Here are SIX things I learned, thought were interesting, or found useful.
You Are What You Pay Attention To
After five years of investigating the role that attention—what we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore—plays in quality of life, Winifred Gallagher was convinced: “the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.” Converging at the edge of insights from neuroscience and psychology, anthropology and behavioral economics, family counseling and education, Gallagher writes in Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, is her grand unified theory: “your life—who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.” (File next to or below: Pay Attention To What You Pay Attention To).
They Started With Shit
The great screenwriter, director, and novelist Peter Farrelly was asked if he gets writer’s block. “No,” he said, “my natural state is writer’s block. Every day, I sit down and go, ‘f*ck, I got nothing.’ But I always say, ‘I’d rather write shit than nothing.’ Because with shit, you got something to work with. You make it less shitty and then not horrible and then decent and then pretty good and then good and then very good and then excellent. But you gotta start with shit.” Everyone does. “When you read a book or a screenplay and you think, ‘Wow, I could never do this.’ Well don’t forget: that person didn’t start with that. They started with shit—that they fixed and fixed and fixed and fixed and fixed and fixed and fixed and fixed and fixed and fixed and fixed and fixed…until it’s decent.”
Get Comfortable with the Anxiety
Speaking of how great artists begin, Bruce Springsteen once talked about how he—some six decades into making music—still doesn’t really know how he does it. “I know [an album] will come along at some point. I don’t know how or when. I guess the best way to explain it is I’m comfortable with the anxiety…It’s sort of like, you start your car and it runs—oh great. Then you start your car, it runs for a half an hour then breaks down, doesn’t run for 2 weeks. Every day, you try to start it again—*makes sound of car trying to turn over*—nothing. Again—*makes sound of car trying to turn over*—nothing. Records are made like that…It’s simply not predictable. And you have to get used to withstanding that anxiety, and you have to get comfortable with it.”
The Common Denominator of Success
At the National Association of Life Underwriters annual convention in 1940, a man named Albert Gray delivered a speech titled “The Common Denominator of Success.” Gray began looking for the common denominator years earlier when he became a supervisor. For the first time, he had a team of people under him, each trying to achieve success. “I was brought face to face,” Gray said, “with the disturbing realization that I was trying to supervise and direct [their] efforts…without knowing myself what the secret of success really was.” So he voyaged through biographies and autobiographies, dissertations and the latest research. “The common denominator of success,” Gray came to understand, “the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful—lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.” What are the things that failures don’t like to do? “The very things that you and I and other human beings, including successful men, naturally don’t like to do. In other words, we’ve got to realize right from the start that success is something which is achieved by the minority of men, and is therefore unnatural and not to be achieved by following our natural likes and dislikes nor by being guided by our natural preferences and prejudices.” You’ve probably wondered, Gray continues, why it is that those who are the best at what they do seem to like to do the things that you don’t like to do. “They don’t! … then why do they do them? Because by doing the things they don’t like to do, they can accomplish the things they want to accomplish.”
If You’re Not Happy With The Story, Tell Yourself Another Story.
In the late 70s, Seth Godin was miserable. “I had a narrative in my head,” he said, “that things weren’t working and every time something didn’t work, I would go, ‘ah, see, there it goes again.’” The world had it out for him. At least, that’s what the voice in his head kept telling him. Around this time, he drove from Boston to North Carolina to visit his sister. He did a ride-share, and the person that rode with him was depressive. For some eleven hours, the two unhappy copilots talked. When they finally made it to North Carolina, Seth was exhausted—mentally, physically, emotionally. His sister got him settled in then left him to go hang out with her friends. Seth went for a walk around Duke, where his sister was a student. In the middle of campus, there was a used book sale. There, for $2, he bought The Book of EST. “On every single page of this book,” he said, “without a doubt, there is nonsense. The theories—nonsense. The approaches—manipulative. I am not standing behind 96% of the things that are in this book.” The other 4%—they changed Seth’s life. Indeed, he considers The Book of Est the first of his three all-time most formative books. “I am not exaggerating—my life changed that day.” He said the book did the only thing a good ‘self-help’ book can do: it opened the door. It didn’t fix him. It turned on the lights. It showed him how to fix himself. It made him realize, “You know what, your problem isn’t the outside world. Your problem is the story you’re telling yourself about the outside world. And that story is a choice. If you’re not happy with the story, tell yourself another story. Period. That simple.”
Passion is the Enemy
In Abraham Lincoln’s 1838 Lyceum Address, listeners were eager to hear what he had to say about the recent mob violence in Alton, Illinois. A proslavery mob killed the editor of an abolitionist paper then threw his printing presses into the river. Lincoln didn’t say anything directly about the Alton riot. “Though Lincoln deplored the Alton riot,” biographer David Herbert Donald writes, “he also implicitly censured [the editor’s] abolitionist agitation.” Both sides, Lincoln believed, were acting from “unbridled passions.” And of all reform movements, what Lincoln deplored was uncontrolled emotion. “Passion,” he concluded the Lyceum address, “will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense.. [Then] as truly as has been said…’the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’”