Live Curious, not Constricted

There are two different ways you can make decisions: from a place of curiosity, or a place of constriction.

If you’re making decision from a curious standpoint, you’re pursuing opportunities because you wonder “what if.” You’re curious about what might have been, what might be now, or what could be in future. You’re curious to learn more. You’re driven purely by a desire for knowledge — not afraid of anything besides not knowing.

You can use this curious mindset to approach a wide array of things — work, school, the things you study, the projects you take on, and the parts of the world you choose to explore.

On the flip side, the constricted mindset can be equated to operating from a place of fear. You’re making decisions because you’re afraid of potential future consequences. For every risk you take (however small), you have to think about the potential repercussions, and the price you might have to pay.

When you make curious decisions, you’re operating from an abundance and opportunistic mindset.

When you make constricted decisions (more commonly called “fear-based decisions”), you’re operating on a very small plane of existence — limited by what you already know and what you already know is safe.

Think about both options as you’re making decisions. Which approach is more fulfilling? Which is a story you’d rather be existing in?

You Don’t Know How Much You Know

I talk all the time about how you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s one of the most important things in life — the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.

But the reverse is also true — you don’t know how much you know.

And you won’t know, until there’s a context that draws it out.

We hold a vast amount of information that we never properly pin down, identify, and articulate. If there’s never a context in which you have to pin down an idea, you might never know it’s there.

It’s like driving through your town and never noticing all the mechanics’ shops that exist there until your car breaks down; at which point, you start to notice them everywhere. Or like never noticing that there’s kale in the produce aisle of most grocery stores, until you start cooking with it, at which point you see it every time you walk through the store.

If there’s never a context for our brains to stop and focus on something, we might never know it’s there.

We pick up information all the time — through conversations, content we consume, and things we experience and observe in life — and our brains file it away (and slowly process it for future use). But until we force ourselves to articulate it, we may never know it’s there.

This is why blogging is so valuable — because you have to stop and coalesce ideas that might otherwise never become concrete.

It’s why teaching and coaching have been so valuable to me — because when people ask me questions I’ve never considered before, I’m forced to try to answer them — which often leads me to realize I have answers I didn’t know I had.

When people ask me tough questions, I start to realize how much I don’t know that I don’t know. But at the same time, I start to realize how much I do know, that I never really saw before. I find myself intending to stall for time and turn out answering the question instead, in phrases and ideas I didn’t know I carried with me — but that, from that point forward, become deeply valuable to me.

There are few things in life more important than refining your knowledge. Seek this out constantly.

Give yourself writing prompts and force yourself to write. Put yourself in situations where you have to have philosophically challenging conversations. Seek out positions where you have to answer hard questions. When you force yourself to say things you haven’t said before, you realize just how much you didn’t realize you knew.

Make Idea Capture Part of Your Day

We have a lot of valuable thoughts that we waste.
We think a lot throughout the day. A lot of our thoughts are fairly pedantic — pertaining to the things we’re focused on in the moment, and not terribly relevant outside of that context. But we have a number of thoughts throughout the day that are valuable in other contexts. The more we live, the more knowledge we have, and the more interesting we become, the more valuable these thoughts become.
We do very little (if anything) to capture them.
When we do capture them, they become a gold mine we can dig into later for idea generation, blog post topics, project inspiration, and content.
One of my most valuable habits (practiced patchily, but with overwhelming returns when consistent) is idea capturing.
Evernote is brilliant for this (it’s what I’m using to write this post now). All the little things throughout the day that are even vaguely more interesting than the context I’m thinking about them in get logged. Notes from advising sessions I might use to write blog posts later, interesting philosophical questions I want to explore, descriptions or visual snapshots I want to incorporate into my writing. All of it gets logged.
Even if I don’t use this log as a record to sift through to look for ideas, the act of writing an idea concretizes it and captures it, so I’m more likely to remember it later when creating content.
If you don’t already keep a journal, do. If you don’t already log ideas you encounter throughout the day, do — religiously.
Train yourself to treat as habit the act of identifying useful and interesting ideas, and logging them immediately for future reference.

The Pain of Doing vs. The Pain of Not Doing

As Steven Pressfield so eloquently explains in his book The War of Art, there’s a force called Resistance that stands in direct opposition to all creative endeavors. The force of the Resistance is equal to the force of the creative energy begging to be made tangible. It hates the fulfillment of creative vision with the same passion that the muses love it.

It’s similar to the concept of resistance in weight training; a force that’s pulling you in the opposite direction as the one your body is moving in. The resistance is what makes us stronger. It’s also a natural force of nature

Whenever there’s a force moving in one direction, there must be a counter-pull in the other direction. (This is a common mechanism in storytelling — called tensive pulls).

Resistance breeds procrastination. Procrastination kills creative ideas before they’re ever born.

But sometimes we win, and procrastination is defeated, and it’s a simple framework that identifies when procrastination will or won’t be won over.

It’s similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (a very useful framework for a lot of things). Some things are more important than other things, and whichever thing is most important wins. If writing a blog post is less important than feeling comfortable (the sensation we experience when resistance wins, and we don’t have to endure the pain and energy expenditure of pushing through it), the comfort wins. If going through the pain of writing a blog post is less bad than enduring the consequences of not writing the post (for example, falling short on a commitment you made to another person), then the lesser evil wins, and you write a blog post.

This is why external accountability is so valuable — because if the prospect of the pain of not living up to your word is less evil than the prospect of the pain of creative expenditure, you’ll follow through on your commitments and do the creative work.

Because you aren’t wasting time fighting yourself over doing it/not doing it, it might not even be that painful of a process.

Procrastination dies when the pain of not doing is worse than the pain of doing.

How to Make Yourself Smarter — Obvious and Inobvious Methods

One of my most prevalent goals is to become smarter — always.

When weighing opportunities, a job’s potential to make me smarter is more important than raw career growth (although the two often go hand-in-hand), monetary gains, or geographic location. It’s an important driver in my personal relationships, and in my choice of activities and pursuits outside of work.

Does it increase my knowledge of the world, and/or the functions of the world, particularly in the areas I hold interest? It’s a yes/no answer — and the answer is one of the most important data points in my decision-making process.

There are a number of reasons becoming smart is important to me:

1. It increases my effectiveness and ability professionally
2. It increases my potential for competence in my personal projects
3. It increases my creative problem-solving capacity
4. It increases the range of things I can intelligently write about
5. It makes me a better coach and teacher
6. It makes me a more valuable colleague, ally, and friend

“Smartness” is a personal definition, to some extent. It’s a value judgment, based on your desires and priorities. By my personal standards, smartness is:

1. The ability to think about complex ideas in a clear manner
2. The ability to creatively solve problems
3. Context for the world in which I’m working
4. Understanding why the world around me is the way it is, and understanding the layers at which I can explore this why.
5. A broad understanding of the broader intellectual world (that we culturally think of when we think about “intellect”)
6. Intellectual agility

The above can neatly divide into two categories: 1. concrete knowledge of objective facts, and 2. the ability to think.

The beauty about knowledge is that it compounds. The more you learn, the more things you become aware of that you need to learn more about, and the more questions you can ask (or the more connections you can draw), which in turn unlocks more knowledge — which repeats the cycle.

The pitfall of getting smarter is that it’s a subjective thing. It’s hard to measure in its raw form, and it’s hard to quantify your progress.

In future posts, I’ll expound on how to develop your ability in both areas — how to increase your knowledge base (that you use for your problem-solving), and your ability to think.

Precision, Not Pretention

Mastering the art of writing requires becoming precise.

The best writers are deeply precise with their language usage. They don’t need many words to tell the truth; but the ones they choose are the right ones. If truth is the fine edge of a knife blade — sharp when it cuts you, and so narrow you might miss it — then the words to describe the truth must be precise enough to balance on that knife blade, to fit it. Good writers know how to find that balance.

Remember this. Tattoo it on yourself if you have to. Write it on a sticky note and put it above your desk. But remember — the point isn’t the impressiveness of the words you choose, but rather, the preciseness of them.

As one honing their writing craft, there’s a temptation to fall too far in love with the art of finding the most impressive word — or worse, words. Precise and impressive are not the same thing.

It”s easy to get lost in the folds of your own words, to spin webs with them (like a multi-legged spider) around the point.

Writing is a very singular craft, and a very personal one, and it’s easy to become arrogant when you feel as though you’re mastering it — but arrogance gets in the way of truth, and as Hemingway said, good writing requires truth.

Becoming good and becoming arrogant are two very different things, but they often stem from the same place — the pursuit of improvement. Mind the difference.

There’s a fine line between precision and pretention. It’s easy to choose a word that sounds impressive and think it’s good (pretention), but miss the truthful word (precision). Don’t fall so far in love with the sound of your own voice that you get lost in it — as Narcissus got lost in his reflection — and get in the way of your own mastery.