Grit is bad?

Grit is bad?

This is in response to an article from Aeon titled “Teaching ‘grit’ is bad for children, and bad for democracy“. After reading it, I asked myself, “Is grit really bad?”.

The article discussed the ideas behind the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. Citing several examples in the book, it discussed the darker side of grit. It says that grit results to people doing mean, stupid things or doing things that they should not have done. One particular example is from a football team’s chant: read more

Would your future self thank you?

Would your future self thank you?

One day I was listening to a podcast where the host interviews a businessman. At the end of the interview the host asked, “What are the things you do that make you successful?“. The businessman answered: “The reason I am successful is not because of what I do today. I owe everything to 2011 me. All his hard work, his grit, and his networking efforts paid off.

That got me thinking: am I thankful for past me? Do my actions decades ago produce something good today?

I thank 2012 me. I accepted a job from something that I have not tried before, and I was not really expecting much. It turns out to be work that boosted my income and still something I enjoy even after seven years. read more

Mr. Productivity

Mr. Productivity

I pride myself on being conscious about my time (or at least I like to think I am). I set up a daily routine in the morning when I read my devotionals, do my personal projects, and write something in this blog. I have written posts about time management like “Consistency Beats Intensity” and “How to gain extra time“. I listen to podcasts and audiobooks daily, and give my best to my work every day. I might even like to call myself Mr. Productivity.

I don’t like it when something happens in the day that ruins my routine. Some days there is something that needs to be done, or something unexpected that needs to be fixed and cleaned and it disrupts my schedule. I am also uncomfortable when I feel like I am not doing anything useful, like just lying down to rest or sitting somewhere to talk.

My days are fueled with caffeine-induced energy. I have been drinking coffee for years now, which started since I had a full-time job after graduating from college. I cannot imagine a day without drinking coffee and I make sure I get my fix any means possible.

This feeling of energy pushed me to work harder on personal projects and my job. Sleep became more scarce as I find it harder for me to fall asleep immediately when I go to bed. And since just lying there trying to get to sleep is not productive, I get back up and do something else. This resulted in having less than optimal sleep which becomes unnoticed due to the caffeine highs.

I also try to be physically active by going to the boxing gym two days a week. This gives me more energy throughout the day and I get to have a nice cardio workout as well. For a long time I did not feel the effects of poor sleep quality coupled with stress (both physically and emotionally).

And then it suddenly hit me.

Nature’s Wake-Up Slap

©Bulbapedia

It was midnight. I had just returned to our bedroom after a quick trip to the restroom and was preparing to go to sleep. Once I laid down however, I felt my heart racing and pounding uncontrollably. I started having these episodes in the past few days but they only lasted a few seconds. This time it was different.

The irregular heartbeats did not stop after a few seconds and continued on for minutes. I started to panic and at the same time I felt lightheaded (perhaps due to the panic). I woke up my wife and said I want to go to an ER. We prepared to go the hospital, all the while my heart still was beating quickly and irregularly. When we finally got in the car (ride-sharing service) en route to the hospital, my heartbeat returned to normal.

The doctors in the emergency room obviously did not find anything wrong after blood pressure tests and an ECG. They recommended me to see a cardiologist right away. The following days I had my blood tested, did additional ECGs, an Echocardiogram, and finally a 24-hour Holter monitoring.

Cold Coffee

The doctors advised me to stop taking caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, and carbonated drinks. As I see myself as “caffeine dependent” this was a major event for me. The first two days of no-caffeine days were hard: I felt weak, tired, and had a throbbing headache. These symptoms forced me to lie down to bed earlier than what I used to as I can’t do anything much in the evening.

After two days I started feeling normal again. To be honest, I did not expect my dependence in coffee to go away that easily. After two weeks of coffee-free days, I no longer feel a loss in energy during the day, I still feel awake, but I tend to get sleepy already before midnight.

All of these things that forced me to go to bed earlier had a much better impact than what I expected. Having a full night’s sleep gave me energy throughout the day without resorting to coffee. I started to feel better and the minutes-long irregular heartbeats no longer presented itself.

Am I really a night owl?

This experience exposed one major flaw in my personality: that I am not a night owl. Night owls are people who are (or think they are) more productive at night and so they tend to sleep late and also wake up late. Completely eliminating caffeine in my life proved to me that I am not really a night owl.

We need to be honest with ourselves. Are we really night owls or is it just the effect of our daily dose of coffee? If its the latter, then we may be heading towards disaster as our bodies slowly cannot cope with the lack of quality sleep. Granted that quitting coffee is not a pleasant experience especially in the short term, gradually reducing our dependence in caffeine may be better for us in the long term.

Thinking about death is good

Thinking about death became such a taboo in modern society. However this was not the case centuries ago, and this is even one of the main ideas behind Stoicism. The possibility that I could die at any moment exposes the things in my life that does not really matter and those that do.

Health scares usually cause people to suddenly think about how they are living their lives, and I am no exception. This event caused me to think about my body’s needs more and made me more aware of how I abused it in the past.

It also made me think more about my daily priorities. Have I been working too much and thinking about work the whole day? Do I need to have more entertainment time to cope with stress? Am I losing quality sleep because I need to play and enjoy just so I can deal with stress? These questions point to possible solutions that I can start to implement in my life to make sure my body does not wake-up slap me again.

Moving forward

At this point I think I will no longer resume my coffee drinking days. Perhaps once I completely establish that my caffeine intake will no longer influence how I sleep and how my body gets rest, then I may one day enjoy a nice cup of coffee again. But for today, I resolve to be more aware of my body’s needs and stop ignoring its pleas for rest in the name of productivity.

 

Photo by Muhammad Raufan Yusup on Unsplash

Consistency Beats Intensity: Personal Development, Part II

On the first part of the article we explored ways on how to incorporate reading books into our schedule. It also highlighted the advantages of consuming content in an audio format as compared to conventional methods. In the second part of the article we will discover more ways to improve our personal development skill. Specifically, on how to create your own content by writing a blog, a book, or creating a product.

Write your own blog or book

Most people want to write their own book someday, knowing that they have a good story or knowledge to share to the world. Money can also be a motivator as you hear the news of a best-selling author making millions just by writing a book. However, most people can’t even write a single article due to “lack of time” or after realizing that it is not as simple as they previously thought.

If you are serious about writing your own book but find it difficult to start, perhaps you can begin by writing a few blog articles first. This breaks down the epic task into smaller, manageable chunks and also hones your writing skill by continuously writing.

I find that reading books and listening to audio content complements well to the skill of writing. By reading or listening to how other people present their thoughts and how they structure their words and sentences, you also improve your own writing as well as your vocabulary. As we see in Part I, we can incorporate reading books in our schedule without it being a “distraction” to our daily routine.

If you find it difficult to start writing, commit first to write one sentence per day, or just proofread one paragraph that you have written per day. This commitment is small, easy to do, and hard to miss. By writing a single sentence, your brain will start to overcome the initial “friction” of ideas and you can slowly gain momentum. If however you still find it hard to finish even a single sentence because or your mood or circumstance, you will still feel good as you have successfully met your commitment of just a single sentence and you will be inching closer to your ultimate goal.

By doing this for one month, you will produce around 30 sentences. An average sentence contains about 15-20 words, and so by the end of the month you will have an article that is 450-600 words long. Based on my personal experience, once you have written a single sentence, most of the time the thoughts start flowing thereon and at the end of the activity you will find that you have written much more than a single sentence. The initial friction of the first sentence is the hardest part but it becomes easier once you get yourself to start writing.

Today, it is easier to publish your books compared to past decades and centuries. Before, when you have a book idea or draft, you need to go to a publisher and hope that they accept your book for printing. Nowadays, there are many services that allow you to publish your own books. All you need is to give them a formatted DOC or PDF file and they will do the printing for you, whether it be paperback or hardbound. You may even want to publish only a few books at a time for additional cost and this is quite useful as you no longer need to commit to thousands of copies that you need to sell to recoup the cost of printing.

Because it is now easier (and cheaper) for people to self-publish books, this can give us the motivation to start writing with the goal of eventually holding a physical book that you have created. With this it is important to consider writing consistently over time and eventually this goal will be realized!

Finish your projects

I find it hard to finish a personal project into completion. I think most people experience this as well: at the start of the project you feel energized and motivated to implement your new idea, but as time passes and problems crop up, you lose motivation. This goes on until you finally shelve the project (together with the other unfinished ones) and forget about it.

One thing that helped me greatly regarding personal projects is to force myself to perform one single action that moves the project forward. This one single action is easy to do and so you will be able to do it regardless of your current motivation.

Software programs and applications

As an example, let’s say we want to build a software program as our personal project.

Resolve to write a single line in your editor once per day. Even as simple as updating a word in your README file counts! The important thing is that you have started opening your project folder, and by doing this it will make it easier for you to continue on with the project. Similar to the initial friction we encounter when writing, we also need to overcome the initial friction when doing our personal projects by starting with simple and easy tasks.

Pushing a small change in the codebase per day is also a useful habit. Resolve to commit and push at least one change in the software daily. Even a “stupid” change such as adding one line of comment in the code should not be glossed over. If you are using a repository that tracks your daily activity (such as Github), you will find it satisfying to see your activity as a chart or graph. By developing this habit you will also hone your skill in programming and you will be able to code faster and more efficiently. This results in more changes that you can do in a single day and before you know it, you will have accomplished a significant portion of your project!

Starting now vs starting later

When you find yourself suddenly having ideas or thoughts about your project, this is your subconscious sending you signals that it is time to work on it. Often when these thoughts come to us, we immediately block it with things like I will do it later, I have time tomorrow, or I still have things to do right now. You will need to catch yourself when these secondary thoughts arrive as it is an influential but limiting force in our minds, leading us to procrastination and failing to finish our tasks.

Once these ideas come out, try your best not to delay and to do the things that your subconscious is telling you. This may be as simple as writing something on a piece of paper to jot down your ideas at the moment. How many times have you thought of a good idea while doing something else, only to forget about it after a few hours when you are ready to write it down? These ideas are the fruits of your mind thinking about the project in the background without you making a conscious effort. Because of this we should be ready to accept those ideas and write them down so we do not forget about them.

The practice of starting now is also critical in overcoming the initial “friction” when starting your work on a project. By immediately starting work on something whether you are in the mood or not, you start the habit of controlling your own emotions which will eventually increase your productivity in the long term.

Improve and learn new skills

It is very important that you keep your skills sharp and also to update your knowledge especially in the field of technology. When we are comfortable with the tasks we do or the job that we have, we may fall into the trap of stagnation and ignoring new skills or technologies.

Positive and Negative effects of Compounding

In the compounding graph shown in the first two parts of this series, we know that the negative side of compounding is the result of complacency, which is a feeling of satisfaction on one’s current achievements and situation. The effects of this are not evident for quite a while, but afterwards it snowballs into significant negative consequences.

A common example of this is complacency in your current employment. After a few years, you become familiar and competent on the skills and technology you use in your job. As the years pass however and changes in government/regulation/technology happens (which is inevitable), you may find yourself trapped in your current position and skill set and find it hard to advance further.

To combat the negative effects, we need to focus on the upper half of the compounding graph. Instead of being complacent, we need to find ways for us to gradually increase our skills and expand our abilities in anticipation of future changes.

There are many resources available in the internet, both paid and free, that can help in improving your skills on a particular field.

Online course providers or online “universities” such as Coursera offer several courses from a broad range of disciplines. You can watch one video per day or a video per week, and eventually you will be able to finish the course and upgrade your knowledge. Programming-specific services such as CodeSchool also provide a great platform to improve your skills in programming. As the courses are broken down into sections you can aim to finish one section of a course per week, which is doable even if you have a tight schedule.

Coding platforms such as HackerRank also provide a great way to hone your programming skills by doing actual coding exercises directly in their website. These coding exercises, much like their physical counterparts, help you unlock inner strength and flexibility in thinking. As a result, this will then help you finish your projects with a higher quality of output, as well as improving your marketability to employers.

Conclusion

This is the end of the three series about the Consistency Beats Intensity philosophy. We discussed how this applies in the areas of personal finance, health, and personal development. The main idea is that to accomplish our goals and tasks, small and consistent actions must be done until we reach our target. Keeping at it for a long period of time will produce better results than being intense at the start, and then giving up mid-way.

We have also explored two phenomena that happens at the beginning of the compounding effect: Complacency and Disillusionment. Complacency is when we are satisfied with our current situation and we think that small things that we do regularly do not have any effect in the long term. This is like building a house on railroad tracks. It may be comfy for a while, but as time passes it is guaranteed that a train will wreck your house.

Disillusionment happens when we start doing small, positive things but we don’t seem to notice any improvements or changes in our life. If you do not understand the compounding effect, you may give up as you think that it is not doing anything anyway. However, these small positive changes are the essential building blocks of lasting success. We need to recognize that the compounding effect is most evident when given sufficient time.

I hope this series helps you think on ways to improve your life, as well as eliminate bad behavior or habits that you think is not dangerous. By doing consistent positive actions, one day you will wake up and realize that you have already attained your goals!

Consistency Beats Intensity: Personal Development, Part I

The first two parts of the series deal with the Financial and Health aspects of the Consistency philosophy. The last part of this series is effectively the vehicle in which the other aspects rely on: Personal Development.

Personal development entails all of the things that we do to improve our skills or abilities, which in turn enables us to be more productive, earn more money, and manage our time better. A high personal development skill gives us the necessary tools to increase our income or profits (and so improve the Financial aspect), as well as solidify the disciplines we need in our daily life (which improves the Health aspect).

I read a book called the Slight Edge by Jeff Olson and it inspired me to think of ways to implement the principles discussed in it. In this book he debunked the Quantum Leap phenomenon which states that success comes in one big leap or change. Instead he argued that success is the result of continuous, progressive small actions towards a goal. This is the same essence as the Consistency beats Intensity philosophy.

In this article we will discuss some examples on how the Consistency philosophy can be applied in the realm of personal development.

Conquer books a few pages at a time

Books may seem to be very daunting especially if it looks thick and may take time to finish. If you are an avid reader of fiction books (romance novels, epic adventures, etc.), you do not mind the thickness or the volume of the book as you enjoy reading it. As a matter of fact, you look forward to a thick book as you know that you will have more time to enjoy the story.

For non-fiction books, however, reading them may be a painful slog for some people especially if they find it boring or uninteresting. I do not recommend reading a book for the sole purpose of finishing it as you will need at least a bit of motivation or purpose on why you want to read a certain book.

However even though we want to read something, sometimes we find that we do not have the time to do it because of our daily schedule. As a result we tend to not read anything at all! This is unfortunate as books (especially non-fiction) serve to broaden our knowledge on subjects and increase our learning.

One solution for this is to read books a few pages at a time. For instance, let’s say that a large book has 200 pages in it. If we resolve to read at least 5 pages per day, it will take around 40 days to finish a book, or 1.5 months. Doing this for the whole year will result in you reading at least 8 books!

Reading 5 pages can take you around 10 to 30 minutes to accomplish depending on the topic and the volume of content. This 10 to 30 minutes of time does not need to be a strict block of time for reading, but can be used while there is “down time” during the day. For example:

  • While waiting for the bus to arrive
  • While riding in the bus (I personally cannot do this due to motion sickness)
  • While waiting for your laundry to finish

Listen to audio books and podcasts

If you still find it hard to read a physical book for only a few pages each day, there is a better alternative: audio. Personally I think this is one of the best “life hacks” that most people look over or ignore. The value and convenience of listening to audio books and podcasts cannot be denied based on my own personal experience.

One of the disadvantages of reading a physical book is that you need to actually hold the book and look at it with your eyes. This results in a requirement of physical availability and a certain level of concentration. This is where the audio format shines as your eyes and hands remain available to do other tasks. There is still a minimum concentration requirement needed though to understand the contents of the audio.

In earlier years, audio books and programs are distributed and listened to using cassette tapes, which is bulky and can only contain 1-2 hours of content for each cassette. Advances in technology brought us the Compact Disc, which although less bulky than the cassette tape, still can only contain about the same hours of content. Both the cassette tape and the Compact Disc requires a certain hardware to play, and this hardware can be both expensive and bulky as well.

Further advances in technology resulted in compressed audio formats such as the MP3 or the AAC formats which means that Compact Discs can now have hours of content several magnitude than that of the previous formats.

The next iteration of technology drastically reduced the size of the players themselves: instead of playing Compact Discs, these devices can now directly play the compressed audio formats itself, making it possible to store hundreds of hours worth of audio in a small device.

At the time of this writing the dominant technology in the marketplace is the smartphone, which is essentially a multi-purpose handheld computer. This means that in addition to making calls and text messages, you can now use email, internet messaging, watch videos and listen to audio all in a single device.

With the proliferation of smartphones, people already have a mechanism for consuming audio books and podcasts. As one no longer has a need to buy a separate device for it, this is indeed one of the most untapped sources of knowledge and information we can utilize.

The advantages are the same as when reading an actual book during your “down time”, however as you no longer need to hold something while consuming its contents, this opens up new opportunities within the day on when we can listen to books and podcasts:

  • you can listen while on the train or on the bus even if you have motion sickness
  • you can listen not only while you are waiting for your laundry, but even while you are doing the laundry
  • while cleaning the house or tending your garden and backyard
  • while eating (provided that you are eating alone)
  • while taking a walk or jogging
  • read more