May 10, 2020

Lifecamp Newsletter #2

How to Quit Complaining, Take Amazing Notes, Buy the Right Vodka, and Think Past Your Fears

Hey gang,

How’s it going? Are you bored of lockdown yet, or are you enjoying a more laid back, simple lifestyle? Personally, I’m really appreciating the extra flexibility it has afforded me. I’m using it to prepare for the impending birth of my first child, explore local walks, and enjoy the noticeable increase in birdsong I can hear (something great for your wellbeing, by the way).

Now, let’s get into it.

How to Quit Complaining

Whether you’re experiencing cabin fever, resenting the fact that you may have to start enduring your morning commute again soon, or you just really, really want a haircut, framing your circumstances in a negative light is not a healthy mindset. When things don’t go our way, our reflex action is often to complain. The problem with complaining is that it solves nothing. It just makes us focus on the negatives in our lives, which is not a recipe for happiness. If you want to rid yourself of the habit of complaining, have a read of this article.

Money Changes Everything – Except Vodka (Maybe)

I am a self-admitted economics geek and a long-time listener of NPR’s Planet Money podcast. Even if you think economics is dull as dishwater, I’d be prepared to make a (small) bet that you will still enjoy the show. Each 20-minute episode focuses on a different aspect of the economy. And this isn’t some dull economics class in podcast format. It is a masterclass in storytelling that sheds light on how the world works.

Each episode, the reporters take a current, real-world story and conduct field interviews with everyday people. They bring a lot of humour to their presentation without dumbing down the content, making it entertaining as well as educational. Recent episodes have been looking at the unusual economic circumstances brought about by the global pandemic, but they go all over the map from show to show. For a taste, try these recent episodes on the rush for governments to acquire PPE (more exciting than it sounds, honestly), the argument against big companies getting taxpayer-funded bailouts, and whether there’s any difference between cheap and expensive vodka.

Staying on money, the lockdown has encouraged me to reflect on the relationship between wealth and happiness. I have long been a believer that you don’t need a lavish lifestyle to be content, nor do you need a high-end income to enjoy financial freedom. When it comes to accumulating wealth, there is one simple rule; spend less than you earn. So, it’s no wonder that this tweet from @naval resonated when I came across it recently:

“People who live far below their means enjoy a freedom that people busy upgrading their lifestyles can’t fathom.”

Then lesson here is that when you get a pay rise, don’t immediately upgrade your lifestyle. Instead, live as you did before and enjoy the freedom that comes with a lack of worry. It will make you happier than any shiny new toy.

Notes on Note-taking

As a personal-development nut, I am an avid note-taker. I have taken notes on all kinds of stuff for years. The thing is, I’ve never had a comprehensive organisation system for storing them. Sometimes I write in notebooks, sometimes in “me-mails,” and most often in the notes app on my phone. The problem with this approach is that I never remember where I have saved something. Most of these storage locations are black holes that I never look in, so the information I capture never gets seen again.

That has all changed since I stumbled across Tiago Forte’s simple, super-effective PARA note organisation system. With this digital system (sorry, handwriting fans), you commit to using a single note-taking app for all your notes, which you organise into four sections:

Projects (time-bound activities with defined outcomes)
Areas (ongoing aspects of your life)
Reference (self-explanatory)
Archive (information relating to completed projects that you don’t want to lose)

You keep a separate digital notebook for each aspect of your life, which you file within one of these four sections, then you create individual notes in the relevant notebook for different topics as required.

For example, I have a Lifecamp notebook filed under Projects, which contains an individual note for each issue. Once I publish an issue, I move the corresponding note to the archive section.

The beauty of the system is its simplicity and flexibility. It can cover all aspects of your life and elegantly separates information based on its time sensitivity. This is great because you don’t have to waste time searching through old notes to find current information.

For more detail on setting up the PARA system for yourself, read parts one and three of Tiago’s five-part series. (The other three parts are behind a paywall, but the two free articles will be enough for you to get started.)

To make the best use of the system, you want to write your notes in a format that makes them easy to discover and digest. For guidance on that, Tiago also has some free articles on his progressive summarization technique, which keeps your note-taking efficient and tidy.

I have set my PARA system up in Evernote (which seems to be the perfect tool for the job) and have spent most of the last month transferring notes from various sources over to it. It’s a game-changer that is making it much easier for me to find things and link related ideas together.

One of the most useful things I’ve done since implementing the system is starting a Today I Learned note. I use it to record something new I have learned each day. The benefits are two-fold. I am more incentivised to learn because I want to add a daily entry to the note, and the learning that I capture will be easy for me to go back and find when I need it.

Try it out. It’s a simple system that is harder to explain than it is to set up, but Tiago’s articles make it easy to grasp. If you are interested in self-improvement and knowledge capture, it is super-valuable.

Book of the Month

Susan Cain’s Quiet sat unread on my shelf for years. Every time I saw it, I would think, “how interesting can a book on introversion be?” The answer, it turns out, is “very.” Cain makes a case for what she calls “the power of introverts,” challenging common misconceptions such as introverts being shy or uninterested in people. It turns out that’s not the case. They just prefer lower levels of stimulation.

Interestingly, there’s a cultural component to this, with Asian cultures being more introverted than Western society. Because Western culture is extroverted, introverts are sometimes perceived as being subnormal. In reality, the human race is split roughly evenly between personality types at both ends of the spectrum. Quiet shines a light on what makes introverts tick and where they have an edge over extroverts. It’s essential reading for any introvert and valuable reading for extroverts, too, making it a fitting read for anybody in our current socially restricted circumstances.

The Power of Specificity

The other day, a video of MMA star Conor McGregor sparring in preparation for his most recent fight was released on YouTube. The thing that makes it interesting is that it shows him preparing for the fight by acting out the exact sequence of events that ultimately played out and gave him victory. Every detail, from how he enters the cage before the fight onwards, is rehearsed with precision.

Why is this interesting? Because it gives an insight into the mind of a champion and what is involved in preparing for high-level performance. The footage shows hows Conor executes a form of visualisation in granular detail to prepare for showtime. Visualisation is a powerful technique for personal effectiveness and performance, which is often misunderstood. Many people dismiss it as merely imagining what you want to happen ahead of time, then expecting this best-case scenario to somehow unfold as you hoped for.

That’s about as far from how visualisation works as you can get. There’s no magic process that can turn your imagination into reality. For the technique to be effective, you need to run through every detail in a given scenario ahead of time and explore every potential problem you will encounter. That way, you can anticipate everything that may you may face, devise a way to overcome it, and know how you’re going to react if it happens in the moment.

Effective visualisation is all about acknowledging everything that could possibly go wrong in a given situation and proactively solving those problems ahead of time. It is about scenario planning and preparation, and it requires you to think things through realistically and with incredible attention to detail. The more detailed and specific your thinking, the higher your chances of success on the day.

This concept doesn’t just apply to sports performance; it can help you in many areas of your life. By planning in detail for scenarios such as a job interview, a date, or teaching a class, you are no longer relying on luck or hope to get you through. The clarity that comes from this detailed thinking will give you the confidence to step into the void, take control, and actively deal with whatever comes your way.

The power of thinking in detail goes further than visualisation. Focusing on specifics improves the quality of our thinking, which brings us clarity and deeper understanding. Where you are vague in your thinking, you will struggle to be effective. Where you are detailed in your thinking, you will be better prepared, have greater control, and execute to a higher standard as a result.

Think of an area in your life where you underperform. There is a fair chance your thinking in that area lacks detail. Often we are vague in our thinking because something is new to us. That makes sense because we don’t know enough about it to think in great detail.

But sometimes we are vague because we want to avoid confronting something that we know will be difficult. Thus, we create a protective barrier and hold ourselves back. If we can identify these situations and push ourselves out of our comfort zone, we can start to think about the specific details we have been avoiding. In this way, we can overcome our fears, move past the barriers we create for ourselves, and experience profound breakthroughs.

Thinking about where you are being vague in your life and where you can be specific is a valuable exercise, so I’ll leave you to ponder this:

In the areas of your life you consider to be important but your thinking is vague, what is holding you back from focusing in more detail and being more specific?

If you can identify something, acknowledge it, and make a plan for dealing with it. It may be hard, or it may be easy, but it will definitely be rewarding.

Final thought

Here’s a fitting quote to finish with:

“Life punishes the vague wish and rewards the specific ask.”  – Tim Ferriss

Until next time, be kind to yourself,