I’ve been slowly working my way through Ryan Holiday’s book “Stillness is the Key“, and the other day, I read a chapter that really captured the essence of things I’ve been feeling and experiencing lately.
To call 2020 a wild year would be an understatement. From the pandemic upending everything and transforming how we do things, to personal changes and challenges, we have all had our fair share of problems to face and overcome.
For me personally, the year ended in an insane whirlwind of activity, by the time the minute hand crossed 12am on New Year’s day, one thing was crystal clear to me…I needed everything to stop.
I had the desperate desire to slow down, to strip away as much as possible and leave only what was essential. From posting even less on social media, to chatting sporadically, it would be fair to assume that I fell off the face of the earth into a hole somewhere.
On one level it felt wrong, feels like neglecting people, or being a recluse, sinking deeper into a personal bubble. On the other hand, and after reading that chapter, I understand what I’ve been trying to do.
Trying to sink deeper, into essence, into truth, into vision, into creativity.
The year ahead is a year of potential power. Sure the challenges are great, but pressure builds diamonds. As far as personal development is concerned, I have been focused on the mechanics of my day-to-day. Not the grandiose ideas and plans, just the nuts and bolts, the habits and actions that make up the mundane hours of my day.
It is hard to focus on getting those right if I’m running around distracted.
If you want to get results, you have to dig deep and major in the basics. you have to know them cold, you need to have that strong foundation. To be able to cut through the noise, and know exactly what to do and how to do that, one needs true clarity of mind, true focus.
You only get a chance of accessing that when you slow down.
The world is noisy. And more often than not, our lives get noisy too. And I don’t mean literal actual noise, but just the noise of streams, feeds, platforms, voices, anxieties, news, etc. There is always something vying for your attention.
If we are to live by design, we have to limit input. We have to slow down and invest our energy and attention to the places they need to go. That means taking a step back, that means slowing down, and thinking deeply.
In the chapter I read, Ryan talks about the Buddhist tradition of koans – inscrutable statements or questions that are meant to be contemplated. For instance – what is the sound of one hand clapping? It is the kind of paradoxical brain twister that is easy to dismiss but when engaged with can provide months and years of intense mental work.
In wrestling with these, the mind is forced into deeper and deeper states of contemplation. It is in these spaces that true insight begins to arise. Not necessarily in answer to the koan, but clarity into other vexing problems, or opportunities. The act of such slow, deliberate meditation creates the conditions for incredible breakthroughs.
So take the time to slow down, to think deeply. You can accomplish more in an hour of silent contemplation than you think. In the words of Ryan
Think about what’s important to you
Think about what’s actually going on
Think about what might be hidden from view
Think about what the rest of the chessboard looks like
Think about what the meaning of life really is
When we spend the time to think like this, we allow ourselves to find treasures, interesting ideas or our next creative project. It is in these moments that we find truth, the answers that must be drawn from the depths.
So relax, into yourself, into your environment, into the very flow of the universe, and grasp the gifts waiting for you.
Life tends to gets chaotic, as I’ve mentioned many times. If you don’t apply the effort to keep your affairs in order, things tend towards entropy, towards falling apart.
There are external vagaries of life that push us to and fro, the world outside, events outside our control. Beyond those, there is also the perpetually shifting sands that is our internal states. There is always something ready to push us off balance.
We can start one week focused and on top of things, only to fall apart the next, moving through our days in a stupor, barely getting by.
Sure, things like motivation and discipline do help to keep us on track. And we must make the constant effort to perform and thrive. But these active strategies must also be accompanied with more passive ones.
There are certain concepts to understand and deploy to help us recover, find balance, and return to focus especially after we have been blown by a metaphorical storm.
I have talked about rhythm a few times, and how important it is to respect it.
Everything in life moves in a rhythm. There is the flow of night and day, one into the other, for as long as the earth spins on its axis. There is the rhythm of the seasons, winter, spring, summer, fall. We also have our personal rhythms, our body clocks, our emotional rhythms.
If we pay close attention and learn how our rhythms work, we can learn to live in a way that just flows. In a way that is in accordance with our natures.
I know some of my rhythms. 3 and a half days of complete work and focused immersion means that I’m ideally going to need to take at least half a day or a full day off to recuperate. Taking time completely off on the weekend would refresh me enough to face a full work week. 2 months of extended high pressure work will require at least 3 weeks of calm and relaxation.
Sure I can abuse my rhythm, and sure sometimes we just have to do what we need to do. But the more I respect rhythm, the more I am able to be effective consistently over the long haul.
Understanding and flowing with rhythm allows us to be a little easier on ourselves. To push when its appropriate, to rest when we must. To know in the days and weeks when we can’t seem to muster motivation or focus, that rhythm will bring us inevitably back to hyper performance.
A ritual is simply a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order. We recognise them mostly from religious or traditional settings. But if we peer a little closer into our personal lives, we can also spot our own rituals, our habits, our ways of doing things.
For instance, you probably have a set way you wash yourself in the bath or shower. Without thinking there is a set of steps you take. Perhaps you let the water wash over you for about a minute before lathering up. Perhaps you start with your hands and work your way down. Whatever it is, there is probably an unconscious ritual behind that simple task.
We can deepen our experience of tasks and day to day life by elevating them to the level of ritual. By paying attention, by setting intention, by focusing on each step fully. The shower ascends from merely a time to get clean, to a time to reset, refresh, and refocus.
The power of rituals is that they evoke specific states of being and emotion, and if we use them intentionally in our lives, they can serve a real transmutative function in our lives.
We can design the rituals we do to get into a creative zone and ready to work. We can create rituals we can do to calm a raging mind, and find peace in moments of anxiety. There are the rituals we do, to cleanse ourselves, recenter and find meaning. There are rituals we can do to rest and heal.
The more we engage with rituals intentionally, the more we can unleash their power in our lives, turning mundane moments into sacred empowered ones.
In a hyper-productive, hyper-connected world, we can fall prey to the expectation to be always be perfect or to have it together. Embracing the idea of ‘Practice’ can help us find balance and rootedness.
For instance, once we begin to recognise our work as a practice, our approach to it also shifts. We move from a focus on the destination to a focus on the journey, from a thing we do at a point in time to an on-going process of becoming.
It is not about a desire to attain perfection, but a desire to continually explore and improve. It is a process. Something we do over and over again.
That is the idea of practice – constant deliberate engagement with the aim of growth
We know that if we take too long of a break, we begin to get blunt and dull, our skills atrophy. But if we are diligent in practice, then we get better, we improve, we build one layer on top of the other.
We can bring this application to anything that is important or meaningful to us – setting a new habit, learning a new skill, nurturing our relationships. The thing of focus moves from something we do sometimes to a lifestyle we now embrace.
Approaching it with the mindset of constant improvement, we are never too close minded, never too much of an expert to learn something new.
We hold a healthy focus and respect for the fundamentals, practicing the basics over and over again until they are second nature. Until we pierce through and touch the sublime. Until we get lost in our practice, attaining complete flow and unity with it.
These 3 concepts have the power to unleash a deeper level of being, a stronger connection with the self, and long term growth and productivity. Respecting our rhythms, engaging in rituals, and embracing the practice. With these tools, we can always find our balance after the inevitable storms.
The other day, I got robbed, and my laptop was stolen. Naturally, I thought I’d make a blog about it.
What do you do when you get knocked back by misfortune? When the deal you have been working on for months falls through. When you get unceremoniously laid off. When your space is violated, and things are taken from you. When priceless data, months, years of work is gone in an unfair instant.
How do you react?
First you react by being a bit numb. I mean that is the first thing you feel. The shock that this thing has just happened. The realization of what was taken and just how inconvenient it all is, the time, money and effort it would take to recover and get back to some semblance of normalcy.
Then you get pissed, for a few minutes, and on a lower simmering level, for the next couple of days.
But you also remember what stoicism teaches (it is practically second nature now) – not to really give a shit or take anything too serious.
Most people would ask ‘why me?‘ You remember to ask ‘why not me?‘. It has been a relatively good year, all things being equal. You were probably due for something like this to happen.
At least you are safe, at least you are not hurt. At least you are not in an ambulance screaming down to the hospital with bleeding out of bullet wounds.
So that’s what you do, focus on the good and try to put things in perspective.
You can’t change what happened, you can’t rewind time and do things differently. All you can do is move forward. By focusing on what you can control, by honing down on what needs to be done.
So you call the cops of course, report the incident, then you send a flurry of messages, letting close friends and family know what happened, letting clients know that work will be somewhat delayed.
Hours later, after all of the excitement, you finally get some sleep.
Over the next few days you wallow. Lightly. There isn’t much you can do but wait. Wait for expected funds to come in, and try to make a plan. A plan to replace what was lost, and a plan to get back to work. Apart from that, nothing much to do, but drink and game. At least they did not take the PS4.
How do you reframe it?
48 hours later it starts to hit you. The gift, the good in this situation. And it comes wrapped in anger, in annoyance, in irritation. Oh they think they could take my shit. I’ll just replace everything bigger and better.
Perhaps that is what I could do, use this experience as fuel. I had been a bit relaxed as of late. I could use this to kick my ass back into high gear. The desire to to do and gain more as a personal fuck you to the person who did this to me.
So that is what it would be, at least for now. Fuel to get me back into action.
How do you act?
Diagnose the problem. What went wrong and why did this happen?
The gate was unlocked because it had been malfunctioning and a pain to lock. My data is lost because I wasn’t as diligent with backing up as I should. I almost never lose things and I keep things very well. I had gotten relaxed, lulled into the false sense that nothing would happen. Until the worst thing happened in the most surreal way.
There’s an idea I learned from Tai Lopez years ago about extreme preparedness. He said if you got beaten up as a 30 year old, it was your fault. You should have been learning self defense since you were 3. And if you couldn’t do it then for whatever reason, today is as good a day to start.
If you know something can happen and you are not prepared for that eventuality and it does happen, it is your fault. Always be prepared.
That was the biggest lesson for me out of this ordeal, to be prepared, overly prepared, to never let my guard down.
This means a replaced and better gate. This means a replaced laptop with up to the minute backups going straight to the cloud. This means a revamping of my workflow to not be too dependent on any one machine at one time.
How do you bounce back?
There is the story of Thomas Edison reacting to his factory burning down in 1914. A massive explosion turned half of his plant into balls of fire, ten buildings alight in chemical flames. Despite the efforts of between six to eight fire departments, there was nothing they could do.
Edison calmly walked to his son Charles Edison, and told him, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again”. When his son objected, Edison replied, “It’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.”
He went home that night after the chaos had subsided and the very next day was back to rebuilding. The fire had claimed just under a million dollars of priceless records, inventions and prototypes.
But after just three weeks, Edison got part of the plant up and running again. Working double shifts and setting record breaking productivity, Edison and his team went on to make almost $10 million in revenue the next year.
That’s how you do it, that’s how you bounce back. By reacting rationally, by feeling the sting and letting it go, by responding to the situation, by hitting back harder than ever, becoming more resilient, more efficient, allowing the loss to burn away the impurities and make you stronger for it.
That’s how you bounce back.
That’s how you win.
The other day, I was watching a productivity course on Skillshare, and I learned something interesting about what separates very productive people from non-productive people.
It has to do with how they perceive and relate to time.
This idea was so profound, it has radically changed the way I approach my days and weeks. And that is understanding that the idea, the excuse we give when people ask us why we are not doing the things we are supposed to do, why we are not living the dreams, or operating at the level we seek, this excuse – ‘I don’t have time’ is just a myth.
This is a knee-jerk reaction that comes up a lot.
There are so many things and ideas we have. Many lives yet un-lived inside us that we want to get out and make real, but we sometimes we don’t never do. But it is not because we don’t have time. it is because we don’t use it well enough.
We all get the same 24 hours. How are some people able to get a lot done, balancing full careers, learning new skills, maintaining relationships, indulging in hobbies while others can barely keep it together.
I mean this guy I’m listening to is a doctor working full time, who also lectures, maintains a YouTube channel, creates courses on Skillshare, and runs a small business. How does he find the time to do all of that? And there are many people like this. What separates someone like that from someone like me who can barely manage a blogpost a week.
It is the relationship with time, and how intentional you are with it.
Exposing the excuse
When we say we don’t have time (especially for things we say are important to us), what we are really saying is, I cannot be bothered to make time for it.
Perhaps I’m already overwhelmed, or maybe I am just lazy. Whatever the reason, I have just abdicated responsibility for my life’s greatest asset – my time.
If you took a closer look at how you spend your time, you would most likely find a lot of time that is just spent…lost scrolling through feeds, or travelling, or watching something or just doing nothing at all. If we did a time audit on our lives, we would find that we do have the time, we could probably just use it well.
When we say we don’t have time, what we really mean, is that we don’t have enough time to do all we have to do as leisurely as we are doing everything right now. We live like we have all the time in the world.
And sure, unstructured time is also important, downtime, even wasted time can be useful in allowing yourself to be bored and receive flashes of inspiration. But for the times that you are ‘on’, when you need to get things done, you become more effective, the more intentional you are about how you use your time.
Being intentional with your time
The idea that you don’t have time is a myth. All you have is time, and not an infinite amount of it. It is about how you deploy it. It is constantly moving, it is up to you to use it in the things that are important to you.
You have to shift to the mindset of making time.
To decide that if a thing is important to you, be that a relationship, a business, a skill, a project, a goal, then you have to make time for it. As basic as that sounds, that is really what it comes down to. If you want to get it done, make time for it.
We all have the same 24 hours. And there is only so much that can be done in a day. For many of us, most of that time is already taken up by our responsibilities, it can be legitimately hard to get things done. Our time is limited, so we must maximise our investment. We have to be clear on what our priorities are, on what is important for us to get done.
It is easy to do this when the priorities are backed by social pressure, or imposed deadlines from work or school. But when it comes to self-directed projects, things we deem important to do, but because no one is holding a gun to our heads to get it done, it becomes way harder. There is too much distraction in the world around us.
That is the battle – making time for what is important, protecting and properly using that time.
What shall I do with this 24?
Is the question that pops into my mind every morning lately when I wake up.
I’m up to a new 24 hour cycle. What am I going to do with it?
I have responsibilities, I have errands, I have deadlines, I have people to talk to, and things to get done. I also have the projects I want to start, the thing I want to learn, the idea I want to research, the art I want to make.
If I’m intentional enough, I can plan ahead, I can consider my time, and only try to take on only what is appropriate. I can decide what to prioritise and what to put on the backburner. To set asides the times that are to be invested in certain activities, and make sure that nothing else intrudes on them.
I can systemise and hack my way to becoming better at using my time and better at execution. I can become skilled and massively productive, my results compouding over time, solving intractable problems quicker than normal and being present enough to pounce on opportunities as they arise.
Because if it is a lie that we don’t have time. Then the truth is that all we have is time.
And time can be anything we want it to be. It is literally a matter of what we make of it.
Or how to throw time at your problems.
We have all heard about throwing money at your problems, paying to get things fixed. The core of the idea is that of deploying the resources you have against your problems to get to optimum results.
But what of how we use our most valuable resource – time? How do we use it, how do we throw it at our problems?
Time is a surprisingly malleable entity, at least in perception. It seems to slow down and expand while you are stuck toiling away at a boring mind-crushing task, but then find yourself having a good time and watch it speed up and slip away like sand through your fingers
Sure, time is an objective thing that we measure with our watches and clocks, but it is also very subjective in our experience of it. Plus it is always moving and we all have a finite amount of it to use.
It is our most precious resource and asset because once it is spent it can never be recouped. Worse still, it is always being spent, and how we use it is everything. We can invest it, we can use it productively or we can waste and squander it. But it will always keep moving, with or without us.
In my mind, there are 3 different ways we can use time.
On a long enough timeline…
There’s the quote attributed to Jeff Bezos I think, that basically says that on a long enough timeline, you can find the solution to any problem. I always liked that quote. It meant that no matter what problem I was facing, if I approached it with the right timeframe and worked on it consistently, eventually I would crack it.
That is what I would call throwing long time at it. Investing an extended and consistent period of time moving in a certain direction. We already do this automatically in many areas of life. School is one such example. You throw 3-4 years at the problem of obtaining a qualification. You make the consistent effort at the time, eventually, hopefully, you get there.
I have expressed this idea in a previous post about making time work for you. You do so by installing the right habits and routines into your life, so that as time passes, you get better, things grow exponentially, life improves. This is investing. Making your resources work for you.
If we think in this way, then we know that every action we take today is an investment to recoup or a price to pay for tomorrow.
So we are intentional and deliberate about what we do. If we fail to do so, if we laze around without direction, we will find ourselves lost to time.
Shorten the time
Tackling things over the long term is good. It works well for tackling particularly thorny issues and solving intractable problems. But shortening the time you use can also be a very powerful tactic.
This is the power of the deadline. Restricting the amount of time you have to get something done, forces you to work faster, smarter and more efficiently. It causes you to bring massive effort within a focused concentrated burst of time and can this yield powerful results.
It is when you give yourself 3 hours on a Sunday to get your finances in order. It is spending 30 minutes to bang out a blog post.
If there is a nagging problem in your life, an absolute thorn in your side, something you have been procrastinating on, you could probably go extremely far in solving it if you spent a few hours just working the shit out of the problem – googling, YouTubing, researching and experimenting until you solved it.
Here the quality of the time you spend here must be high. This demands full focus, no distractions. So, unless you need it for what you are doing, put that phone far far away and get to work.
Or capturing the moment.
Kairos is an ancient greek word meaning the right, critical or opportune moment. In rhetoric, it is described as a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved.
This is taking advantage of time as opposed to merely using it.
There are those special moments that arise. Sometimes, out of the blue with no warning. Other times as a slow steady build you can see coming. But this is a moments when things come to a head, where the all the factors collide and something powerful happens.
Usually this is a time of great volatility and instability. If you are awake, if you have been preparing, using long time and short time to position yourself, you can seize this moment and take advantage. This is the moment of the big opportunity, the big break. It is the chance interview, or introduction. It is the moment of chaos where sparks fly and the great flame erupts. This is when the iron is white hot, this is when you must strike.
It is the time ordained by God, the universe, the higher power and powerful things happen if you are at the right place when this moment arrives.
So use time, in all its glory, in all it’s forms. We are bound to it and its relentless flow. It is up to us to be skilful in our use of it. In this way, we honour it, by making the most of it.
In my last post, I spoke about reducing chaos in your life. I defined chaos as the vagaries of life, the unpredictable factors and events that happen to us.
If there is too much outside our control, we suffer. If things can easily happen to throw us off, we are vulnerable. If there is too much chaos in our lives, we don’t have the stable space to make meaningful progress.
However, if there is too little chaos, we become stuck in a rut, losing vitality and life. If everything is too tightly controlled, there is no space for magic to happen. And so the proper way is balance. We must have the calm conditions we need, but we must also have chaos under control and knowing how to deploy it and when to unleash it.
Chaos is chance, possibility, unpredictability. It is in these moments that there are great upsets – down becomes up, up becomes down, empires crumble, empires are born. These can be powerful moments disruptive moments in time.
It is chaos that offers us our big breaks. It is chaos that births opportunities. It is chaos that provides us with the chance encounters with the people and ideas that change our lives. Chaos is all around us. Chaos is how we get lucky.
So how do we use chaos? What can it do for us, and how can we cultivate the right amount of it?
Shake things up
Routines are great. They are the powerful systemic actions that combine over time towards an ultimate goal. Ruts are not. They keep us stuck doing the same thing over and over without a point. We have all the action but no spirit, no change or dynamism.
It is easy to lull ourselves into a false sense of security. We build our systems and patterns, they work well enough to keep us comfortable and soon we manoeuvre ourselves into a cosy box.
But life is dynamic, things are always changing. To build resilience, we have to introduce chaos every now and again. We have to shake things up.
Do something different, do something out of character, step outside of yourself and stretch.
Take a different route, shop at a different store, take a trip to a different country, write with your other hand, do something different.
Re-connect with the excitement, with the spirit of why you began this journey and tap into that energy.
Increase your chances of getting lucky
If you are a business person, or a professional, or a creator, you should be increasing your chances of getting lucky. You should be prolific, putting a lot of work out there, putting it in multiple places, getting in front of as many eyeballs as possible. the more randomness you expose yourself to, the higher your chances of getting lucky and hitting a big one.
It is no good being the best at what you do, if the people who need you the most don’t know who you are.
Think about what you need to happen and work on ways to increase the odds of that happening.
Use chaos to stimulate creativity
Nothing stimulates creative thinking like a good crisis. At least once the initial panic has died down.
It pushes us violently out of our comfort zones and we are forced to adapt or perish. It causes us to react, to pull from reserves we didn’t even know we had, and bring the full force of our resilience, creativity and skills to bear.
We get more creative when we are stimulated. When there is new information or experience. We can use chaos to get our juices flowing, breaking the rules and putting things together that have no business being together to jolt new thinking and ways of looking at things.
We can do this by being active problem seekers and solvers, by stretching beyond what we are presently capable of, by swinging for the fences. Using the fires of these experiences to deepen our creativity and skill.
Use chaos to destroy
Sometimes what you need is a good blow up, the option to destroy whatever isn’t working. Sometimes despite our best efforts, things just don’t work out. Mistakes are made that can’t be taken back. Or we build a thing and it just fails.
Not everything works out.
Sometimes, it’s okay to burn it all down and then start again. And a good crisis can be a great instigating event, or cover.
Use chaos to create change
In moments of chaos, there is great opportunity. The opportunity to change, to do something different, to create something new. It is the chance to reinvent yourself.
From the ashes of the old, rebuild the new. Allow chaos to open up new ideas, new ways of being, new ways of engaging and new things to strive for. And create something even better than before.