Domain of the mind
Keep strong, if possible. In any case, keep cool. Have unlimited patience. Never corner an opponent, and always assist him to save face. Put yourself in his shoes—so as to see things through his eyes. Avoid self-righteousness like the devil—nothing is so self binding.
—JFK, quoting from BH Liddell Hart’s book on nuclear strategy.
Being present demands all of us. It’s not nothing. It may be the hardest thing in the world. There is no object to hide behind. It’s just you.
Limit your inputs
A matrix that orders our priorities by their ratio of urgency and importance.
What’s important, despite not being urgent, trumps what’s urgent but not important. Be strategic, not reactive. Mile deep on what matters, rather than an inch on too many things.
Indeed, the first thing great chiefs of staff do—whether it’s for a general or a president or the CEO fo a local bank—is limit the amount of people who have access to the boss. They become gatekeepers: no more drop-ins, tidbits, and stray reports. So the boss can see the big picture. So the boss has time and room to think.
Marcus Aurelius says, “Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’”
Knowing what not to think about. What to ignore and not to do. It’s your first and most important job.
Empty the mind
Chop wood, carry water. Chop wood, carry water. Chop wood, carry water.
Don’t over-analyse. Do the work.
Don’t think. Hit.
Thinking is essential. Expert knowledge is undoubtedly key to the success of any leader or athlete or artist. The problem is that, unthinkingly, we think too much. The “wild and whirling words” of our subconscious get going and suddenly theres no room for our training (or anything else). We’re overloaded, overwhelmed, and distracted … by our own mind.
“Abandon thought, all ye who enter here.”
… go deeper that whatever was on the surface of their minds
Whatever you face, whatever you’re doing will require, first and foremost, that you don’t defeat yourself. That you don’t make it harder by overthinking, buy needless doubts, or by second guessing.
That space between your ears—that’s yours. You don’t just have to control what gets in, you also have to control what goes on in there.…
Not with sheer force, but rather with a kind of gentle, persistent sweeping. Be the librarian who says “Shhh!” to the rowdy kids.
Slow down, think deeply
L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
What’s essential is invisible to the eye.
Your job, after you have emptied your mind, is to slow down and think. To really think on a regular basis.
… Think about what’s important to you
… Think about what’s actually going on
… Think about what might be hidden from view
… Think about what the rest of the chessboard looks like
… Think about what the meaning of life really is
Anne didn’t write every day, but she always wrote when she was upset or dealing with a problem. She also wrote when she was confused, when she was curious. She wrote in that journal as a form of therapy, so as not to unload her troubled thoughts on the family and compatriots with whom she shared such unenviable conditions. One of her best and most insightful lines must have come on a particularly difficult day.
“Paper,” she said, “has more patience than people.”
hupomnemata: notes to oneself.
The best journals aren’t for the reader. They are for the writer. To slow the mind down. To wage peace with oneself.
That’s really the idea. Instead of carrying that baggage around in our heads or hearts, we put it down on paper. Instead of letting racing thoughts run unchecked or leaving half-baked assumptions unquestioned, we force ourselves to write and examine them. Putting your own thinking down on paper lets you see it from a distance It gives you objectivity that is so often missing when anxiety and fears and frustrations flood your mind.
In 1928, John Cage proposed a “national day of quiet”.
By observing silence, he told the audience, they would finally be able to “her what other people think.”
Find people you admire and ask how they got where they are. Seek book recommendations.
Add experience and experimentation on top of this put yourself in tough situations. Accept challenges. Familiarise yourself with the unfamiliar…
Wrestle with big questions. Wrestle with big ideas Treat you brain like the muscle that it is. Get stronger through resistance and exposure and training.
Find confidence, avoid ego
Confidence is the freedom to set your own standards and unshackle yourself from the need to prove yourself. A confident person doesn’t feat disagreement and doesn’t see change—swapping an incorrect opinion for a correct one—as an admission of inferiority.
On to what’s next
Domain of the soul
Response of Canadian politician Jagmeet Singh to an angry protester during a campaign stop When the agitated woman came up and started shouting at him about Islam, he replied with two of his own epithets for the self: “Love and courage.” Soon, the crowd began to chant along with him: “Love and courage. Love and courage. Love and courage.”
Before a tough assignment… Strength and courage
Before a touch conversation with a significant other… Patience and kindness
In times of corruption and evil… Goodness and honesty
Heal the inner child
The simple formula to breaking the cycle and stilling the deep anguish:
Give what you didn’t get.
Drop the old story.
Bathe in beauty
“As long as this exists, this sunshine and this cloudless sky, and as long as I can enjoy it, how can I be sad?”
That was the way. Nature. The cultivated soil. The growing crops. The satisfaction of good hard work. The poetry of the earth. As it was in the beginning, as it will be forever.
Accept a higher power
Because Step 2 (in AA) isn’t really about God. It’s about surrender. It’s about faith.
Fundamentalism is different. … if God exists, why would they possible want you to be afraid of them? And why would they care what clothes you wear or how many times you pay obeisance to them per day? What interest would they have in monuments or in fearful pleas for forgiveness? At the purest level the only thing that matters to any father or mother—or any creator—is that their children find peace, find meaning, find purpose. They certainly didn’t put us on this planet so we could judge, control, or kill each other.
It’s not that we need to believe that God is great, only that God is greater than us.
Conquer your anger
“Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.”
It’s great to be able to stop
When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong
And be able to do something else instead
And think this song
All is one
In 1971, from 239,000 miles up in space, astronaut Edgar Mitchell…
“an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.”
So far away, the squabbles of the earth suddenly seemed petty. The differences between nations and races fell away, the false urgency of trivial problems disappeared. What was left was a sense of connectedness and compassion for everyone and everything.
mitfreude, active wishing of goodwill to other people shadenfreude, active wishing of ill will.
Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner
To understand all is to forgive all.
On to what’s next
The domain of the body
The balance he maintained between flat-out work and creative and restorative leisure is worth study by anyone holding a top position.
Churchill conserved his energy so that he never shirked from a task, or backed down from a challenge. So that, for all this work and pushing, he never burned himself out or snuffed out the spark of joy that made life worth living.
Aside: other four lessons from Churchill’s life
- importance of hard work
- aim high
- never allow mistakes or criticism to get you down
- waste no energy on grudges, duplicity or infighting
- make room for joy
Every night, I try myself by court martial to see if I have done anything effective during the day. I don’t mean just pawning to ground—anyone can go through the motions—but something really effective.
… he fell in love with the slow, methodical process of mixing mortar, troweling, and stacking bricks. Unlike his other professions, writing and politics, bricklaying didn’t wear down his body, it invigorated him.
He spoke eloquently of a reliance on new activities that use other parts of our minds and bodies to relieve the areas where we are overworked.
He wasn’t a particularly good painter or bricklayer, but even a glance at his pictures reveals how much he enjoyed himself as he worked…
“Just to paint is great fun. The colours are lovely to look at and delicious to squeeze out.
Early on, he was advised by a well-known painter never to hesitate in front of the canvas (that is to say, overthink), and he took it to heart. He wasn’t intimidated or discouraged by his lack of skill. Painting was about expression of joy for him. It was leisure, not work.
“Painting challenged his intellect, appealed to his sense of beauty and proportion, unleashed his creative impulse, and … brought him peace”
—Violet Bonham Carter, his friend
“Painting and manual labour were the sovereign antidotes to the depressive element in his nature.”
—Mary, his daughter
“Was it worth it?
The struggle, the labour, the constant rush of affairs, the sacrifice of so many things that make life easy, or pleasant—for what?”
“The journey has been enjoyable and well worth making—
Take a walk
Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman took several walks a day. Kahneman wrote:
I did the best thinking of my life on leisurely walks with Amos.
It was the physical activity in the body that got his brain going.
Kierkegaard tells the story of a morning when he was driven from his house in a state of despair and frustration—illness, in his words. After an hour and a half, he was finally at peace and nearly back home when he bumped into a friendly gentleman who chattered on about a number of his problems. Isn’t that how it always seems to go?
No matter. “There was only one thing left for me to do,” he wrote, “instead of going home, to go walking again.”
So must we.
Then walk some more.
Build a routine
Freedom is the opportunity for self-discipline
In fact, freedom and power and success require self-discipline. Because without it, chaos and complacency move in. Discipline, then, is how we maintain that freedom.
My thought: Freedom is the opportunity to march to your own tune, not to someone else’s. We still need to march. We still need to stay in tune. Just that the tune is of our own choosing.
The Jews have kept the Sabbath for thousands of years, Abad Ha’am once said, just as the Sabbath has kept the Jews.
Done enough times, done with sincerity and feeling, routine becomes ritual. The regularity of it—the daily cadence—creates deep and meaningful experience.
“If it were superstitious, why would I keep doing the same thing over and over whether I win or lose? It’s a way of placing myself in a match, ordering my surroundings to match the order I seek in my head.”
Get rid of your stuff
The gentleman makes things his servants. The petty man is servant to things.
In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cun libro
“Everywhere I have sought peace and not found it, except in a corner with a book.”
—Thomas á Kempis
Bill Gates’ “think week“
Twice a year, a week in a cabin in the woods. Removed from daily interruptions, sit down, read, and think.
Do not mistake this for some kind of vacation. It is hard work—long days, some without sleep. It is wrestling with complex topics, contradictory ideas, and identity-challenging concepts. But despite this, he emerges recharged and refocussed. He can see further into the distance. He knows what he wants to prioritise, what to assign his people to work on.
Be a human being
the main cause of injury for elite athletes is not tripping and falling. It’s not collisions. It’s overuse.
Go to sleep
People say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” as they hasten that very death, both literally and figuratively.
They trade the long term viability of their business or their career before the urgency of some temporal crisis.
Sleep is the other side of the work we’re doing—sleep is the recharging fo the internal batteries whose energy stores we recruit in order to do our work. It is a meditative practice. It is stillness. It’s the time when we turn off.
There are some people who can function without sleep, but they are also smart and self-aware to know that everyone functions better when well-rested.
Find a hobby
Indeed, flower arranging, calligraphy, and poetry have long been popular with Japanese generals and warriors. A wonderful pairing of opposites—strengh and gentleness, stillness and aggression.
Many people find relief in strenuous exercise. Sure, it might make them stronger at work, but that’s not why they do it. It’s meditative to put the body in motion and direct our mental efforts at conquering our physical limitations.
The repetition of a long swim, the challenge of lifting heavy weights, the breathlessness of a sprint—there is a cleansing experience, even if it is accompanied by suffering.
“If an action tires your body bug puts your heart at easy, do it”
The next time we feel the urge to flee, to hit the road, or bury ourselves in work or activity, we need to catch ourselves. Don’t book a cross-country flight—go for a walk instead. Don’t get high—get some solitude, find some quiet. These are far easier, far more accessible, and ultimately far more sustainable strategies for accessing the stillness we were born with.
Travel inside your heart and your mind, and let the body stay put. “A quick visit should be enough to ward off all, and send you back ready to face what awaits you” — Marcus Aurelius
“To see people who will notice a need in the world and do something about it.… Those are my heroes.
On to the final act
… to study philosophy is to learn how to die.
Seneca reminded himself that before we were born we were still and at peace, and so we will be once again after we die. A light loses nothing by being extinguished, he said, it just goes back to how it was before.