J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Category: Life Purpose & Goals (Page 2 of 6)

Why We Love Conor McGregor (the Wonderful Insanity of Calling Your Shots)

Conor-McGregor

Like many people I got pulled back into UFC because of Conor McGregor. I watched the first UFC fights in the nineties, on VHS tapes rented from my local video store. Ninjitsu vs. wrestling, karate vs. thai boxing, a 150 pound man vs. a 220 pound man — who would win? What style would prevail? It soon became clear that Brazilian jiu-jitsu, specifically the Gracie family brand, was the most effective martial art in the world in terms of one-on-one battles. Any sane man will tap when a choke hold prevents him from breathing, or an arm bar threatens to snap his humerus in half.

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Why I’m Joining the Maximizers

Maximize your sound ... and everything else.

Maximize your sound … and everything else.

I first became familiar with the term maximizer from Penelope Trunk’s blog. According to Trunk, a maximizer always wants the best, and spends a great deal of time and energy trying to make the best decisions, acquire the best things, and have the best life. Maximizers are competitive, ambitious, and according to Trunk, have more interesting lives.

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Helping People — A Realization

Rescue: specific, well-defined, limited help

Rescue: specific, well-defined, limited help

Yesterday I received an angry email from a reader that gave me pause for thought. The reader asked me to do something I wasn’t comfortable doing and I declined. The reader became frustrated and let me know in no uncertain terms. Their argument went something like this: Why was I presenting myself as someone helpful if I wasn’t willing to help them?

It wasn’t a terrible interaction — just a frustrated person venting — but it did get me thinking about what I’m trying to do here. This blog is subtitled “Systems for Living Well” and that’s mostly what it’s about. I share my own experiences, insights, and knowledge, and hope this blog benefits others. In the past I’ve framed that as “helping people.”

But I’m wondering if “helping” people often leads to dysfunction and codependence. How much responsibility should the “helper” take for the circumstances of the “helped”? Is there a danger of the person being helped surrendering their own power and agency to the helper?

“Helping people” has been a core value of mine since grade school. To reevaluate and possibly jettison this guiding principle is a big deal for me. It’s not that I want to become less altruistic or less giving (especially in relation to friends and family), but I think the old language doesn’t work anymore. I need to replace “helping” with more specific verbs, in both my thinking process and in terms of real life actions.

Some thoughts re: the future direction of this blog:

What I Want to Retain or Move Towards

  • writing posts that educate, inspire, and/or entertain readers
  • sharing personal experiences that might benefit others
  • providing specific, clearly defined assistance to others when I am moved to do so, when it is mutually beneficial, or when I am being compensated

What I Want to Move Away From

  • helping others out of a general sense of obligation, because I have a “helper” identity
  • writing blog posts (or anything) that prescribe or recommend a particular course of action (“you should” or even “how to”)
  • presenting myself as an expert or authority
  • taking responsibility for other people’s actions or choices

I’m thinking out loud here. I don’t want to be less generous just because a few people feel overly entitled. I have no problem setting limits. Still, I may need to be clearer about what I’m offering, and where those limits are.

I hope you found this post educational, inspiring, or at least mildly entertaining!

Take the Seven Word Challenge (Why do you do what you do?)

Seven is the lucky number.

Seven is the number.

Why do you do what you do? For each activity area in your life, can you state the main objective of your efforts in seven words or fewer?

Recently I did this exercise for myself, and it enhanced clarity in several areas. I’d recommend this exercise for anyone who can relate to any of the following:

  • You feel like a particular area or activity of your life is important for some reason, but you’re not sure exactly why.
  • You spend a significant amount of time doing something that does not yield tangible rewards (health, happiness, compensation, recognition).
  • You suspect you might be doing something for the wrong reasons.
  • You like to analyze your own life (I can relate to this one!)

If you haven’t already done so, taking some time to define your life purpose might put this exercise in context. But the order probably doesn’t matter.

Double-Threat vs. Dabbling

There’s a funny scene in Chris Rock’s “Top Five” where he’s getting to know Rosario’s Dawson’s character and she’s telling him all the things she does (she’s a writer, photographer, and a few other things). “Great strategy,” he quips, “do five things so you never get good at any of them.” I’m not remembering the scene perfectly, but I laughed loudly in the theater. I can relate to Dawson’s character, and I think most people can. It’s unusual to focus solely on one thing, and to hone that skill at the expense of other life pursuits. There’s a popular narrative that obsessive focus is required for success, but numerous counter-examples make me doubt that particular nugget of conventional wisdom. High-performers often excel in multiple areas (though they may achieve fame in only one). In the arts, winning an Oscar usually requires a different set of skills than winning a Grammy, but the list of multiple award winners isn’t short.

On the other hand, it’s equally possible to flit from one activity to the next, never committing enough to the growth process to gain mastery and see some kind of reward for our efforts. There’s nothing wrong with dabbling as means to explore a field and see if it’s a good fit, but decades of aimless dabbling leads to an unimpressive set of skills and meager rewards.

The Efficacy of Having a Singular Objective

In this interview with Ramit Sethi, Noah Kagan describes what it was like to work with Mark Zuckerberg in the early days of Facebook. Kagan would go to Zuckerberg with various revenue-producing ideas, but Zuckerberg wasn’t interested in any ideas that didn’t support his main objective for Facebook. Zuckerberg’s defining question was: Does it help Facebook grow? (Jump to 4 min. to hear the story.)

Zuckerberg’s question inspired me to ask the same thing of myself. What’s my main objective for each life area? If I could answer that question I would have a valuable tool: a single criterion to guide my decision-making in that area. Does a new idea, project, or proposal support the main objective? Yes or no?

Why Seven Words? Mushy (or Kitchen Sink) Mission Statements

Given unlimited word allowances, there’s a natural tendency to add more. This can reduce clarity and meaning. Nowhere is this more apparent than in mission statements. I’ve written my fair share of wordy mission statements that obfuscate more than they motivate. For example, when I tried to write a mission statement for my own database consulting business, this is what I came up with:

I produce, deliver, and maintain high-quality database applications that meet client needs and expectations and support good work in the world, while enjoying the work, working efficiently, treating clients well, and billing fairly (to both self and clients).

It’s a complete and accurate mission statement, but it lacks the decisive clarity of Zuckerberg’s “Does it help Facebook grow?” When I limited myself to defining the main objective of this activity in seven words or fewer, I came up with the following:

Exceed financial goals with short work hours.

Blunt and to this point — the main reason I do database consulting work is to make a large amount of money in a short amount of time. The short-form objective doesn’t invalidate anything in the longer-form mission statement. I do want to deliver quality work to my clients, I don’t want to work for companies that I think are evil, and I don’t want to overcharge my clients. But if a project comes along that is going to require a great deal of work for not very much money, I’m going to reject it. Database consulting is not the part of my life where I help people for free (this blog, on the other hand, does do that).

When I get to a point in my life where passive income from investments and royalties exceeds my financial goals, then my primary objective for database work will change. Maybe I’ll work pro bono for non-profits, or maybe I’ll fill that time with other activities. Until then, my seven word objective statement keeps me focused on earning efficiently (so I can live well and help support my family, so I can support causes I believe in, so I can have time to pursue arts and leisure).

There should be a bigger why behind your objective statement that relates to your life purpose. If there isn’t — if an activity you spend significant time on doesn’t support your core values and life purpose — then the seven word challenge may help you discover that.

A Shared Vision

In both business and family contexts, if we have a different main objective or vision than our co-workers or family members, that can lead to problems. I wanted to define a tight objective for Loöq Records, but it didn’t make sense to do that if my business partner wasn’t on board. After a conversation with Spesh, we came up with the following as an option:

Release and promote great deep dance grooves.

This would actually represented a change — a tightening up the the label’s sound — and getting to this possibility required some reflection and discussion. Each word is significant, and committing to this objective would lead to real changes in our A&R policy.

Language is powerful. An objective statement is a compass. So where are you going? Are you pointed in the same direction as the other members of your group?

Contribution

In your short time on this planet, are you going to make a contribution? Whether or not you believe in any kind of progress, what are you doing to make this world a better place? This blog is my own attempt to help others. I started it to share what I’ve learned about committing to writing, curing my asthma, and more recently regrowing my hair. Coming up with my main objective for writing this blog came easily.

Help millions of people live well.

When I’m considering a new post I try to think about who it might help, and how it could help them. Not every post helps people — sometimes I write a post to publicize a music release or promote a fund-raiser. But having a main objective helps me decide yea or nay on the hundreds of ideas that come my way, including suggestions from others.

This blog recently exceeded two million views. I assume some of those are bots, but it’s gratifying to know that I’m on track.

Invest in Relationships

The pursuit of happiness is elusive. For most people, prioritizing service, contribution, and commitment generates more happiness and life satisfaction than money, entertainment, and vacations. That said, I think there are two life non-work life areas that effectively and reliably “pay off” in terms of time and effort invested.

One is exercise. Exercise that is not too strenuous, like walking, extends life, boosts creativity, and is a great way to socialize that doesn’t involve drinking or late nights (nothing wrong with either of those, but I’ve found they take their toll as daily activities).

The other is any activity that builds relationships or provides a sense of camaraderie. Your cover band that is never going to make it big, your small stakes poker night, your fantasy football league — it’s easy to underestimate the importance of these activities. They take up a lot of time, often require complex scheduling, and rarely provide income. Should they be dumped? If you like the people involved, these activities are worth their weight in gold in terms of life satisfaction and health benefits. What’s my main objective for playing D&D?

Have fun, build camaraderie, and stimulate imaginations.

I like what the game does to my brain, and I love getting together with other adults to co-create a shared fantasy world and issue a giant F-U to the cult of perpetual productivity.

Changes

I’ve noticed subtle changes in my approach to the activities I’ve mentioned above, and also to the ones I haven’t, since I took the seven word challenge. I didn’t decide to drop any activity altogether, but I did correct course in several areas.

If you decide to do this exercise yourself, feel free to share your results or insights below. Take the seven word challenge!

How to Solve Your Money Emotions and Achieve Financial Freedom

You couldn't pay me to own a yacht, but they do look real fancy.

You couldn’t pay me to own a yacht, but they do look real fancy.

I recently read MONEY Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom by Tony Robbins. The book shifted my thinking and emotions around money to such an extent that it warrants a post. While the book does get into technical details regarding types of investments, asset allocation, and diversification, the most impactful sections are those that address the big emotional and value questions around money, such as:

  • What is money for, for you?
  • What emotions do you have around money and the accumulation of wealth? Guilt? Anger? Greed?
  • What is enough for you, in terms of a savings/total assets amount? Why?
  • What level of financial security or financial freedom is your ideal?

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How To Trigger Super-Momentum

Super-momentum: life in the productivity fast lane

Super-momentum: life in the productivity fast lane

No more than a dozen times in my life, I have experienced a state of what I call “super-momentum.” For days, sometimes weeks at a time, I operated at a extremely high level of energy, excitement, and creativity. I became so absorbed in my work that becoming distracted wasn’t an issue; I was distraction proof. I slept less and ate less, but had more energy. At times ideas came so quickly that I struggled to capture them, getting up in the middle of the night or pulling over in traffic to write them down.

There’s a clinical word that describes aspects of this psychological state: hypomania. But whereas hypomania is often associated with distractibility and thrill-seeking behavior (gambling, shopping sprees, sexual promiscuity, etc.), I associate super-momentum with extreme focus in a single work area, and the application of 100% of the excess energy to the work in question.

There are multiple advantages to having a singular focus. With project immersion, the subconscious mind is always engaged with the material (though other life areas may suffer from lack of attention and processing power). Project progress increases because there is less “loading” time; since the mind is continually engaged, you don’t have to “remember where you were” when you start working. You already know! This also reduces initial resistance/willpower expenditure for starting each work session. Instead of knowing and dreading the mentally strenuous work of reviewing your work for half an hour (or longer) to “get back in the groove,” you just pick up right where you left off the night before. You’re already in the groove — you never left.

Super-momentum is similar to Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, but I consider super-momentum to be more agitated, more based on heightened physiology (dopamine, sex hormones), and less reliably triggered. And while flow is characterized as “enjoyment in the process of the activity,” I would describe super-momentum as an ecstatic, near-frantic, inspired, completely focused work hustle.

It’s a great drug, and I’d like more of it. But it’s not something money can buy.

So, the questions:

  • Is super-momentum worth triggering? Does it actually result in value being created? Or is it just another high to be chased?
  • Is it possible to trigger super-momentum, and if so, how? What circumstances lead to this explosive burst of energy, enthusiasm, motivation, and productivity?
  • Are there negative effects of super-momentum, in terms of psychological strain, physical stress, and general wear-and-tear? Is the comedown painful? Is “project completion letdown” inevitable?

Is Super-Momentum Worth Triggering?

Absolutely yes. While not every period of super-momentum in my own life has paid off in every way, all have paid off in some way. To list just a few examples:

  • I spent weeks in a state of super-momentum writing an artificial life emulation program that took my programming skills to the next level. I still sometimes reference the source code of this application when solving similar problems.
  • For at least a full month I became complete absorbed in Minecraft, sleeping very little and thinking about the game constantly. My brain was so “activated” that I made major breakthroughs on completely unrelated problems (client work) during this period of time.
  • Momu and Grayarea collaborated during a very short window of opportunity. A sixteen-hour work session led to a week of very intense follow-up work, resulting in the track “One” which has generated thousands of dollars in royalty income.

In the long-run, these brief periods of super-momentum are mere blips when compared to productivity and results from consistent daily disciplined work. But still, these blips interest me. Not only are they fun when you’re in them, but many artists and writers I respect and admire seem to be able to consistently generate super-momentum, dramatically increasing their productivity during focused periods of being completely ON.

Is it Possible to Trigger Super-Momentum? If So, How?

Since flow is a possible subset of super-momentum, what have psychologists already determined are the prerequisites for the former?

In order to achieve flow, Csikszentmihalyi lays out the following three conditions:

  1. Goals are clear
  2. Feedback is immediate
  3. A balance between opportunity and capacity (the task is sufficiently challenging but not overwhelmingly difficult)

On most days I can enter a flow state (as characterized here) for at least a few hours. But I don’t know if I can consistently generate the heightened physiological state I associate with super-momentum. As a start, in terms of reverse-engineering, here are the factors (in addition to the above) that I associate with super-momentum:

  • a great idea
  • competition (personal, not abstract)
  • a crush/a muse
  • hunger for success and recognition
  • decent tools and working environment
  • an inflexible deadline
  • powerful collaborators or helpers
  • creating something that will really help or inspire other people
  • breaking new ground (in terms of knowledge, style, or genre)
  • some drugs (modafinil, bromocriptine, caffeine, etc.)
  • being in good physical shape and generally healthy
  • incremental success (power-ups)
  • emotional intensity (including heartbreak, joy, grief, love)
  • working hard, playing hard
  • terrible consequences if I don’t succeed
  • a big payoff if I do succeed
  • getting “amped” because of excitement around an activity or an upcoming event or release (anticipation)
  • extended hyperfocus (for example videogame immersion)
  • an extended period of quiet solitude or near-solitude, time and space to completely relax, decompress, reflect, and even become bored

I have personal experience with all of these factors except for modafinil (which I am curious about, but wary of). Some of these factors are within personal control, but just as many aren’t. Part of super-momentum might simply be utilizing the enormous energy that comes with momentous life events (births, deaths, falling in love, getting dumped, etc.).

Drugs are within one’s personal control, but to me that seems a dangerous route (for example, I could imagine quickly and efficiently writing an absolutely worthless one-thousand page novel under the influence of modafinal).  I once tried bromocriptine (which increases dopamine levels) as an experiment, and  once was enough. I consume a moderate amount of caffeine from dark roast coffee, but medium roasts leave me dehydrated and jittery — I’m not interested in increasing my caffeine intake.

What other factors are controllable?

  •  Setting an ambitious but achievable goal
  • Agreeing to a tight, inflexible deadline, such that other people are depending on you to deliver
  • Choosing subject matter than can potentially have a real impact or break new ground
  • Maintaining and optimizing your infrastructure and work environment so that when inspiration and energy do strike, you are not slowed down with mundane “fixit” tasks and distractions
  • Underscheduling and undercommitting, so that you end up with “empty space” in your life (and not filling that space with distractions like television — get bored enough so that your mind starts racing for its own entertainment — see Oates tweet above)
  • Engaging in a rich social life (ideally centered on or related to your work area) so that you increase your potential exposure to mentors, muses/crushes, rivals, and collaborators, all who can dramatically spur your motivation and amp up your nervous system.

This is the first time I’ve thought about this analytically. I’m surprised by how many super-momentum associated factors are potentially controllable. Maybe super-momentum can be engineered.

Can you Create Your Own Motivation and Excitement?

According to Neil deGrasse Tyson, yes.

“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.

– Neil deGrasse Tyson’s response on Reddit when asked “What can you tell a young man looking for motivation in life itself?”

What Tyson doesn’t explain is how. How do you go from sitting on the couch feeling blah to firing on all cylinders?

Well first, get off the couch. As Tony Robbins likes to say, “emotion is created by motion.” [Tony Robbins “Ultimate Edge — Hour of Power” mp3, link borrowed from this Tim Ferriss post]

Exercise generally stimulates dopaminergic systems, which generally increases motivation (though the neuroscience is complex; higher dopamine in some brain areas increases motivation, while higher dopamine in other brain areas increases awareness of the costs of certain behaviors).

So daily exercise is a must if you want to boost your “get up and go,” with the caveat being that you don’t want to overdo it and end up in a state of chronic inflammation. Lifting heavy weights or going on long runs every day will just exhaust most people. Walking or bicycling or yoga everyday plus short bursts of more intense exercise (sprints, weights) is probably a good balance.

But brisk walks won’t get you to super-momentum. You need to be excited about your work.

Well, what if you aren’t excited? Can this be changed?

Author Rachel Aaron has a good perspective on this. In this blog post she describes how she went from writing 2000 words a day to 10,000 words a day. She breaks her approach into three core requirements:

  1. Time (track productivity and evaluate)
  2. Knowledge (know what you’re writing before you write it)
  3. Enthusiasm (get excited about what you’re writing)

She has valuable insight into all three areas. I’d recommend her post to all writers. But for the more general purposes of this post, her insights into generating enthusiasm are the most relevant. From Aaron’s post:

The answer was head-slappingly obvious. Those days I broke 10k were the days I was writing scenes I’d been dying to write since I planned the book. They were the candy bar scenes, the scenes I wrote all that other stuff to get to. By contrast, my slow days (days where I was struggling to break 5k) corresponded to the scenes I wasn’t that crazy about.

This was a duh moment for me, but it also brought up a troubling new problem. If I had scenes that were boring enough that I didn’t want to write them, then there was no way in hell anyone would want to read them. This was my novel, after all. If I didn’t love it, no one would.

Fortunately, the solution turned out to be, yet again, stupidly simple. Every day, while I was writing out my little description of what I was going to write for the knowledge component of the triangle, I would play the scene through in my mind and try to get excited about it. I’d look for all the cool little hooks, the parts that interested me most, and focus on those since they were obviously what made the scene cool. If I couldn’t find anything to get excited over, then I would change the scene, or get rid of it entirely. I decided then and there that, no matter how useful a scene might be for my plot, boring scenes had no place in my novels.

This applies to all creative/innovative pursuits — not just fiction writing. If it’s boring, why are you working on it? Skip ahead to the good part or the interesting part.

You may need to come back to the “boring bits” of the project later, but if you’re already in a state of super-momentum, you’ll blast through them effortlessly.

Are There Negative Effects of Super-Momentum?

Obviously, being amped up physically and mentally for an extended period of time (even if drug free) is going to take its toll. More free radicals, more stress hormones, and accelerated aging are probably inevitable to some extent.

Super-momentum is not the fountain of youth. It’s burning the candle at both ends. Even if the high is natural, all highs are followed by a low.

In addition to physical and mental stress, focusing all your energy and attention on a single life area means that other parts of your life (household, relationships, children, eating well, sleeping well, other work areas) are going to be temporarily neglected.

In addition, when you come down (and you will eventually come down), you won’t have the energy to energetically deal with these neglected areas. You’ll be drained. After expending an enormous amount of energy and delivering or otherwise completing your project (or possibly abandoning it), you’ll experience letdown. While life coaches and therapists might distinguish physiological depression from post-project depletion, they feel about the same.

The advantage of going through the latter is that you know why (you just pushed yourself like a maniac, and now you’re out of gas), and you know that with rest and recuperation, you’ll bounce back and regain that life spark.

So pursue super-momentum at your own risk. There will be downsides. A near constant state of super-momentum without corresponding periods of rest and recuperation might lead to gigantic leaps in terms of career success, but long-term health life effects might include:

  • obesity, from sleep deprivation and circadian disruption
  • insulin resistance, see above
  • chronic inflammation, manifesting in joint pain, back pain
  • chronic depression
  • drug and alcohol abuse
  • damage to personal relationships, from neglect and/or volatile emotions
  • self-doubt, loss of sense of purpose, “Why am I doing this?”

To these risks you might say “So what?” In the famous words of a super-momentum enthusiast:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

– Hunter S. Thompson

He was a man true to his word.

On the other hand, there are equal or even greater risks to not pushing yourself, to eating and resting too much, to not discovering and stoking your inner fire. These risks are both physical and psychological. Chronic stress is terrible for health, but acute stress is necessary. A sedentary life devoid of all challenges is a fast track to obesity, heart disease, cancer, and dementia. Consider:

Work “sprints” (via super-momentum) are not necessarily bad for your health as long as you take some downtime to recover. Here are some basic life and health precautions to take if you are chasing the dragon of super-momentum:

  • stay super-hydrated
  • get at least five hours of sleep a night
  • eat at least one healthy meal a day
  • don’t use stimulants stronger than tea or coffee
  • rely on “natural” sources of motivation (see above) instead of drugs (including all so-called “smart drugs”)
  • start with “money in the bank” (literally, but also in terms of relationships, core infrastructure, etc.)
  • take extra care to be polite, patient, respectful, and considerate to your loved ones (your agitated, hypersensitive, hyperactive state will make you prone to snapping and snap judgements)
  • when its time to come down, come down gracefully (sleep more, eat well, decompress, pamper yourself, recuperate, thank everybody who supported you during your sprint, return the favor)

This cautionary tale from author-turned-cocaine-and-videogame-addict Tom Bissell is worth reading. It’s possible to amp yourself up into a state of hypomania and hyperfocus that feels like super-momentum, but moves your life backwards instead of forwards. While I’ve never gotten into recreational drugs, I can relate to the lure of videogames. These days I have a simple rule of “no entertainment during the workday” (including web browsing) that keeps me from falling into false “feeling productive while doing nothing productive” traps.

So Who Wins, The Tortoise or the Hare?

Well, we all know that slow and steady wins the race. There is no substitute for establishing rock-solid daily habits that inch you closer to your goals, day by day.

But there is a place for sprints, for extremes. Especially to reach the heights of artistic or innovative greatness, these sprints might be required.

So the tortoise wins the horizontal race, but the hare gets more air.

Or maybe, once in awhile, the tortoise bursts into a sprint.

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