Never, ever, take anything for granted.
Yesterday, someone exclaimed that I’m “always trying to change people.”
This hurt since that’s the exact behavior I’ve been trying to change. Giving advice is something I like to do, but I do it more than I’d like and have consciously tried to say less. The comment cut deep because I wished I acted differently.
My reaction got me thinking about the delicate balance between change and acceptance. Yes, some behaviors don’t serve us and changing them would be good. But also, self-fulfillment requires self-acceptance. We need the wisdom to know that we already have everything we need, and that we are okay just as we are.
The balance is hard to strike. Change too much, and the change will never be enough. After all, change is never absolute since tomorrow is unknown. And acceptance is powerful, so long as we don’t conflate acceptance with cynicism, detachment, or resignation.
So I think the dance between change and acceptance needs lightness, an understanding that you’ll miss a few moves, but you’ll never stop dancing.
I used to define quality time as length of time. The more time spent with a loved one, the more I cared about them.
How misguided that was. The quality in “quality time” matters. Merriam-Webster defines quality time as the “time spent giving all of one’s attention to someone who is close.”
Far better to spend 30 minutes fully present with family than to spend 2 hours half-listening while watching YouTube. The time we take for ourselves to be present benefits everyone else. Each interaction we have leaves an imprint on the other person. What imprint do we want to leave?
This weekend, I learned about the propinquity effect, which describes the tendency for relationships to form from the physical or psychological proximity between people or things. For example, you’re more likely to be friends with someone in college if that person lived in your dorm building than if she lived across campus. The more exposure you have to a person or a thing, the more power and influence it has over you.
I learned about the propinquity effect in a lecture series on social media and smartphone use. The speaker described how a central danger with our phones is that at any given moment, our devices are within arms reach. Reach into your pocket to grab your wallet, and what might come out is your iPhone flashing a news notification. The solutions to excessive phone use are simple. Want to cut your phone addiction? Don’t keep it in your pocket. Want less screen time before bed? Leave your phone in another room before you go to sleep. What is near you, influences you.
It made me think about the things that are arms length away from me during the day. If I don’t want it to be my phone, what do I want to have high propinquity? What can I carry with me or place on my desk that would bring inspiration and joy? Maybe a pen and notebook, a photo of a loved one, or a wristband with a message that inspires me. The power my phone has over me is extraordinary. But the propinquity effect can serve me as well. I just need to think through how.
1. Cultivating emptiness is how we gain peace. Once on earth, 22 embodied emptiness, a willingness to see the world without a lens. And without a lens, 22 was no longer trapped; everything was beautiful. Joe was trapped by his failures, defined by who he wasn’t, as opposed to who he was. Terry was defined by his need to be right, ultimately manipulated and used by everyone around him. But it’s easy to knock emptiness. It’s not efficient, nor can it guarantee outcomes. Characters like Terry can impose their will on the world, and it often works. But in the long run, emptiness brings peace. Emptiness creates the conditions for connections, purpose, flow, and wonder. Terry and Joe had a hard time connecting because they imposed their lenses onto everyone else. When 22 as Joe remarks to Dez, Joe’s barber, “I can’t believe you never told me about your life before,” Dez responds, “you never asked.” Look at the world with fresh, empty eyes, and the depth of world reveals itself.
2. Our negative self-talk is the most debilitating thing we experience. When 22 is reliving bad memories, previous comments from Joe are warped and replayed to attack them. Someone may say something bad to us once. But if we replay it in our minds 500 more times, who is really hurting us?
3. Life is our presence to it. The lost souls walk the dark sand because they turned inward, missing the life just in front of their eyes. It’s why they look down instead of ahead.
4. Our life purpose is created not destined. It can be anything. From playing the piano, to witnessing a leaf fall. We are the universe observing itself. We assign the purpose. The objects that 22 gathers — the lollipop, the half eaten bagel, the leaf — all seem infinitely important in 22’s hands. But when Joe puts the items on his piano, they lack spark, they’re not special. It’s not the what that matters, it’s the lens we look at it through. We can attain our dreams, but just as Joe saw after finally playing with Dorothea, it’s just another moment. And if we’re not present to that moment, that meaning fades.
5. We can experience death, rebirth, and redemption right now.
6. Everything is art. Everything we do is art.
Word of the year: Breathe
1. Screens off at 11 PM.
2. Freewrite one page.
3. Meditate 10 minutes.
4. Complete one Yoga with Adriene video.
5. Post one writing.
1. Challenging people in the wrong way entrenches their views.
2. I overestimate what I can do in a day and underestimate what I can do in a month. Days are endless, but months fly by.
3. Relationships are like plants. Nourish them and they grow, neglect them and they wither.
4. Storytelling is powerful. When used incorrectly, it is a weapon.
5. Accept every person exactly as they as are, without trying to change them. This is how people change.
6. Living proactively gains, living reactively drains.
7. Character is defined by a) what we do when no one is watching and b) how we treat those with less.
8. If I ask someone why something is done a certain way and the person responds, “well, it’s always been done this way,” then that something is ripe for change.
9. Anger is a fossil fuel. It’s easy to come by, but it doesn’t last, and it creates collateral damage.
10. Helping other people most helps the helper.
11. Love and compassion are far harder than hate and cynicism. Nurture love and compassion because it is fragile.
12. I need far fewer things than I think. 90% of my possessions are in storage, and I have not thought about them at all.
13. My smartphone uses me and not the other way around.
14. Training my parasympathetic nervous system may be the most important thing I do for my body.
15. A little exercise every day is better than an intense workout every week.
16. Stream of conscious writing, meditation, yoga, paced breathing, and swimming add time to my 24-hour days.
17. Public education is America’s great equalizer.
18. Humans are far more flexible and resilient than we give ourselves credit for.
19. What I resist, persists.
20. Life is other people.
I feel like everyone’s “favorite books of 2020” list is just a list of the books that person read in 2020. So I’ll spare you the word “favorite” and go right to the list. Here are the books I finished in 2020, as well as the ones I am still reading. Please don’t be alarmed by the second list. There’s nothing I love more than reading many different books at the same time.
Books I Read In 2020
Awareness by Anthony de Mello – A short book of many two- or three-page chapters, all exploring the importance of accepting every moment of your life, just as it is. I know I’ll return to this book later in life because of the questions it raises. I’ve journaled more about this book than any other I’ve ever read. One memorable quote: “If you have inner peace, you act, but you act as a surgeon and skilled teacher would. But if you swing into action with your own hatred, you’ve compounded the error.”
Loving What Is by Byron Katie – An impactful book to unpack the thought patterns that inhibit us. The book is largely a series of interviews with the author, as she helps people work through her four questions for debilitating thoughts: 1) Is it true, 2) Can you absolutely know it’s true? 3) How do you react and what happens when you believe that thought? and 4) Who would you be without that thought? This book is the reason why my relationships with family and friends have improved in 2020. One memorable quote: “I realized that I could be right, or I could be free.”
Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holliday – Written simply and crisply, each chapter is a perfect prescription for a more centered and fulfilled mind, body, and soul. One memorable quote: “It’s human being, not human doing for a reason.”
The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind by Justin Driver – A thorough historical and legal account of constitutional law in public education. Professor Driver’s course The Constitution Goes to School was excellent, and I used this book for a course I co-taught on the subject of teaching constitutional law in high schools. The history of public education is a history of America.
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – A must-read to understand the cognitive biases that plague human reasoning. A core takeaway is that what we see is all we know. Recognize this bias, catch your impulsive brain in action, and slow down. Deliberate thinking and statistical reasoning are unnatural for a reason, and this book brilliantly explains why and what we should do in response.
Books I’m Reading Now
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Heart Breath Mind by Leah Lagos
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy by Philip Ivanhoe and Bryan W. Van Norden
Solitary by Albert Woodfox
Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (translation by Stephen Mitchell)
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When To Quit (And When To Stick) by Seth Godin
The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander
The Path by Michael Puett
The Path To Power by Robert Caro
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
The Practice by Seth Godin
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke
The iPhone alarm may be the worst noise ever created. The alarm is always louder, more annoying, and harder to turn off than I expect. But I’ve found something that may finally replace it, an item that has brought some joy to my timekeeping: hourglasses.
Most activities that I use timers for have a time limit, but not a time maximum. I use timers to make sure I meditate for 10 minutes, read for 15 minutes, or write for 30 minutes. I don’t care if I do it longer, just that the minimum time is reached. Hourglasses (which come in different time increments) are perfect because they only tell me when I’m done. No sand left, no problem. I can always keep going if I want, just like I do when I play Taboo. There’s something satisfying about turning over a 15-minute hourglass, reading, noticing the sand run out, and getting back to my book without being interrupted. While phone timers and computer clocks distract and break my concentration, going tech-free feels wonderful.
So try the hourglass method. Get glasses with small time increments as you try to build habits, so you can always go longer. And most importantly, please change that iPhone alarm sound.
I like spoilers. Or at least I don’t dislike when something is spoiled for me. I may be alone in this view, but:
1. A Wikipedia article should never ruin my experience of anything.
2. Knowing what happens allows my mind to focus on the cinematic language, instead of making predictions. Spoilers ground me in what is happening as opposed to projections of a future that may not come true.
3. While I may lose a bit of the shock that comes from a twist, the emotional moments will still hit. It’s not about what happens to Romeo and Juliet, but how it happens. I get emotional during Death of a Salesman, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Coco even though I know what happens in all of them. The fact that we rewatch anything is evidence that emotions comes from the artistry, not the plot points.
4. Caring about plot outcomes changes the medium into a sport. We may only watch a football team for the fantasy stats or to see if our favorite team won. But applying this viewpoint to movies, TV shows, and books destroys their artistry. There’s a reason why we don’t rewatch NBA regular season games from 1972 and why people still discuss The Godfather nearly 30 years since it premiered.
5. Movies with twists are often better the second time I watch them, so why not skip that first viewing entirely. Shutter Island and basically every Christopher Nolan movie prove this point. No longer disoriented by what I am seeing, I can focus on the characters, soundtrack, set details, and dialogue. I can focus on what matters.