You only see what your eyes want to see

This week, I spent a lot of time on my coaching certification. I did a lot of coaching calls (both as a coach and as a coachee) and reflected on many coaching materials.

Naturally, thoughts were on my mind a lot this week.

It still always amazes me how we push to confirm our thoughts.

In Annihilation, Dr. Ventress says:

Then, as a psychologist, I think you’re confusing suicide with self-destruction. Almost none of us commit suicide, and almost all of us self-destruct. In some way, in some part of our lives. We drink, or we smoke, we destabilize the good job… and a happy marriage. But these aren’t decisions. They’re… they’re impulses.

I think this is an important observation.

A problem, by definition, is unwanted. If I don’t want it, why would I take action to perpetuate the problem? That would be intentionally harming myself. It doesn’t make any sense.

Right?

This is where the distinction is helpful. Because, somehow, despite not wanting to harm ourselves, “almost all of us self-destruct.”

(The following three examples are over-simplified and completely fabricated to illustrate this idea as related to the above quote.)

I have the problem that I am in a lot of pain. The world is a shitty place, and I’m clearly not enough. So I drink to make the pain go away. Over time, I start to choose alcohol over relationships. And other people choose not to spend time with me. As a result, I feel alone. This is painful.

I have the problem that I’ve been excelling at my job, but I haven’t gotten the raise and promotion I deserve. It’s unfair, and I’m frustrated. So I stop offering my feedback in meetings. I stop being the first person to volunteer to help out. I coast on my work instead of pushing it out. As a result, my boss sees my performance declining, and I don’t get a raise or a promotion.

I have the problem that while we’ve been married for 18 years, my spouse continues to leave a mess around the house despite my asking him not to. So I stop asking him to clean up because I’ve asked so many times already, and he should know what I want. I do stuff to annoy him because it’s only fair. I don’t want to have sex because I’m not in the mood, and he doesn’t deserve it, anyways. As a result, we grow further apart. Any motivation he may have had to clean is now completely gone.

In each of these three examples, we take actions we think that, at worst, will leave us no worse and, at best, will solve our problem. However, what actually happens is that our actions perpetuate our problem. In this way, we’re (unintentionally) self-destructive.

Another way of looking at this comes from Werner Erhard in Speaking Being (which is pretty much an annotated transcript of the Landmark Forum):

A rat can learn how to negotiate a maze by finding a piece of cheese, but will choose a new tunnel if the cheese is moved. The difference between a human being and a rat is as follows: a human being will go down the tunnel with no cheese forever. You know, you’ve been doing the same shit year after year after year, hoping for a different outcome. What you care about is being in the right tunnel, regardless of whether there’s cheese or not.

The thing with our thoughts is that we think they’re true.

Well, duh. Why would I think something that I don’t think is true? It doesn’t make any sense.

But then our subconscious tries hard to affirm that our thoughts are true. (Maybe this is because it could be evolutionary disadvantageous to question your perception of reality constantly?)

Our reticular activating system focuses our attention on the things that confirm our thoughts. In other words, confirmation bias leads us to find data that supports our existing thoughts (and overlook data that don’t support them).

I think this is part of what Erhard is getting at when he says, “What you care about is being in the right tunnel, regardless of whether there’s cheese or not.”

As much as we like to tell ourselves otherwise, we don’t care about reality–we only care about what we “know” to be true.

In a recent Unf*ck your brain episode, Kara Loewentheil speaks to this in action:

Your brain decides what you are literally going to see with your eyes. Think about looking at photos of yourself. Your thoughts about how you look actually influence what you see. Think about how often you have not noticed that somebody got a haircut, or is wearing glasses, or now they’re wearing contacts, or something looks different about them. We can go forever not noticing these changes because our brain has created an image of what that person looks like and it’s just using that image and not drawing our attention to any changes.

I oversimplify this as the Law of Attraction.

This is why I really value my therapist and coaches.

Yes, they too experience the world through the lens of their thoughts. However, they can help me see my blind spots, where I ignore or distort information, or vicious circles where I may be unintentionally pushing for unwanted results.

Unfortunately, not everyone can afford a therapist or a coach. (Obligatory plug: I’m offering free coaching sessions as I work towards my life coaching certification. Click here to sign-up for a complimentary session(s)!)

One free and independent alternative that I’ve enjoyed using in the past is Julia Cameron’s morning pages.

The morning pages in themselves can be a freeing exercise. They can help you clear things from your mind and help you start from a new space.

I think in The Artist’s Way, Cameron suggests you don’t need to read your morning pages. However, in light of this newsletter, I think reading your morning pages can help bring you awareness of the thoughts you’re thinking. This may help you gain insights into how you may be shaping your experience of reality.

To wrap up, I leave you with these questions:

What thoughts are you thinking?

How are these thoughts shaping your experience of reality?

Are these thoughts helpful for you right now?

Prioritizing side projects

In a recent conversation at work, someone brought up the value of individuals taking on side/”side of desk” projects.

I have seen great value delivered by side projects. At the same time, I have some concerns about their nature.

I thought it might be helpful to share that dialogue here.

Not everything has an owner.

Sometimes, it’s clear that doing something would be valuable. Sometimes, those valuable things don’t have a clear owner. And as a result, those valuable things remain undone.

This can be a good candidate for a side project.

Some projects require specific knowledge or skill-sets.

Teams sometimes avoid taking on projects because their team members aren’t prepared to take them on. While there is value in gaining knowledge and skills, that investment isn’t always prioritized when that knowledge or skill-set is unlikely to be re-used. And having someone take on something so foreign to them can slow down the entire team.

But if you already have that knowledge or skill-set, it may make sense for you to take on this side project.

Sometimes, people enjoy having a specific side project.

People may want to gain the knowledge or skill-set corresponding to a side project. They may personally feel the pain of something and want to take on the project to address that. They may enjoy working on the side project compared to their current primary work obligations.

Factors such as these may drive someone to take on a side project.

Taking on a side project can help develop communication skills.

The time and attention someone can dedicate to a side project may ebb and flow with their other responsibilities. However, how you see that ebb and flow may differ from how your boss sees that ebb and flow. Ensuring there’s alignment between you and your boss on bandwidth and priorities can be important.

So effectively taking on a side project may require you to stay in regular communication.

Side projects can help provide variety.

As Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson say in It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work:

Be it in hours, degrees of difficulty, or even specific benefits that emphasize seasonality, find ways to melt the monotony of work. People grow dull and stiff if they stay in the same swing for too long.

Side projects may be one way to “melt the monotony of work.” Instead of focusing all your attention on one thing, you have this side project to provide a change of pace.

This can help with engagement and avoiding burnout.

Side projects can help with career progression.

Some projects have a massive, widespread impact when they’re completed. You get all that credit if you’re the only person behind that project. People can see the impact that you’ve had. It’s easier to stand out from the rest of the team.

This can make it easier to be considered for raises or promotions.

And yet, at the same time…

Side projects don’t always help with career progression.

Some projects don’t have the intended impact. (In which case, they may have slowed the delivery of other more impactful initiatives.) And sometimes, even impactful projects don’t get attributed correctly. Someone else may steal the credit, or people may just enjoy the benefits without realizing who did the work.

There is an element of luck, strategy, and self-advocacy required here.

Side projects are sometimes synonymous with context-switching.

When you take on a side project, it means you’re working on multiple things. If you don’t have much control of your schedule, this may require you to switch between projects depending on the situation. Depending on the nature of the project, this may require you to jump on calls or respond to impromptu feedback. This may lead to a lot of context-switching.

And context-switching can be wasteful and inefficient.

Focusing on a single project develops the skill of prioritization.

A side project means multiple things are being worked on simultaneously. This means that there’s no need to decide on prioritization. Prioritization is an important skill.

Without making judgement calls about priorities, it’s hard to get better at making those calls.

Side projects may encourage people to work overtime.

People who enjoy working on a side project may feel more open to working extra hours on it. If people spend extra hours during the work day on the side project, they may feel the need to catch up on other projects after work hours. Or, if people spend most of their time on one project due to a deadline or emergency, they may also feel the need to spend time on the other project.

Too much overtime can result in unrealistic expectations, a bad reputation, and employee burnout.

Side projects may result in time and attention being spent on non-priorities.

Sometimes, we don’t prioritize a side project because our prioritization skill is lacking. Sometimes, we don’t prioritize a side project because we know it isn’t a priority. But if it isn’t a priority, why take it on as a side project?

Taking on a side project takes time, attention, and opportunity cost away from the priority. This can be wasteful.

Side projects may encourage an attitude of NIMBY.

If people see a problem in the commons, one thing they may do is come together to solve it. That involves setting their own interests aside to focus on improving life for the collective. But if you see someone who always takes on solving the problem themselves, life for the collective can be improved without setting your own interests aside.

In this way, side projects can encourage individualism in environments where there is a collective interest.

So while I can see some value in taking on side projects, I also see some potential unwanted side effects. Perhaps there’s some way to take on side projects while addressing these side effects, but that will take some more thinking time in the future.

Reflections on productivity and the allure of the ineffective path

I recently stumbled across this idea when reading It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work:

When people focus on productivity, they end up focusing on being busy. Filling every moment with something to do. And there’s always more to do!

This got me thinking about the nature of productivity.

We’re socialized into thinking it’s always good to be productive.

People wear the label “busy” with pride. They brag about being constantly busy. It’s become a societal status symbol.

(But the opposite of “busy” isn’t “lazy.” You can still be “effective” without being “busy.”)

We may also value productivity because it feels good on a biochemical level.

The brain releases dopamine every time we complete something on our to-do list. This produces a good feeling in the body.

It doesn’t matter if that thing we crossed off is important or even urgent. We feel good when we complete things. And we feel even better when we complete more things.

And the fastest and easiest way to do more things? Do the things we feel like doing. Do the things we can do in the least time with the least effort.

(Not the most important things. Because often the most important things we have to do are complicated, time-consuming, and not something we want to do when we’re not in the right mood.)

These may be some reasons we value productivity in the first place.

But are there any other issues with productivity?

The Eisenhower matrix suggests that we should prioritize important tasks over non-important tasks. And within the important tasks, we should prioritize urgent ones over non-urgent ones.

But we don’t always judge importance the same way.

At our best, we evaluate importance based on our values, principles, and responsibilities.

But sometimes, we evaluate importance from a place of fear and scarcity.

Sometimes things remain undone on our to-do list for weeks, months, or years longer than we wanted them to.

Eventually, we may feel driven to get these things done—not necessarily because they uphold our values, but because we’re afraid that they will never get done or that we’re somehow inadequate for not completing them.

Sometimes things have deadlines that drive us to do them.

We may be compelled to do these not because our best self would prioritize them but because we experience the fear of missing out.

So while productivity drives us to get things done, we aren’t always driven to do the things that matter.

Now, focusing on the important implies that there are things on our to-do lists that aren’t going to be prioritized. This means that we have to choose not to do some things that are on our to-do lists.

This can feel uncomfortable. This can feel like we’re not being productive.

It’s also related to why I sometimes resist scheduling buffer time into my calendar when I time-block my week. Although this buffer time is there to ensure I can complete my highest priorities, I feel like I could be scheduling other tasks from my to-do list.

(Even though those other tasks are, by definition, not priorities.)

This drive to cram as much as possible into our schedules leads to another side effect: no downtime, which can lead to exhaustion or burnout.

(And it’s hard to do the things that matter when we’re burned out or have no energy.)

In reflecting on productivity, one of the outstanding questions I’m still pondering is, what about maintenance tasks?

(Maintenance tasks are those things that aren’t of critical importance, but we usually do them to keep things running smoothly. Chores are one example of a maintenance task.)

Is it that eventually, maintenance tasks will become priorities? The need for maintenance tasks grows the longer they go undone? (In which case, is this different from what I mentioned above, where things appear to grow in importance by virtue of not being done?)

Or should a certain amount of time be budgeted on some cadence for this work? (In tech, we sometimes budget for things like tech debt or bugs when planning the team’s capacity.)

Integrating MOCs with PARA

There are many motivations for maintaining a Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) system. Many books, courses, videos, articles, etc., also teach different ways to build a PKM system. This can sometimes confuse people because they don’t understand the purpose of a specific framework or aren’t consciously aware of why they want to build and maintain a PKM system.

💭 Why do you want to build a PKM system?

Two of the most popular PKM ideas come from the cohort-based courses Building a Second Brain (BASB; taught by Tiago Forte) and Linking Your Thinking (LYT; taught by Nick Milo). In a previous tweet, I summarized the difference between these courses as the former focuses on producing outputs, whereas the latter focuses on developing thought.

While Forte certainly emphasizes folders and Milo indeed emphasizes links, I don’t think Forte is anti-links, nor do I think Milo is anti-folders. And in many ways, I don’t believe their recommendations are mutually exclusive. (I integrate both of their ideas into my PKM system.)

I wrote a blog post about one example of this. Traditionally, Projects-Areas-Resources-Archive (PARA) is done with a folder-based approach. However, it is possible to implement PARA with a Map of Content (MOC)-based system.

Some people don’t see the need for PARA because they use their PKM primarily for thinking. Their PKM isn’t output-focused, such as a PKM used to support someone who writes a newsletter, produces content for YouTube, or manages their business.

While I certainly agree PARA isn’t necessary, I think that even for PKM systems focused on thinking, PARA can sometimes be helpful.

PARA is designed to be helpful for creative and productive expression. But not all expression is external. Even when we’re developing our thoughts, we are expressing ourselves.

One of the ways it can be helpful is by directing our thinking.

If your PKM is primarily for thinking, you’re probably a pretty curious person. And when you’re curious, thoughts can be unbounded.

This is great, but it isn’t without consequences.

We may find that our thinking becomes unbalanced. Our diverse interests may lead us to have too much breadth in our PKM without much depth. Or maybe we do have depth, but that depth isn’t in things that are important to us. Perhaps that depth is related to thoughts driven by places that our attention has been drawn to by the news, a podcast we listened to, or social media.

And a lot of breadth can also potentially decrease the efficiency with which we can see connections between unrelated ideas.

I think PARA can help with this.

Just as it can be helpful to focus on a few goals at a time, it can also be beneficial to focus your thinking on a few topics at a time.

This may look like having a project in your PARA to develop a MOC on a topic of interest.

And this doesn’t mean you need to ignore moments of inspiration. It’s just an opportunity to focus your attention and effort and be more intentional about your thinking.

I shared some examples of Obsidian-based structures on Github, but I’ll provide a few more examples here to illustrate.

A project represents materials and tasks linked to a goal with a deadline.

# Projects
– [[Develop MOC on board games]]
– [[Collide Oh, the Places You’ll Go! MOC with Everything Everywhere All At Once MOC]]
– [[Schedule newsletter]]

💭 What goals/finish lines are you currently working towards?

An area represents a sphere of activity, such as a role or responsibility, with an ongoing standard to maintain.

# Areas
– [[Weekly newsletter]]
– [[Learning circle]]
– [[Car]]

💭 What roles and responsibilities are you currently maintaining?

A resource represents materials related to things that you’re currently interested in.

# Resources
– [[Board games]]
– [[PKM]]
– [[Recipes]]

💭 What topics are you currently interested in?

And here are example notes for a project, area, and resource:

# Schedule newsletter
> [!IMPORTANT] Definition of Done: Newsletter is scheduled in ConvertKit to be released on July 10, 2022.
https://fortelabs.co/blog/para
– [[BASB]]
– [[LYT]]
– [[PKM]]

# Weekly newsletter
> [!IMPORTANT] Standard to be Maintained: Newsletter is published on Sunday each week.
https://convertkit.com
– [[Writing tips]]
– [[Queue of newsletter ideas]]

# Board games
There are many [[Types of board games]]. One of my favourite types is [[Social deduction games]]. [[Social deduction games are good because they build trust]], and [[Social deduction games are bad because they erode trust]]. I’m looking forward to the arrival of my copy of [Blood on the Clocktower](https://bloodontheclocktower.com)–where the heck is my shipping notice?!

Everything Everywhere All At Once

SPOILER WARNING: I will be talking extensively about Everything Everywhere All At Once in this article. I recommend against reading further if you have yet to see the movie.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is a fast-paced movie that strikes me as having absurdism themes and also often being absurd in itself. It is broken into three parts: Everything, Everywhere, and All At Once. The film starts with themes that are dark, heavy, and painful. The featured themes become lighter, loving, and empowered as it progresses.

I will start by talking about Dr. Seuss.

In part 2 of the movie (i.e. Everywhere), Joy hands Evelyn a book called Everything Everywhere All At Once. This book reminded me of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go!. However, whereas the cover of Oh, the Places You’ll Go! features a person standing on an elevated platform, the cover of Everything Everywhere All At Once features a person being sucked down into a bagel.

And the similarities don’t stop there. Many themes are shared between Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and Everything Everywhere All At Once.

Shame

In Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Dr. Seuss writes, “I’m afraid that some times / you’ll play lonely games too. / Games you can’t win / ’cause you’ll play against you.”

This idea of loneliness takes many forms in Everything Everywhere All At Once.

Perhaps the most obvious is the role of intergenerational trauma in the movie.

Early on in the movie, Evelyn has a flashback to her birth. One of her first experiences being alive is a doctor telling her father, “I’m sorry. It’s a girl.” So she’s already a disappointment early on in her existence. This starts the feeling of disconnection between her and Gong Gong.

This disconnection is then perpetuated in Evelyn’s relationship with her daughter. Just as Evelyn spends her entire life trying to make her father proud so she may finally feel a sense of connection with him, Joy spends most of the movie (lifetimes across many universes) seeking a relationship with her mother. Regarding the relationship she longs for, Joy says, “I was just looking for someone who could see what I see. Feel what I feel.”

In Dare to LeadBrené Brown says, “Shame is the fear of disconnection—it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection. Here’s the definition of shame that emerged from my research: Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging, and connection.”

Shame plays a predominant role throughout Everything Everywhere All At Once.

There are numerous scenes where Joy feels shame about her experiences with her mother.

Early in the movie, Joy tries to introduce her girlfriend to Gong Gong. She says, “Becky is my… Shit, how do you say it? She is my…” Evelyn interrupts her and says, “Good friend. Becky is a very good friend.” Here, Joy may feel shame about being gay.

Shortly after, as Joy is leaving the laundromat, Evelyn rushes after her and says, “Joy, wait, please. I have something to say to you.” Joy asks, “What?” Evelyn pauses and then responds, “You… You have to try and eat healthier. You are getting fat.” Here, Joy may feel shame about her weight.

And then in the IRS building, when Joy arrives in the elevator with a pig on a leash, Evelyn asks, “Why do you look so stupid?” Here, Joy may feel shame about the way she dresses.

But shame isn’t limited to the relationship between Evelyn and Joy. Evelyn experiences her own shame throughout the movie as well.

One example of this is when Evelyn, Waymond, and Gong Gong first sit down with Deirdre at the IRS. At one point, Waymond tries to address Deirdre’s concerns by saying, “Sorry, my wife confuses her hobbies for businesses. An honest mistake.”

Immediately after hearing this, you can see Evelyn lower her head and look down in what looks like an experience of shame. And as expected, she gets defensive in response. She claims that Deirdre is always trying to confuse them with big words, and then yells at Deirdre claiming that they will bring Joy to their future meetings.

It seems like a common response to respond to experiences of shame by trying to shame others.

(In fact, I think this is what is happening in the “You are getting fat” scene between Evelyn and Joy. I suspect that when Joy turns around and asks, “What?,” Evelyn experiences a feeling of shame about her relationship with Joy and thus fires back with her fat comment instead of inviting her and Becky to the New Year’s Eve party.)

Shame is a very painful emotion. This is what motivates Joy to create the bagel:

Joy: ‘Cause you see, when you really put everything on a bagel, it becomes this.

Waymond: Come on. Run, Evelyn.

Joy: The truth.

Evelyn: What is the truth?

Joy: Nothing matters.

Evelyn: No, Joy. You don’t believe that.

Joy: Feels nice, doesn’t it? If nothing matters, then all the pain and guilt you feel for making nothing of your life, it goes away.

Now, the bagel has a cult following. What do all these people seem to have in common?

Just as a bagel has a hole in the middle, the bagel versions of people in the movie seem to think they’re incomplete too. Bagel Joy (i.e. Jobu Tupaki) thinks she’s incomplete without her mother. Bagel Deirdre thinks she’s unloveable. Bagel Chad believes that he’s useless.

Joy says, “I got bored one day, and I put everything on a bagel. Everything. All my hopes and dreams, my old report cards, […]” And, understandably, someone could feel shame with the weight of all those (internal and external) unmet expectations.

In seeing Joy as Jobu Tupaki, Evelyn says, “No, I’m not like you. You’re young, and your mind is always changing. I still know who I am.” When Evelyn says that she still knows who she is, it makes me think that she’s implying that Joy has lost (part of) herself–that Joy may be broken. But as Joy responded, “I am your daughter. Your daughter is me. Every version of Joy is Jobu Tupaki. You can’t separate us.”

Wherever you go, there you are.

Suffering

Now, for most of the movie, we see Joy spending her time doing one thing: looking for Evelyn. As she puts it, “I’ve been trapped like this for so long… experiencing everything… I was hoping you would see something I didn’t… that you would convince me there was another way.” She spends all her time waiting for Evelyn to show her something different.

In Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, there is a similar section about The Waiting Place. Dr. Seuss writes, “[…] a most useless place. / The Waiting Place… / […] / Waiting for the fish to bite / or waiting for wind to fly a kite / or waiting around for Friday night / or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake / or a pot to boil, or a Better Break / or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants / or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. / Everyone is just waiting.”

Notice that when Joy is stuck in The Waiting Place, she isn’t being presentInstead, she’s spending all her time in other universes, hoping it will lead to a different outcome.

She tells Evelyn, “Not a single moment will go by without every other universe screaming for your attention. Never fully there. Just a lifetime of fractured moments, contradictions, and confusion. With only a few specks of time where anything actually makes any sense.”

As Waymond explained to Evelyn when she first learns about verse jumping, every decision one makes branches off into multiple universes.

Sometimes we decide and then find out that we don’t get the outcome we were trying to get. We can get depressed if we think too much about that alternate universe–screaming for our attention–where we made a different choice that got us a better outcome.

Sometimes we decide (or know that we’re going to have to make a decision) but don’t know whether we will get the outcome we were trying to get. We can get anxious if we think too much about that alternate universe–screaming for our attention–where there may have been a different decision that would have brought us a better outcome.

As a result, our mind is continuously pulled away from the present. We’re drawn towards those other universes of past and future. This results in suffering.

To this, Waymond tells Evelyn, “My dear Evelyn, I know you. With every passing moment, you fear you might have missed your chance to make something of your life. I’m here to tell you every rejection, every disappointment has led you here. To this moment. Don’t let anything distract you from it.”

Not only is it painful to not live in the present, but it is also incredibly disempowering because you’re focused on what could have been rather than what you can do right now. (At least, it is disempowering for Evelyn before she has access to everything everywhere all at once.)

Joy also speaks to the painfulness of this. She says, “But you see how everything we do gets washed away in a sea of every other possibility.”

No matter how much we accomplish or how successful we are, we always seem overwhelmed by something else.

Those other universes where we didn’t fail? They scream for our attention.

Those other universes where we didn’t experience so much pain? They scream for our attention.

Those other universes where we were more efficient and saved more of our valuable time? They scream for our attention.

With all those other universes constantly screaming for our attention, we forget the present and instead focus on the painful screams.

One other thing that results in suffering is attachment.

Joy: For most of our history, we knew the Earth was the center of the universe. We killed and tortured people for saying otherwise. That is, until we discovered that the Earth is actually revolving around the Sun, which is just one sun out of trillions of suns. And now look at us, trying to deal with the fact that all of that exists inside of universe out of who knows how many. Every new discovery is just a reminder–

Evelyn: We’re all small & stupid.

Joy: And who knows what great new discovery is coming next… to make us feel like even smaller pieces of shit.

When we become attached to an idea, a thought, a form of understanding, we can set ourselves up to feel like even smaller pieces of shit. In this scene with the rocks, Joy points out this can happen when that attachment is severed–when we learn that idea/thought/understanding wasn’t, in fact, accurate.

Disempowerment

In addition to The Waiting Place, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! talks about the idea of a Lurch. Dr. Seuss writes, “I’m sorry to say so / but, sadly, it’s true / that Bang-ups / and Hang-ups / can happen to you. / You can get all hung up / in a prickle-ly perch. / And your gang will fly on. / You’ll be left in a Lurch.”

One of the most moving parts of the movie for me was a scene that illustrated the idea of being left in a Lurch:

Joy: Mom… Just… Just stop. Good for you. You’re figuring your shit out. And that’s great. I’m really, really happy for you. But I’m… I’m tired. I don’t want to hurt anymore, and for some reason when I’m with you, it just… It just hurts the both of us. So, let’s just go our separate ways, okay? Just let me go.

Evelyn: Okay.

Both internal and external things can leave us in a Lurch.

One example of an internal source is in the rock scene I recently quoted.

We commonly assume that our thoughts are true–that our thoughts are facts about the universe. We see many examples of these throughout the movie:

  • My father isn’t proud of me.
  • I’m unloveable.
  • I’m useless alone.
  • I’m not connected to my mother.

But thoughts do not have a property of truthiness. Sometimes they may correspond to things in the universe that are true. But the thought itself is not true. It’s just a thought.

Sometimes thoughts are helpful, but sometimes they leave us feeling hung up on something. When this happens, they often aren’t helpful.

(Random aside because I felt it was fitting here.)

The Work by Byron Katie provides four questions to help explore the nature of our thoughts:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?

(End aside.)

Here is one example of an external source that can leave us in a Lurch:

Joy: Is it that I can’t be here, or that I’m not allowed to be here?

Evelyn: Hey! You show them some respect!

Officer: Hands where I can see them.

Joy: See, I can physically be here. But what you meant to say is you’re not allowing me to be here.

Sometimes an authority figure may tell us that we can’t do something. In this scene, the authority figure is a police officer. However, authority figures can also be parents (e.g. Gong Gong), spouses (e.g. Evelyn), IRS agents (e.g. Deirdre), employers (e.g. chef Evelyn’s boss), etc.

When these authority figures tell us that we can’t do something, it’s often inaccurate and disempowering. While our actions may have consequences if we make those choices, those choices remain ours.

You can see this play out in this scene with Joy and the police officer. The police officer tells Joy that she can’t be in the area (or the consequence is that she’ll be arrested). Joy still chooses to stay there, and as a result, the consequence is that he arrests her.

Feeling disempowered is one of the things that can leave people feeling hung up and in a Lurch. It can prevent us from seeing possibilities to keep moving and make us feel confused about how we can move forward.

Acceptance

Another similarity I saw with Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is the idea of a journey. Dr. Seuss writes, “So… / be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray / or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea, / you’re off to Great Places! / Today is your day! / Your mountain is waiting. / So… get on your way!

The way I read this is that each of us has our journey with successes and positive emotions (i.e. Great Places) and failures and negative emotions (i.e. your mountain).

In a recent podcast with Greg Nyman, Brooke Castillo says, “The hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life is feel your feelings.”

As Joy mentioned, the pain and guilt she experiences can be overwhelming. She says, “Do you know why I actually built the bagel? It wasn’t to destroy everything. It was to destroy myself. I wanted to see if I went in, could I finally escape?”

So just as I use food (i.e. boxes of cookies) to avoid listening to my emotions, Joy uses food (i.e. the everything bagel) to avoid listening to her emotions.

At the movie’s beginning, Evelyn uses work (i.e. laundry, taxes, making breakfast for Gong Gong) to avoid listening to her emotions.

However, by the movie’s end, Evelyn changes her relationship with her emotions. I’ll speak more about this later.

Nihilism

So now, let’s jump to a prominent theme in the movie.

Nihilism is at the forefront when Joy introduces Evelyn to the truth: nothing matters.

This perspective allows Joy some relief from the pain and guilt she experiences. It also leads her to a path of destruction as she kills many people in many universes as she searches for Evelyn. Evelyn also walks a destructive path after Joy helps her see the truth–Evelyn signs her divorce papers with Waymond, stabs Waymond, and smashes a laundromat window with a baseball bat.

However, whereas Joy gets stuck in nihilism, Evelyn finds a way to transcend it.

There is a scene in the movie where Evelyn remembers a bunch of her experiences with Waymond. A moment where their hands touch. A moment where she sees Waymond looking at the television. A moment where Waymond finds the remote.

She remembers all of these meaningless moments. But then she starts to see that these same meaningless moments were meaningful to her. These same meaningless moments generated her feelings of love for and joy with Waymond.

Then the scene jumps to the movie-universe Waymond. He says, “So, even though you have broken my heart yet again, I wanted to say… In another life, I would have really liked… just doing laundry… and taxes with you.”

Even though doing laundry and taxes is meaningless, Waymond would have chosen that universe. Because even though doing laundry and taxes is meaningless, they could be meaningful to Waymond because that’s how he would get to spend his life with Evelyn.

When Evelyn sees that, even though everything is meaningless, she can create her own meaning, she ends her destructive actions and hugs Waymond.

This is when Evelyn transcends nihilism and realizes existentialism.

Existentialism

In Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Dr. Seuss writes, “You can steer yourself / any direction you choose.”

This is what Evelyn sees. The googly eyes are meaningless. She can choose to see them as meaningless. Or she can steer herself in a direction where she thinks of the googly eyes as being stupid. Or she can steer herself in a direction where she considers the googly eyes as Waymond injecting fun into their life of laundry and taxes.

Waymond alludes to this power earlier in the movie when he says, “You underestimate how the smallest decisions can compound into significant differences over a lifetime.” I like to think of this as the Law of Attraction at work.

It is a small decision to see the googly eyes as “stupid.” But that decision has massive downstream effects, such as Evelyn losing her joy and Waymond serving her divorce papers.

Evelyn foreshadows this conclusion by saying, “I can think of whatever nonsense I want and somewhere… …and somewhere out there, it exists. It’s real.”

(Waymond is remarkable in his own way. He reaches a similar existentialist conclusion. He describes this as he says, “When I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naive. It is strategic and necessary. It’s how I’ve learned to survive through everything.” This is how he continues to love Evelyn through a life of laundry, taxes, and her not having time to talk to him anymore.)

This role of the Law of Attraction may produce some existential angst for people because it spotlights our role in our results. As Landmark puts it, we can be in a vicious circle when we allow our thoughts to roam unchecked.

Evelyn mourns this when she says, “Another year, hmm. Pretending we know what we’re doing but really, we’re just going around in circles.” Despite her hating it, she thought that she would produce different results by doing laundry and taxes every year. She thought that she would have a happy family. She thought that she would have a successful business. She felt that she would be pleased with how her father perceived her. But every year was the same thing.

And like a vicious circle, our results always support the thoughts that generate them.

That isn’t to say that existentialism is a destination–it is a journey with challenges along the way.

In Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Dr. Seuss writes, “Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? / How much can you lose? How much can you win? / And IF you go in, should you turn left or right… / or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite? / Or go around back and sneak in from behind? / Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find, / for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.”

This reminds me of the paradox of choice. Yes, it is potent to realize that you can create meaning. At the same time, it can feel very confusing when you have every other universe screaming for your attention.

For instance, when Evelyn first verse jumps, Deirdre says to her, “Mrs. Wang. Hello? Look, I’m sure you have a lot on your mind, but I cannot imagine anything mattering more than the conversation we are now having concerning your tax liability.”

At the same time, in another universe, Waymond says to her, “I know you have a lot of things on your mind, but nothing could possibly matter more than this conversation we are having right now concerning the fate of every single world of our infinite multiverse.”

These situations may result in some form of analysis paralysis.

However, as Dr. Seuss says in Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, “Out there things can happen / and frequently do / to people as brainy / and footsy as you. / And when things start to happen, / don’t worry. Don’t stew. / Just go right along. / You’ll start happening too.”

We don’t need to fixate on making the perfect choice. We can’t escape failures. We can’t escape uncomfortable emotions. Life constantly presents us with ups and downs.

If you recall earlier, when I mentioned that Evelyn changed her relationship with her emotions, this is an example:

Evelyn: Wait. You are getting fat. And you never call me even though we have a family plan.

Joy: What?

Evelyn: And it’s free. You only visit when you need something, and you got a tattoo, and I don’t care if it’s supposed to represent our family, you know I hate tattoos. And of all the places I could be, why would I want to be here with you? Yes, you’re right. It doesn’t make sense.

Waymond: Evelyn… Stop. That’s enough.

Joy: Let her finish.

Evelyn: Maybe it’s like you said, maybe there is something out there, some new discovery that’ll make us feel like even smaller pieces of shit. Something that explains why you still went looking for me through all of this noise. And why, no matter what… …I still want to be here with you. I will always, always want to be here with you.

Joy: So, what? You’re just going to ignore everything else? You could be anything, anywhere. Why not go somewhere where your… Where your daughter is more than just… this? Here, all we get are a few specks of time where any of this actually makes any sense.

Evelyn: Then I will cherish these few specks of time.

Evelyn chose the present. Even though she doesn’t always feel connected with her daughter… Even though she feels angry… Even though she has all these reasons to escape the present… Evelyn chooses to embrace the good and bad of life. This allows her to be fully present and genuinely lean into her power.

So, although this movie brought us on a journey full of shame, emptiness, loneliness, disconnection, pain, guilt, trauma, and the absurd… I ultimately think this movie is intende,d to be an empowering one.

As Evelyn puts it, “We can do whatever we want. Nothing matters.”

Unhelpful thoughts and beliefs related to PKM

Something I’ve been reflecting on lately is unhelpful thoughts and beliefs related to personal knowledge management (PKM).

One group of these thoughts I think are related to the Collector’s Fallacy. (I also see these related to bike-shedding and rabbit hole-ing.)

These thoughts might look like:

  • I need to collect everything that might one day be useful.
  • I need to collect ideas I already know because I might need them for a citation in a future book that I may one day write.
  • I don’t know if this will be helpful, so I should collect it just in case.

These thoughts are problematic because they lead you to collect too much. Soon, your PKM is overflowing.

One purpose of PKM is to provide a space with an increased signal-to-noise ratio for your future self to find information. When your PKM is overflowing, that signal-to-noise ratio decreases. Your PKM stops being helpful to your future self, and you may stop maintaining it because you don’t think it’s worth the investment.

One way to address this is to use the 12 Favorite Problems exercise from Building a Second Brain based on this quote from Richard Feynman:

You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, “How did he do it? He must be a genius?”

You can avoid excessive bloating of your PKM system by using your 12 favorite problems to filter what you collect.

Another group of thoughts are those related to confirmation bias. (I also see these related to thoughts related to pursuit of an objective truth.)

These thoughts might look like:

  • I like this idea. I agree with it. It makes sense. I’m going to collect it.
  • I disagree with this. I don’t understand it. It’s wrong. It’s stupid. Why would I collect it?

These thoughts are problematic because your PKM system becomes an echo chamber for a past version of yourself.

Another purpose of PKM is to accelerate growth. However, it’s difficult to grow in an echo chamber. Everything in there pulls you back to your initial beliefs.

This reminds me of these passages from Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game:

I have a friend who is so focused on her Cause, it is as if she has forgotten that there are other points of view in the world besides her own. My friend, sadly, has labeled anyone who has a different opinion as wrong, stupid or morally corrupt. My friend suffers from Cause Blindness.

Cause Blindness is when we become so wrapped up in our Cause or so wrapped up in the “wrongness” of the other player’s Cause, that we fail to recognize their strengths or our weaknesses. We falsely believe that they are unworthy of comparison simply because we disagree with them, don’t like them or find them morally repugnant. We are unable to see where they are in fact effective or better than we are at what we do and that we can actually learn from them.

One way to address this is to integrate opposing viewpoints and opinions into your PKM. These can be valuable even if they take the form of your arguing against them. Another approach would be to write a steel man argument for those viewpoints.

One last group of thoughts are those related to metawork. (I also see these related to thoughts related to pursuit of an objective truth.)

These thoughts may look like:

  • There’s an objectively optimal PKM system set-up out there.
  • When my PKM system is perfect, I will get the results I’m looking for.
  • I’m not getting the results I want because there’s something wrong with my PKM system right now.

These thoughts end up leading you to, essentially, procrastinate. Instead of doing work that creates actual value, you do work on the system that you hope will create value.

To be clear: metawork isn’t a problem in itself. It can help with efficiency and effectiveness.

However, metawork becomes a problem when it eats up an inappropriate amount of our time or effort. It becomes a problem when it gets in the way of us moving closer to our goals.

One way to address this is to reflect and action on:

  • Am I happy with the value I’m getting out of my PKM?
  • Does the idea of a better PKM distract me from doing real work?
  • How much time do I spend trying new apps, tag/link/folder structures, or plugins?

The return of the macro-counting

For the longest time, I’ve hated playing middle/blocker in volleyball because all the jumping destroys my knees.

Well, I recently got to play left-hand/hitter again… …and my knees still hurt afterwards.

I take this as a sign that it’s probably time for me to start bringing my weight back down. Things got a bit out of control, especially with the pandemic.

Graph of Tyler’s weight in pounds from 2016 through 2022

The big swings many years ago were from when I was using MyFitnessPal to count my macros for a bulking and cutting cycle. I’d typically bulk in the fall/winter (all those holiday meals) and then cut for the summer months.

Unfortunately, macro counting is a lot of work. I would weigh all my food, typically before I cooked it. It got the job done, but eventually, I got tired of spending so much time doing all that work.

I later switched to Gyroscope because of the option to take a picture of your food and have someone else enter the nutrition information on your behalf. This saved a lot of time, but it isn’t easy to accurately estimate the nutrition information of something simply by looking at a photo.

This wasn’t sufficient to get me the results I was looking for.

So a couple of weeks ago, I switched over to using MacroFactor. I’d heard that, in many ways, it’s an improvement over MyFitnessPal, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

At the end of May, I weighed in at 212.4 lbs. More recently, I weighed in at 204.9 lbs.

This is probably progressing a little faster than I’d like, but the app is still calibrating to my weight and nutrition information.

The nice thing about this app is that it does the math each week to calculate your new macro targets for the week automatically. And because I’m currently ahead of schedule, I’ve still been getting to eat more each week despite trying to lose weight.

Some of the things I’ve been eating regularly recently include:

  • Quinoa
  • Carrots
  • Chicken
  • Hummus
  • Smoothies
  • Rye crackers
  • Nut/seed butter
  • Stir-fried veggies
  • Quest protein bars
  • Salads with hard-boiled eggs and light vinaigrettes

Unfortunately, I still get cravings all the time for sweet things. So far, I’ve staved these off decently between smoothies, Jell-O, and Quest protein cookies.

I still haven’t figured out if these cravings result from stress/anxiety or just a sugar addiction.

In any case, I’m in my coaching certification classes all weekend, and these cravings seem like the perfect opportunity for me to do some self-coaching.

I hope I’ll be able to report back with more significant results by the end of the summer. 🙂

Our self-belief creates problems

I recently sent out this tweet:

It’s amazing how many of our problems stem from an underlying belief that we are somehow unworthy, inadequate, or not enough.

I thought that for today, I’d elaborate on this idea. I will share three examples of problems I experienced this week and how they relate to this idea.

Earlier this week, I was having a conversation with someone. I was providing my perspective on something, but the way they responded, it was like they weren’t hearing what I was saying.

I felt unheard and disrespected.

But the underlying problem wasn’t that I felt unheard. Nor was it that I felt disrespected.

The problem was that I felt that I wasn’t worthy of their attention or respect. I thought that I wasn’t intelligent enough to contribute helpful ideas.

To explain this another way, suppose there’s something you’re absolutely solid on. Something you know is absolutely true. For example, you exist. Imagine someone calmly walked up to you and politely said, “I don’t think you exist,” before walking away. It wouldn’t be a problem because you know you exist.

It’s the same thing in my situation, only that I think it’s a problem because I’m not solid on the underlying belief.

Another experience I’ve had on and off for a while is feeling bored while playing volleyball.

Boredom is an uncomfortable feeling.

But feelings aren’t problems. (Even though I often think they are. 🤣)

Here, there are a few things I was struggling with:

  • The fear that I wouldn’t be worthy of being invited to play with others.
  • The thought that I wasn’t able to improve without feeling engaged in the sport.
  • The loss of my identity as a volleyball player and the belief that I’m less of a person if I lose that part of myself.

And one final example from last week: I got a new laptop at work.

I thought setting it up would be straightforward: install a few programs, run a few commands, reconnect a few things.

But as reality would have it, things went wrong. I had to read and decipher error logs. I had to try things, and those attempts would fail. So I’d try something else.

Eventually, I was able to finish setting up my laptop. But it took way more time and effort than I expected.

It felt wasteful. Inefficient.

But let’s try another thought experiment.

Suppose you’re relaxed and on vacation somewhere. You don’t have a backlog of things you want to do. It feels like you have all the time in the world.

You’re sitting on a towel on the beach and want to read a book. As you’re reading, someone yells in the distance. You look up and see somebody having fun surfing a giant wave. You return to your book. Eventually, you end up taking a break to go to the washroom. And later, you pass out while reading.

So it wasn’t the most efficient you’ve been at reading. But it wasn’t a problem. Inefficiency itself isn’t a problem.

For me, I knew I had a list of things I wanted to get done this week. Because setting up my laptop took longer than expected, I had less time and energy to finish the rest of my list.

The problem was that I didn’t think I was capable of completing everything on my list. I didn’t think I was good enough to get it all done.

I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but this is where my mind has taken me this week.

I have a feeling that I’m going to need regular reminders of this. The initial problems usually feel so real that I may not think to look at my beliefs about myself.

What problems have you experienced recently? What beliefs do you have about yourself that are creating those problems?

When not shame is shame

I first saw Brené Brown’s TEDxHouston talk back when I was at UBC.

I didn’t understand it at all the first time I saw it.

I saw it again a couple of years later. I had done some more structured and intentional personal development work by this time. And it resonated with me much more the second time I saw it.

In her talk, she made this statement:

So, where I started was with connection. Because, by the time you’re a social worker for ten years, what you realize is that connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.

So, connection is essential. But there’s something that tears connection apart: shame.

In I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), Brown defines shame as:

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.

For a long time, I didn’t recognize feelings of shame inside myself.

I read Brown’s Daring Greatly after her talk resonated with me. This was years ago now.

In Daring Greatly, Brown differentiates between guilt and shame.

(In brief, guilt is helpful. It tells us when we’ve done something bad. Shame is not useful. It tells us that we are bad.)

For the longest time, I could recognize guilt in my life. But I couldn’t recognize shame.

Earlier this year, I brought up something in a session with my therapist. I noticed that I frequently had recurring memories that would lead me to twitch involuntarily.

(Right before my session, I caught myself twitching on the way back from the bakery. Fortunately, my self-awareness has grown in recent years, such that I was able to notice it.)

Here’s one of them:

I was standing at a table with three other students in the chemistry classroom, painting a poster for student government.

The girl across from me tapped her paintbrush on the water bucket. In the process, black paint splashed right across my favourite hoodie.

“I’m sorry,” she said, raising her hand to cover her mouth.

I took this to be sarcastic. I thought I was being attacked, and I got angry.

And in that instant, I took my paintbrush and sprayed her shirt with paint.

A guy at the table looked at me and said, “Not cool, man.”

After chatting with my therapist, I realized that I was experiencing shame about this memory.

Again, from I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), Brown writes:

Individuals, families and communities use shame as a tool to change others and to protect themselves.

In this case, I was using shame to protect myself.

Looking back at this memory, I saw that experiencing anger led to people pushing me away. AKA: disconnection.

I saw that I was flawed when I was angry.

This makes me wonder if shame is also underlying core personality traits. 🤔

Anyhow, lots of exploring to do in this realm still. But it seems I’ve recently discovered some paths I can walk around.

How do I know if my PKM is effective?

Between courses such as Building a Second Brain and Linking Your Thinking, books like How to Take Smart Notes, and the many other resources on personal knowledge management (PKM), the amount of information on building a PKM system can feel overwhelming.

But how do I know if my PKM is effective?

To answer this question, it’s essential to know the goal of having a PKM system in the first place.

One idea that resonates with me comes from How to Take Smart Notes about why Niklas Luhmann maintained his zettelkasten:

His slip-box became his dialogue partner, main idea generator and productivity engine.

Why is it valuable to think about your PKM as a dialogue partner?

As Luhmann said:

I never force myself to do anything I don’t feel like. Whenever I am stuck, I do something else.

This reminds me of an idea from David Allen’s Getting Things Done:

Mind Like Water: A mental and emotional state in which your head is clear, able to create and respond freely, unencumbered with distractions and split focus.

This is just one of the benefits of thinking of your notes as a dialogue partner: relevance. I only make notes on the things that interest me in the moment of writing. If I’m not interested in it, I’m not going to write it down.

This also brings in the aspect of play. When something starts to feel like work, I feel resistance to doing it. But I enjoy having conversations about things that I’m interested in. In this way, when my notes are a conversation partner, they bring in that fun aspect.

Beyond this, having a dialogue partner enables progress. My notes can reveal what I’ve thought about in the past. This allows me to build on past thoughts and conversations, even when significant time has passed. It can also help prevent me from going in circles by revealing where I’ve hit a train of thought that I’ve already encountered in the past.

Having my notes as a dialogue partner can also reveal and stimulate transformation. I can see in my notes where my opinions have shifted over time. It can also facilitate that shift by revealing where my thinking has contradictions or other logical flaws.

My dialogue partner can also feed into my other goals, such as creation. When I’m looking to write a newsletter, share something on Twitter, or write an email to a friend, I can easily refer to my past conversations with myself as a jumping-off point. This means I never need to start from scratch.

So as I’m reflecting on whether my PKM is effective, one of the questions I’ve started to ask myself is:

Am I having good conversations with myself?