Practicing “Boredom”

I’ve always loathed boredom. Any time I heard a friend say “I’m bored”, I’ve always felt sorry for them. My response would be, “How does that even work? Find something to learn. Find something to create. It’s the 21st century, and you have a smart phone; the entire world is at your fingertips. How can you possibly be bored?” I can’t remember a single time in the last several years when I’ve truly felt “bored”. If my day is at a lull, I can turn on a podcast, quiz myself on something I’m learning using Quizlet, or browse the vast void of the Internet for various learning topics (recent favorites: Church history, population density around the world, and differing perspectives on what sidewalks should be made of). One of my favorite go-to spots when things are slow is TED.com. I recently listened to a talk by Manoush Zomorodi called “How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas”. The premise is that the human mind solves problems subconsciously, and it does that best when it’s given long periods of quiet time. During times that we might normally get a sense of “boredom”, such as while folding laundry or sitting in a waiting room outside an office, the mind might actually be working productively in ways that it otherwise can’t. Zomorodi suggests that these quiet times should actually be sought out. This is contrasted with the nonstop “busyness” produced by constant connection: You have five seconds before your webpage loads, so you check your email; you’re standing in line for 10 minutes, so you watch a video; basically your brain...

Metro-Surfing and Integrity

Metro Surfing and Integrity In accord with my boredom practice, I spent a week riding the New York City subways without the blessing of books or podcasts. This forced me to observe only my surroundings. It’s a good thing there are so many interesting things to observe on the trains. One of my favorite things to do on a train is watch the train car in front of me. It’s very handy for “train surfing”: the practice of standing without holding on to anything, trying not to fall over or lose your balance. This is often a very difficult task, as the trains sometimes take very dramatic turns and practically always start and stop at a drastic pace. Of course, I’ve found a workaround. If I watch the car in front of me, I can predict whether the train is suddenly turning left or right. It’s simple: As soon as I see the next car jerk to the left, I lean to my left. If it jerks to the right, I lean to my right. I like to think it makes me look like a pro on the subway. But there’s something else that I learned years ago about watching the car in front of me. Something very strange unless you realize what’s going on. The next car always looks MUCH more shaky than the one I’m in. Every train car shakes around a bit as it moves. The tracks aren’t perfectly smooth, and I can feel a slight bouncing all the time. But the train car in front of me always looks twice as shaky and bouncy as...
Take Pride In This

Take Pride In This

“Why should I take a bath? I’m just going to get dirty again…” “Why should I brush my teeth? I’m just going to eat again…” “Why should I comb my hair? It’s just going to get messed up again…” “I’d rather be efficient than hygienic.” – Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) Today I’m going to present two things. First, a confession about the state of my life in 2016. Second, a revelation I had while standing on a diving board in suburban Oklahoma. The Confession So, what I have to say is very embarrassing, but I have to make it public. It’s related to the fact that I haven’t posted a blog post since March. And the fact that I haven’t published a podcast episode since May. And the fact that I’m overdue turning in my manuscripts for two books. Basically, I’ve spent the latter half of 2016 spiraling into a disgraceful state of indolence. I’ve created very little, I’ve worked very little, and I’ve spent very little effort on improving myself. Besides castigating myself with guilt, I’ve spent a lot of my time trying to escape from reality, either in games, in social activities, or in sleeping in until 11am more often than I want to admit. Sloth is a vice. And it’s one of the most painfully guilt-sustaining vices that exist, because the more you feed it, the harder it is to take any kind of action against it. When you’ve habitually become lazy, you fall into this kind of trap: The most frustrating thing is the guilt that’s actually attached to productivity. Sometimes thinking about being productive makes...
Which popular songs to learn? (The quest for relevance.)

Which popular songs to learn? (The quest for relevance.)

I consider myself a person of high tastes. My favorite musical “artists” are Maurice Ravel, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Johannes Brahms. Until two years ago, I basically knew no popular music whatsoever. In fact, I think I took a strange sort of pride in my inability to recognize a single song on the radio or any music at a social gathering. That’s changed recently. Without sacrificing my tastes, I’m very interested in expanding my knowledge, both to broaden my perspective and for practical purposes. But that doesn’t mean I’ll just turn on the radio and listen to whatever comes on. Instead, I’m interested in applying the 80/20 rule to optimize my time and efforts for best results. What “results” am I looking for? I want to be able to do the following: Recognize songs I hear in social settings. Sing and dance to the music playing at a party. Hold an intelligent conversation about current songs/artists. With 1000s of songs in common use, I clearly can’t learn them all. So let’s prioritize and learn just the few that I’m most likely to hear a lot of the time. Here are a few tricks for finding those songs using objective measures. Method 1: Best selling singles. When I first set out to prioritize the “most popular” songs, I simply started listening to all the best-selling singles of all time. There are only about 80 songs that have sold more than 10 million copies, and you can find them listed at this Wikipedia page: Best-selling singles of all time You’ve almost definitely never heard of some of these songs because so many are from a different age...
Deprivation and Deferment: When Hunger Feels Great

Deprivation and Deferment: When Hunger Feels Great

Sometimes hunger feels great. Right now I’m on a Greyhound on my way from Phoenix to San Diego, smiling as my stomach rumbles to the rhythm of the wild west’s bumpy highways. My triumph: Not giving in and buying a second breakfast at the bus station. My meager morning meal of four boiled eggs, which I scarfed down at the apartment a few hours ago, will have to last me to lunch. Sure, I hadn’t planned perfectly well; I probably should have prepared to eat more this morning before traveling. But there’s bigger, better planning that’s winning out: My system for staying in complete control of what I spend and what I eat from day to day. I’ll explain that system soon, but first, let’s go over a strange concept I ran across recently. Is there pleasure in *not* indulging? This Monday I walked 3 miles in Phoenix carrying a load of laundry, 4 dress shirts, and a 15-pound computer satchel. It was a necessary evil. My clothes had to be cleaned before I left for San Diego, and I was staying at an apartment that was a few miles away from a laundromat. My best transportation option was the “light rail”, which still required nearly 2 miles of walking in each direction. Rationally, I DID have another option: Uber. I could have called an UberX at the laundromat, which would have gotten me home quickly in an air-conditioned car. No need to carry four hanging shirts and 20 pounds of baggage in my hands. Why did I choose to spend an extra 1-2 hours on foot and on...