.
The most effective way to ensure change is focusing on your lifestyle, and you influence this best when you completely absorb yourself in the new behavior, as often as possible. Going to an extreme is the ultimate form of commitment, it basically puts the mind in a state where there is no other option. It’s not a question of if, just a question of how, and the brain is wonderful at adapting and finding that how when there’s necessity.
The closer you can get your desire for independent living to the degree of an obsession, the more compound benefits you will realize. Give yourself challenges (e.g. run a marathon) and then don’t look for help, just find a way. Your self-awareness will greatly increase, you’ll feel bucket-loads of confidence, and the reason for how you feel or irritations that you experience in life will begin to make more sense.
You would have taken the most important step in taking control of your life, by actually living YOUR life, and not letting others influence it. Like all great artists, from this position of independence, you will have something of true and unique value to give the world, experiences from a perspective that no one else has.
Summary of Becoming More Independent
- Independence drives necessity in the development of many effective qualities.
- Identify and remove the crutches in your life.
- Reinforce the identity of being someone who is independent.
Big Idea: You can’t discover yourself if you don’t dare to explore your inner world.
Basically: Building a relationship with yourself brings deeper meaning and understanding.
While External Exploration has a focus mostly on the environment around you, Internal Exploration has the focus on your inner-world.
The emphasis, once again, is curiosity. A curiosity for your inner world sensitizes you to the subtleties of emotions and general feelings. Having this sensitivity can at times be overwhelming, but the payoff is great as you will be able to better understand your body.
With this understanding you’ll be able to struggle better. Having already experienced the sensations of the body again and again you’ll be better equipped to remain in control and calm during moments of struggle. You’ll also improve your ability to learn, build muscle, lose fat, improve health, sleep better, improve relationships, etc. These all involve subtleties that often get overlooked, which is the main reason so many people struggle with them. Creative individuals are the epitome of the sensitive type, noticing the fine beauty in the world around them.
Instead of habitually suppressing uncomfortable feelings as they emerge, deliberately feeling them with a sense of curiosity and a desire to understand greatly advances your self-awareness. When a feeling is suppressed you are strengthening a negatively compounding habit. The feeling will remain until properly processed as well, so you are just creating a pile of subconscious open threads of trauma and pain that will influence your behavior in ways you can’t even imagine. Suppressing a feeling is like kicking the can down the road, you are putting off solving the actual problem to only later come across it once more.
Suppressing feelings and emotions seem to work since you get the immediate reward of not feeling it anymore. Furthermore, when the second and third order consequences finally do come up you’re so far detached from the original suppression that you don’t even think to tie repeating pains back to a previous suppressed feeling. This leads you to suppressing each new pain or discomfort that comes up, many of which are likely a higher-order consequence from a previously related suppressed feeling.
You may notice those individuals who are perceived as incredibly wise, such as Alan Watts, are also incredibly sensitive. This originates from the fact that knowledge isn’t necessarily power, wisdom is. Wisdom is knowledge combined with experience. But experience is useless if it is approached in a bucket-list, check-box, like manner where there is no proper reflection and deep pondering of the experience. Time spent reflecting is what allows an experience to be integrated into your identity and being. This is what leads the subconscious to adapt and therefore influence your behavior accordingly.
Sensitivity promotes the ease in realizing “sweet spots” for things such as muscle growth, weight loss, and learning. Additionally, it promotes more “I didn’t realize how much…” insights. For example, “I didn’t realize how much increasing my strength mattered for muscle growth”. The sooner you can have these insights, the better. The more sensitive you are, the more open you are to your environment and therefore the quicker you’ll experience them.
Wise individuals are incredibly sensitive. Their sensitivity is a result of raw reflection on their experience. This reflection makes the experience far more valuable. An equation for wisdom could be expressed as follows:
Wisdom = Knowledge * Experience
If the experience you gain has more quality, then the amount of wisdom you have goes up much faster, even with the same amount of knowledge. For example, 5 * 3 = 15, but 5 * 4 = 20, 5 remained the same, and 3 only increased by 1 to 4, the result grew by 5. You can increase the quality of your experiences by adding more reflection and contemplation. This is exactly what philosophers do and why they are consider to be so wise.
So the big idea is that curiosity of your inner world will develop your sensitivity to the world around you. This is not a negative thing, however. You may find yourself more easily overwhelmed at things you once suppressed and quickly forgot about, but this is a natural evolution. The things you’ve previously suppressed will have to come up and be properly processed (i.e. let go, surrendered to, accepted) in order to remove the baggage you’ve built up.
In introducing Effective Living we brought up Journaling and Meditation as great ways to explore one’s inner world. We highlighted the practice of “Whitespace”, which is essentially a form of meditation where there is a reduction of any and all stimulus. When you reduce stimulus, your mind can truly relax and healing can occur. Insights and ideas are also able to pop out of the subconscious. You may have experienced this during relaxing showers.
We will now explore a few vital exercises that further promote this internal curiosity.
Curiosity for Your Inner World
Make life a journey. This promotes seeing life as a process to be engaged with rather than something to be rushed through. Be wary of this being encouraged in religions, where life is given an enormous pressure where there is some great judgement at the end. In this light, life seems more like a means to an end. This also is the source of great anxiety as you fear how your past may already be too bad to be forgiven.
Practice being easily excited. The human tendency for connection and socialization makes us especially vulnerable to societal pressures. Unfortunately, these pressures often come from those in power with hidden agendas and a no care for you, as long as you support them remaining in power.
This societal pressure leads many people to become “still-faced” and “emotionless”, suppressing whatever they feel in order to try and fit in. They sacrifice their own integrity in order to be accepted by a dysfunctional crowd, likely due to the sense of belonging it brings. This could originate in childhood, where a need for love and connection was never satisfied. Individuals further down this extreme are especially susceptible to joining religions or cults. In fact, leaders of these organizations often single out those with weak family ties since their longing for connection makes them vulnerable for easy pickings.
The point here is to shed light on why people may suppress emotions and blindly follow the crowd. The point is also to awaken the reader to what may have gone unnoticed up to this point. The beauty of this, however, is that you can take back control of your life and break away from following the crowd. It requires you to challenge deeply held assumptions and to develop an open mind. All of which are more easily developed with a curiosity and a sensitivity for your inner world.
Exercise: Practice Ease of Excitability
A great model for how to become more curious about your inner world are children. Simply because they haven’t been broken by society yet.
For starters, before your brain was programmed by society to be anxious and constantly worrying, you explored for the love of exploring. You were easily excited by the slightest things, everything was an opportunity for play and enjoyment.
Get back to your roots and rediscover this excitability. Like a kid. Kids learn fast and are more imaginative and curious because of this ease of excitability. They can place full and utter attention on something of joy without anxious thoughts contaminating their play.
Give yourself permission for the smallest things to excite you and give you joy. A great way to break the barrier of entry is with gratitude. You can journal on 3 things you’re grateful for or simply close your eyes at points throughout the day and truly feel love and appreciation without any judgement or strings attached. Give yourself permissions to feel this.
The important point when engaging in this practice of expressing gratitude is to FEEL. It isn’t about the words you write in a journal or listing things you’re grateful for. The emphasis is on the feeling of love and connection.
Gratitude does a few things, one of the most important ones is improving your positive outlook on life. This happens through developing your ability to reframe situations and see the beauty in them. The brain holds on to negative thoughts much tighter than positive thoughts. Positive thoughts don’t threaten survival so they are let go quickly.
So if you interpret a noise as irritating, which has a negative connotation, then that negative thought will be gripped tightly on by the brain. The thought will be looped on and you may find yourself commentating on it and engaging with it, this will further feed back into the loop reinforcing the negativeness of that thought. This is how all anxiety and perhaps even depression begins, a negative downward spiral.
Training yourself to be able to choose to see the positive of something or at least focus on understanding from the other’s point of view. Choose to see the positive in things simply because there are always multiple ways to view something and choosing to see the negative is doing you no service, it actively hurts you. The ego loves to feel special and make everything about ourselves and as a result it prefers to interpret things as it relates to us. For example, a distracting noise made by someone might be interpreted as being a personal attack from the other person. However, if you apply a positive twist to the why behind this distracting noise then the associated thoughts will leave much quicker.
The general advice of “let it go” or “drop it”, comes from the idea of not engaging with an irritation. There are a lot of things in your sensational experience that you are “tuning out”, perhaps a fan in the background, the gentle sounds of nature, or background talking. Your senses pick them up but your brain just filters it out as being unimportant. This is a form of rapid positive interpretation that expresses the power of positive thoughts. The brain perceive no threat in this background nose. If there was a sudden loud sound your mind would pay much closer attention to it and you may find that you more easily consider it being a threat. The brain takes the stimulus and hands it to your conscious self in order to take the steering wheel and navigate out of danger.
One’s ability to feel true gratitude and “happiness” is directly proportional to their ability to drop the need to feel special. The more you make something personal and about you, the more disconnected you become and the more ego takes over. With ego comes resistance, identification, and impatience, all of which promote negative thoughts.
The point here is that gratitude is a powerful tool to get your foot in the door of positive reframing. This develops your ability to see the beauty in things which feeds back in to giving yourself permission to get excited and feel joy over things that happen in life.
The things you feel grateful for can really be anything, but it is more beneficial to avoid particular objects as that may promote attachment. Personality traits, experiences, the wide range of sensations you have available, your health, various things in nature, your positive habits, etc. are all great candidates for gratitude.
As you develop your ability to feel gratitude, take special care of and attention to these small moments of joy. Allow the joy to come and to go, don’t chase after previous joyful feelings, some moments will feel intense and lively while others feel more dull, and that is okay.
Examples of daily life experiences that you can find the beauty of include:
- The gentle and rhythmic tapping of a leaky faucet or the chain on a fan.
- Perhaps using a positive interpretation similar to music. Can you synchronize with the rhythm?
- The realization of synchronicities such as grabbing just enough hangers for your clothes when guessing.
Notice and cherish these small moments of joy as they come up. Over time it will be easier to recoup this feeling later and you’ll frequently have lots of little bursts of excitement throughout your day.
For example, consider having to type a long paper. If you love the challenge of forming a nice sentence or the beautiful way a well-crafted sentence looks, then dopamine will fill your brain with each sentence, motivating you onwards. This newfound sensitivity for enjoying the little things in life is a vital step in the development of the curiosity for your inner world.
The idea is to have small rewards available throughout your day. The more you develop this the more it will compound on itself to the point that it begins becoming automatic. This is a good sign as it suggests the new behavior has seeped into your subconscious. Congratulations, you’ve changed your personality.
This approach of small rewards is inline with the Principle of Simplification, which is essentially deconstructing a larger problem into a smaller problem. Consider doing 100 push ups, you may focus on 10, then 20, then 30, then 35, etc. This helps to keep the big hairy problem out of mind, where negative interpretations and thoughts can easily pop up as the mind biases towards survival. The focus instead should be on the present moment, or the next smallest step forward.
Break up challenging tasks into smaller sub-tasks that are easier to accomplish. Each small step is a “checkpoint” that can serve to promote positive hormones and help to motivate you forward. Focus on the next smallest step, be timeless. Thinking about when something will end or how much longer you have to go is thinking of the big and hairy problem and not living in alignment with the Principle of Simplification. As a result, dysfunction will arise, there will be more difficulty than is necessary. Time is a killer to these checkpoint and small moments of joy, since these positive interpretations demand presence and being absorbed. Time, by definition, is not present.
Taking a cold shower? Focus on just the smallest step forward. Turn the water to cold, then focus on the initial rush/shock of the cold water hitting you, then the tolerance/numbness building, then the contentment, etc. Each step accompanied with a feeling of joy and accomplishment as you are progressing forward.
These moments of gratitude and joy don’t necessarily have any thoughts associated with them. Again, the emphasis is on the feeling, thoughts are slow and can be a short step away from engagement with negative interpretation. It may help to think of feeling your inner body, the energy in your hands or the fullness of your heart as a cue to feel the love, joy, and gratitude.
While positive experiences are great, negative experiences also serve a purpose. By the Principle of Relativity, negative experiences help make the positive experiences seem more intense in comparison. Since sensations exist on a spectrum, getting too used to one extreme will make the other extreme feel more intense. This was discussed further in the topic of handling Challenge.
There will inevitably be experiences in your life that are harder to reframe than others, especially if you have ambitions to grow your self to greatness. Struggle will arise. If you come across an experience that you are struggle to reframe with your current ability, then simply remember the following:
- Seeking a positive experience is a negative experience.
- Accepting a negative experience is a positive experience.
A balance is necessary between positive and negative experiences in order
If you are only experiencing pleasures, then you are not pushing yourself hard enough. This sets you up for sensitivity to future negative experiences. While you can still accept a negative experience and thereby perceive it as a positive experience, the discomfort and struggle will still remain. The difference is that the psychological resistance and post-exposure lingering of the discomfort will be removed. The acceptance will promote your ability to “struggle well” and continue to remain in control during the discomfort or chaos.
Summary of Practicing Ease of Excitability
- Changing the way you look at the world changes the world you look at.
- Finding opportunities to express gratitude is a great way to promote excitability.
- With an increase in excitability, your inner world becomes more fascinating. Emotions are less likely to be suppressed and more likely to be properly processed.
Invest in Yourself
Exploring your inner world is the ultimate investment in yourself. It is taking a step to explore what traumas and suppressed feelings that exist in order to cleanse yourself of the negative baggage.
Investing in yourself is simply doing something in the present moment that has a payoff later. For example, reading non-fiction, learning, studying, brushing your teeth or other health practices, and setting aside time for “whitespace”, meditation, or journaling.
When you invest in yourself you are making the statement that the potential you possess is important enough to you to focus your energy and efforts on realizing it. It sends the ultimate signal of confidence and discipline.
When you address the Effective Living component of Meta, you are investing in yourself. Recall that Meta is a self-referential term that essentially emphasizes the bigger picture. For example, meta-learning isn’t just learning, but learning how to learn, while meta-data isn’t just data, but data that describes the data. It is basically a concept that considers higher level meaning and components to things. It is taking a step back to see the bigger picture.
Consider the bigger picture improves your ability to generalize and transfer your understanding to other domains. Such as learning the mathematical concept of an average and then seeing the opportunity to apply it when looking for how to fairly distribute cookies to kids. The bigger picture of even-spread is a concept that can be readily applied to other areas of life, whereas the details of “add everything then divide by how many there are” misses the whole point of even-spread. The details obscure the meaning behind the idea.
For example, the immediate experience of exercising might not seem so pleasurable. The first-order consequence of the discomfort comes quickly. But the second or third-order consequences of improved health and wellbeing come later. When you invest in yourself you are recognizing the importance of these second and third-order consequences. These higher-level consequences are the bigger picture that goes beyond the immediate sensations of the discomfort.
Learning how to live is the primary focus of the Meta component to Effective Living. This “meta-living” approach, as I refer to it, is in alignment with the Principle of Compound Impact as well as the Principle of Initial Conditions. When you take a step back to understand the bigger picture you are allowing outsized benefits to come.
For example, taking the time at the beginning of a new exercise to develop form will pay off in the long run. The improved form will allow for the proper activation of the target muscle as well as a decreased risk of time-consuming injuries. When a strong foundation full of quality is formed, future growth can more easily occur. You often have to start slow in order to go fast, just as learning to drive or any other skill. The more complicated aspects of a skill are built on top of several more fundamental aspects. If you miss any link in the chain then quality will suffer.
The general way to invest in yourself is to delay gratification. Delaying Gratification is simply doing something in the present moment that is uncomfortable relative to some future payoff. It may be uncomfortable or boring to start a new exercise off slow and focus on form, but the benefits will include the ability to improve faster and with less imbalances or tightness. Improper form early on may lead to a deteriorating of your overall posture during the day, which may have negatively compounding impacts to areas such as your breathing and confidence.
To delay gratification is to play the long game. To cave in to comfort or label something as uncomfortable, and therefore resist it, is to play the short game. Allowing sensations to be without labeling or applying thought builds habits that promote thriving in the long game. If thought is applied, then just as meditation teaches us, you let it go, let it float away, without engagement or attachment, whenever the awareness of the thought comes up, you just let it go, all previous attachment forgiven.
The important point is to build the awareness necessary to recognize these thought patterns to then regain the control over them, instead of the other way around. Life is a long game, in fact, it takes up the entire span of your known existence. It’s the ultimate length of time. You might as well build up supportive habits starting now.
Again, investing in yourself is focusing on the Meta component of Effective Living. The Meta component is about the bigger picture, considering the higher-level consequences with a higher weight than lower-level consequences.
Exercise: Delay Gratification
The ability to delay gratification is a great metric in determining one’s ability to “succeed” at whatever aspect or field they are able to put off pleasures in. You can improve this ability with practice.
Start simply, the next time an itch builds up, avoid itching it altogether. Better yet, explore the sensation of the itch voluntarily, ask the question of “what would happen if I just let it be?”. This both hits on delaying gratification as well as exploring your inner world. Overtime you may realize it becoming easier to let physical sensations be without labeling or giving them much attention. This may carry over into your every day ability to remain present and “feel your inner body”. Previous irritations such as being stuck at a traffic light may begin to seem like peaceful opportunities of being with yourself.
A simple way to think of delayed gratification is “eat your frogs first”. Essentially, if it’s your job to eat a frog, then you are better off doing it sooner rather than later. For example, in the morning you are the most refreshed and therefore the most well-equipped to do potentially uncomfortable tasks. This is a great time of day to get your most important tasks out of the way to ensure that you have the energy to give them the quality attention they deserve.
There are endless ways to delay gratification in the modern world, here are a few:
- Clean your cooking dishes BEFORE eating.
- Eat the least satisfying food of a meal first.
- If you got a fork full of food, only eat half and put the rest down
- Do a set of push ups BEFORE eating, shower, video games, etc.
- Do the most tedious chores first.
- Volunteer to be the first to give a presentation.
- The urge to feel special in social situations.
- Investing or saving your money as opposed to spending it on some new toy.
If you are going to eat a sweet treat, or engage in a pleasure, put a considerable amount of time between the initial desire and the actual consumption. Ideally put off the pleasure to the point that it is forgotten about at least once, then when it comes back to mind you can consider eating it once more. This is a great mental muscle to develop to be able to diet effectively as well.
A strong ability to delay gratification puts you in a very advantageous position in every aspect of your life. It is a meta-skill that makes other skills easier to acquire. Every new skill you develop is another opportunity to develop your ability to delay gratification. It’s a life-long, ultra-compounding skill.
Delaying gratification is also a great way to put the 80/20 rule into practice. Focusing your efforts on what produces the most results, even if those efforts are not immediately gratifying.
Emphasize setting the appropriate tone at the start of something. For example, if you are building a new habit, the emphasis should be on just showing up. When that habit is well-formed, then you can begin focusing on the quality of action such as form. Later you can add in intensity of stimulus, and so on.
Starting slow is important to go fast. The priority should be on doing something with careful attention and quality. But this quality can mean quality of discipline in acquiring the appropriate amount of quantity, as is required when building a new habit.
This quality comes in the form of maintaining control. When you are unable to maintain proper control then you are putting your body under a lot of stress. This is not necessarily a bad thing, although it should be done in moderation and with the appropriate amount of rest.
Putting yourself under intense physical stress through exercise can be a useful means of exploring your inner world. When you engage in such intense activity, instead of suppressing the feelings, explore them. Delaying gratification also carries over to experiencing sensations from struggle.
The best growth comes from teetering on the boundary of losing control and maintaining control. This is a very subtle and individualized line that requires experience and self-awareness to discover. Once you discover it, however, you’ll be able to progress much faster than you would have otherwise in skill acquisition such as weight lifting and learning. This requires discipline, patience, and a removal of ego.
To put a number to it, control should be maintained about 93-97% of the time. The rest of the time should go towards putting yourself in situations where you are slightly past your ability for control. This will ensure your body receives the shock for growth while having an opportunity to recover and adapt. During the times of losing control, emphasis an approach of curiosity, as if you’re a passive observer of your body and the physical experience. This is a great time to explore your inner world and practice presence, while avoiding labeling and excessive mental chatter. This will aid in your ability to maintain control under more and more stressful situations such as unexpected chaos.
If you are engaging in a “Discipline Mission” then you would bias towards even more time out of control (perhaps into the 10-20% of time out of control).
For example, consider running. Out of control may come in the form of your legs occasionally feeling as though they are going to give way. It may be experienced mentally, through your brain commanding you to stop to the point you actually begin to walk because you can’t physically go any faster or your muscles give in. During explorations of being out of control, you would hit this wall, perhaps recover for a split second (way before you would want to), and stubbornly reengage with the activity. Doing this for a few more times, all the while exploring the physical sensations without labeling (e.g. “good” or “bad”) or judging. Once you end the practice, emphasis returning to baseline (calming down) as quickly as you can, find stillness, while still remaining curious about your inner experience.
During these “out of control” moments, it is a great opportunity to exercise everything we explored in the topic of Challenge. For example, owning those one-second decisions where it is either quit or keep going. But again, such moments should be approached as a means of exploration and done so seldomly. Appropriate recovery should also be applied. How far you go away from control and how often depends on your current objective in life. The “Discipline Missions” discussed in the topic of Challenge would warrant a higher intensity than other times of your life might.
Summary of Delaying Gratification
- Do something daily that you will thank yourself later for.
- Aim for compound impact.
- Start slow to go fast. Add complexity only after a foundation exists.
- Aim for your training to be on the boundary of control. Only a small percentage of training should be outside of control and only as a means of exploration and practice in returning self to baseline (calming), or as an extra stressor for body to adapt.
- Like an art, it takes experience to pinpoint your unique (and changing) boundary between maintaining control and losing control.
- Carry presence from moment to moment as you explore your experience.
Recall from our description of the Identity component of Effective Living, that identity is a primary driver for your behavior. Everyone gets a “default identity” as society has imposed on them when they were young and before they were consciously aware. Many people go their whole life remaining in this “default identity”, living as society and their environment has told them to.
The default identity is a necessary and unavoidable part of proper development. It only becomes a problem when it is allowed to persist into adult-hood, when you now have control over your life but yet still operate under outdated beliefs and programs.
I’ve found that the removal of the default identity occurs in stages. You recognize more and more daily habits and thought patterns that are the result of what society have programmed into you. Each habit and thought pattern is addressed individually, one at a time.
Over time you slowly define the individual you want to be, including the character traits you wish to have. Having someone that is an role-model to you that you look up to is a great way to provide guidance on what these character traits might look like.
For example, you might admire a really intelligent individual and notice their character traits of being calm, present, open-minded, and curious all contribute to their intelligence. You may take steps to adjust your sense of identity to develop your intelligence by adopting the character traits of intelligent people. This is best done by exploring many different intelligent individuals and looking for patterns that they share. The repeated character traits that come up probably strongly contribute to their intelligence, adopting these traits will help to boost your intelligence.
If you want to improve at basketball, you ought to adopt the traits of those who improved themselves at basketball. Looking for opportunities to practice in everyday living, devotion, interest, curiosity, and competitiveness may all be common traits that you come across. Notice how this relates to the Meta component of Effective Living. We are considering the bigger picture in order to transfer the common skills of a group of others to ourselves.
Additionally, I’ve found that the development of an identity is a reoccurring process. You are constantly reinventing yourself throughout life. Around 19 years old I began picking apart my habits and assumptions as I slowly began recognizing this “default identity” that I’ve carried for so long. The next 3-4 years consisted of me developing habits that supported this new identity that I wanted. This mainly involved effective action as it relates to creativity, and intelligence.
This stage of my life involved a lot of hard-hitting challenges, both physically and mentally. Brute force was very much the strategy, I wanted to gain as much ground away from my default identity as possible. This new identity was life changing, it served me to realize just how capable the human being is and grew my confidence exponentially. I have had so many huge insights during this time period and discovered myself many times over.
But, after a few months of intense breath work, devoting myself deeply to improving my breathing habits in order to improve performance and focus, a lot of insight resulted. For example, I realized that brute force doesn’t work in breathing (and other gentle skills such as learning), maintaining a sense of breathlessness with stubborn and habitual pro-longed breath holds causes a ton of anxiety and stress, especially when only nasal breathing. My breath wasn’t improving, chest breathing became worse than it was already and I realized that I had a problem.
My old strategies were not working. I wanted so badly to improve my breathing that I’ve tried everything including reducing the amount of running and weight lifting that I did (which were performed while nasal breathing). At this point I’ve developed a pretty strong identity around fitness, this was a hard hit. I also realized that I had a lot of stress and tension built up throughout my body. I found that I had a pretty serious issue with anxiety and I noticed over the course of 2 months of intense breath-work that negative thought patterns were beginning to loop. These included self-doubt and fears.
As a result, I had to redefine myself once more. I challenged the assumptions that I’ve created after my default identity and challenged the habits that I’ve built up. I realized the power of trust, presence, and surrendering. I found opportunities to put what I’ve learned into play regarding acceptance and high degrees of internal exploration. I began a quest to find balance and explore the fine line between control and out of control (i.e. high stress).
What I call my “first identity” is the first chosen identity after my “default identity”. This first identity essentially served the purpose to gain as much distance as I can away from my default identity. It was a bold statement of taking back control of my life. It consisted of anxiety, but stubbornly pushing through with a strong desire to improve, it consisted of urgency and lots of overwhelming emotions (irritation, anger, etc.). The mentality I embodied was very much a “fake it till you make it” sort of brute force stubborn drive. This served greatly in developing my discipline and I think there is a lot of value in people doing something similar for their “first identity”.
The next identity I took, my “second identity”, consisted of trusting my training, thought patterns, and discipline that the first identity developed. It also consisted of a focus in spirituality, and surrendering. I limited my use of “I must have or I must do” and just focused on a sense of presence and quality. Now since I have my “first identity” habitually ingrained in my sense of sense, there was no need to “fake it” anymore, I just needed to trust the changes that I’ve developed.
Before I would repeatedly do uncomfortable things as a way to reinforce my identity of being disciplined and having the freedom of choice. These included stubborn repeats of intense sprints with barely any rest, to the point of my legs giving way, but yet if I were to stop fully I know I’d punish myself with even more, so I find a way to push on. This also included potentially awkward or embarrassing social engagements, such as balancing on curbs, taking strange walking patterns, or waving enthusiastically to strangers while at stop lights or walking.
My “second identity” involved trusting that the traits developed from my first identity were repeated so strongly that I could trust that my sense of self has changed to be in alignment with those traits. This allowed me to avoid potentially unproductive and stubborn habits that I would rationalize as being “discipline builders” but ultimately held me back. For example, holding me back in muscle building or proper recovery from exercise.
Killing my first identity, in my ways, was more difficult than killing my default identity. Once I recognized the lie I was living in my default identity, change was fairly straight forward. It was clear and felt natural. Once you see yourself as a construct, deconstructing is simple.
But my first identity was one that I created myself. Removing it involved lots of questions around “why isn’t this working” or “why is this so hard”. There was a lot of resentment and uncertainty. But, moving from a default identity to my first and then my second, over 5+ years, has led to a lot of meaning being derived in my life. I’m still working through my second identity and I’m sure more identities await as I continue to explore my consciousness.
The point here is that life is dynamic. It consists of a constant process of reinventing yourself. You will acquire new experience and knowledge during each new identity. If you keep pushing yourself to improve you will find a need to update your sense of self in order to continue growing. Each time you realize this will be tough, you may doubt yourself and feel like you’ve fallen back instead of making progress since the sensations of the old identity dying will always feel intense. Your previous strategies and “tools” may seem to fail and you are left feeling hopeless and uncertain. But, this is all a part of the process of evolution. The death of an identity feels like death because in many ways, it is. Death of an identity is essentially death of who you are, it’s a transitional moment of life, a call to action of a new beginning.
Recognizing that you are still operating within a default identity is an important step in awareness. Once you have this insight, you can’t undo it. It is like something once seen, that can’t be unseen. It is a glimpse of the bars that are containing you in a cage. The decision to ignore this insight is a decision to forfeit your independence, potential, and value that you can add to the world.
Those who are self-conscious tend to have this insight sooner and more vividly. This is because breaking away from the default identity is analogous to evolving to higher-levels of consciousness. Being self-conscious is often the first step in becoming conscious, it is a sign of evolving awareness. All children experience this as they take the next step of consciousness that involves self-awareness. Religions often have “beginning-of-consciousness” stories that acknowledges this. For example, the story of Adam and Eve, where self-consciousness over their naked bodies signified their development of higher consciousness.
There is nothing wrong with being self-conscious, it is necessary and a vital step in evolving to higher and higher levels of consciousness. Self-consciousness is essentially experienced in the form of questions, such as those of doubt or fear. These questions promote attention and recognition, time slows down as you ponder a deeper meaning. This is why philosophers are often seen as highly-conscious individuals, because of the deep questions that they ponder.
Be wary of attributing hate or disgust to being self-conscious. Instead, recognize it as a vital step in evolution. Many people misinterpret self-consciousness and end up stuck there their whole life without progressing past to higher levels of consciousness and awareness. This is a NATURAL stage of life that must be passed through, doubt is a natural part of the process.
This passage might be one of the most difficult adaptations that you encounter in your life, but it would be the most rewarding. A higher sense of self-awareness leads to improved creativity, understanding, and ability to apply the appropriate stressors in the right amount for growth, such as with physical exercise. As was discussed in the topic of Awareness, there is awareness for various aspects of life, such as awareness of your muscles during strength training or the awareness of emotional overwhelm.
The whole process of being self-conscious involves an exploration of your internal world. The more attune you become to your inner world, the more growth and benefits you will experience from the self-conscious stage of your life. If you suppress the feelings that are there and try to hide them through drugs, alcohol, TV, social media, or other forms of distraction then you are only delaying the passage through this natural stage of life. Stop running, start discovering.
A great way to promote your passage through self-consciousness is by putting yourself struggle. Struggle promotes questions such as “why am I dong this”, “what’s wrong with me?”, “I can’t figure it out”, “do I have what it takes?”, etc. These questions drive attention inwards and that is wonderful! At first it may seem overwhelming, but after sitting with the sensations that come up and exploring them over and over again, you will find that the grip these thoughts have will weaken. As discussed in the topic of Meaning, the brain will naturally look for reasons why you are repeatedly engaging in this struggle despite the discomfort. This is exactly how meaning is developed. Suffering ceases to be suffering once meaning is applied. When you have a strong “why” behind the discomfort, it becomes a worthy mission.
It isn’t a coincidence that those who have felt the most pain (emotional or physical) are often the most conscious, especially if they have looked for meaning/reasoning/purpose to their suffering. It is these individuals who have transcended the pain to a level of awareness where they can now be of value to the world. They now can provide their unique experience in vivid detail to help others going through similar struggles.
Exercise: Approach Life Like it’s a Role-Playing Video Game (an RPG)
Recall the idea of living life like it’s a video game from our exploration of Connection. We saw that there were many benefits of this approach, namely:
- Reducing the pressure of taking life seriously, promotes big picture thinking.
- Plays well with the Big Idea of Awareness, where you are the observer of yourself.
- Everything happens for a reason that ties into the bigger picture.
- Exploration is emphasized in order to understand rules of the world you are in.
- Everything is temporary. Your experience and sensations will pass.
- You develop your ability to overcome obstacles/bosses that you once couldn’t beat.
- You start off with a particular preset of skills, but each can be further developed.
This interpretation of life as a video game promotes the thought of “of course me” as opposed to a victim mindset of “why me”. This is what I call the “Main Character” interpretation of life. Where everything happens for a reason, and there is some benefit to it that ties back to you or the bigger picture. This is a powerful primer to the brain that essentially provides a constant framework through which everything in life can be interpreted. Like watching a movie where the main character encounters a struggle or obstacle, you presumably know that the main character won’t die, the story is about them after all.
The “Main Character” interpretation to life takes this same objective perspective of watching a movie. Note that this probably isn’t reality, it is an interpretation to promote Effective Action. There are many ways to interpret reality, our senses limit us to only a particular way, as our brain has found useful in promoting our survival. Because we are conscious, it is our responsibility to take this a step further by choosing how we wish to experience our world. Everything has pros and cons, from the perspective of a terrorist their pro is terror, while the pro to the people being terrorized is the removal of the terrorist. The perspective taken influences the world that you perceive. This is a vital skill in better understanding people and becoming a better communicator.
Seeing yourself as the “Main Character” is an important piece in turning the worst thing that has ever happened to you into the best thing. This idea was explored in much greater depth in the topic of Connection.
Interpretations come from a mindset, and therefore the “Main Character” interpretation promotes a mindset as well. In particular, it promotes a “growth mindset” which is the voluntary perception that things will work out for the better. With this mindset comes the concepts of experimentation as well as trail and error, each of which are vital in promoting effective growth.
This interpretation closely relate to the Principle of Initial Conditions and the Principle of Compound Impact. Optimism and pessimism are traits that usually accumulate after a few, impactful, initial experiences that compound repeatedly. The Main Character interpretation is a form of optimism. You feel that you are lucky and that things will always work out.
It could be a subtle feeling that you’ve got the perfect bingo board or that your favorite sports team will win. Even when things don’t work out well, you don’t pay much attention to them so they quickly disappear from memory. More focus is placed on the times when things do work out in your favor. This creates the expectation and self-fulfilling prophecy for optimism.
As an example of using this video game perspective to life, consider learning a new subject such as physics. At first there may seem like a bunch of obstacles in your way that you can’t yet defeat. There is new vocabulary that you’re not familiar with and you quickly realize that you can’t go quickly through the material. Just like a role-playing video game, you have a preset of skills. Perhaps up to this point you have a decent grasp on mathematics and some real world experience with concepts such as gravity and the properties of gases and liquids.
This preset of skills may make you more capable of learning particular things in physical, and less capable at others. But, your ability to develop the areas you are lacking is always there. The highly conscious individual would pinpoint their gaps in understanding and seek the bigger picture theme of what is similar between different instances of these gaps. For example, if you find that you repeatedly struggle with problems involving the transformation between position, velocity, and acceleration, then you may need to develop your calculus skill before you can defeat this obstacle of kinematics.
Summary of Approaching Life Like it’s an RPG
- RPG video games provide a useful analogy for interpreting life in a way that promotes Effective Living.
- The “Main Character” interpretation encourages realizing that everything happens for a reason that has a round-about way of benefiting you in the long-run.
- A growth mindset provides the greatest benefit from experience and experimentation. It allows for trial and error without the fear of failure, since it encourages the belief that you can improve from the opportunity of failure.
Big Idea: A single journaling practice combines everything we’ve covered into a system.
Basically: A single practice is enough to start putting Effective Living into practice.
We’ve seen the importance exploration in Effective Living as it relates to both our internal and external worlds. We will now see a single practice that encompasses all that we have covered up to this point.
To put it most simply, the practice involves Journaling and Meditation, but not in their traditional sense. To me, Journaling and Meditation hold meanings that are different than what others may associate with them. They are far more general.
Journaling is the practical form of active reflection and Meditation is the practical form of active experiencing. Journaling is digging deeper and Meditation is exploring that depth. Both have their own form of exploration and together form an extremely powerful tool in Effective Living.
Journaling and Meditation also do a superb job at summarizing many big ideas in just two actionable words. Journaling encompasses reflection, contemplation, questioning, and other actively seeking activities while Meditation encompasses mindfulness, presence, acceptance, and other actively experiencing activities.
Throughout our exploration of Effective Living these themes have come up again and again.
The single practice that uses Journaling and Meditation and encompasses everything that we’ve covered up to this point is a long-term journal that I call “Life’s Toolbox”. This is a journal that is your companion throughout life, it is your truth, the blueprint of what makes you, you. It holds concise insights that you have acquired throughout life that have been captured, when you experienced them.
The big idea behind this journal is that no idea is allowed to come and go. The mind is great at imagination, it can come up with ideas quickly and fluently. This could be a byproduct of the human species survival depending on our ability to navigate through terrain since we were never the strongest or the fastest. But, this ability is often overlooked and taken for granted. People have ideas and keep them to themselves, all of which will die with you when you leave this life.
Life’s Toolbox is the ultimate form of reflection. Besides the active tracking of your insights, the journal also promotes the nourishment of more ideas. Having a “good idea” is a numbers game, having more ideas increases the probability that you’ll have a “good idea”. The more ideas you have the more good ideas you’ll have. But, this requires having many bad and embarrassing ideas, which is what causes people to avoid going down a path of ideas that may lead to a “good idea” or at least further insight.
The benefits from this journal come both during writing and after writing. During writing you are engaging actively in contemplating some idea and working to capture it in a concise and meaningful manner. This act promotes your ability to recall it later, it primes your mind to recognize instances of the insight in everyday life. This leads to internalization of the concept which leads to changes in your character, personality, and lifestyle.
After writing you continue to reap benefits as you return to what you wrote at an earlier time as a form of reflection. You may be surprised that what you once thought was so life changing and such a big insight now is so integrated into your character that it just seems natural upon reflection at a later time. Having this insight leads to other insights such as realizing that what people attribute as “natural, born gifts” such as intelligence, are actually skills that can be developed. You may realize that such skills resulted from a series of experiences that the seemingly intelligent individual had earlier in life than most leading to compounding benefits as they engage with and view the world through an ever increasing intelligent lens.
This has been my experience, 100%. The insights that I share throughout my writing are entirely a result of engaging in the practices that I write about. I mark the beginning of my journey and the initial destruction of my “default identity” by deciding to invest in a notebook to capture insights and ideas that I have from day to day. This was done following the same structure that will be laid out below.
I obsessively explored the realm of self-development in an exploratory manner, through YouTube videos, Books, and online Articles, capturing what insights gave me “ah-ha” moments. I’ve experienced compound benefits from this practice, year after year.
Let this notebook be your legacy, your blueprint for how you became whoever you’ll become. Let it be your own path of exploration and study. Approach it as if it will be a reference manual for your kids to live effectively. Write with the idea to give your offspring a head start, to learn the things you wish you would have learned sooner.
This journal is not meant for free-writing, it is meant for big insights that you’ve gained, perhaps from free-writing elsewhere. It is done in a large, sturdy notebook.
It is worth repeating: This is not a free-write journal. It is where the insights you have throughout the day end up after a period of contemplation and putting them in your own words. For example, I carry a pocket-notebook with me throughout the day, any insights or ideas that I have I capture in this notebook with little translation. I contemplate these periodically throughout the day. At the end of the day, or when I am near my Life’s Toolbox, I further summarize the insight or idea into a few words to the point that it is one-line zinger that I then add to my Life’s Toolbox.
Each entry is simple and to the point, I am not worried about grammar or proper spelling, but you do want to be able to understand what you write when reflecting years later. This means that acronyms are probably a good idea to spell out, or at least add the mapping to some reference section in the margin of the page. I aim to remove as much fluff as possible, unnecessary words such as totally, completely, just, well, really, etc. all get removed.
The aim is to have each entry carry as much meaning as possible in a way that your future self would understand. A side effect of writing, and therefore thinking, in this simplified manner is that I find my communication and thinking in general is much more simple and to the point, there is much less fluff. This has made my thinking faster and more efficient.
While removing the fluff from what you write you want to be careful to not lose your train of thought. If while writing another idea pops up, quickly capture its essence, in some trigger word or phrase, on some paper outside of your journal to go back to later.
The Structure of Life’s Toolbox
I will share my experience with this “Life’s Toolbox” as a case study for a way it can be implemented.
Have sections for categories of exploration during periods of your life. For example, there was a period where I spent a lot of time exploring abstract and concrete thinking and how to develop abstraction abilities. My insights were captured under the heading of “Abstraction”. I did something similar for Divergent and Convergent thinking which were insights that came out of my exploration of Abstraction.
At the front of the notebook include a table of contents, for your own reference as well as quick reflection. These sections are not decided on upfront, they simply come out of interest in a particular topic or field that you want to explore. These topics are not technical, but more general regarding ways to improve your productivity and overall effectiveness in life. You may have a section on Creativity during a period of your life when you’ve explored book and online articles on the subject.
The birth of a section usually comes out of an initial interest, this is when the most entries will be added under that section. This isn’t the only time to add entries here, however. Reserve another page or two for this section so that you can add a new section for a different topic that you want to explore. As you continue on in life you may have compounding insights related to that first topic, such as Creativity, you would then simply add it to its appropriate section.
For sections that I revisit frequently, such as ways to improve learning or charisma, I add a tab sticky-note hanging out to serve as a flag so that I may quickly return to that page.
Some examples of sections that I have:
- How Other Species Lived
- I had a strong fascination in survival and nature. I realized early on that living effectively means living in accordance with nature. This resulted in me exploring my ancestry, such as nutrition as it may relate to my ancestors.
- Early Childhood
- A general exploration of childhood and how to raise effective human beings and how to effectively handle many of the challenges that comes with parenting. There were several sections related to childhood scattered throughout the book in “Part 1/2/…” format. I’ve covered a lot of pages on parenting and childhood insights.
- Long-winded example: Parenting is hard, but because it requires the parent to put obstacles and challenges in front of the child and hope they fail, and then when they do don’t do anything to help. Demand that they find their own way out. Life will bring obstacles, and you can’t rely on others to always be there. Don’t help up someone who falls, instead, teach them how to get up when they fall.
- A general exploration of childhood and how to raise effective human beings and how to effectively handle many of the challenges that comes with parenting. There were several sections related to childhood scattered throughout the book in “Part 1/2/…” format. I’ve covered a lot of pages on parenting and childhood insights.
- My Childhood
- Dedicated to exploring my parents and sibling to gain insights about my own behavior, beliefs, assumptions, tendencies, weakness/strengths, etc. Basically self-exploration with a sense of curiosity, openness, and a lack of judgement.
- One of my favorite topics to explore. I love the process of understanding something, I have had periods of obsession on various related topics such as Focus vs Diffuse modes of thinking and Abstraction. I’m always looking for ways to improve my ability to learn. I will write a lot more about my findings in the future. My love for explaining things also leads to my desire to teach.
- Modern Society
- Beating Anxiety
- Habits (Building/Breaking)
- Reasons for…
- This consists of interesting “ah-has” that I’ve come across explaining anything and everything. Some examples include: why the ocean is blue, why people have sexual fetishes, etc. I have broken these sections out into a Personal and a General version. The Personal version are insights into why I feel or behave in particular ways, and how that may relate to my past. For example, why might I have developed a strong sense of discipline? What past experiences have reinforced this in me?
- Raised Questions and Ideas
- Big picture, philosophical kind of questions.
- E.g. Reason children learn so fast… due to their gullibility since they haven’t been conditioned by society yet, they are more open minded and can imagine/believe more easily and thus drop their previous beliefs in favor of new ones easily and quickly (previous beliefs not get in way of new facts)
- E.g. Could asexual reproduction be species ultimate objective? If not then, is the dependency on another being suggestive of a species being social by nature and thus asexual beings are not social by nature?
- How does this relate to passing of genetics, is asexual reproduction only considered once the being is either able to self-adapt fully on its own (i.e. no genes from others) or did nature make a mistake?
- Asexual reproduction was original means, perhaps nature discovered that mingling of genetics and the promotion of cooperation (social) was beneficial to survival and sex was a great motivator for socializing
- What principles of life does this evolution of life suggest?
- Asexual reproducing beings still exist, what interesting properties do they have that made them able to survive in such a diverse environment over the years?
- Can a sexual reproducing species gain an incentive to reproduce asexually? What would that look like, what would the incentives be? and why?
- Plants, fungi, and some animals can, are there properties of these species that promote asexual reproduction (e.g. lack of movement?)
- Basically just capturing ideas that tie other insights I’ve had together and contemplate the questions and implications that they would suggest. Again, exploration.
- Psychological Life Hacks
- Will Power
- Mental Models
I have a lot of different sections, dozens. I also have sections for foundational and life changing insights from books that I’ve read at particular times.
None of these sections are ever considered complete, I have new insights to many of these regularly, especially Early Childhood, Learning, and Reasons for. Life’s Toolbox is a living and breathing journal, it will be added to until the day I die.
At the very back of the notebook was the most general section of them all. I’ve reserved the most pages for this section. It consists of one-line zingers that contribute to an effective mindset in living effectively, in general. For example, “Pain aversion is a powerful motivator (avoiding pain), if you are lazy and wish not to be, think of what you may lose… Attach pain to not changing and pleasure to changing.” Another example, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is a choice” or “Complexity is the silent killer of growth, keep it simple.”
The very last page I have my strengths as I’ve discovered them on one side and my weaknesses on the other. I constantly aimed to improve my weakness and leverage my strengths. This practice has provided a lot of fulfillment as I reflect on how far I’ve come. It has also served as a humbling practice to show that you develop your abilities, you are not born with them. Even walking is something you’ve developed, like everything, after you first sprouted from the sperm and egg.
If a section carries over to another page but I already have started another section on the next page, I just find an empty page or more to add a “Part 2” (or whatever # I’m on) to the same topic. This is a living journal, I don’t reserve pages for many things (except for the end of the notebook as described above). When inspiration strikes
For example, I have a “Learning Part 1” and a “Learning Part 2” since I had already started a new section on the next page and I had more learning insights that couldn’t fit on the old Learning section’s page so I created a new section, “Learning Part 2”, several pages after.
The aim for these pages is quality, a lot of meaning in as few words as possible without sacrificing any meaning. Quality doesn’t come when you try forcing it. Action out of inspiration tend to carry the most quality, and so that is what drives the entries that I add to my Life’s Toolbox. I carry that inspiration with me as I explore topics of interest and let insights compound, there is no rush.
There are days that I have nothing to add and others where I have a whole new section to add, starting my journey exploring a new topic of interest. I have found that the more I’ve explored in a particular topic and the more experiences I’ve obtained around that topic, the more profound the insights that I have are, but the more sparse they become.
They are more profound due to the compounding nature of the new insight building off of so many previous insights that I’ve internalized. The sparseness comes from reaching a point where there isn’t much novelty in my environment. This serves as a great indicator that you are digging deeper into a particular subject, graduating to higher levels of mastery, or that you are stagnating by not engaging in enough novel experiences.
Returning to the structure of my Life’s Toolbox: I utilize the margins of each page, the sides and the blank top of a notebook page. The sides are summaries, reminders or action items for myself, questions, or potential relationships to other ideas. In the blank section of the top of the page I have the biggest insights captured there as it relates to the corresponding section.
It is important to note that entries into this notebook aren’t coming from sitting down and waiting for inspiration to strike. I go about my day and when insights come up I capture them in my pocket notebook to contemplate further on and later chunk down into an entry into the appropriate section of my Life’s Toolbox. Even while exploring topics such as Creativity, it was in an incremental fashion, I would free-write on a separate piece of paper things I’ve learned from my research and own experience and chunk the patterns and big ideas to my Life’s Toolbox.
Finally, this is also not a single notebook. I have one mostly full notebook and another that is serving as my “Life’s Toolbox Part 2”. It took me 2 years of insights to fill the first notebook, and this was during my initial exploration phase when everything was novel and insight came in after insight. If you have a new section you wish to add and don’t feel like there will be enough pages available in the current Life’s Toolbox notebook, then start another notebook. You can still add entries into the other as you gain insights into the relevant sections that still have room. This is an ongoing practice, till the day you die.
Originally, I just jumped in, I didn’t really have a plan when I started the first Life’s Toolbox. The notebook took shape after a page or two of exploring “Evolution” and my personal Ancestry. After a 4 month period of intense self-reflection and isolation I’ve had some structure forming in the notebook that has carried on since.
Below are a few photos of my Life’s Toolboxes:
Life’s Toolbox is such a great practical way to apply exploration in your everyday life. Taking each step throughout the day primed for a big insight to later add to your notebook trains you to become sensitive to such subtle realizations. The true magnitude of the compounding effects of this investment can not be described, they can only be experienced. I will say, however, that everything that I have written so far can be attributed to having engaged in this practice.
I personally believe there would be a lot of value to be gained from teaching such a practice in schools, and even integrating it into the student’s everyday living. At least having a “School – Life’s Toolbox” that captures big insights a student has in various subjects. Basically the “ah-ha” moments after any reasonably long period of being stuck and not being able to “figure it out”. This can serve you as a way to quickly refresh you memory by re-experiencing the ah-has that you once had. It can also serve as a resource for your children and other students.
The rest of society can also benefit from these Life’s Toolbox notebooks by providing insight into the journey that people have taken leading up to what success they may experience. It would be like an autobiography, but for the path that has led to the development of their character and the influences of their decisions.
Life’s Toolbox is a practice that goes beyond just journaling. The notebook is just a physical tracking of the process of you applying the Effective Living framework. It is the place the insights from your exploration are captured. You engage in this practice not just when you are adding entries into the notebook, but in your everyday life. The notebook serves to prime your mind to recognize and further ponder insights that you come across throughout the day.
The more you engage with this practice, the more profound and compound the insights you’ll have are. The compounding insights in the months to come will reap more and more benefits. Later, you’ll be able to reflect back and be surprised at the progress you’ve made and the understanding you’ve developed.
This practice encompasses all of the concepts that we’ve covered. It includes the Big Ideas of Effective Living (e.g. Clarity, Challenge, Meaning) through daily engagement. This daily engagement promotes insights from putting into practice what you’ve learned through research or previous trail-and-error experience.
The practice hits all of the components of Effective Living from the Principles (e.g. Exploration, Reflection, Depth, Action, Routine, Compound Impact, etc.) to the development and exploration of Identity, Mindset, and the Meta (big picture) of life.
A summary is given below:
- Life’s Toolbox is a great way to explore your existence. It drives living life actively and seeing the adventure within it. It encourages a focus on the process and the experience and not the outcome. It also serves as a resource of reflection for both yourself as well as others.
- Life’s Toolbox is a living and breathing notebook that has some structure to it with the emphasis on quality and ease of reference. Tabs or bookmarks are added to help in ease of access. Entries are added when inspiration has led to a relatively profound insight at that point in your life.
- This practice encompasses journaling and meditation. Journaling is captured through the act of writing and contemplation. Meditation is captured through the generation of ideas and the lack of forcing entries, but instead letting inspiration give you the drive to explore.
- This single practice covers everything that we’ve explored so far and is one example of a practical implementation of Effective Living leading to Effective Action.
Big Idea: Effective Living is an active concept that heavily involves the idea of Exploration.
Basically: Effective Living occurs when you approach life with a sense of curiosity.
Effective Living is a guide to taking Effective Action. You develop your ability to take Effective Action by addressing the individual components of Effective Living. These components are:
Each of these components to Effective Living are hit with the idea of exploration. This exploration can be in the form of external or internal. External exploration involves recognizing the complexities of the world around you and the importance of living your life, independent of the crutches that others offer. Internal exploration emphasizes a focus on your internal world through investing in yourself, delaying gratification, and choosing your identity.
These are all with the bigger picture of Effective Living in mind. That has been the theme and motivation throughout all of my words. These are the fundamentals that I’ve found to promote Effective Action.
In this section I’ve talked about myself more than I have in the past. The focus is on evolving the species forward, not myself. I bring up my own experience as an illustrative tool in expressing the concept of Effective Living. What I share comes from a place of experience. In the future, I may write more about my experience, but doing so would really be redundant. What I’ve written about up until now has been the lessons I’ve learned, they are very much my experience already.
Next we will end this series with a summary of Effective Living.
Your Call to Action
Thank you for reading!
We have covered a lot of ground! I want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on Effective Living so far? After having read the What is It? and the Why is it Important? posts, how have your impressions changed now that you’ve completed my presentation of Effective Living? Share in the comments section below!
Don’t put off contemplating what the insights from this article mean, find a quiet location and think deeply about what it might mean for you. Just 10 deliberate minutes can make a large difference, set a timer, do it regularly and you will notice the changes within a few weeks. You improve your ability to think and therefore make effective decisions by spending more time deliberately thinking about the relevant subject. Consider applying journaling and meditation to see more profound changes, these are just more deliberate and concentrated forms of quiet and focused thinking. Slow down, find stillness.
I am always looking to improve my reach and the impact that I have with my writing, please provide your feedback in the comments below.
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