Benjamin Spall Writer

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Incessant Clicking and Scrolling


Not too long ago I copied down these words by author and associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, Cal Newport:

Incessant clicking and scrolling generates a background hum of anxiety. Drastically reducing the number of thing you do in your digital life can by itself have a significant calming impact.

Taken from a blog post exploring the idea of digital minimalism, the phrase “incessant clicking and scrolling” struck a nerve with me for just how accurate it was. We are incessantly clicking and scrolling our way through life, and it’s true that the background hum rarely, if ever, stops. Newport has some thoughts on how to silence this noise, and I highly recommend his blog for practical recommendations on how to do so. Until then I challenge you to look out for this hum and not give in when you hear it. Just sit with it for as long as you can. This is easier said than done, but we’ll be rewarded for our patience over time.

Going Decaf


Looking ahead to the year to come, last year I wrote down, amongst other notes, “Find out why I’m tired all the time.”

I’d had many theories on why this might be; my main being the comforting notion that everyone is just as tired as me. The afternoon slump is real, after all, and it’s something the vast majority of us feel every day, regardless of whether or not we’ve had a big, carb-filled lunch (though this does make it worse).

But this wasn’t it. After exchanging notes with my wife—a non-coffee, occasional black tea drinker—on how she experiences daytime tiredness, it was clear that something wasn’t right. We eat the same foods and get the same amount of sleep for the most part, so my wife suggested that I cut coffee out of my diet. I’d previously only been drinking 1-2 cups a day, but it was clearly a prime candidate to be dropped, so I agreed to it.

Now, about three to four weeks after giving up caffeinated coffee and tea for good, I can say with reasonable certainty that it was the caffeine making me tired all the time. After a couple of weeks of just drinking decaf tea, I started to mix it up with a decaf coffee here and there. And while I’m aware that there is caffeine in decaf coffee and tea, I’m not drinking enough of it to feel the effects.

If you’re feeling tired all the time, and you drink caffeinated coffee and/or tea on a regular basis, consider giving it up for a short period to see if your energy improves as a result.

The Planning Fallacy


I’m approximately three-quarters of the way through Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, and one of the insights that has stuck out to me the most so far is that of the planning fallacy.

The planning fallacy, in short, states that we tend to underestimate how long a task is going to take to complete. From taking out the trash, to writing an essay, to making a meal, we consistently believe that either our most optimistic guess of how long these tasks will take, or the fastest we have ever completed these tasks, are our averages. The planning fallacy does not foresee the natural complications that come up in our everyday lives. As Kahneman notes in the book:

Most of us view the world as more benign than it really is, our own attributes as more favorable than they truly are, and the goals we adopt as more achievable than they are likely to be. We also tend to exaggerate our ability to forecast the future, which fosters optimistic overconfidence.

We all fall victim to the planning fallacy. I’d heard the phrase thrown around before I read it in Kahneman’s book (the book itself has become hugely popular, and has spent 156 weeks on the New York Times Paperback Nonfiction best sellers list as of this writing), but even then, I still tended to believe that my most optimistic guesses and my most impressive times are the norm. They’re not.

Give some though to the planning fallacy the next time you’re pushed for time; and maybe extend your estimation a little further out.

Log Cabin in a Forest


Earlier today I was pointed toward this video by Canadian outdoorsman, photographer, and self-described self-reliance educator Shawn James. The video is a five-minute time-lapse of James building a log cabin from scratch in the Canadian wilderness.

I’ve seen similar videos to this in the past, but there is something about watching this time-lapse that, while massively underplaying the effort that this would have taken James, is truly magnificent to watch. Using only hand tools, this was a one-man effort worthy of a medal. And while the time and resources to undertake such an effort is, of course, not available to all of us, I thank James, and others like him, for documenting his experience so the rest of us can enjoy it. (This reminds me of a thought I had a few months ago that we should create and share things because it’s rude to just consume. It’s uncivilized. This is part of the reason why I restarted this blog.)

For more from James, check out his website, on which he links to all his current videos.

Fig Trees


In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius prompts us:

You shouldn’t be surprised that a fig tree produces figs.

He goes on to state that “A good doctor isn’t surprised when his patients have fevers, or a helmsman when the wind blows against him.” The truth Marcus is getting at here, or at least as I understand it, is that past performance is a reasonable indicator of future results.

This isn’t always the case, as no doubt that last sentence reminded you of the common “Past performance is no guarantee of future results” line that is, sensibly, plastered across risky investment products. But in life, as with fig trees, medical patients, the blowing winds upon the shore, and indeed, the current President of the United States, past performance is no guarantee of future results… but it’s a reasonable bet.