J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Tag: life purpose (Page 1 of 2)

Five Things That Made My Life 10% Better (Each)

Our new puppy, a possible #6? We’ll see!

I used to make myself miserable in ways that turned out to be easily fixable. Sometimes it took ten, twenty years to see the obvious and do something about it. But that’s not even exceptionally slow. Many people go through their whole lives suffering huge amounts self-inflicted misery.

Here are the major quality-of-life improvements that have worked for me, so far:

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2015 Year-End Review

Momu Mobile Studio Unit -- one of many 2015 highlights.

Momu Mobile Studio Unit — one of many 2015 highlights.

This weekend I completed my first personal year-end review. Since I don’t have an employer, it’s up to me to evaluate my own performance and look for ways to improve. Celestine Chua’s year-end review questions resonated with me, so I used those as a template:

  1. What were your biggest accomplishments this year? (results you are proud of)
  2. What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned this year?
  3. On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with how you spent the year? Why?

Chua’s review also included questions for the year ahead:

  1. What do you want to accomplish next year, such that it’s your best year ever?
  2. What new habits can you cultivate that will help you to achieve your goals?
  3. What are your immediate next steps to achieve these goals?

Completing the first part of the exercise provided me with an opportunity to review the year’s major events. I was surprised by how much happened and how much I did in 2015. It was good to both appreciate successes and to reflect on failures. Projects that didn’t go as well as I hoped they would — in hindsight the reasons why were clear. But if I hadn’t taken the time to look back and consider what happened, those lessons would have been lost on me. I would have been left with the vague feeling of “Well, I guess that didn’t work out.”

In terms of my successes, it was good to take time to appreciate those. I feel confident going into 2016 after considering the positive results of 2015. It’s easy to underplay your successes in life and to only give attention to problems and failures. But it’s helpful to take some pride in your accomplishments. Sometimes nobody else gives you credit, and you’re the only one who knows how hard you had to work to get the job done. This is especially true for less glamorous tasks like helping family members, staying in shape, and repairing the roof.

Maximizer Update

A couple months ago I wrote about how I was going to “join the maximizers” in certain aspects of my life, meaning I would attempt to raise my standards, push harder towards my goals, and trade some of my leisure time for productivity and “push” time.

As part of my year-end review I considered some recent changes I’d made along these lines, and evaluated if I wanted to carry them forward.

Looking back, I realized I’d been on the maximizer path ever since becoming a dad in 2008. After a tough year of sleep deprivation, I found myself ready to enter a new phase of life defined by deeper commitments and more goal-oriented behavior. In 2009 I started this blog, started writing fiction, cut out a few things that weren’t bringing much value to my life (DJing, videogames), and committed to higher standards and better decisions for myself.

Starting in 2013 I took a harder look at my activities and commitments, using the “Hell yeah or no” criteria from Derek Sivers. I also asked and answered questions about each activity area (consulting work, writing fiction, running a music label, producing music, blogging, etc.), including:

  • Why do it?
  • How does it relate to my life purpose?
  • What’s the main objective?
  • What are the “traps” to avoid?

In 2015 I raised my game even more, committing to more writing time and more music studio time (some of the results I will be publishing in 2016).

So yes — it feels good to push, to become more of a maximizer, to raise my work output and raise my standards and contribute and create as much as possible while I’m alive on this planet (which will hopefully be a very long time). Not that you should mistake me for a workaholic or overachiever — all my commitments and activities in total still leave me about half my waking hours remaining for unstructured free time (hanging out with family and friends, reading, gaming, playing sports, and the like). I have my freelance career and hard-earned investment wisdom to thank for that, as well as good luck in the life cards I drew at birth (U.S. citizen, middle-class, white male, able-bodied, no mental illness, etc.). I realize not everybody is playing this immersive game on easy mode. All the more reason that I should push myself and try to contribute more.

The Year Ahead

I’ll save my thoughts on 2016 for a new post early in the new year. I’ll probably combine that with a Metablog post to let you know what I’ll be writing about in 2016 (including an extreme lifestyle experiment).

I hope you have the opportunity to spend New Year’s Eve with friends and/or family. Stay alive, don’t lose your pants, and have a great time!

Thanks for reading this blog in 2015 and I wish you all the best in the year ahead.

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!

Why Is It Important to Define Your Life Purpose?

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It sounds intimidating, to define the purpose of your life. It also sounds unnecessary. Why not just live? Why not just enjoy life, and take each day as it comes?

I don’t think there is any ultimate purpose to life beyond what we decide is important. I think James Altucher puts it well in this post:

“People get depressed now if they feel they are not fulfilling a purpose in life.

Here’s what I think purpose is: the universe doesn’t know anything. So it cut off tiny pieces of itself to go out there and experience things, any things, and then come back home when they were done.

That’s it. So whatever you are experiencing today, good or bad, the universe is learning and happy and grateful to you because it is exploring new things about life.

BAM!

No other purpose.”

I don’t believe in any kind of singular, universal purpose (not even the poetic purpose Altucher describes), but I do feel better and live better when I live by my own principles. What do I think is important? How much am I willing to bet on those values? How ’bout everything. All in.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, in a beautiful response to a question on a reddit (“What can you tell a young man looking for motivation in life itself?”) gets to the core rationale for defining one’s own purpose in life:

“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.”

Love, meaning, and motivation all work together. You can discover what gives life meaning (for you) by listening to your heart (in fact I think this is the best way to discover meaning). For Tyson, increasing personal knowledge and reducing human (and perhaps also animal) suffering reflect his core values (codified into purpose, or “main philosophies” as he puts it). He advises the young man looking for motivation to decide what is important to him, and then act on it.

If the word “purpose” rubs you the wrong way, consider defining your “core values” or “life philosophy” instead. For you, what gives life meaning?

Motivation and Goals

Does motivation automatically flow from purpose and meaning? Not necessarily. Low motivation can be a sign of low dopamine in certain parts of the brain, depression, and/or overstimulation.

But jacking up the neurotransmitters involved in motivation doesn’t actually lead to productive or helpful activity unless there are already well-established habits in those areas (yes, the movie Limitless is a fantasy). For example, bromocriptine is a powerful dopamine agonist. Side effects include gambling and compulsive shopping. Reward-seeking behavior, in other words, but not really what most people think of when they think about motivation. Drugs like modafinil can enhance concentration, motivation, and cognitive abilities, but come with disruptive and potentially health-damaging side effects. Videogames are designed to jack up reward-seeking behavior, and sometimes the dopamine boost can overflow into other life areas. But just as easily, videogames can suck time and energy, providing the feelings of motivation and drive (achievements! points! levels!) without any real-world effects.

Goal-setting can also temporarily increase motivation, but if a goal isn’t purpose-driven, the motivation boost will be short-lived. If I don’t care about money very much, setting a “goal” to become a billionaire isn’t going to do squat. Even if I come up with a plan and work that plan like a maniac, I’m going to lose steam if I don’t actually care about becoming rich. Goals shouldn’t require motivation, they should provide motivation. And goals only provide motivation when they line up with life purpose/core values.

Here’s my own system for turning purpose into action. Feel free to steal it (I’ve stolen all the bits from other people).

1. Make a 5-year commitment that is true to your life purpose (and/or values and/or life philosophy). Where do you want to be in 5 years? As Steve Pavlina points out, we often overestimate what we can do in a single year, but underestimate what we can do in five years.

2. Choose a single actionable goal that supports your 5-year commitment. Give yourself a target date. If it appeals to you, set up additional rewards (completing the goal will be a reward in itself) and “kick-in-the-butt motivators” (I prefer this phrasing to “punishment”) around the goal. For example when I was trying to finish the first draft of my most recent novel, I promised myself I wouldn’t consume any alcohol until I finished (which resulted in this post, and also finishing my first draft).

3. Commit to a daily practice (don’t break the chain!) that moves you closer to your goal. If you can, complete this practice early in the day, when your willpower and concentration are at their highest. If you don’t have that luxury, just carve out some time every day. Even an hour a day of focused work will get you somewhere.

Even if you don’t choose this kind of structured approach to living your life, it’s still worth it to choose your own purpose in life. At the very least, you’ll have something to fall back on when the “What am I doing here?” question pops into your head. And oh yeah, you’ll live longer.

How to Discover Your Life Purpose, Set a Primary Goal, and Stay On Track

Unless you are the Remover of Obstacles and Lord of Beginnings, you’ll probably need to pick just one goal at a time.

In my last post I wrote about why I think setting goals is important. I addressed some of my own reservations regarding goal-setting. Is ambitious goal-setting selfish? Is it obnoxious and annoying to others?

I suggest you read that post first. But if you’re ready to get into the details, my five step system for exploring life purpose and setting a primary goal is below.

It’s a long post, but it’s the whole deal. I’ve come to this system after decades of diversions and hard-won experience. So get a fresh cup of coffee, and welcome to my world.

Step 1: Soul-Searching, Purpose & Calling

Seneca’s reputation may suffer as a result of self-promotion guru Tim Ferriss quoting him so much. But before the Seneca backlash is in full swing, I’ll get this relevant quote in:

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A New Approach to Goal Setting (Introduction, and Reservations)

Go with the path or hop the fence?

Over the last six months I’ve started using a new approach to goal-setting that I’ve found to be effective, enlivening, and motivating. I’m still ironing out the kinks in the system, but I’m far enough along that I want to share my approach and my results so far.

As I’ve mentioned before I consider myself to be (in role-playing game nomenclature) a “multi-classed character”. I have many interests and ambitions, and I find it difficult to pursue one at a time. I’m probably in the majority; it’s a rare human being who naturally has a single-minded pursuit or singular quest throughout their entire lives. Most people have many interests, like to do many different things, and want to acquire a wide range of experiences. Overall it’s an effective strategy — the multi-class character ends up with multiple skills set and diverse social networks, and is thus less vulnerable to economic downturns, changing popular tastes, and other vagaries of modern life.

The drawback of going broad, in life, is that you don’t necessarily get to go as deep (or if you do go deep, it takes you longer to get there). It takes longer to level up (to acquire achievements, recognition, mastery, and so forth).

So that’s one reason I’ve been refining and developing my goal-setting system; I want to go deeper and level up in certain areas. But it’s not the main reason. The main reason is …

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