Inspiration from Brad Stevens, Dolores O’Riordan, Steno Pads, and More

Once a month (or so), I share a dozen things that have inspired me to greater personal, professional, and financial success in my life. I hope they bring similar success to your life.

1. Jim Rohn on discipline and regret

“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is the pain of discipline weighs ounces while the pain of regret weighs tons.” – Jim Rohn

Lately, my exercise routine has been far more regular than it has been since … I was in college, maybe? What changed?

For me, the shift was in asking myself a single question each day. I’d see exercise on my to-do list, and I’d ask myself: “This might not be fun, but what will my life be like if I don’t do this and don’t keep up my exercise routine? Do I want that life? How does the misery of that life compare to the misery of a little workout?”

Thinking about exercise in that way is doing wonders for pushing me toward doing it. I joined a local taekwondo class with my family and I think about those questions before every class. I think about it when I practice and train for it at home, too, as I’ve adopted some home bodyweight exercises and kicking drills that supplement the class.

Is the loss in quality of my life really worth the small cost of working out today?

You can put this in almost any context you like in which you’re trying to make a hard change in your life. Is the difficulty of this little choice right now worth the life I’d have if I don’t commit to this choice?

You can apply it to smoking. You can apply it to drinking. You can apply it to uncontrolled spending. You can apply it to studying.

It’s discipline, and it’s really powerful.

2. Lisa Feldman Barrett on how you aren’t at the mercy of your emotions because your brain creates them

From the description:

Can you look at someone’s face and know what they’re feeling? Does everyone experience happiness, sadness and anxiety the same way? What are emotions anyway? For the past 25 years, psychology professor Lisa Feldman Barrett has mapped facial expressions, scanned brains and analyzed hundreds of physiology studies to understand what emotions really are. She shares the results of her exhaustive research — and explains how we may have more control over our emotions than we think.

One big pattern I’ve noticed lately is that science is catching up to a lot of precepts that one finds in ancient philosophies like stoicism and Buddhism. Those philosophies, and the practices around them like self-reflection and meditation, are being shown to be helpful in improving a person’s mental and physical health.

When I watched this video, I couldn’t help but think about stoicism. Stoicism has been around for thousands of years. It’s the idea that it’s okay to feel emotions, but that you should observe them and reflect on them and not necessarily act on them, because acting on them is often a mistake in the moment (think about an angry person raging, or a person splurging on impulse).

For some people, that seems really hard, but it turns out that science is uncovering that our brains really are equipped to do those things if we just cultivate it a little. Being able to keep our mouths shut and our faces and bodies calm in an emotionally charged situation can be incredibly valuable and our bodies and minds already know how to do this.

3. Brad Stevens on little things

“When considering the consequences of not doing the little things, you realize there are no little things.” – Brad Stevens

The important factor isn’t whether something is a “big” thing or a “small” thing, but whether or not something actually matters or doesn’t matter to the thing you’re trying to achieve.

For example, tying your shoes before playing basketball is unquestionably a quick and seemingly minor task, but it actually matters to your ability to play, so it’s not a little thing at all.

Often, we keep practicing life routines that are filled with all kinds of pieces that don’t matter, both big and small, along with some that do matter, also big and small.

Our goal in living a successful life isn’t to “not sweat the small stuff,” but to toss out all of the big stuff and small stuff that actually doesn’t matter in terms of what we want from life, and then give respect and focus to the true things that remain, even if it’s something as simple as tying our shoes.

4. Brain.fm

Brain.fm is a service that provides procedurally generated ambient music that’s intended to amplify a person’s ability to focus, meditate, relax, or sleep by producing music at a rhythm and beat that’s in line with the brain waves that naturally occur in your brain when you focus, meditate, relax, or sleep.

I have been using Brain.fm quite a lot for focusing (while working or reading) and when meditating and I’ve found it makes a tremendous difference. I just turn it on for an hour or two when I sit down to write or to outline posts, or I turn it on for fifteen minutes while just concentrating on the breath, and I find it makes a tremendous difference in the quality of both experiences. I haven’t used it for relaxation (I like to listen to podcasts when relaxing) or sleep (I like silence) yet.

For me, I find that I have to play it fairly loudly for it to really start having a positive effect. Quiet playback seems to have very little positive effect, but if I feel like the room is nearly awash in the sound, it seems to flip some switch in my head.

I recommend giving it a serious shot. Brain.fm provides a nice trial package that you can use for free to see if it works for you. I’ve found that it works tremendously well for me.

5. Seneca on daily review

“I will keep constant watch over myself and – most usefully – will put each day up for review. For this is what makes us evil – that none of us looks back upon our own lives. We reflect upon only that which we are about to do. And yet our plans for the future descend from the past.” – Seneca, Moral Letters, 83.2

I am a strong, strong believer in self-reflection and daily review. I spend as much as ten hours a week in focused self-reflection and review of what I’ve been doing lately – no joke. I do a lot of journaling and consideration of where I am and what I’m doing in my life and it often provides a nice arrow toward where I want to go.

Such practices help you filter through all of the things you’re thinking about doing, all of the things you have done, where they overlap, and what that means for where you should be going. It really helps you to start filling in meaning in all of your future directions.

It’s a bit like wandering through a maze. Stopping and looking around, both forward and backward, will get you to the exit far faster than just running around and quickly making decisions at each turn.

6. Joan Blades and John Gable on your filter bubbles and how to free yourself from them

From the description:

Joan Blades and John Gable want you to make friends with people who vote differently than you do. A pair of political opposites, the two longtime pals know the value of engaging in honest conversations with people you don’t immediately agree with. Join them as they explain how to bridge the gaps in understanding between people on opposite sides of the political spectrum — and create opportunities for mutual listening and consideration (and, maybe, lasting friendships.)

While this video is talking specifically about political bubbles, I find that people use filter bubbles in almost every aspect of their life. We all choose what publications we read about anything and what channels we choose to watch.

Some of us filter out the news. Some of us filter out everything but the news.

Some of us filter out the political talk. Some of us filter out everything but the political talk.

Some of us filter out the sports. Some of us filter out everything but the sports.

It’s not an intentional thing, either; different people see different things and find that different details are worth focusing on and sharing, which may not create a complete picture of anything.

Every time we make a choice like that, we’re choosing to eliminate something that may inform and enrich us. There’s a real cost to that, one that’s paid in the form of making it more difficult to relate to some people.

The best solution I’ve found – and this video seems to concur with – is to have a large repertoire of things we read and watch and turn to different ones regularly. Get your news and commentary from several different places and know that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Another approach I find useful is to simply have a strong general background on lots of things and don’t worry too much about the latest events. Having that approach means you can carry on meaningful conversations about almost anything and you can simply rely on questions to fill in the latest details, giving the other person in the conversation some opportunity for expertise (which everyone enjoys).

Another absolutely key principle – never attribute to maliciousness that which can be explained by simple human error. People aren’t perfect, and simple human mistakes are often blown up into some kind of malicious conspiracy. Don’t fall into that trap.

7. The humble steno pad

For the last month or so, I have a very simple routine that I follow when I first wake up in the morning. I get up, use the bathroom, drink a little water, do some stretching, pour myself a cup of black coffee, and then sit down with a steno pad for one simple purpose: I write down the three big things I want to achieve today.

Today, for example, my “big three” consist of achieving five “writing checkoffs” (a metric I use to keep my writing going forward at a regular pace), an hour worth of focused organization of my office, and some devoted time spent studying a book I’m struggling with. If I achieve those three things, then it’s a pretty good day.

One of the reasons I like this steno pad is that it’s big enough that I can sketch out ideas if I need to but it’s small enough to fit nicely alongside a book. It’s not perfectly portable, but it’s a very nice size for a lot of things.

I find it’s the best of all worlds for me for planning out my day and what I want to get done. It’s become a valuable part of my routine.

8. Herbert Simon on attention in the information age

“In an information rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else; a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious; it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” – Herbert Simon

Attention and focus are our most valuable commodities today. It is only through attention and focus that we actually achieve things and aren’t just swept aside in a flood of information and distraction and smartphone notifications.

The question really is what do we turn our attention and focus to? What are we doing with what attention and focus we have? Even more than that, are we so distracted by the flood of information that it becomes a struggle to even direct our attention and focus?

The people that keep succeeding and breaking new ground are the ones who have figured out how to focus through this flood of information. To me, this is one of the biggest challenges of modern life, and Herbert Simon figured it out many, many decades ago.

9. The Cranberries – Zombie (acoustic)

Dolores O’Riordan, the lead singer of The Cranberries, passed away at an untimely early age in January. The music of The Cranberries was a big part of my life for several years and their music still sometimes echoes through the rooms of our home.

I listened to their albums No Need to Argue and Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? over and over during a particularly difficult period in my life, when I was really trying to figure out where the road of my life was headed.

There was something about her voice that grabbed me. She managed to mix toughness and vulnerability with a wonderful Irish accent.

I will miss her voice. It is a light that will never go out because it’s captured in recordings and in videos like the one above.

10. Warren Buffett on habit

“Chains of habit are too light to be felt, until they are too heavy to be broken.” – Warren Buffett

The path to a better life is in building chains of habit that reflect good behaviors and our best ideals, as well as in finding and breaking chains of habit that reflect us at our worst.

Of course, breaking the chains of bad habits is really, really hard. When you’ve adopted something as a routine and it’s ground into your life, even if that habit is really self-destructive, it can be so incredibly hard to break.

One of the most powerful things you can do in life is to never, ever start down the path of establishing a self-destructive routine. Never even open the door to it.

11. Heather Lanier on how “good” and “bad” are incomplete stories we tell

From the description:

Heather Lanier’s daughter Fiona has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a genetic condition that results in developmental delays — but that doesn’t make her tragic, angelic or any of the other stereotypes about kids like her. In this talk about the beautiful, complicated, joyful and hard journey of raising a rare girl, Lanier questions our assumptions about what makes a life “good” or “bad,” challenging us to stop fixating on solutions for whatever we deem not normal, and instead to take life as it comes.

When I was in school, children with developmental delays were usually entirely separated from the main population of the school. I understand the reasoning behind why that was done, but on the whole, I feel that the separation did a disservice to everyone involved.

Today, that type of boundary is much lower. In my children’s schools, there is much more interaction between all children of the same age, regardless of the developmental delays of some of the children. This is a net benefit for all of them, as it gives all students a broader understanding of the differences between us.

Part of the benefit, of course, is that teacher training in that regard is much better today than it was back then. Many teachers today know how to handle issues that will come up in such situations, whereas in the past, such ideas were never really covered at all in teacher training outside of very specific curriculums.

This video made me think deeply about those changes in education and helped me navigate some difficult conversations recently with my own children. Any video that has come to the forefront of my thinking that much in recent days deserves to be shared here.

12. John C. Maxwell on daily routine

“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” – John C. Maxwell

One of my big focuses of the year so far has been really hammering down a set of good daily habits and a better daily routine. I want a typical day to be one that ends up, at least in part, forging me into a better person than before.

That’s not easy. Changing habits is hard, especially when the change involves switching to something that, at first, seems more mentally or physically strenuous, even if that difference goes away over time.

Overall, I’m trying to develop an ordinary day to the point where I can easily repeat it but that over time it creates a better me, like flowing water smoothing out a pebble.

My goal for 2018 is to trust the process, something I’m going to write more about soon.

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Inspiration from Brad Stevens, Dolores O’Riordan, Steno Pads, and More