Until recently, I held the belief that getting better at something is best done in private.
After all, making public mistakes is embarrassing. Performing in front of others increases anxiety while inviting criticism. Who wants to deal with that?
When I learned piano as a kid, I would practice either by myself or with my teacher, until I was ready to play my songs at a recital. That was my approach. Minimal witnesses until I achieved a certain level of competence.
I think the internet changed my perspective. These days, media content from videos, podcasts, and blog posts are produced by both experts and beginners. Any passion or interest can be shared digitally online. No matter who you are, making your work public has a number of potential benefits:
- Your work could end up being helpful to someone else, right now.
- You can receive useful feedback that will improve your future work.
- You become accountable, which can elevate both your work’s quality and quantity.
- Your work might lead to more attention, trust, and connection. Or an unexpected opportunity.
Kudos to everyone with the courage to show their work. You’re an inspiration.
Rationalization is an easy way to avoid stuff we should be doing.
“I’ll get to it in a minute.”
“It doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things.”
“It’s not my problem.”
So why can’t we rationalize to our benefit?
“Working on this challenge is like playing a game.”
“If I start sooner I’ll be done sooner.”
“I’ll just commit to this small, simple step. That’s something I know I can do.”
Our brains can be convinced by easy. The trick is to nudge ourselves in the right direction.
We don’t want to hear it.
When someone’s point-of-view makes us uncomfortable, our instinct is to run away.
When someone says something to challenge our beliefs or disrupt our worldview, we’re inclined to rationalize why the offending statement is wrong.
I know these feelings well. They distress me too.
And yet, I wonder how many opportunities I’ve missed to understand a different perspective, which would enable me to be empathetic or even enlightened.
There will always be people who hold different positions than our own. Dismissing them without consideration is the easier path, but not necessarily the smarter one.
When someone does or says something that hurts me, I sometimes become angry. There’s a vague sense that I’m being attacked and my instinct is to defend myself.
I realize there are problems with this reaction, because most of the time, there’s no intention to cause me pain. It only feels personal, which makes it real in my mind. Given these facts, I need to be more careful on how I choose to perceive another person’s behavior.
After all, there’s very little upside to being offended.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.