If you seek tranquillity, do less. Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?”
This is a good question to ask ourselves at every moment, especially when we’re being pulled this way and that, and struggling from overwhelm in our work and daily life.
When we ask ourselves “Is this necessary?” we’ll invariably find ourselves answering that it is not, or at least, that it doesn’t have to happen now, or it can be batched to take place at another time, or it can be delegated to someone else.
External character traits are all around us. They’re what we choose to outwardly project to the world, whether in what we wear, what we share, or the causes we choose to side with or argue against.
Internal character traits are hard to define but easy to recognise. While first impressions can count for a lot, the longer you get to know someone the better an understanding you’ll get of the quality of their internal character traits over the external. Are they a loving mother, father, wife, husband, daughter, or son? Do they care deeply for their family, their community, and the world as a whole?
In post-war America and Europe, and in some instances even sooner, the focus began to shift from the internal to the external; that is, from building our internal character traits to choosing to display an external character that we believe (or simply hope) will be agreeable to those we want to impress. It’s been mentioned that Dale Carnegie’s 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People marked a change in the self-help genre whereby many previous works had focused on how to build your internal character, many new works began to explore how your external character traits can be manipulated to get you to where you want to be.
This book has been a labour of love for over a year and a half. We were approached by an editor at Portfolio in the summer of 2016, and since then it has been all go. Between us we contacted 631 people in the space of six months, with a small number being whittled down and making it into the finished work. I was personally lucky enough to speak with everyone from retired U.S. Army four-star General Stanley McChrystal, to the president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, Ed Catmull, to the life-changing tidying-upper herself, Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo.
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.
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.
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.
Earlier today I was pointed toward this video by Canadian outdoorsman, photographer, and 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.)
Named one of Amazon’s best business books of 2018, and a Financial Times book of the month, you can order My Morning Routine, online or purchase it from your local bookstore. Illustrations by Liz Fosslien.
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