Happy New Year

There’s a difference between knowing something and living as if it were true. At the end of 2013, these truths are all lingering on that awkward threshold, for me anyway.

1) The sooner you do something, the more of your life you get to spend with that thing done — even though it takes less effort (or at least no more) than it will later. It’s the ultimate sure-thing investment and I pass it up all the time.

2) I never regret working out. I can’t count the number of times I’ve negotiated with myself to work out the next day instead of today because I’m worried it will be a “bad workout.” I seldom have a bad day on a day that I work out.

3) Whenever I’m playing with my phone I am only shortening my life. A smartphone is useful if you have a specific thing you want to do, but ninety per cent of the time the thing I want to do is avoid doing something harder than surfing Reddit. During those minutes or hours, all I’m doing is dying.

4) Nothing makes me more productive and in-the-moment than a clean house. There is mind-clearing magic in cleanliness. Waking up in a house where everything is put away is a glorious feeling. There seem to be more possibilities in the air, and all my things seem more useful.

5) Minute-for-minute, nothing I do is more rewarding than meditation. Even after just a very short session, it reliably makes me better at everything, especially making decisions. It lets me do my best. Yet I still do it only intermittently.

6) Creative work is something that can be done at any time. It’s no different than any other kind of work. Inspiration is nice but completely optional. I’ve almost completely come around on this one in 2013. But sometimes the Four Horsemen still trick me.

7) Acting the way you want to feel usually works. When I feel crappy just before I have to go do something, if I decide to act as if I am happy for a while (even though I’m not) I usually end up feeling happy after not too long, or at least much less crappy. This is straight out of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and it’s an extremely powerful thing to experiment with. [More on this in an upcoming post.]

8) Ninety-five per cent of my happiness comes from having a home, a functioning body and something to eat. I live in utter luxury, by any sensible standard of what “luxury” is. If I am unhappy it’s because I’ve lost perspective about the other five per cent. 

9) Our minds are geared to manage much less than we typically end up managing. Modern people have so many options they conflict with each other in almost every area. The fewer things I have, the more I enjoy my things. The fewer goals I have, the better I do them. The smaller the portion size, the better food tastes.

10) The quickest and most reliable path to personal improvement is to do the things on my list that I resist most. Internal resistance should be taken as a big red sign guaranteeing rapid growth and new capabilities. Given my experience with the ecstasy that comes with overcoming resistance, logically I should be attracted to it by now.

11) All you need to do to finish things is keep starting them until they’re done. The idea of doing something in its entirety always seems hard. But it’s easy to commit to simply starting on something, and then you’re past most of the resistance. Continuing is just as easy. (Thanks to Leo Babauta for this one.)

12) Whenever I think I’m mad at a person, I’m really just mad at a situation. I’m mad because suddenly life requires something new of me, and it’s easy to implicate a person who contributed to that situation. I want the situation to be responsible for fixing itself, so I attribute it to someone else’s moral failing, and then I don’t have to feel responsible for this new problem of mine.

13) Ultimately, to get something done you have to forget about everything else while you do it. The mind is always telling you that 85 things are on fire and you need to do everything now. However you respond emotionally to it, to move things along you have to pick one to deal with, and let the rest continue burning while you do.

14) The most consistently joyful activities for me are visiting with other people and reading books. Aside from earning a living and a bit of travel there isn’t much else I need in my life. Somehow these two things are still not clear priorities. What are yours?

15) If I find myself in an argument, I’ve made a mistake. It doesn’t matter whose position makes more sense, because by the time it’s an argument any real communication has ended. Marshall Rosenberg’s brilliant method of Nonviolent Communication is a far more useful default response than argument, but I often forget it completely.

16) Few things matter long-term other than relationships, health, personal finance and personal growth. Crises in almost every other area turn over so quickly there’s not much reason to get upset at them. Interestingly, those four are the areas that probably contribute most to happiness in the short term too.

 

If this list is different at the end of 2014 then it will have been a good year. What’s in the same category for you?

Advertisements

Fourth of July blues!!

For those of you who don’t keep up with America, July Fourth is a big thing here because that’s the day the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, effectively creating the U.S. (OK, in reality the Declaration was likely signed on a later date and in intervals, but keeping it to just the one day saves a lot on fireworks).

So it’s one of those “more ironic than weird” coincidences that one of the founding fathers and second President of the United States, John Adams, met his maker on July 4, 1826: 50 years to the day after America was born.

Where it Gets Weird:

Right before John Adams died, he muttered, “Thomas Jefferson survives,” since the two enjoyed a bit of a bromance in the twilight of their lives (Jefferson of course taking the White House right after Adams).
However, little did the Adams’s (or the country) know, Jefferson had just died a few hours prior, also on the fiftieth anniversary of American independence.

We admit that having just one of these men die on July 4, 1826 as opposed to any of the 18,261 other days after signing the Declaration is kinda weird, but having both these men die on this day?
Where it Gets Even Weirder:

So, two of the nation’s first three presidents died on the same day. So by our calculations, it’d be like a thousand presidents before you’d have another die on the Fourth of July.
Or, you know, two. Our fifth President, James Monroe, died on July 4, 1831. Yep, three of our first five Presidents died on Independence Day.

While we’re on the July 4th thing, can we also throw in the Battle of Gettysburg, the largest and most pivotal battle in the Civil War, a day that determined the fate of the nation Adams and Jefferson helped create? It ended on July 4, 1863.
And that victory was crucial for the Union forces because, in a completely unrelated battle, Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s six-month campaign against Vicksburg, Mississippi finally ended in the city’s unconditional surrender.

Also on July Fourth.
By the way, we said July Fourth was a big deal here, that may not go for places like Vicksburg, who didn’t celebrate it as a holiday until after World War II. Possibly because they were still bitter over the Civil War thing, or because they’re just worried that the vengeful July 4 spirit will return to take out another president.

#DHA #karachi rental boom

Causes and consequences of rise in house prices

Costs are being driven by a number of factors including:

  • demographics shifts
    • the declining number of people per dwelling
    • Growing Density Convergence, Regional Urbanization
    • solid population growth (for example sky-high prices in Australia and Canada as a rising population pushes up demand).[24]
  • supply and demand
    • a shortfall in the number of dwellings to the number of households
      • smaller family size
      • the strong psychological desire for home ownership,[27]
  • shifts in economic policies and innovations in financial instruments
    • reduced profitability of other forms of investment
    • availability of housing finance[26]
    • low interest rates[26]
    • mortgage market innovations[26]
  • public policy
    • deregulation
    • land use zoning

How to Avoid Work: A 1949 Guide to Doing What You Love!!

by 

“Life really begins when you have discovered that you can do anything you want.”

“There is an ugliness in being paid for work one does not like,” Anaïs Nin wrote in her diary in 1941. Indeed, finding a sense of purpose and doing what makes the heart sing is one of the greatest human aspirations — and yet too many people remain caught in the hamster wheel of unfulfilling work. In 1949, career counselor William J. Reilly penned How To Avoid Work (UKpublic library) — a short guide to finding your purpose and doing what you love. Despite the occasional vintage self-helpism of the tone, the book is remarkable for many reasons — written at the dawn of the American corporate era and the golden age of the housewife, it not only encouraged people of all ages to pursue their passions over conventional, safe occupations, but it also spoke to both men and women with equal regard.

Reilly begins by exploring the mythologies of work and play, something Lewis Hyde has written of beautifully, with an uncomfortable but wonderfully apt metaphor:

Most [people] have the ridiculous notion that anything they do which produces an income is work — and that anything they do outside ‘working’ hours is play. There is no logic to that.

[…]

Your life is too short and too valuable to fritter away in work.

If you don’t get out now, you may end up like the frog that is placed in a pot of fresh water on the stove. As the temperature is gradually increased, the frog feels restless and uncomfortable, but not uncomfortable enough to jump out. Without being aware that a chance is taking place, be is gradually lulled into unconsciousness.

Much the same thing happens when you take a person and put him in a job which he does not like. He gets irritable in his groove. His duties soon become a monotonous routine that slowly dulls his senses. As I walk into offices, through factories and stores, I often find myself looking into the expressionless faces of people going through mechanical motions. They are people whose minds are stunned and slowly dying.

To illustrate the idea that “life really begins when you have discovered that you can do anything you want,” Reilly quotes Amelia Earhart, a woman of strong and refreshing liberal for their time opinions:

I flew the Atlantic because I wanted to. If that be what they call ‘a woman’s reason,’ make the most of it. It isn’t, I think, a reason to be apologized for by man or woman. . . .

Whether you are flying the Atlantic or selling sausages or building a skyscraper or driving a truck, your greatest power comes from the fact that you want tremendously to do that very thing, and do it well.

He admonishes against the toxic “should”-culture we live in, arguably all the more pronounced today:

Actually, there is only one way in this world to achieve true happiness, and that is to express yourself with all your skill and enthusiasm in a career that appeals to you more than any other. In such a career, you feel a sense of purpose, a sense of achievement. You feel you are making a contribution. It is not work.

[…]

To my mind, the world would be a much pleasanter and more civilized place to live in, if everyone resolved to pursue whatever is closest to his heart’s desire. We would be more creative and our productivity would be vastly increased.

Altogether too much emphasis, I think, is being placed on what we ought to do, rather than what we want to do.

When a young art student recently asked author Neil Gaiman what to make of people advising her against doing what she loves, his brilliant answer paralleled what Reilly so passionately argued some sixty-three years ago:

The greatest satisfaction you can obtain from life is your pleasure in producing, in your own individual way, something of value to your fellowmen. That is creative living!

When we consider that each of us has only one life to live, isn’t it rather tragic to find men and women, with brains capable of comprehending the stars and the planets, talking about the weather; men and women, with hands capable of creating works of art, using those hands only for routine tasks; men and women, capable of independent thought, using their minds as a bowling-alley for popular ideas; men and women, capable of greatness, wallowing in mediocrity; men and women, capable of self-expression, slowly dying a mental death while they babble the confused monotone of the mob?

For you, life can be a succession of glorious adventures. Or it can be a monotonous bore.

Take your choice!

Echoing Alan Watts’s litmus test of what you would do if money were no object, Reilly suggests:

No matter what your age or condition or experience, the sooner you find out what you really want to do and do it better, for that’s the only way anyone can avoid work.

[…]

Try this approach. Suppose you were financially independent and were perfectly free to do anything you wanted, what would you do, if anything?

If your inclinations are at all definite, the answer to this simple question provides at least a general definition of the field which you would enjoy most.

He outlines a general division of labor for any field:

In every business, art, trade or profession, there are four major jobs to be done:

  1. Creative — inventing, discovering, or developing new ideas
  2. Administrative — making plans and policies for the conduct and supervision of the entire business or project
  3. Executive — directing the work of others in actually carrying out plans and policies in one or more departments or sections
  4. Line — performing some individual routine task involving no responsibility for the work of others

If you have creative ability, you know it without anyone telling you. Your creative talents have demanded expression in your early youth. If there is any doubt in your mind as to whether you have the ability to invent or to discover or to develop new ideas, you probably do not have this ability.

[…]

If you are a thoughtful person, slow to act, who enjoys analyzing, interpreting, and patiently summarizing the results of the activities of others; if you’re the kind of person who likes to pry into every single phase of an operation and to vie a business as a whole; if you get a big kick out of cautiously defining long-range plans and policies; if you’re strong on logic, you have the most important earmarks of an able administrator.

But if you like plenty of action, if you love to organize and direct other people as they carry out plans and policies, and if you’re perfectly content to confine your activities to one department of a business, you’d probably make a first-rate executive.

Reilly stresses the importance of the human factor:

Often, success or failure turns on this question of human relations. … Any time you do not enjoy the human relations involved in any job, sooner or later that job’s bound to be work, not fun.

In the third chapter, he turns to the three most common excuses preventing us from pursuing what we want to do:

Whenever a person is not doing what he says he wants to do, he always has what sounds like a good excuse. And it’s always one or more of three:

  1. ‘I haven’t the time.’
  2. ‘I haven’t the money.’
  3. ‘My folks don’t want me to.’

He then goes on to examine — and debunk — each of the three excuses, showing that “each of them melts away as an imaginary obstacle when we shine the light of intelligence upon it.” As an enormous believer in making time, rather than finding time, for what matters, I find his meditation on time, reminiscent of Montaigne’s on death and the art of living, particularly important:

Without Time nothing is possible. Everything requires Time. Time is the only permanent and absolute ruler in the universe. But she is a scrupulously fair ruler. She treats eery living person exactly alike every day. No matter how much of the world’s goods you have managed to accumulate, you cannot successfully plead for a single moment more than the pauper receives without ever asking for it. Time is the one great leveler. Everyone has the same amount to spend every day.

The next time you feel that you ‘haven’t the time’ to do what you really want to do, it may be worth-while for you to remember that you have as much time as anyone else — twenty-four hours a day. How you spend that twenty-four hours is really up to you.

Indeed, to Reilly success is very much a product of deliberate time investment and discipline — something great writers can attest to. To illustrate “the remarkable achievements possible for anyone who will consistently devote even as little as one hour a day to one single purpose,” Reilly cites an anecdote in which a friend of Thomas Edison’s marveled at the great inventor’s extreme productivity and the stringency of his 18-hour-workdays dedication to success. Edison retorts:

You do something all day long, don’t you? Everyone does. If you get up at seven o’clock and go to bed at eleven, you have put sixteen good hours, and it is certain that you have been doing something all that time. The only difference is that you do a great many things and I do one. If you took the time in question and applied it in one direction, you would succeed. Success is sure to follows such application. The trouble lies in the fact that people do not have one thing to stick to, letting all else go.

Reilly observes:

But a person cannot apply himself to anything incessantly without growing weary unless he loves it — unless it’s not work. And that’s the real explanation of Edison’s full use of his time.

If you were to spend an hour alone with the loud tick of a clock, or better yet, if you could spend an hour completely alone with an hour-glass, watching the sands of Time quickly slip through that vessel, and realize that 100 years from now you and i will both be gone, then you would begin to appreciate that TIME is the ONLY thing you really DO HAVE and that you alone can do anything you wish with the Time that is yours.

He then moves on to the second excuse, money, noting — as I myself cangratefully attest to — that purpose should come before making a living financially, but can be followed by it:

Money never comes first in self-expression of any kind. Study the biographies of those who have built great fortunes, and you will learn that money came to them after they had produced or discovered something.

[…]

In a world marked by constant change, where the rich of today are often the poor of tomorrow, due to circumstances beyond their control, the only security is your ability to produce something of value for your fellow man, and your only guarantee of happiness is your joy in producing it.

True happiness lies in the pursuit of your goal, achievement in your chosen field. This must always remain primary. Whenever money becomes primary, you are on treacherous ground.

Lastly, he zooms in on the third excuse, what your parents — or, in a broader sense, the cohort of “others” — think you should be doing, articulating something Paul Graham captured beautifully decades later in talking about the dangers of prestige and adding an admonition about knowing when to and when not to take advice. Reilly writes:

‘What our friends and associates think’ influences us more than we realize. We like to live the life and stay in the role which others expect of us.

[…]

Each of us is somewhat like an electric light bulb, deriving its power from some central force. Just as the bulb accumulates dust and soot from the air around it until it is darkened, then blackened, so our individuality becomes dulled at first and then entirely blotted out from the accumulation of advice and interference which is superimposed upon us by family and friends. If you examine their advice, you will find that they are continually offering counsel based on their own experience in connection with a situation that is quite different from the one you are facing.

[…]

You will neither venture anything nor achieve anything if you permit yourself to be unduly influenced by others. . . . Remember this. Only one sound mind is needed to create an idea.

[…]

There is no more colorless than the self-conscious, vacillating person who is neither hot nor cold, wet nor dry, because he is always wondering what others will think of him and is always trying to please everybody.

In a chapter titled “If You’re Under 35,” Reilly makes a case for cultivating creativity as a “way of operating,” to borrow John Cleese’s phrase:

If you’re under 35 years of age, your primary and immediate objective in your chosen field is to build a salable background. How much money you make during this period is not nearly so important as whether you are gaining salable education and experience.

[…]

You can’t build a salable background in any field by just taking on a job and following directions and being punctual and faithful and a hard-working employee.

That’s a lot of horsefeathers.

You’ve got to do something unusual to get favorable attention. And one of the simplest ways for anyone to gain recognition and advancement in any job is to develop a reputation for being a person who has ‘good ideas.’

He then turns to the notion of creativity as problem-solving and the question ofhow to produce ideas:

Whether you get ideas or not, depends entirely on your attitude towards problems.

No matter where you go, you find that men and women divide themselves into two main groups:

  1. Those who, when confronted with a problem, immediately run to the boss with it.
  2. Those who look upon a problem as something to be solved and who go ahead and solve it.

Those in the second group get a lot of good ideas; those in the first group do not.

[…]

No matter where you work, you’ll get a lot of good ideas if you’ll:

  1. Start with the little everyday problems When something goes wrong on the job, see if you can figure out what to do about it.
  2. Get into the habit of going to the boss with your suggested solution to a problem, instead of just dumping the problem into his lap.
  3. If your solution is no good, find out what’s wrong with it, so you can do better the next time.

He ends the section with a note on what I call combinatorial creativity, the notion that groundbreaking ideas are simply powerful new combinations of existing ideas. Reilly writes:

Anyone who gets enough practice solving the little problems, will, sooner, or later, be able to solve the big ones. Big ideas are usually a lot of little ideas rolled into one.

Though cultural shifts in the six decades since its publication have renderedHow To Avoid Work somewhat less relevant as a practical guide to career success, it remains a timeless and ever-timely reminder of the broader essence of creative satisfaction and the life of purpose, a vocational counterpart to the wonderful The Meaning of Life: Reflections in Words and Pictures on Why We Are Here.

Of humor: soul’s weapons in a fight for self-preservation

It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds. … The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent.