Monthly Archives: July 2020

Ways to get smarter

In this post, we’ll have a quick discussion on a few ways to get smarter.

Being smart is one of the most important advantages one can have in life. The more of this half gift, half-hard work required trait, the more problems you can solve. Not only that but you can do so better. Finding the most optimal solutions for the challenges of life might be a requirement if you want to achieve your goals in life. Well, that and a bit of luck of course. Anyway, the problem with intelligence is that most think they know what it is and even claim to understand it, but the closer scientists look at it the more perplexed they get. At the time of this writing there are lots of hypotheses on what intelligence really is, but no unanimous agreement on the definition.

Luckily for us unlike many things in life, the fact that we don’t understand intelligence fully, or what it means to be smart doesn’t prevent us from improving it in ourselves

Ways to get smarter

If you are like many chances are that you believe that you’re either smart/intelligent or not. You might think it’s all genetic and if you don’t feel smart or perform well on cognitively demanding tasks that means you will never be able to do so. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Read the tips below and see how.

It all begins in the brain

Any strategy you employ to improve your cognitive abilities will invariably be about causing a physical change in your brain. The assumption is that the physical change causes noticeably positive effects one of them being the ability to think, solving problems better, and even mood.

Assume also that at different times you’re likely to have a more or less optimal brain and when you’re in a suboptimal state your job is to bring yourself to optimality instead of assuming you just don’t have the gift of a good brain.

Food and nutrition

The first tip is the most basic and yet one of the most important. You should make sure you’re in good health and well-nourished. This might sound obvious to you, but in an age in which burning yourself out for the sake of your goals and dreams is a badge of honor, it’s easy to assume that worrying about your health and nutrition is for lazy or weak people who are not determined. We call them weak-willed.

Realize that undernourishment and poor health affect the body negatively as a whole, and the brain is a part of the body. Believe that if you do negative things to your body it will sooner or later affect your brain.

You will likely feel less intelligent at the moment and will likely incorrectly assume you’re not smart/intelligent in general. You’ve just made the classic mistake of taking a local phenomenon and label it as global. Getting your health in order will make the next few tips more effective since you now have nothing pulling you down.

Study after school

The next tip is to get into the habit of studying. What I mean by studying after school is to keep on trying to learn new things even after you stop going to school. It has been shown by research that the more intellectually active you are throughout your life the lesser the chances of you getting many of the common cognitive diseases that usually come with old age. Like a muscle the brain works under the “use it or lose it policy”. The more you learn the more the brain has to adapt to an environment in which constant learning is the norm, and it gets better/smarter on the process.

There is also the fact that the more you know about things the better you can learn and think about new things. You can think better because you have more raw material to think about.

Don’t believe it? Just make the commitment to read 1 book a week for a year and see how much smarter you’ll feel after. Another benefit of studying constantly is that you’ll eventually see people who seem smart and with a wealth of knowledge for what they are. It will be more difficult for you to fall for people who pretend to know something when they really don’t. The reason for this is that when you fake knowledge you’re likely to make mistakes along the way when you explain yourself. You’re likely to make statements that happen to be inconsistent with reality. While most people find this new charlatan a genius, you’ll be on the background counting the many ways the person on the stage is wrong.

Consider taking nootropics

The next tip might be a bit controversion but still a powerful tool nonetheless. Nootropics are supplements or drugs whose purpose is to improve cognition. There are many kinds out there that affect everything from memory and speed of processing to mood and motivation. The assumption is that it’s not enough for the drug to have a positive effect on the mind. It must also make the brain somewhat better in general. This is why drugs like weed or alcohol are not considered nootropics. They might make you feel more creative and socially better, but they have reported negative effects on the brain and the body.

The problem is that for some of them there is little research, while others are just illegal in some countries. The good thing is that there is a gigantic community of nootropic users out there who can give all kinds of advice from what to take when, what to stack with what to have the desired effect. What is safe to take in the long term and the dosages. So when you know what kind of effect you want these are the steps to take:

  1. Google “nootropics for [the desired effect]”
  2. Look for info safety and side effects
  3. Look for info on time of the day
  4. Look for info on legality in your country
  5. Look for info on cycling

Like most compounds we take, the human brain tends to adapt to compensate for reducing the effects as a result. Just think of what happens when you drink caffeine for a while. Eventually, the current dosage doesn’t produce the same effects does it? The reason for this is tolerance. So in order to benefit from caffeine, it’s recommended to cycle on and off of it. Meaning that instead of drinking coffee every day, try drinking 3 days on and 1 off for example. The same idea applies to nootropics in general, although some do more than just changing your neurochemistry. They might make physical changes in the brain that last after it wears off, one example is Uridine monophosphate.

Play the right games

PLaying games need not always be a waste of time. There are some games out there designed and proven to improve cognition. One of them is called dualNback and it exists as an app for both iPhone android devices. This app has been proven to improve working memory and for this reason, it’s the first one I recommend you to try. There are lots of apps/games that claim to make you the next Einstein. Lots of them want nothing more than either your money if you have to pay for them or your advertising dollars if they’re free.

So before you start spending days or weeks playing a game that supposedly improves your cognition, take some time to look for research backing their claims. Look for reviews. There are youtube channels out there that do 30-day tests on these apps where the host takes a cognitive test before and after to see if it really had a positive impact.

Spend time around smart people

The next tip is to spend time around smart people. We tend to gravitate around people who are just as less smart than we are. Whether we do it to stroke our ego or to protect it the effect is the same: we gain a false sense of confidence in our own intelligence. It’s easier to believe we’re the smartest on the planet when our peers are unable to challenge us intellectually.

When you spend time around smart people, especially if they are smarter than you are two things happen:

  1. You feel uncomfortable because you just found out how much you don’t know.
  2. You’re forced to know what you know you don’t know by peer pressure.

The point is to not let the discomfort prevent you from spending time around smart people and learning. You have to realize that the most important thing is to learn what you have to learn once, not multiple times because you weren’t paying attention or where in denial.

Summary

At the end of the day being smarter is more a function of mindset. If you believe you’re not and you are cursed to never improving it that what will happen. The solution is to always have a growth mindset regardless of what people say.

It’s all about knowledge and experience πŸ˜‰

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How to start writing

In this post, you’ll get a few tips on how to start writing.

Writing can be one of the most challenging and at the same time rewarding tasks in life. When you’re in flow words pour out and almost by magic, you manage to convey the ideas you have in your brain with the utmost accuracy to the brains of the readers. This is assuming of course that your ideas are in order and you know what you want to write about, which is by itself another impossible part of this already impossible task.

When you’re not in flow, on the other hand, the difficulty can be excruciating, so much so that even the greatest writers fear the mystical 7 headed monster that goes by the name of “writer’s block”. Most people spend most of the time in the second state, and this time producing nothing you can be proud of increases/decreases in proportion to the skill level of the writer.

At the end of the day, this struggle can be deadly to the writing process, and people who could produce something of value quit, incorrectly assuming they can’t write. 

How to start writing

Depending on your predisposition, writing can be more or less difficult, but definitely not impossible. If you want to know how to start writing interesting things below are a few tips.

Know what you’re writing about

The first and most important thing is to know exactly what you’re writing about if you can. The reason why I say “if you can” is that sometimes the subject of the writing is not clear/known. In this case, the first step is to try to figure out the subject.

When you know what you want but not how to go about it

If you know what you want to write about and don’t know how to go about it, the easiest way to do it is to identify the kind of writing and look for a skeleton version of what you’re trying to emulate. If no apparent skeleton exists you’ll certainly find one by reading a few pieces of work on the genre. Eventually, something resembling a skeleton will surface even if you can’t quite put it to words what that skeleton might be. The most important thing is that you have something resembling a guideline on how to write what you want to write about.

When you don’t know the subject yet

If you’re struggling to find the topic here is one tip, and more can be found later on “Tips to get new ideas”. Do what goes by the name of free writing. The idea is to write for a set period of time whatever comes to mind without worrying about the logical structure or topic. Just write whatever comes to mind.

Once you’re done you’ll likely find one or more overarching and maybe repetitive topics and you may or may not use one of them for the more serious writing. You can repeat the process until you find a topic you’re interested in exploring.

Writing with clarity

The next important thing in the writing process is to do so with clarity. You might know what you want to write about and even be able to write as much as you want but that doesn’t mean that what you produce will be enjoyed by the readers. So, to make a piece of writing interesting to read it’s important to learn to write so that your readers can enjoy and understand what you wrote. The important thing to keep in mind is that just because you understand what you wrote doesn’t mean the readers will and if they have trouble understanding the reading they will likely abandon it. This is especially true today, where anything long and difficult is ignored for anything short and easy to read and understand.

One way to improve clarity is to remove as much content as you can while retaining the original meaning. This is similar to the idea of minimalism, where you try to remove as much clutter and unnecessary items from your life, and limit yourself to only the set of items you really need and love. The difference is that instead of things you strip the writing out of any unnecessary extra words and from what’s left you try to replace any word that might require the reader to use a dictionary.

What’s left is something most people can read and understand with ease. If your ideas carry some inherent value, now the fact that they can get them easily increases the chance that the writing becomes more widespread.

So as a general rule, writing can be more powerfully done if you have something of value to say. You can be the most well-versed person on the planet, and produce enough writing to fill entire libraries, but what will finally make your writing memorable is the extent to which the ideas in it touch people’s lives. In essence,  empty writing can be forgotten after a few youtube videos, no matter how beautiful. Ideas, on the other hand, are remembered for a lifetime.

Tips to get new ideas

To write we need ideas to work with, but how do you get them? Below are a few ideas.

  1. Read more

One of my main sources of ideas is books. I realized over time that the more you read/educate yourself, the more you can talk about. You essentially have more intellectual resources from which you can draw new conclusions and discover undiscovered truths.

By reading more you also get to judge your content better. Instead of being plagued by the tendency to think that your creation is great because you created it, you get to judge it with the many truths you have in your head as a tool.

2. Write more

The next tip is simple. Write more. Write often. Write about anything and let your mind go where it wants to go. Another thing I realized over time was that the more frequently I wrote the easier it became to write more. You never know beforehand what kinds of ideas you’ll have but there seems to be something about writing frequently that makes the brain more primed to keep writing frequently.

Eventually with reading and writing more original ideas begin to come to you randomly, and it’s from these random ideas that new pieces of writing emerge. Before you were struggling to put words together to make a sentence, and now a full piece comes to mind, and all you have to do is to write it down. In these moments writing becomes less of a creative process and more of a copy and pasting endeavor, where you copy your thoughts and paste them on paper with the aid of a pen or a keyboard.

How to overcome writer’s block

Writer’s block is one of the scariest walls a writer can go through. You want to create but nothing comes to mind. If something does at all its sentence after sentence of nothing that looks like something. It’s sentence after sentence of nothing you can be proud of.

There are lots of ways to overcome writer’s block here are a few.

  1. Take some time away

The #1 way to overcoming writer’s block is to take a break. Sometimes

taking a break is all you need to get over the block. Often the ideas you’ve been looking for over the past hour or two come to you effortlessly when you take a break. So give it a try.

2. Keep goingΒ 

The next thing that might to the trick is to keep going. I got this tip from the book “The rise of superman” by Steven Kotler. According to the author just before we get into the flow state we go through a phase of struggle. A phase of discomfort that seems to be endless. Although tapping on that flow state might require you to take a break, it might be useful to keep pushing. I’ve certainly had that kind of experience before.

3. Eat something

The third and last tip is to eat something. Sometimes writer’s block is a result of brain fog caused by low blood sugar. I found in the past that it can be easy to be depleted of energy and not being aware of it, especially if you’re the kind of person who is able to use willpower to push through things. Eating something might be just what you need to get into that creative space that allows you to do the kind of writing you want to do.

Summary

Writing like any other skill requires practice. You can read all you want about writing and writing better but the results will only come if you put the tips in practice. The more you write the easier and more enjoyable it will be to write. The easier it will be to come up with sporadic ideas that fuel the kind of writing the world remembers forever.

It is all about knowledge and experience πŸ˜‰

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How to keep momentum in life

In this post, we’ll have a quick discussion on how to keep momentum in life.

We are pleasure-driven animals, som much so that if there were one addiction we could safely attribute to every one of us, that would be the addiction to pleasure. But life as sarcastic as it is, made it so that the greatest pleasures came not from the reckless indulgence of current pleasures but from restraint. We all know we gain more by delaying gratification. From having the perfect body to a healthy bank account restraint from current pleasures seems to be the one universal tactic that promises to get us what we want.

So we begin our journey. We refrain from current pleasures and start new and positive habits. For the first few weeks or even months, we feed on the energy of novelty. We’re motivated and feel as if we could go on forever until we don’t.

How to keep momentum in life

Often by the time we start losing steam we still a long way to go to achieve our goals. We know we have to keep going but the motivation we once had is no more, and quitting on our new routine is far more appealing than the goal we can only see in our minds and even then only on the horizon. We ask: “how do I keep this momentum?”. Below are a few suggestions.

Realize you’re at the low part of the wave

The thing about motivation and addiction is that it comes in waves. When in the highs we think the highs will last forever and the same happens for the lows. We think motivation is a constant when it looks more like what mathematicians would call a sine function with frequent and predictable ups and downs.

One of the reasons why it’s much harder to keep going when we’re at the low end of the curve of motivation is that we think we’ll always be at the low end of the curve. When you realize that eventually, you’ll get back to the high point it suddenly becomes easier to keep going. It becomes easier to keep the momentum going.

Look at how far you’ve come

Another way to keep momentum in life is to pay attention to how far you’ve come since you first started. Often we get too caught up on what we don’t have yet that we falsely conclude we have done nothing.

We feel almost as if we’re still in the starting line when we’re not.

This is why martial arts training can be so compelling. The levels are clearly defined and the sense of progress is concrete. The fuzzy sense of progress can do one of two things:

  1. Make us think we’ve made more progress than we actually did.
  2. Make us think we’ve made less progress than we actually did.

Looking at how far you’ve come can give you a better sense of perspective and maybe even refreshed motivation.

Watch out for the evils of progress

Progress is portrayed as this amazing thing with no negatives but the truth is a bit different. Some of us are more motivated by the struggle of big seemingly unattainable goals than they are for achieving the goals themselves. For this kind of person the closer they are to the goal the more demotivated they get and thus find it harder to keep the momentum going.

This tends to happen with the kind of people who love to take on difficult problems everybody considers to be unsolvable, and once it becomes obvious the problem can be solved they tend to not care about the details.

If you identify with the kind, there is one way to go around this self-sabotaging tendency and that is to increase the difficulty of the problem even if that’s not required. In essence, you trick your mind into thinking that the finish line is further than it actually is. That way you not only achieve your original goal but set yourself up for bigger and better conquests. Whether you actually accomplish this second goal or not is irrelevant. All you care about is the fact that you’ve accomplished your initial goal.

Focus on how much work you have left

There is also the second kind of person who gets more and more motivated the closer they get to the finish line. For them, the beginning is not as motivating and they are more likely to quit in the early stages.

If you identify with the type knowing how you operate alone can be a powerful tool. It’s much easier to push through the early moments in the journey when you know that eventually the desire to keep working will kick in and things will get easier.

One good thing is that each day is a day closer to the state of flow everybody seems to be after these days. Discipline then becomes the one thing you need to reach your goals. Only now you have a rough idea of how long you’ll have to keep that discipline for. For you, the promise land is not when you reach the goal, but someway midway on your journey, since at that point you’ll likely feel all the symptoms associated to people who love what they do with passion, namely: waking up early for work not being so much of a struggle anymore, working long hours being not only easy but addictive, and an overall improved sense of confidence and mood.

Learn to enjoy the process

The next tip is to learn to enjoy the process. I know you might have heard this before but my suggestion is slightly different. When we hear about the idea of enjoying the process we often hear it in the context of loving what you do. It’s always focused on one thing. My suggestion is to learn to enjoy the process regardless of the task. I learned this from the book Obsessed or average by Grant Cardone, where the author brings to light a new way to think about passion. Instead of waiting for the think you’re naturally passionate about, we should try to make a passion out of any action we need to achieve our goals. His example was mastering sales, which was not only not his passion but something he actively disliked.

Eventually, he realized that sales were the key to success for him so he made the commitment to be great at the very thing he hated. The take away here is that the greatest power is not just on finding your passion but to be able to be passionate about anything. When you can create passion you can as a result create and keep the momentum you need. This is how you see people who manage somehow to be and remain successful for years. They are not slaves to their likes. They have the ability to create and maintain interest in whatever they choose to be interested in.

Summary

Momentum is a bolder we have to keep on pushing up. Like with Sisyphus we don’t get a resume button if we let it roll down the hill. The good thing is that the higher we go the easier it becomes to go even higher. The journey gets easier with time.

So the most important thing is really to do as much as you can to keep the ball rolling.

It is all about knowledge and experience πŸ˜‰

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How to get a better sense of direction

In this post, we’ll have a quick discussion on how to get a better sense of direction.

As humans, we are goal-driven animals. From the moment we wake up to the moment we get to bed we’re always in constant pursuit of some goal whether we are aware of it or not. This goal, whatever it may be is what gives us direction. A sense of where to go next. The problem is that although we’re always chasing some goal, sometimes the act of pursuit alone doesn’t give us the confidence that we’re actually going somewhere meaningful. We chase and chase, and just like in a treadmill, we go nowhere. We see the miles piling up on our mental meter but the growing numbers are just that. Numbers.

How to get a better sense of direction

This post will take you on a ride on how to get a better sense of direction. Most of what we will talk about is likely familiar to you, in which case it will serve as either some form of confirmation or mental refresh. You should also keep in mind what Jim Rohn said once: “there are no new truths”, since it’s easy to conclude that the read was fruitless because you already knew all that was taught. It might be the case that you already know all you need. It might be the case that you have all the tools to bring the change you need. Below are a few ideas.

Understand yourself

The first and most important thing is to know and understand yourself. Often enough we follow paths other people set for us without realizing that’s what we’re doing. We think our beliefs and desires are original and as a result, find it difficult to understand why we feel so lost.

Understanding yourself requires doing the same thing Rene Descartes did when he wanted to know what kinds of knowledge he could know without a shadow of a doubt: question every assumption. Try to trace all desires/interests you might have down to its roots, and if you can’t find any reason for why you like what you like other than “just because”, it might be a sign that you found something unique to you.

There are also cases in which we adopt what other people bring to our lives and we would be doing ourselves a disservice to remove them just because the ideas are not original to us. So the question then becomes “when should I reject that which doesn’t come from other people and when should I not”. The simplest answer is to accept only that which would make you miserable if you rejected it.

What is your big picture goal?

We all have some sort of end game goal in mind. That thing we want our life to be about, such that if we accomplish/get it life would be essentially over for us even if we managed to live another 50 years after that. I’m talking about your big picture goal.

The big picture is your north star. That which has the power to guide you in the right direction when you feel confused or lost. It’s common for most of us to lose that sense of direction by adopting/taking in more and more goals that we don’t really care about that much. Eventually, we burn out and feel confused. The big picture is a potent filter for a messy todo list. Each time you’re not sure if something matters, the answer lies on the question of whether that something has the power to bring you closer to the big picture.

I found this simple question to bee one of the most powerful I ask myself each day. Often enough we let other people’s agendas creep in, and before we notice it we find ourselves trying very hard to accomplish a goal that’s not even ours. We do it because we’re for whatever reason convinced the goal is ours because the voices within tell us so. The big picture question asks more than what is the highest goal on our list, but on some level also what that goal is for us. We don’t ask what is our parent’s or peers’ big picture goal, but ours. “What is my big picture goal?”

This question requires us to remove anything minor/irrelevant including that which is not a part of our personal agenda.

Develop a plan

Another reason why we tend to lose our sense of direction is that we don’t have a concrete plan to lead us to the big picture goal. We might have a grip on the big picture, but without a concrete plan, we can be just as lost as we would if we didn’t have a big picture goal in mind. The reason for this is that without a concrete plan we are also likely to get lost trying lots of different things without the confidence at any given action has any remote impact on our grand vision. We can get so lost in aimless action that we lose the sense of what we’re doing it for.

A concrete plan also allows you to get to your destination much more easily. Not only because you know what to do on each step, but because if the plan doesn’t work you can be more methodical about the changes that will allow you to succeed. This methodical approach to things can give you a greater sense of confidence on your ability to design a strategy to achieve your goals. When you fail you know there are many pieces on the plan that could be the ones to blame, and since you have a structured approach you can like a scientist test piece by piece until you find the culprit.

There is another thing that comes with a more structured approach to goal pursuit and that is that when you try and fail 100 times the failures don’t feel so much like failures because now you’re not trying to not fail, you’re trying to find the right combinations of steps that lead you to success. If you fail it doesn’t mean you’re a failure and will never succeed, but that the current combination of steps didn’t work. The difference is so subtle that one might think that both ways of reframing the situation are the same. They’re not.

Try to learn from those who had the same journey you do now and succeeded

Another thing you can do to get a better sense of direction is to look for information from people who accomplished what you’re trying to accomplish. In software development, there is the concept of “Not reinventing the wheel”, which means that we should do our best to use the tools that already exist instead of trying to build/figure out everything from scratch and/or by ourselves. So look for people, books, podcasts that revolve around your Journey and try to soak in as many tips as you can.

The second important point here is to learn from those who succeeded not those who failed. The reason for this is that those who have failed and quit are more likely to discourage you from continuing your journey even though many more have succeeded at it. They are more likely to be bitter and blame “the system”, whichever it may be for their failure, effectively disempowering both themselves and you in the process. This is not to say that those who have succeeded didn’t fail. They likely did and chances are that they succeeded by finding out what they had been doing wrong and fixed it. In psychology, this is called locus of control. The first being external and the last internal. If you don’t know about the topic here’s a post on internal and external locus of control.

Summary

Getting a better sense of direction is not just a way to succeed in life. It is also a way to quiet the inner voices that grow louder and louder as our life becomes more and more chaotic. Directionequals peace and clarity. The more certain you are of where you’re going and how you’re going about it the more you float through life. Suddenly the big picture is neither scary nor a burden, but something you find oddly simple and maybe even easy. The main take away of this post lies not on the individual tips, but their application. Which takes patience and discipline to follow over and over with time. It might sound easy to probe your own big picture goal from time to time but you soon learn to realize how quickly one might find boring to ask the same question over and over again, or how quickly one can just assume the practice is not that useful. So in addition to the procrastination of doing your homework, also comes the constant battle to convince yourself that the homework is good for you.

It is all about knowledge and experience πŸ˜‰

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