Giving Credit Before It’s Due

It’s human nature to draw conclusions before having all the details. But for some reason, that often means judging and condemning another person.

Why don’t we see more of the opposite behavior and give someone the benefit of the doubt?

The story we tell ourselves becomes our reality. If we want to live in a world where people are good to each other, it helps to visualize that scenario as probable, not just possible.

My Ego vs. Everyone Else’s

When I’m more worried about the perception of others than doing the right thing, then I’m not acting in my best interest. And when I let arrogance drive my decision-making, I know I’m going to regret it later. Being direct with myself when my ego gets in the way is my best tactic for preventing this kind of mistake.

On the other hand, I find subtlety better when dealing with others. Calling people out on a pride-driven misstep will almost always be met with resistance and denial. I’m trying to rely on gentle influence instead of overt criticism.

Brutal honesty’s effectiveness is not rooted in its truth, but a person’s willingness to hear it.

Staying on Track

Sam Hinkie, former general manager of the NBA team Philadelphia 76ers, has an interesting approach to keeping himself properly focused:

Every hour between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., his Fitbit watch vibrates. Not to remind him to exercise; as Hinkie says, “I do not feel compelled to impress it.” Rather, it’s a cue to consider the previous hour. Was he productive? Did he achieve his goals? He then spends the following 60 seconds considering the hour to come. Once properly centered, Hinkie proceeds with his day.

Hinke’s idea made me think. Too often, I immerse myself in short-term urgencies rather than long-term priorities. By letting my time be dictated by just what’s in front of me, I’m ceding control of my life’s direction.

I suspect this is a problem everyone faces. We get busy in the micro and lose sight of the macro. While I probably wouldn’t employ a 60 minute reminder like Hinkie, I do like the idea of big-picture thinking at regular intervals.

I’ve read about the practice of evaluating one’s day in a journal, before going to sleep. I think I’ll adopt something similar and see how it goes.

Optimism Is Always Within Reach

I recently finished the book “Thirst,” Scott Harrison’s memoir of how his compassion and drive led to the creation of Charity: Water, a non-profit.

What struck me was his ever-present belief that everything would work out in the end, no matter what challenges he faced. Sure, his faith was often tested. But he always seemed to be rewarded for staying true to his convictions.

Scott understood the power of perspective. He saw both the good and the bad of each situation and chose to focus on the positive. Things worked out pretty well for him.

Being optimistic is a good way to live. Nice to be reminded it’s mostly a choice.

Balancing Study and Application

I enjoy reading, observing, and researching. Whenever I need to learn something, those are the activities I choose.

Hands-on practice has always ended up as a secondary priority. I understand the importance of learning through doing, but for whatever reason I’ve given it less emphasis than I should.

This shortcoming is especially painful when I’m developing skills such as programming. I can’t learn to code just from reading a book or watching a video. In fact, I wonder if I’m better off taking a reversed approach by focusing on exercises and projects, and turning to research only when I’m stuck (update: the top-down philosophy has similarities to what I’m describing).

I’m still learning how to learn.

Staying Cool Under Fire

To feel is to be human, but at higher intensities emotions are disruptive to sound decision-making.

Anger and fear are particularly crippling. I cannot think clearly while overwhelmed or paralyzed. If I can remain calm in the middle of a disaster, at least I have a fighting chance.

Like most people, I face multiple crises every day. Perfect solutions are an unrealistic standard. My priorities are simple: avoid despair and focus on what matters. If I can manage that, I’m sure things will work out more times than not.

“I Have To”

Is that ever true?

When someone says “I have to punish you,” or “I have to do my homework,” is that literally the case?

What the phrase seems to mean: “The consequences of other alternatives are worse, so don’t blame me for choosing this option.”

We are accountable for our decisions. No one really believes us when we pretend we aren’t.

What Does It Take to Learn?

To me, it’s about having two things: curiosity and humility.

When you are driven to answer the questions you have, you will figure stuff out. Maybe not right away, but eventually.

And when you’re open to improving yourself through study and practice, then you’re more likely to do so.

Any student without curiosity and humility is only a student in name, only.

When No One Else Knows

This is one of my favorite litmus tests to reveal internal motivations.

Am I willing to donate to a cause if it happens anonymously or do I need to be acknowledged publicly?

Do I contribute ideas to a project if I know someone else will get the accolades?

Can I pick up and throw away someone else’s trash if no one sees me do it?

There’s nothing wrong with receiving credit, of course. But when public recognition is the deciding factor for performing a good deed, then I have to wonder whether ego is holding me back.

Because even if no one knows I made something better, I know.

Sustainable Success

Achieving something now at the cost of future happiness is a dangerous choice. Not because of the consequences of doing it once, but because of the temptation to repeat it again and again, until the cycle breaks you.

The classic example: forgoing sleep to work a few more hours each night. You make a few more deadlines by sacrificing your health.

These days, I prefer to view success as something that I can maintain over time, not a singular accomplishment that extracts a toll down the line. After all, my ability to enjoy tomorrow is impacted by what I do today.

Related: Getting a big lead helps avoid costly short-run decisions.