all posts tagged 'self improvement'

What I Do When I Can’t Sleep

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

Listening to him name exactly what he liked about the wine turned up the hairs on the back of my neck. Suddenly, my own experience of the wine felt deeper and more satisfying. I wanted to know: How was he able to identify these flavors?

He told me the secret was to blindly smell things and try to label them. You see, the part of your brain that’s responsible for smells is naturally mute. It’s called the olfactory bulb, and it’s an ancient fist of neurons just behind your eyes. It has only indirect backroad connections to the parts of the brain that control language, like Broca’s area. So, even though you might have an easy time knowing whether or not you like a scent, it’s not easy to label that scent with a word. It’ll feel like groping through a dark closet for something you know is there, but can’t quite find.

I did not know this, and now I will be nerding out on ways to train my taste buds.

But this article isn’t just about developing your sense of taste. It’s also about defining your style.

In much the same way the author describes how he is, for the first time in his life, articulating what he likes as a writer, I am starting to do the same with several areas of my life.

Case in point: I have a huge collection of quotes that you can see on the main page of this site.

I just fed all of them through ChatGPT with this prompt:

I’ve attached a series of quotes which are meaningful to me. First off, tell me the consistent themes you recognize across all of the quotes. Then, tell me what this says about the things that inspire me.

Here is the result:

Across all the quotes, several consistent themes emerge:

  1. Growth and Self-improvement: Many quotes focus on the importance of personal growth, overcoming challenges, and continuous improvement.
  2. Perseverance and Resilience: There's a strong theme of enduring hardship, staying strong in the face of adversity, and the importance of perseverance.
  3. Wisdom and Perspective: The quotes often reflect on acquiring wisdom, gaining perspective, and understanding life's deeper meanings and truths.
  4. Happiness and Contentment: There's an emphasis on finding happiness, being content with what one has, and the pursuit of joy in life.
  5. Community and Relationships: Several quotes highlight the value of community, the importance of relationships, and the strength that comes from vulnerability and connection with others.

These themes suggest that you are inspired by ideas related to personal growth, resilience in the face of adversity, the pursuit of wisdom and understanding, the importance of happiness and contentment, and the value of community and relationships. It paints a picture of someone who values both internal development and external connections, seeking both personal fulfillment and meaningful interactions with others.

:extremely Marge Simpson voice: “Well, duh.

(For real though, pretty awesome that we have a tool that is exceptionally good at summarizing large amounts of data and picking out patterns throughout the dataset.)

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101 things I would tell my self from 10 years ago

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

I’m a sucker for this style of post. This one in particular is jam packed with so many great pieces of advice that I had to read it three times before sharing it.

Here’s the very first item on her list. If it speaks to you, take ten minutes and thoughtfully consider the other 100 items.

  1. You are overly obedient. You not only do what people tell you to do, but find it hard to imagine any world other than the one they present to you. Spend more time thinking about what you want, in isolation from the pressures of the world. (Keep this in mind while you read the rest of this very prescriptive document.)

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High quality album artwork

originally shared here on

I don't know if I'm one of the only weirdos that still uses Plex and listens to MP3s, but dammit, a carefully curated music collection of which I feel some ownership feels critically important to me.

I have started going back in and using the rating systems to rate entire albums.1 Because this seems like a natural follow up question, I basically only give albums one of three ratings2:

  • ★★★★☆ (4 stars): This is an important album to me, but I don't wanna hear it every day.
  • ★★★★★ (5 stars): This album is everything right now.
  • ★★★★⯨ (4.5 stars): Somewhere in between the two. It is either a 5 becoming a 4, or a 4 on its way to fivedom3.

Doing this gives me the ability to create a smart playlist containing all of the albums with at least a 4.5 star rating.

This morning while getting ready, I uncharacteristically grabbed my iPad and used Plexamp to listen to that playlist on shuffle.

The first thing I noticed on the much larger screen was how awful the album artwork looked for many of my albums.

They looked quite pixelated and blurry. Some of them looked like scans where you could clearly see stickers and thin, diagonal white lines on the sides.

I decided this must be something I rectify tonight.

I've updated the artwork for maybe 50 albums so far, and I'm stunned at how much of a difference it makes to have nice looking album art.

I've had some of these albums for decades now. When I added artwork back in the mid 2000s, the best I could hope for in many cases was a 256x256px JPG that I could find on a message board.

At the same time, the past few weeks gave me several opportunities to pay attention to these albums in a way I never have before.4

For most of my life, I generally used music to distract me from my thoughts. I would occasionally listen to the lyrics and look up the meaning of a song, but those details were often secondary to the overall feeling of a track.

Something in the past couple of years changed that in me, though, and now I have been enjoying music on so many more levels. What was an artist going through when they made a song? What was the creative process like? What do these words mean to the artist?

The best system I found was to use the Plex web app on my laptop to select new album art, and then use the Plexamp iOS app to move from song to song, finding songs which had low res album art.

I noticed after a few changes that when I saved the album art on my laptop, it instantly reflected on my phone.

So of course, I started hovering over the "save" button on my laptop, then glanced down at my phone while clicking.

And what you'd see was a cool cross fade where the image got sharper. Cleaner. Fresher. Way more detailed. Way less pixelated.

It allowed me to be a bit of an ophthalmologist, covering one eye, flipping between two different lens strengths and asking whether I preferred option 1 or option 2.

Polishing up my music collection, cleaning up this blog... these were things I used to do for fun.

They were mindless activities. A chance to express myself without feeling any judgement.5 To feel accomplished and organized, a little slice of order within a chaotic life filled with incessant disorder.

I have been so busy for the past twelve years that I forgot what fun really looked like.

I thought fun was learning how to build a company. To understand what it takes to build successful and impactful software.

And in many ways, those things were fun. It is really cool to make computers do complex stuff, to build tech that makes people's lives better. It brings me so much joy.

But that's not the only thing that's fun in the world. And I might have done a bit better at relegating those pursuits to my professional life, and then figured out a way to pursue other joyful things outside of that.

It's weird coming back to my media library after essentially neglecting it for most of my adult life. It feels like opening a time capsule, but then jumping down into it and living amongst the decade old cruft.

But it feels good to clean it out and use it again. To treat it like my house instead of a history exhibit.

  1. I don't really care much about rating individual songs. It feels too granular and seems like unnecessary to accomodate my listening habits. 

  2. If I don't rate an album, then it's only in my library because I'm a digital hoarder and I need to seriously do a deeper purge on my virtual footprint. 

  3. Believe it or not, ⯨ is a Unicode character for "Left Half black Star", but there's very limited font support for this. Someday, perhaps this blog will be able to properly render half of a star filled in. 

  4. I can't believe how much I rushed through the last 12 years of my life. Everyone talks about being mindful and present, and there's nothing quite like anxiety to take you out of being present. 

  5. When you learn how to program computers, they become far less judgmental of you, by the way. Or maybe you get less judgmental of them. 

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To Kickstart a New Behavior, Copy and Paste

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

The next time you’re falling short of a goal, look to high-achieving peers for answers. If you’d like to get more sleep, a well-rested friend with a similar lifestyle may be able to help. If you’d like to commute on public transit, don’t just look up the train schedules—talk to a neighbor who’s already abandoned her car. You’re likely to go further faster if you find the person who’s already achieving what you want to achieve and copy and paste their tactics than if you simply let social forces influence you through osmosis.

This is one of those posts where I think to myself, “I wish I had come up with this myself many, many years ago and saved myself a ton of needless hard work.”

I’ve been getting a chance to (unintentionally) put this into practice at my new job. We hired a Ruby on Rails developer who is just incredible at what he does, and I had the chance to work alongside him a couple days this past week.

Seeing him work Vim, for example, already makes me want to start exploring it. And that’s a piece of tech that has intimidated me for two decades now.

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Long feedback loops

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

In the best case scenario, we create routines to hypnotize ourselves into repetition. We have loved ones and mentors who tell us to keep going, and help us figure out when we’re on the wrong track. We look for signs that we’re getting better, but we also understand that the process of getting really, really good at something sometimes just feels like a incoherent slog. If we’re lucky and resourceful and creative, we’ll eventually break through the membrane and find ourselves on the other side we’ve been clawing towards for so long.

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The Science of Developing Self-Control in Life

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

If you examine your life, you’ll find that you do a lot of things to simply manage stress. In fact, I believe that for most of us, that’s all that we do.

It’s been a tough year on many fronts, and I know the general crux of this article is very important, but I thought this point about stress was very poignant.

Self-control and stress are inextricably linked. If you feel like life is out of control, once you are placed in a stressful situation, you’ll do bad things to alleviate that stress.

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Everything is temporary; nearly everything is reversible

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

My mindset has always been that life is a series of things you Have To Get Right or face the consequences of being a Big Failure. That has led me to put immense pressure myself and on many of my individual decisions, including minor ones. As a consequence, I ended up with unreasonably high expectations for myself and others.

My neck hurts from nodding along so aggressively with this self-analysis.

This article has some solid advice if your neck hurts too.

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The Danger of Comparing Yourself to Others

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

There is one thing that you’re better at than other people: being you. This is the only game you can really win.

When you start with this mindset the world starts to look better again. No longer are you focused on where you stand relative to others. Instead, your focus and energy is placed on what you’re capable of now and how you can improve yourself.

Life becomes about being a better version of yourself. And when that happens, your effort and energy go toward upgrading your personal operating system every day, not worrying about what your coworkers are doing. You become happier, free from the shackles of false comparisons and focused on the present moment.

I think this blog is quickly turning into a spot where I can look when I need some internal motivation, and this is a perfect post for that future time.

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The Tim Ferriss Show - Tobi Lütke

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

I swear, this blog isn't just going to become a link to every single Tim Ferriss episode. The problem is that most of his recent interviews are too good not to share.

This particular interview with Shopify's Tobi Lütke is great for a few reasons, but here were my big takeaways:

  • Life should be about going on a journey, surrounded by friends, doing hard things.
  • It's critical to have a growth mindset. You should be able to be thrown into a job that you have no qualifications for, accept that it will be challenging, and ultimately figure out how to succeed.
  • Failing at a project is very difficult if you optimize for two things: first, find the human relationship(s) in the project and aim to make them the best they can possibly be. Second, aim for proficiency in the underlying skill it takes to complete the task. If you make a solid relationship with someone and sharpen a dull skill, then the project isn't a failure in the grand scheme.

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No Sweets November

originally shared here on

I'm 25 pounds heavier than I was this time last year.

I could blame it on a ton of things, including a lack of motivation to run after the ultramarathon, my knee surgery in June, and work-related stress.

Instead of playing the blame game though, I've decided I'm gonna do something about it.

After reading The 4 Hour Body earlier this year, I took a few big points away that I've been adopting in my life. One of those points is to find small changes you can make to your life that will yield big gains.

I think those of you who know me would say that one of my biggest vices in life are sweets. I'll easily pound a quart of ice cream in a single sitting if I can. At weddings, I'll grab two edge pieces (and hopefully, one of those is a corner piece). My wife's freshly-baked batch of three dozen cookies will not last a full week.

Another trait I know about myself is that I need to set audacious goals for myself, if for no other reason than to prove that I can do it.

With those points in mind, I've decided that November 2018 is going to be "No Sweets November" for me.

What are the rules, you ask? Here goes:

  • Sweets includes any food product with a ton of artificial sugar. For me, this would include ice cream, cookies, brownies, cake, candy, muffins, breath mints, and donuts.
  • Naturally-occurring sweets will not be eliminated, so I can still do things like apples and grapes.
  • From midnight on November 1st until 11:59pm on November 30th, I will not consume any sweet.

Some will say that this month is probably the worst month for doing this. After all, my birthday is on the last day of this challenge, not to mention Thanksgiving and two weddings.

I would argue that those reasons alone make it the perfect month to abstain from sweets. After all, the point of this self-imposed restriction is to lose weight. I'll be much happier with myself if I can end the month 3 pounds lighter than if I were the same weight and ate sweets all month.

I'm already off to a good start. While going for a walk this morning, I found a full sized, unopened bag of M&Ms laying on the sidewalk. I picked it up and thought about tearing right into it, but after remembering the challenge, I handed it to my friend instead.

See you in December!

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