Directives

Manage your meatbag. Keep eating hearty breakfasts, drink lots of water, stay away from cigarettes, work in scheduled blocks, plan my fun in advance, take lots of deep breaths. Eliminate noise and clutter. Prioritize.

Wake up. Be here nowSleep early. Explore your curiosities. Face your fears. Let go of the past. Let go of your old self. Address recurring concerns. Get the basic 101s right. Dismantle your guilt. Work on your fitness. Do squats [1]. Figure out howto do things.

Clarify your wants. Identify your desired end-states. Travel. Relax.

Apply force violently – strike hard while the iron is hot. Utilize decisive bursts. Do the thing.

Eliminate obligation debt. Owing people stuff sucks psychologically and physiologically. We’re just not wired to be able to do that and be happy at the same time. Start by saying no more, making fewer promises. Only promise what you can deliver. Beyond that, identify what your existing obligation debt is. Again, eliminate whatever you can, and focus on whatever you can’t. Prioritize the most urgent/critical, get that out of the way. Move on to the next thing. Then when you have a chance to breathe, plan ahead and see how you can get the next bunch of stuff out of the way, ideally ahead of time. Teach yourself to act and move faster.

Improve your rate-of-learning. Are you still doing the same things you did 3 months ago? Then you’re not learning fast enough. Learn to focus. Read.

Work backwards from desired end-states. If you don’t know where you’re headed, then your energy is going to be wasted, misdirected.

Break things down into smaller sub-steps. You like to think you can just improvise your way through things, but that doesn’t work for anything that isn’t trivial. You can’t do long division in your head. Your work is more complex than long division. Stop trying to do it in your head. Appreciate the utility of articulating and externalizing your thinking.

Take the first actionable step. Don’t talk so much about all sorts of things and then not do anything. Do something.

Identify and eliminate limiting beliefs. Often these beliefs are legitimate, eg. I don’t think I can do something because I’ve never done it before. The trick to cracking that is to do something simpler that you’ve never done before. Boom, now you know that you are capable of doing new things. Now start doing progressively harder new things.

Climb up, don’t preach down. Help people up when you can, but not at the expense of climbing further up yourself. Pioneers are more valuable than bridge-builders.

Identify when you’re down. Recognize when your thought patterns are particularly pessimistic. Don’t deny them, allow them through, but send them on their way.

Refuse to give in to darkness. When you’re tired, frustrated, bored, overwhelmed, troubled, burdened – realize that this is nothing new. This is what beats down idealistic youth and yields cynical old bastards. You’re better than that. You’re too young to be world-weary or suicidal. Interesting things will still happen, be a part of it.

Do not pace the threshold. If something needs doing, jump in, face it head on, do it. Apply force violently.

Motivate yourself. Regularly. Constantly. Every day. You’re made of stars, your bones are stronger than steel, your brain is the most complex parallel processor in the known universe. In an instant you can change your mental model of everything. The last chapter to your life has not been written yet and it doesn’t matter what happened yesterday. It doesn’t matter what happened to you; what matters is, what are you going to do about it?

Make a list of personal KPIsMeasure them closely.

Examine your revealed beliefs.

Give away everything you know. Stop hoarding shit, it’ll tire you out.

Beware dumb people. You can’t undumb the dumb. It’s a full time job trying to undumb yourself.

Accept the hand you’re dealt. Stop denying or refusing to reckon with reality.

Pay attention to internal rhythms.

Pay attention to others. It’s not all about you.

Get out of Boringville – hunting down what you find interesting is practically a moral imperative.

Contemplate the passage of time.

Beware the trappings of civilization, ie supernormal stimuli. 

Tame your mind.

Journal regularly. Every morning, ideally. Think about your goals, your values, your best opportunities. Start from the beginning. Be grateful. Gratitude is very powerful, it might sounds soft, but billionaires practice it. It’s not genetic, they work at it. While everyone is worried about turmoil and crisis, the best one say what am I grateful for, what are the opportunities here, what’s good? Celebrate their team, their own talents, stay focused.

Unsorted

know yourself, be aware of yourself

convictions

support yourself

regulate your emotions / psyche

manage yourself

motivate yourself

believe

decide

be proactive?

0374 – contemplate what’s changed and prepare for future change

be precise

gtd

design solutions to your problems

dealing with failure, mistakes, plateaus, setbacks

avoid failure / fix mental bugs

reminders

Wants

This is a long list of random things that I had accumulated in my Evernote. Will tidy up and process when I next feel like it.

I want to witness more sunrises and sunsets.  I find them to be appropriately awe-inspiring and humbling. They remind me that I’m just a little human in the grander scheme of things, and they remind me that great, beautiful things are possible. It’s like a mini-version of the Overview Effect, which I have often said I’d like to witness.

todo: sleep and wake earlier

I want to meet more people

“I met an acquaintance for dinner yesterday– we talked about our lives over McDonald’s. I enjoyed it. I should meet more of such people on a regular basis. I enjoy eating lunch with my colleagues every day– it can be a slightly different mix of people each time, and there’s usually some good conversation to be had. There’s no reason why I can’t do the same for dinner on a more regular basis.” (0385)

I currently don’t feel like I have time to meet people. This is because I’m not managing my time well. I need to manage my time better so I can fulfil my obligations AND have time for myself and the things I want.

I want to learn to draw.

I don’t need to draw photorealistic things, I just want to be able to communicate and express myself visually through doodles and sketches, comic style. I need to accept that the initial stuff is going to look terrible, and I need to be okay with that. It’s totally possible to learn to draw at 26 years of age. Skills can be trained.

I want to earn real friendship. (VAGUE)

Sometimes it feels like I’m spending my whole life in search of a true friend, in the most idealistic sense of friendship. As I get older it becomes clearer that it’s probably not possible. I’m already very lucky to have married someone who loves me, and to work with colleagues who accept and appreciate me, and in both cases I’m trying (perhaps not smartly enough, never smartly enough) to become more worthy of such kinship.

I’ve realized that adulthood is about parenting yourself, and I suppose in life you also have to be your own best friend. I’ve met a couple of good people in recent weeks and it’s been energizing, so from a meatbag management perspective I should keep doing that. But it becomes clearer and clearer that in the end that still won’t be sufficient. Friends can give you validation and support, and really good friends can give you valuable negative feedback. But do we even really need that? If I really sit down with myself and be honest with myself I know what my flaws are and I know what needs to be done to fix it.

todo: figure out who my “best” friends are (define this more clearly for myself– will do this personally) and invest more in those relationships, and in becoming a person that such people / more such people would want to befriend

to be debt free / financially independent

The debt that weighs on my mind right now is my house– the fact that I’ll take 27 more years to completely pay it off. I don’t know how I’m thinking about that or how I ought to think about that. Technically I need to know that I could sell my house if I had to. I can’t sell it for a couple of more years, but I should be able to withstand that long.

Living expenses– I could live more cheaply if I had to. I’m hesitant to do this I guess because it feels like it would take forever anyway. I should quantify this stuff and clarify.

Whatever the case, there is anxiety here that could be reduced. I should figure it out and chat about it with my wife.

I want to learn to cook.

This means learning to prepare specific meals with specific ingredients. I should learn to reliably make a particular dish. I can make eggs and a protein shake. I think I should learn to make tuna pasta next, since it’s relatively simple/predictable.

I want to spend less time and energy paying attention to stupid bullshit that will never bother me.

particularly the stupidity of others. it’s a trap.

I want to finish my 1000 word vomits project.

I want to say that I want to complete it ASAP, but it seems like I don’t actually want to push myself that hard on that one. I need to figure out what’s the

I want to remember that life is a grand adventure / live with joy

(Dictator quote)

It’s not always obvious, but life is a grand adventure. It is utterly epic, constantly surprising, constantly changing. I think it’s really important to hold on to this, although I do suppose that letting go of it from time to time allows it to be rediscovered with great joy.

living with joy, breathing deep and laughing big, deep belly laughs, having lots of fun, dancing and singing and exploring.

todo: remind self, obviously, but also plan, prioritize and do things that remind me of this thing. make a list of things that remind me of this thing, and do them regularly.

to get things done (VAGUE), and to get good at getting things done

Ultimately the intent is to be happy IN my life, not just WITH it. And to do that I need to have gotten stuff done. I need to cut ropes, break things open, and really feel like I’m breathing deeply into the good stuff. Once I do that, I don’t have to be annoyed or frustrated with other people’s nonsense.

The real question is, what’s the desired end state? And what’s my plan of action to get to that desired end state? And what problems will I encounter along the way, and how do I visualize myself dealing with those problems, to make sure they don’t happen again? And then what steps do I need to take to make sure that goes according to plan? And when I’m done with that, what’s the next desired end state? This is a new language for me, but I intend to be fluent in it.

I want to minimize unnecessary fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Obviously everyone wants this done for them, as humans we like to not have to deal with this stuff. But that means doing some hard and painful work, that’s the counter-intuitive part.

todo: identify things causing me FUD, figure out how to fix or alleviate them, and execute on those things

to be honest.

Being dishonest is tiresome, painful, embarrassing, hurtful, and really just untenable. Strive to be as honest as possible (except in those weird freak situations, like “should you tell a murderer where their target is”).

todo: identify situations in which I’ve been dishonest, troubleshoot them, replay them in my mind, work out how to do things better, introspect, review.

to be more valuable at work. (VAGUE)

I don’t want to owe anybody any backlog. I want to be an asset to any team I work with, to challenge people to be better, to NOT be the limiting factor. This requires me to be industrious, to motivate myself and to train myself.

to leave work everyday feeling satisfied

This requires me to know that I spent my days well, and that requires me to measure carefully how I’m spending my time, what I’m devoting my energy towards.

to never feel sorry for myself

It’s just tedious and wasteful to do that. You can feel sorry for maybe 5 minutes, then you gotta be a gangsta.

to be kind to myself.

I don’t want to hate on myself for not fulfilling my obligations, because that doesn’t help me fulfil my obligations. feeling bad is not a useful feeling. I don’t want to be cruel or unkind to myself for that. It’s unnecessary, and it’s also distracting. There’s a better way– an ideal path of simultaneously being kind and being firm, not giving in too much but not pushing too hard.

to be physically bigger.

“I want to be bigger. Literally, I would like to occupy more space, contain more mass. How much more mass exactly? I’m not completely sure. I’m 85kg right now. I think I’d like to be 100kg. A tenth of a ton. That sounds good.

When I was skinny, I fantasized about being big and buff and having 6 pack abs all at once. Now that I’m halfway there, I realize that eating is a huge part of gaining weight. It sounds silly when framed like that- OBVIOUSLY you need to eat to gain weight. At the time though I was still a very picky, sparse eater, and while I could intellectually conceive of the idea of eating more, I couldn’t accurately imagine what it would feel like to actually do it.

As I’ve started eating more though I’ve discovered that there are all sorts of nuances to foods and moods. There is something unappetizing and off-putting about incredibly dry cuts of lean meat. Eggs are great, to some extent. Milk is great, to some extent. Sometimes after a workout I want a really greasy burger or pizza.

I’m getting the sense that this isn’t purely psychological. There probably is some psychological component, for sure, but it also feels like there’s something more primal or physical about what the body wants.

I guess another interesting lesson there is that I can’t project too much, too far, because I don’t have an accurate map of what things are going to be like. There are some things I can get a rough idea of by talking to older people who have walked the same path, but beyond that I have to allow quite a bit of leeway for variation and variability. More than what I’d expect if I just went with the flow.”

to work with words. (VAGUE)

I know that I like words, and that I can spend an indefinite amount of time just learning about their history and studying how they’re put together and so on. So it makes a lot of sense for me to want to be a writer. I love the smell of a beautiful sentence. So that’s easy for me. But what do I know beyond that? Should that be the central thing in my life around which everything else is organized? What would that even mean, what would that even look like? How can you purely pursue a craft for the sake of craftsmanship if you don’t know what you’re doing it for? What is the point of writing?

to publish regularly.

The longer I go without publishing something, the more miserable and anxious I get. Publishing regularly is a salve. I need to remember this.

to follow my curiosity (VAGUE)

I want to learn more about history. I want to have a better sense of how the world works, so that I can feel more comfortable and relaxed about where I am and what I’m doing.

earn the freedom to be spontaneous

Being completely spontaneous requires being able to first take care of business, and that requires practice, scheduling, management and all sorts of things. Improvisation requires rehearsal.

to write stories.

What would be the coolest thing for me to publish next, as a word vomit, as a short story, or as dialogue? No, I don’t want to just do a little dialogue. I want to do stories. Well, how am I going to define what a story is? Am I just going to describe a fictional environment? Am I going to describe a single fictional person? Am I going to describe some sort of conflict? I suppose I could run through each of those things. I’m not obliged to write self-contained stories right at the start. I can do snippets, little notes. I can do criticisms and analyses of existing books and of characters. These wouldn’t be pointless, they’ll help me figure out what I want to write later on. As long as I’m doing it for that purpose, and not utterly mindless self-indulgence, that that’s okay. Mindless self indulgence is ALSO okay, but I’d like to do better than that. I don’t want to take random walks in purely random directions when I can take a semi-random walk in a semi-deliberate direction that I know is likely to be better for me.

to help people. (TOO VAGUE)

I like helping people, I like connecting with people, and now that this is over I can start focusing on my daily exercise and I can and should reach out to people and sync up with them about drinks and food and so on. And I want to remind myself that the most important thing is for me to ask questions, and to listen, because I don’t really learn anything by confirming what I already think I know. I only learn by asking questions and teasing out what OTHERS know, and then using that to challenge what I thought I knew.

Ponder: “I’ve written nice long emails to students who ask me for help, and yet I procrastinate on doing work for my boss and colleagues, who I admire and respect very much. This is something I need to resolve.”

I want people to feel safe around me

that with me they can be themselves.

to be fair to me-now and future-me

I think what I’d like is to try and strike a balance between what would make me happy right now and what would make me happy tomorrow, and a week from now. I think it’s important to have nuance in those timelines– I wrote in an earlier post about how I tend to view time through “right now” and “the inevitable heat death of the universe”. If I’m lucky, if I’m productive, I think about tonight, and maybe tomorrow.
But I should also be thinking about next week, and next month. And I don’t do those things. I can’t plan for goals that are months down the line, and in that regard I’m almost disabled. Illiterate might be a better word. I don’t speak the language. I don’t receive the signals, I don’t interpret them. I’m like the fat guy in a room of fit guys, the non-musician in music school, so on and so forth.
_

“If I could turn back time I’d have invested more points in “draw”, “code”,  “dance” and “work out”. Anything would’ve been better than “laze around listlessly”.”  – with the benefit of hindsight, workout was the most powerful. Keep working out. Work out more.  http://visakanv.com/1000/0094-games-arent-just-games/

“I want to be happier. I want to make more people happy. I want my wife to be happy. I want to enjoy more good moments out of time. To afford those things I need to be more focused and razorsharp in the work that I do. I need to be proactive, begin with the end in mind, and do first things first. Life is short and it ought to be well-spent. Sitting on my ass is not pleasant unless I’ve first done some good work. So I need to do good work to enjoy sitting on my ass, and I need to enjoy sitting on my ass so I can do good work.

I want to have a good time, damnit, and I know now that it’s impossible to have a sustainably good time in the dark playground. So I need to come into the light, painful and scary as that might initially be.” – http://visakanv.com/1000/0266-planning-next-steps-after-a-holiday/

“…there is a lot of richness in our behaviors and our motivations that we aren’t always privvy to. Most things are subconscious. So we can spend a lot of time simply evaluating our subconscious. And that seems to me to be a more compelling frontier. You have inside your body, inside your brain, this system of thinking, this system of processing reality. This system of beliefs that you might not even realize you hold until you test them rigorously. Don’t you want to know they are?”

“Living with [my issues] is a worst case option of sorts- the reason I write and think about these things so much is because I don’t like the idea of dying without having at LEAST made some progress on these fronts. i’d like to witness myself getting better at these things. I’d like to witness myself discovering that I was right about how I felt about some things, and that others were wrong about me. That’s somehow important to me right now. I sense that it won’t always be, that someday this goal will feel silly. But I’m not sure if I can skip this one. We’ll see.” – http://visakanv.com/1000/0190-awakening-to-inner-richness/

“Do what YOU want, motherfuckers. Look at yourself in the eye and ask yourself what makes you happy. What makes your heart sing. Ask yourself who you’re trying to impress, and why. What are the assumptions you’re making about the social reality that you live in? What is the water that you don’t realize that you’re swimming in? What are the things that you could change, without you even realizing it? Without you ever having considered? What are the things you do every day, every morning, etc that you don’t realize that you could be doing differently?

I can’t answer that question for you, but you need to jump onto the landmine called you and blow yourself the fuck up, motherfucker. And by you I mean me. See ya on the other end.” – http://visakanv.com/1000/0177-why-bother-doing-your-work-when-the-universe-is-going-to-be-extinguished-in-the-end/

“Explore curiosity and be useful to people.”

“I’m burdened needlessly by big plans and big ambitions that are too large to chew on. I just keep them around as psychological clutter to make me feel better about myself. I need to discard all of them and focus on what I can do each day.”

“No grand ideas. No big ambitions. The only task at hand is self mastery. To fulfill my obligations. Today I committed to being early for work, which I was. I kept repeating to myself that I had to jump out of bed when my alarm went off, and I did. Whoopee! I need to grease that groove and set it in stone.” – http://visakanv.com/1000/0147-if-it-works-do-you-accelerate-it/

From sensationalist to genuinely useful: “As I look back on my output now, I struggle to identify the real value. I’m a little overwhelmed by how staggeringly few and far between my insights are. Almost everything that I’ve gotten credit for has been rehashed, reapplied ideas and perspectives of others. A lot of it is populist, sensationalist crap. I wrote stuff optimising for distribution, not depth. I think that was rational and fair at the time. I didn’t know what I wanted, so I did what was fun, whatever yielded returns. But it’s clear to me that doing that is merely a local optima. There are higher peaks to scale in the pursuit of thinking/writing excellence, and to get there I have to forgo what has worked for me for the bulk of my blogging/writing “career”. I want to transition from being sensationalist to being genuinely useful.” – http://visakanv.com/1000/0119-unclogged-future-direction/

Becoming Useful: “If I met Seth Godin or Paul Graham or Jimmy Wales or Elon Musk any of those cool people, I wouldn’t have anything useful to tell them. That sucks. I don’t just want to be some passive fan in the crowd, I want to get onstage and play some awesome music. I just remembered watching the Tesla shareholder meeting where this guy essentially begged Musk for a job. Musk was pretty gracious about it (I think because of his own past experience doing cold approaches like at Netscape), but I couldn’t help but cringe for the guy. Begging is a very bad strategy. (The only worse strategy is to do nothing at all.) Seduction is a good metaphor here. You want to be headhunted. Tesla and SpaceX ARE hiring. The goal should be to be so good that they can’t ignore you.”

“Why write? George Orwell: “Political purpose… push the world in a direction, alter peoples’ idea of the society they should strive after.”

I’d like my life to be radically different, if only because life is short and it shouldn’t be the same thing over and over again. – http://visakanv.com/1000/0361-play-the-bigger-games/

“I want to be like Shepard. I want to grow, I want to be useful, powerful, attractive, reliable. I want to be able to smile and laugh heartily, and I want to be able to solve other people’s problems. To get to that state, first I need to solve my own problems. To do that, I need to identify my own problems. The main thing I need to solve seems to be an energy / blood sugar type problem.”

  • I’d like to be a better public speaker. I think I have value to contribute. I think I can be funny, entertaining, engaging, thought-provoking. I felt very chirpy, engaged and electrified after speaking. There’s really nothing quite like it. Being in the presence of people. Communicating with your whole body, with your voice, with volume and tone- all of these nuances I haven’t learnt to exploit and manipulate yet. I recall how energised I was after I did standup comedy once upon a time.
  • I need to work out and get big and strong. I used to read up about it.

Tall Skinny Guy Problems

Clothes don’t fit. If pants fit at the waist, they’re too short. If they’re long enough, they’re too wide. If a jacket fits your shoulders, the sleeves are too short.

If you’re really skinny, your alcohol tolerance is low. (This gets better as you gain more weight.)

Furniture isn’t designed for you, so you never quite feel comfortable in a chair, at a table. This is especially frustrating with public transport.

If you’re bony, it hurts your butt when you sit. It hurts your back when you lie flat on the ground, or you sit in a hard-backed chair. You gotta do some heavy squats to start packing on some meat, but if you’re going to the gym…

Gym challenges. If you’re new to the gym, and you go to the squat rack, the rack is set too low. So you’re going to have to adjust the height. If you’re sharing with somebody else, you’re going to have to adjust between every set.

If you’re tall, doing squats and bench presses are both harder for you than they are for most people, because of the physics of having long limbs. (This is the real reason why olympic bodybuilders tend to be short, and the source of the myth “bodybuilding stunts your growth”).

You hit your head on things more than most people.

You’re likelier to have your lung collapse.

You don’t look very masculine. This has repercussions in a bunch of areas – how other men treat you [1], how attractive women find you.

Center of gravity is very high, meaning you’re easy to knock over.

If you have a substantial height difference with your SO, kissing and hugging is always a bit of a stretch.

Relevant reads:

ENTP problems

A caveat to start with – I do not believe that personality tests are destiny, or even conclusive. It just so happens that I happen to fit the profile of a theoretical ENTP very well. I’m just listing these things out so I can address them in later blogposts. Think of it as a sort of… crude map, not to be mistaken for the actual territory. People are complex, vast and contain multitudes.

More later.

Meaningless work

I’ve problems focusing or even wanting to focus when I’ve lost interest and see no meaning!

In an ideal world, we’d all be able to pursue our interests and do whatever we think is meaningful and fun and joyous. I still yearn for such a life, if it’s ever possible. And I’d like to believe that I’m working towards it.

But no matter what, it seems like we’re going to have to deal with situations where we have to focus on things where we’ve lost interest. And I can write some practical tips here, so let me just get those out of the way real quick…

  1. Remind yourself about what’s at stake. Sometimes you just gotta roll up your sleeves and do something tedious or disgusting or pointless that you don’t agree with. I’m reminded of this blogpost by a guy whose wife divorced him because he left the dishes by the sink. The point he made was – it wasn’t important to him to put away the dishes, he thought it was fine. But it mattered to his wife. And on retrospect, if he had focused on the fact that it wasn’t about the dishes, but about making his wife feel loved, he might’ve saved his marriage. I try to do this at work sometimes, when I have some shitty tasks that aren’t interesting or cool. I remind myself that I’m doing it for my colleagues (I happen to really like my colleagues; more so than I like my work). There must be something at stake. If there’s nothing at stake, why are you doing it?
  2. Challenge yourself to find something interesting about the situation. Have you ever seen those videos on YouTube of service workers doing all sorts of cool things when serving drinks and so on? Their jobs aren’t all that meaningful, but they’ve found a way to entertain themselves. And sometimes that entertains other people, too. Look at #SaltBae. Of course, in SaltBae’s case, he’s doing what he obviously loves. But sometimes this can work backwards, too. Do something with love, and you kind of learn to semi-enjoy the experience.
  3. Break it down into littler chunks. This is just a sort of practical project management tip that works for effectively everything. It’s the “journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” idea, and the cliché only exists because it’s true. Once you’ve reminded yourself of your Why, of why you’re putting up with some stupid bullshit, you should probably then break down the tasks in front of you into little sub-steps. And then derive a sense of flow from moving through them. There is a real satisfaction to crossing off things in a to-do list. (But you don’t want to have a massive, endless to-do list of things that you’re not going to be able to do… that’s another story.)

Alright? Done with the practical advice? Now some real talk. It’s very clear that different people have different degrees of tolerance for this sort of thing. Some people can grind away for years – I’m reminded of this story of this lovely old lady who worked at McDonalds for 44 years. She legitimately seems to love her job and find pleasure in it. I would be driven mad. But props to her – she’s found something that many of us will never find. Fulfillment. Contentment.

I don’t think the problem of “I can’t focus on this meaningless task” is something to be solved with a bunch of clever tips and workarounds. I think it’s a symptom of a much deeper thing. It’s a sign that you need to think much larger about your life. Maybe you’re trapped right now working some dead-end job trying to support a spouse and kid(s).

But the fact that you’re saying that you find it meaningless suggests to me that you have some notion of what meaningful looks like. I’d invite you to articulate that precisely, for yourself, in private. Describe to yourself what a glorious, meaningful life looks like. And then plot a course for yourself from where you are to where you’re going to be.

Your friends may call you fussy, but all the beautiful things in the world were made by fussy people. I hope you’ll find a way to do the same yourself.

Navigating Bullshit

Finding substance in lectures at university that I don’t think are important 😖

I never went to University. My story is somewhat predictable. I did really well in school early on, coasted in the middle, and ended up as an underachiever whose grades weren’t quite good enough to get into any of the good courses in University. I couldn’t afford to go to the private schools, and I didn’t want to either out of principle – I knew too many people who had spent good money to get their paper qualifications and then didn’t do very much with it afterwards.

My story changes slightly each time I tell it. Technically, at some point, I was trying pretty hard to get into University – a little too little, too late. I was hoping to do Political Science, or Media Studies, or Journalism. In a way, I got really lucky that I didn’t get into any of those things. I have friends who ended up doing them, and practically all of them have complained to me at some point or another just how vapid their classes are, how tedious their assignments, how boring it all is.

So I’m pretty glad I never went. It seems to me that some of them are carrying around some trauma from their University experiences – they endured something that they now have to unlearn.

Anyway.

I remember when I was a kid, I once talked to an older guy I kinda admired. (There have been very few people in my life that I have admired. I have very high standards for admiration.) He was a lawyer, who seemed to be pretty successful, and had a positive attitude, was fun, thoughtful, intelligent. I wanted to be like him. I met him for coffee once, and I told him about how stressed I was at school, and how none of it seemed to matter or make sense, and how I couldn’t wait to be out of it.

I still remember the gist of what he said. He said… “In life, you’re always going to find yourself in situations that you didn’t quite ask for, where you have to do something that you don’t quite want to do. How you handle yourself in those situations speaks volumes of your character, and in a way defines who you are as a person.”

I thought it sounded very virtuous and wise. I was completely unable to follow his advice. I practically flunked out of school.

On retrospect, I wish I hadn’t even bothered to try and compromise. I would be happier and better off today if I had spent my time making things, reading, writing, playing music, meeting people. All of those things add value to my life. School really did not.

(This is very irresponsible advice that I’m giving. If you’re reading this, and nodding your head and taking it seriously, please consult a mature adult for a contrasting opinion.)

But my life is not yet 100% bullshit-free, and it probably never will be. To live in civilization is to be swimming in voluminous sludge-slides of bullshit. To bathe in it, to breathe it, to choke in it. How do we deal?

Different people will have different strategies and coping mechanisms. The mature, smart thing to do is to try to frame things positively. How is this painful, disgusting thing that you’re facing going to help you get what you want in life? I never really did that very much, and sometimes I still regret it a little bit. If I had studied harder in school, I might have gotten a shot at getting some scholarships and gone overseas on exchange and had some interesting experiences. But that never happened, and if I’m honest with myself, I don’t think I could’ve done it any other way. Reality seems pretty deterministic on hindsight.

Another thing you could do is… laugh. Laugh at how ridiculous it is that you’re sitting in some bullshit lecture in some bullshit university, and realize that this too will pass. You’re just kind of stuck in a shitty zone until you can get out. And there are lots of shitty zones in life. Lots of waiting on the phone with shitty dial tone.

This blog is called “Productive ENTP”, so I should try and end with some productive advice. Erm. I’d say… take yourself out on a walk when you can, and ask yourself why you are where you are. It could be that you’re in University because your parents insisted that you go, or it could be because you want a degree so you can apply for some sort of job that you want. There’s always something you can learn even from the shittiest parts of life – sometimes these things aren’t obvious until later on. So I guess I would say… pay attention. You might not be paying attention to the lecture itself, but pay attention to whatever it is that’s going on that you think is interesting. Maybe pay attention to your classmates, pay attention to the body language of the professor, or write notes to yourself about how ridiculous the whole approach is. Get SOMETHING out of it. Even if it’s just some laughs. It adds up to something eventually. I really believe this.

Know what you want

Sometimes I’ll hear someone saying something like, “I feel like I want to be an entrepreneur but I don’t know where to start”. Or “I want to be a writer, but I just can’t write.” I used to try and say encouraging things, but lately I’ve gotten a little pessimistic. A part of me almost wants to outright discourage people. (It’s a lot more complex.)

The important thing is to be honest with yourself about something. Do you want to do X, or do you want to be a person who says they want to do X? Most people seem to turn out to be the latter.

If you’re a writer, you should know. You should have a history of having written things. In my case, I didn’t really know that I WANTED to be a writer until maybe 2012 – and that was when I had been answering lots of questions on Quora, and got quite a bit of validation for it. But the fact is that I was writing a ton of answers on Quora before anybody gave me that validation. I was already a writer, I just didn’t recognize it myself.

I don’t say that to boast about myself. Being a writer is not a status symbol. It sometimes gives you access to tremendous joy and pleasure, but you’re not entitled to it. It’s not a guarantee. Being a writer is a lot of slogging away, struggling to try and convey something meaningful – and failing. Failing over and over again.

Another thing that helps me know that I’m a writer – if I haven’t written in too long, I start to feel it. If I write everyday, I feel good. If I haven’t written in a week, I start to feel shitty. If I haven’t written in two or three weeks, it gets really bad. I find myself drawn to Facebook or Twitter or SOMETHING – reddit, whatever – just to get stuff out of my head onto paper (or pixel). Sometimes it’s infuriating because I feel like my mind is blank – but I’ve learned over time that a blank mind is really just a sort of ‘loading screen’ – there’s all sorts of interesting things going below the surface, behind the curtain. You just don’t know it yet.

Anyway. What I wanted to say was – be careful about what you think you want. Be very careful not to bullshit yourself. Ask yourself why you want to do it. If it’s because you think it’s cool, or because you think people will like you for it, or because you think it’ll make you rich, or famous, chances are you’re barking up the wrong tree. You have to want it because you want it.

I know this is tough advice to follow. When people say things like “follow your passion”, I think they’re typically full of shit. I think they’re often playing a status-signalling game, communicating to you that they had it All Figured Out, and you should too. Steve Jobs’ commencement speech did a fantastic job of this. But if you examine Steve Jobs’ life, it was a lot of experimentation and near-random tinkering. He was just doing a bunch of things, and some of them worked out.

You might think that Isaac Newton’s passion was physics. But he also spent like half his time trying to do alchemy, I believe. It seems weird on hindsight, but it makes perfect sense – at the time, it wasn’t clear what was going to yield the best fruit. He was just doing whatever he was curious about, really.

I do also believe that you probably already know what you want. By that I mean – the answer is already inside you, inside your brain, you just probably haven’t woken up to it. Steven Spielberg had a quote that went like…

The thing I really want to emphasize is, I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t have a choice . . . the dream is something you never knew was going to come into your life. Dreams always come from behind you, not right between your eyes. It sneaks up on you. But when you have a dream, it doesn’t  often come at you screaming in your face, “This is who you are, this is what you must be for the rest of your life.” Sometimes a dream almost whispers. And I’ve always said to my kids, the hardest thing to listen to—your instincts, your human personal intuition—always whispers; it never shouts. Very hard to hear. So you have to every day of your lives be ready to hear what whispers in your ear; it very rarely shouts.  And if you can listen to the whisper, and if it tickles your heart, and it’s something you think you want to do for the rest of your life, then that is going to be what you do for the rest of your life, and we will benefit from everything you do.

Your instincts are drowned out by the insane noise of living in society, living in civilization, of being bombarded with advertising and with all sorts of expectations and notions of prestige and so on. You have to listen for the whisper.

The Plan

One of the things I like to do as an ENTP – which I think is generally not a great habit to have, but I love it – is to talk about what I’m doing, to talk about my plans and so on. There are broadly two opposing schools of thought about this. For and against.

Derek Sivers is against it. He argues, compellingly, that articulating your plans in public makes you self-satisfied too early, and you then are less likely to following up. It’s better to keep your plan secret.

The alternative perspective (I’m not sure who’s the patron saint of this one, maybe it can be me) is that stating your plans publicly makes you more accountable. This isn’t always true – I’ve definitely stated plans in the past that I ended up not following up on. It’s slightly embarrassing, but it also helps me become more self-aware about my limitations.

The synthesis of these two perspectives would be – it depends. It depends on who you are, what motivates you in particular, how you respond to others, and to failure, and so on. Bloggers are not typical people – we’re unusually public-facing.

Anyway, so here’s the plan.

I never actually wanted to setup an “ENTP blog” – I wanted a “productivity” blog. But productivity is an overly broad concept – there are millions of productivity blogs. So I’m deciding to focus on the ENTP niche. People with ADHD. I was listening to an Elliott Hulse video and he described his audience as addicted lovers and smug magicians. I think that’s my audience. It’s not the smartest audience to go after if you want to make money, or if you want to minimise your misery. But I want some misery. Those are my people. That’s who I was growing up. So I want to serve those people.

I’m going to start building my traffic and chops by writing about 20-30 posts about stereotypical ENTP things. I’m going to look up content on Reddit and Quora, and then put my spin on it. Once that is done, I’m going to start pivoting to focusing on writing about productivity experiments. Ultimately I’ll want to come up with some name or concept or idea that’s separate from “ENTP” – because that’s a niche that I want to grow out of. But I’m getting ahead of myself. As a start, I’m going to build the best “productivity for ENTPs” blog I can. Once that’s saturated, we’ll look at what we can grow into.

I think I’ll still need to break productivity down into more specific things – mindset, frameworks, motivations and so on. I think my secret sauce will be focusing on the deep psychological issues that we tend to have and then gloss over. The reason we aren’t as productive as we want to be ISN’T that we don’t know about timeboxing and scheduling and prioritization frameworks. It’s that we have childhood issues, or we’re afraid, or we have an unhealthy self-image, and so on. Those are the things I want to help people address.

One post at a time.

Motivational Quotes For ENTPs

“You’re never gonna get the same things as other people. It’s never gonna be equal. It’s not gonna happen ever in your life so you must learn that now, okay? Listen. The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbour’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.” – Louis CK, Louie

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition, to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I hate that word – ‘lucky’. It cheapens a lot of hard work. Living in an apartment without any heat and paying for dinner with dimes – I don’t think I felt myself lucky back then. Doing plays for 50 bucks and trying to be true to myself as an artist and turning down commercials where they wanted a leprechaun. Saying I was lucky negates the hard work I put in and spits on that guy who’s freezing his ass off back in Brooklyn. So I won’t say I’m lucky. I’m fortunate enough to find or attract very talented people. For some reason I found them, and they found me.” – Peter Dinklage

“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.”

“I understand there’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons and old movies. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid and outwit that guy.” – Anthony Bourdain

“I constantly get out of my comfort zone. Looking cool is the easiest way to mediocrity. The coolest guy in my high school ended up working at a car wash. Once you push yourself into something new, a whole new world of opportunities opens up. But you might get hurt. In fact you will get hurt. But amazingly , when you heal – you are somewhere you’ve never been.” – Terry Crews

“We all must suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.”

“You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were 5 minutes ago.” – Alan Watts

“And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” – Joanne Rowling

 

Solitude

One of the great misunderstandings about MBTI is the idea that having an E– means you’re automatically extroverted in the traditional sense – gregarious, getting energized by social encounters and so on. This isn’t always exactly true.

There’s an interesting quote I once read somewhere about how “ENTPs are the most introverted of the extroverts”. It’s sort of true, if you can get past the vagueness of the terms.

For me personally, and in my understanding of other ENTPs (from reading biographies, etc) – ENTPs are all about connections and ideas. And this is something that can happen amongst people, but it’s also something that can happen in solitude. And I actually highly recommend that every ENTP seeks out some solitude in their life. Because we often get so busy following threads and making connections that we can forget to ask if they’re necessarily the most important connections we should be making.

In practical terms – if we wake up in the morning and look at social media, we’re often immediately hijacked by the impulse to come up with witty responses to things. But is that necessarily the best use of our time? You get the idea.

Similarly, we might get carried away trying to figure out how to participate cleverly in some social group, without first asking if that social group is actually worth participating in.

Solitude is excellent for the ENTP. It helps us clarify what we really care about, what we really need, what really matters. And that allows us to return with a more profound engagement with the people who matter, too. It’s a win-win.