The win-win edition: notes on self-optimisation and a better future
Can you believe it’s mid-August already? I always feel ambivalent about this time of year — summer is still here, but I can feel it starting to slip away. I love spending evenings relaxing outdoors, and I miss them when they go. But, as the nights draw in, it feels like the world turns a corner; my mindset shifts and I shift into working on projects mode, which is also a lot of fun. I have a couple of ideas currently gestating in my mind that I’m looking forward to making a start on once evening mojitos in the garden are no longer a thing. But, for now, here’s a round-up of what I’ve been busy with this month.
Resources for coaches
I just wrote an article for The Startup on resources for people who want to become a professional coach. This may be a niche topic that doesn’t apply to most of my readers, but if that’s your jam, take a look. Also, if anyone is interested in being coached by a qualified, ethical coach (online coaching is the wild west!), send me an email with a brief outline of what you would like coaching on, and I may be able to help.
Eat yourself happy
I recently came across Daniel Schmachtenberger, the founder of the Neurohacker Collective. Best described as a modern philosopher and independent thinker, he explores ways of creating a win-win relationship between people and society, or, as he would put it, “making a world that doesn’t suck.” He is also one of the most articulate people I have ever listened to, with a gift for thinking deeply about complex topics and discussing them at length in an engaging way without dumbing them down. I highly recommend watching his documentary, War on Sensemaking, or listening to any of his many podcast appearances, most of which you can find here.
If that all sounds rather lofty and abstract, I’ll give you a small practical example of how his counter-intuitive thinking can improve our lives. In an appearance on Future Thinkers podcast, he mentions that a significant proportion of the neurotransmitters we associate with wellbeing, like serotonin and dopamine, are produced in the gut, not the brain. So, while typical approaches to mental health (understandably) focus on sorting things out in your head, he suggests that the best starting point for improving your mental state is to fix your diet.
He argues that using brain supplements or complex cognitive treatments to deal with issues like depression is a waste of time if most of the chemicals associated with happiness are missing from your gut. His advice is to fix your gut flora first, then see what happens (which is all the more interesting given that his company sells brain supplements.) Every conversation I have heard with this guy has been enlightening in myriad ways, and I recommend anyone interested in self-optimisation or smart thinking about the future look him up and dig into some of his stuff.
How to handle micromanagers
Ever wondered how to handle a micromanager? I recently heard an anecdote on Netflix series The Movies That Made Us that showed Steven Spielberg to be a master at it. When making Back to The Future, Spielberg and co. had an Executive Producer called Sidney Sheinberg, who was pretty hands-on with making suggestions about various aspects of the film.
One of his more dubious ideas was to change the film’s title to Spaceman From Pluto. The production crew hated this suggestion and needed a way to reject it without upsetting the guy who held the project’s purse strings.
Spielberg came up with an ingenious solution; he replied to Sheinberg’s memo with a message that read: “Hi Sid, thanks for your most humorous memo, we all got a big laugh out of it, keep ’em coming.”
Miraculously, the suggestion was never mentioned again, nobody fell out, and the movie got made. To be fair to Sheinberg, he also had some good suggestions that made it into the movie (like renaming Professor Brown to Doc Brown.) But there is a great lesson here: disagreements aren’t best solved by confrontation or power games that lead to win-lose outcomes. Humour can be more powerful than conflict, and being charitable to protect relationships long-term can lead to win-win solutions that are better for everybody.
Incidentally, the series is a fascinating study of how creative visions come together. So many things we see in final products, such as films, that seem like incredible visionary thinking are often the result of last-minute decisions made on the fly when an original idea doesn’t come off. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say — especially when you’re shooting to a budget with a deadline. Watch it for some excellent lessons on problem-solving as well as for the entertainment value.
Why I Love Weightlifting
The belated 2020 Olympics has just wrapped up in Tokyo, and I enjoyed dipping in and out of watching various events. There’s something compelling about the mix of seeing people perform at the highest level, the personal stories that unfold, and, of course, the drama of competition. I particularly enjoyed watching the weightlifting—it reminded me of my own journey with strength training, an activity that I unexpectedly developed a strong emotional connection with years ago. So, inspired by watching some of the world’s best athletes hoisting improbably heavy weights above their heads, I thought I would share this short essay I wrote on weightlifting a few months back:
I was late to lifting; I didn’t start until my thirties.
As a skinny kid, I had always been curious about it. But, in my mind, skinny guys didn’t lift weights; ripped dudes did. At some point, I realised I had it backwards—those dudes were ripped because they lifted.
After figuring that out, I decided to give it a shot. But I had to overcome another barrier—I didn’t know where to start. So, I found a starting strength program online, bought some dumbbells, and began training at home.
I immediately loved it.
When you first start strength training, the newbie gains come quick. Think of them as low-hanging fruit. Seeing my body start to transform within a few short weeks motivated me to keep training. My lifts got heavier. Soon, dumbbells didn’t cut it anymore, so I joined a gym and began barbell training. Then my gains really took off.
Researching lifting protocols introduced me to diet and nutrition and the importance of recovery. I started eating better, drinking less, and sleeping more.
Visiting the gym 3-4 times a week on my own, tracking my lifts, and improving them each week helped me develop self-discipline. It became a form of moving meditation that helped me mentally as well as physically. As a result, I felt fitter, healthier, happier, and more energetic in my mid-thirties than I did in my twenties.
To paraphrase Socrates, there is something beautiful and surprising about discovering what your body is capable of. Lifting changed my self-identity. It gave me more confidence and helped me see myself as a strong person—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Powerful stuff.
I’m sure this is familiar to anyone who already lifts. But, if you don’t, I recommend giving it a try. Because resistance training is not futile. It is positively transformational.
I’m in the mood to binge-read a bunch of biographies at the moment, so I’m going to flip my usual book recommendations spot around and ask you to suggest some reading for me. Success stories are always inspiring, so books about notable business or sporting figures are welcome. But what I’m most interested in are biographies of mavericks, misfits, creatives, or outsiders who did things their way. Any discipline or period of history is fair game, so drop me an email if you know of a good one.
Here’s a quote that has repeatedly seemed relevant to me recently and is a lesson worth being reminded of:
“If you are willing to do only what’s easy, life will be hard. But if you are willing to do what’s hard, life will be easy.”T. Harv Eker
Until next month,