I am in transit again. Sea->lax. In the airport lounge working. Monday night football is on. The Seahawks. Many of my friends are there. Many of them took the whole day off to go to the game. An entire day watching grown men play a game that most of them had exactly zero stake in.
This reminds me that my attention is one of the few things I actually have to give the world. There is a limited amount of it. Distractions are always pulling at my attention. But being a “sports fan” is another level of distraction. It is actually a commitment to watch the spectacle every time it is on. It is not a short term distraction like a game of poker. It can become an identity. People become attached to their status as a “fan”. All that time, all that attention toward a spectacle that does not improve the world or themselves in any way. Ok, if you are in that business and that is your life I understand being part of the spectacle. But what could be accomplished in the world if all the attention of all the fans of Monday night football did something else? It seems like an enormous squandering of an incredibly precious resources.
This is not a call to stop watching sports for anyone else. Only a reminder to myself why I chose to NOT be a “fan” of any spectacle sport. I have made the affirmative decision that I would rather spend my time doing just about anything else. It is an absolute negative return on investment for me. At one time I had season tickets to the Seattle Sonics. But I used those times to go with friends and family to create memories and close business deals. I have never read a sports page or online stat site in my life. The minute the game is over I am on with life. I use the spectacle as a connection framework to improve relationships. It is good for that. But I have never been attached to the games or teams themselves.
Remember Martin: be wary of spectacle. Be very choosy with your attention. If you attend spectacle do so in support of a personal relationship with those you are with. Not a commercial entity.
I do a lot of private investments, over 90 so far. People are pitching me all the time. I have made many bad investments and a couple of good ones. The other day this questions popped into my head after one pitch:
“Am I getting paid or getting laid?”
“getting paid” means investing in a strong business with good fundamentals, strong team, and great growth (actual not pro forma). Even if the business isn’t profitable, if there are solid fundamental margins, they are able to attract customers at a good cost and they are solving a real need, the business is likely to work. As I evaluated all my investments, the ones that I was “getting paid” returned about 4X the average return.
“getting laid” means investing in a sexy dream. The team may be great, the market is huge, the product idea sounds amazing, but the execution has not delivered the fundamentals yet. There is still much execution to turn the dream into a product and a business. Many times founders want a valuation of over $10M for their dream with little or no execution. As I evaluated all my investments, these tended to perform below average. Basically because it took more money than the founders thought to execute and “get paid”.
Now the Unicorn is BOTH. A strong fundamental business in a huge sexy dreamy market. There have been a couple of those, having nothing to do with my intelligence in picking them, just pure dumb luck. The Unicorns performed 10-20X the average. That is why they are unicorns.
I am not telling you how to invest, or which type to invest in. This is just one of may questions I ask myself before investing. I weigh this against the valuation, stage, management team, my investment size, risk tolerance at the time, and make a decision. What asking this question has done for me is to REDUCE the number of “getting laid” deals I do. Not because there is anything wrong with them, but I can identify them up front more easily and I know the average returns are less. So I tend to pass.
Was reading an interview with Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk and he mentioned this about Brad Pitt:
“Brad Pitt had made some movies he wasn’t particularly happy with – one was Meet Joe Black – and he said every movie is the antidote to the one you just made; that the real blessing of failure is that it is the only thing that gives you the isolation and time to reinvent yourself. If you’re moving from success to success, you don’t have that daydreaming period that will allow you to come up with something new and unique.”
That parallels my experience. Failure is never fun. I have been fired before. I have had companies fail. I have had investments fail, losing millions. But after failure, a weird thing happens: space opens up. You are free of the responsibilities to make your last thing “successful” and have the open space to daydream and create. Remember this: failure opens up space.
I overheard a conversation about New Years resolutions last week. In it the guys were talking about long lists of New Years resolutions. And I of course was thinking about my own. But then for some reason a snippet from Milan Kundera quote popped into my head “there are only two ways to define the self: addition and subtraction.” That has always rung true to me. I switch between addition and subtraction. When the to do lists get too long often I will simplify it to just one of each. Out of all the possible things I could do (addition) and not do (subtraction), what is the most impactful one of each I tan think of for this project? For 2019 mine are
Add: more personal time with my employees at upgrade labs
My friend TA McCann just started a new podcast, How to Live to 200. I was one of his first guests. We talk about how I got sucked into the Biohacking world, some of the quantified ways I have gotten younger over the last year, and a few peeks into the crystal ball on upgrades coming down the pipe for the rest of us.
In college, studying philosophy was an excruciating exercise in memorization and focus on minutia between different schools of philosophy. It seemed very dry and very dead. The idea that all of these different schools were trying to get at the same thing; how to live life well and what that means was totally lost on me. That is often a failing of the industrial-academic approach to teaching something. I have found it easier to learn something when I have a practical problem in search of a solution. So it has been lately for me with philosophy and I am glad for that perspective. Here are a few practical real life problems for which I have found solutions in no small part from philosophy and especially Stoic philosophy:
How to be in a crowd and in the spotlight as a natural introvert. (post coming soon)
Been thinking a lot lately about how brands get embedded into our lives. Why did Apple beat IBM and Microsoft? Because Apple sells us on Why they are making the products they are, not just the What. People buy why not what is the premise. A good premise. Watch this.
Last week I was reminded of this by the daily stoic passage
In the end you are what is in your head. So what if you cut down on media consumption and worry about external events? Would there be more room in your head for other things? Say yourself? Or things in your control? Yes.
This is the same message of mark Manson’s new book and the 40 years of zen program and the core idea of stoic thought. Be very conscious of what you give a fuck about. Fucks are expensive cognitively. Free up headspace spent on external events, the past and the future and you have more resources for what is right in front of you. Your life.
Stoicism came of age in a time of political turmoil much like today. Remember that Stoicism isn’t about judging other people. It’s not a moral philosophy you’re supposed to project and enforce onto the world. No, it’s a personal philosophy that’s designed to direct your behavior. Remember, there is no “bible” of the Stoics which lays out the whole thing. Stoicism was largely taught in the oral tradition and what writings there we have are lecture notes, letters, and personal diaries. These teach us to philosophies, to be a Philo (lover) of Sophia ( wisdom). And to focus on what you can control while being indifferent to what you don’t. This locus of control focus is “wisdom” exactly.
This is why Marcus Aurelius wrote (as a note to himself): “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”
Remember, he wrote this in his diary! He was not trying to start a cult, gather a following, or become a get Instagram likes. He was training his OWN mind. As I am in this post.
Be open to the idea that people are going to be fools or jerks or unreliable or anything else. Let them be. That’s their business. That’s not inside your control.
You have to be disciplined with yourself, and your reactions. If someone acts ridiculous, let them. If you’re acting ridiculous, that’s on you. Notice the problem, stop it, and work on preventing it from happening in the future. What you do is in your control. That is your business. Be strict about it.
This is especially important to remember at a time when many people seem to be consumed with every tweet or quip from certain politicians, celebrities, or “influencers”. Leave other people to themselves. You have enough to worry about.
This does not mean “sit down and shut up” as some will infer. If other people are doing something that does intersect with something in your control then you can and must act. But don’t keep reposting “outrage”. Don’t let other people into your head. Don’t let the monkey in your head run wild worrying about other people. Focus the monkey on what is in your own control.
Morning Pages is a tool promoted by Julie Cameron in her Artist Way book as a daily practice for anyone interested in creativity, not just writers. This guy also describes the practice very well. Basically first thing in the morning, right after waking up, before you get going with the day, while you are still in that in-between mind state, write for 15 minutes in stream of consciousness style. Just whatever comes out. Cameron recommends using pen and paper in a journal. I did the hand journal for about a month and a half, then moved the practice over at 750words.com since I can do it on my smart phone in bed and get some interesting analytics (data nerd alert). I am going back to pen and paper to slow it down again and get away from the distractions inherent in working on a screen.
I have been doing Morning Pages for about three months now. Concrete results from doing morning pages:
1. I produce 3x the writing as before. Basically I believe doing the 15 minutes of work right in the morning in the alpha brain wave stage sets up a creative foundation for the day. I find later when I sit down to write a blog post or something else it comes easier and more clear. Even if the topics are completely different.
2. Greater understanding of the dream world in relation to the real world. Since mp are done in that waking up phase while your dreams are still somewhat present, I have noticed that more of my dreams are making it onto the pages. That brings their content into the conscious. Without mp the dreams were forgotten. There was no mechanism to connect the two worlds. There is a lot of understanding going on in the dream world. Good to get it up to the surface.
3. I have built confidence overall. Basically it is about 15 minute job each day. I can find 15 minutes. If I can find 15 minutes for mp i can find 15 minutes for something else.
4. More creativity in general. Even if you are not a writer, or trying to write, mp is a creative exercise. Often times, solutions to issues reveal themselves in morning pages spontaneously. A motorcycle maintenance solution popped in the other day. As did a stream of good names for a new web site. And a landscaping solution. Creative solutions in diverse areas of my life, nothing to do with writing.
5. More clarity to the day: Doing a brain dump first thing in the morning is kind of like a clean sweep. You can get all the monkey mind thoughts and inner critic out on the page and start new.
Long Hand VS on a device: I did both. Started out long hand, three pages in a note book. It was hard to use my hands that way after such a long time on the keyboard. It felt very slow and I had the desire to want to use some of the writing later, or do analytics on it. So after awhile I moved the practice to 750Words.com. Very good interface, good device support, challenges to keep you on task, merit badges, and some interesting analytics. While I gained the ability to write on more devices, to share the work, and the analytics my nerd desired, I lost some of the soul of the exercise. Writing long hand is slower and that is good. You have to actually slow down your brain to your hand speed. You also don’t have a web browser or other apps there to quickly engage with in diversions that come up during the writing. When I write long hand with the phone and computer off, I begin and end the exercise without distractions 99% of the time within 20 minutes. 750words has a handy analytic of start, stop times and words written over time. Using 750words I have completed the words in less than 20 minutes less than 40 percent of the time. Due to the ease of indulging distractions on a device, my productivity goes way down.
What to write about. Some people structure their writing. Two pages on this, one on that, etc. I have done it with and without structure. What I find is that without structure many times the stream can get stuck and I end up filling up space with mumbo jumbo words. That is especially true on 750words where the word count at the bottom of the screen is menacing you the whole time. If you are sitting there staring at the page, just start writing about staring at the page. And why the exercise is so hard. Then write your to-do list. If you run out of inner critic stuff, or lingering to-do items, start writing about what you are going to do today,. Meetings, people, events, etc. If I get stalled (rarely), I just ask “Today would be so awesome if….” and start again. Never fails.
There are many twists on how to do Morning Pages. Here is exactly how I do it.
I get up (without an alarm so it is a natural time to awake), take a cold shower, dress, make a cup of coffee, then sit down at a desk to write morning pages. Leave your phone in another room. Do NOT sit in the same room as a computer or any electronic device connected to the internet. I write morning pages at a desk because writing by hand in my lap gets uncomfortable after 10 minutes. I write before meditating as I have found the clearing out of MP helps deepen the meditation. I write the pages longhand (not on computer anymore see above) in a notebook that I put aside and never open again. I try to make my only distraction picking up the coffee cup or stretching my fingers.
Pro tip for the to-do list addicted among us: Put a small sticky note on the desk next to your journal. When something comes up that you want to add to your to-do list, write it down there. DO NOT allow your device with the to-do list app to be there, that rathole enabler will distract you. At the end of the session, transcribe the valuable things from the post it notes to your regular to do system, or simply get them done. This one upgrade has alleviated the major objection my monkey mind had to not having a device within hands reach – all those amazing inspirational to-do items that came up during morning pages. There will be a lot. But this post-it note system ensures they don’t become a rathole of wasted time.
Do every day for 30 days. Contemplate the effect on your life. Continue if positive. Overall, Morning Pages has earned a place in my morning routine due to the clear benefits I have noticed in my life. It is the second best ROI on 20 minutes I have during the day (#1 being meditation).
Normally on Try This exercises, I reference any science I can find behind the exercise. I can’t find any scientific studies on MP. But there are hundreds of positive reviews and testimonials on-line. While I have a proclivity for evidence based solutions, when the evidence is my own experience, I honor that.