What Inspiration Feels Like

Today I had a familiar sensation, one which has historically always been an indication that something special is going on. It starts out with a sort of anxious frenzy, as an uninhibited stream of thoughts pours through your brain due to some stimulus. Over a decade ago, in the summer of 2017, this occurred when I woke up the morning after having a second run-in with law enforcement in as many days. The anxiousness was replaced with resolve, and accompanied by a deep drive to pursue being a police officer as a career.

More recently this happened when I returned from a vacation to Jamaica, during which I had done four dives out to the reefs around the island. I was overtaken with a love of the sea and being underwater, something which is certain to play a big role in my future somehow. There is this moment, kind of a flash, and it excites you like crazy and you suddenly cannot consume enough information about whatever it is, or stop yourself from writing down a million ideas. You no doubt can point to a similar moment in your life. This, I believe, is what inspiration looks and feels like.

The kicker about what happened today is that this time, the essential framework for making things happen has started to take shape in my own life. Finally understanding what pursuit of goals really requires, and why they are so important; “protecting the asset” by getting sleep and eliminating non-essentials and vices; just, I dunno, these basic management things that all proceed in the direction of being maximum at life. Without the foundations, the big ideas resulting from the inspiration I had today will remain only as ideas.

Now let us see if we can turn them into reality.

photo: Bamboo beach club, ocho rios, jamaica

Latest Edition

Now this here, this is what the Conquer List was really meant for. This book, according to the author, is “designed for persons who cannot draw at all, who feel that they have no talent for drawing, and who believe that they probably can never learn to draw.” This describes me exactly.

Drawing is something that I’ve always told myself “I’ll never be able to do that” which made it a perfect candidate for the Conquer List. The reality is that drawing should be no different from learning any other skill. My first inspiration in this regard came from Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset”, in which she defines a “Growth” mindset as being one which the mind always feels it can learn more about anything. Talent, as people have generally thought about it, is way over-hyped. Or is it? We shall see, my friends. We shall see.

Conquering

One of my big things for September was the formalization of what I called my “Conquer List”. This is simply a list of things that in my past seemed insurmountable, but could be considered essential for life. The thought was to write down anything that I’ve ever said to myself, “I’ll never be able to do that”, or “I’ll never be any good at that.” Classic examples from the past have been cooking, dancing, money, mornings, and math.

But writing these things down and wanting to conquer them of course isn’t enough. Reading Ray Dalio helped me start to formulate a plan for how to approach conquering these things:

  1. Clearly define what it is.
  2. Identify problems that will prevent you from doing it,
  3. Find the root cause of the problems,
  4. Design plans to get around these problems, and
  5. Push through to results.

This is simplistic of course and doesn’t point out some essential goal-setting elements (like measuring, for example), but it sheds some light on a key fact: if there were no problems preventing you, achieving goals would be a cakewalk.

As I’ve built out the list and done further reading, my thinking on the Conquer List has shifted. The List is great but what’s really behind it? I’ll tell you. What are you really conquering? Put the focus on the problems, or as I like to now call them, the Enemies. When you evaluate something in terms of friend or foe, you will identify the things that are in fact existential threats to becoming who you want to be. Could be simple things like drinking, smoking, and/or being lazy. Could also be difficult things like deeply-broken personal relationships that need to be repaired.

You should definitely try thinking about all the stuff that most people wouldn’t put in a dating profile, and then draw some lines between those things and what your goals are. You have just identified some enemies to conquer, and now that you’ve identified them, you can take them out.

artwork: julius caesar

Magical

Morning routines, as it turns out, are amazing. There’s probably nothing closer to actually creating time by magic. All these small, easy-to-do things used to seem impossible, but now boom: it’s 6:30 AM and they’re all done and I’m walking out the door to work.

In turn, the routines program the brain very similar to the boot-up routines on a computer. As a young lad I had great fun fine-tuning the scripts for these boot-up routines, and if something was missing or done in the wrong order the computer wouldn’t do what you wanted it to do. Our routines program our brains the same way, and we can choose what our own programming is and design our own personal machine based on what we need ourselves to do.

The end result is, to use one of my favorite new words of 2018, transformational. All that stuff you’ve heard about people who succeed getting up early and getting after it? Super true.

artwork: The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali, 1931
The Museum of Modern Art

Who’d Have Thought

Maybe Your Sleep Problem Isn’t a Problem

I always enjoy coming across articles like the one above (you should read it, too) that tell my old story: the story of a person who for literal decades proudly proclaimed “I’m not a morning person”.

I’ve spent most of my adult life lamenting about how ungodly it was to be up before the ass-crack of dawn, bitterly cursing when I needed to trudge to the shower at 5am to prepare for some early obligation. I remember a business trip a few years back with an early-rising sales rep that had me up at 3:30am three days in a row to make 6am flights between cities, rather than my usual routine of evening flights the night before.

Ok, I think that last scenario even dedicated Larks would agree was a ridiculous idea. But what I’m getting at is that nobody (with the possible exception of my oldest sister) can claim more Not-a-morning-person cred than myself.

And I don’t want to sit here and tell people like the author of the above piece that they can change. “Pray-away-the-lazy”, as it were. We recently had Daniel Pink (author of Drive! and When) give a talk at our office. I definitely buy the science that he aggregates for us in his book When which tells us that certain people are genuinely wired as Owls, and that society wants to kill them. I thought that was me; I even remember being spot-tested for my crono-type by Daniel directly and him informing me that I was “owl-ish”.

And then, as if by magic, I changed into a Lark. Or (plot twist), did I actually just discover that I was a Lark all along?

People who love touting the fact that they’re not “morning people” remind me of a similar group of people who are proud of “not being good at math”. For the vast majority of people, lack of mathematics ability equates directly to the level of effort they’ve put into learning it – functionally zero. Relating this to myself, I can honestly say that my lack of morning-person skills were directly attributed to not developing the right habits to support it.

That changed about six weeks ago. I had read a number of books that talked about the need for getting enough sleep. One author said seven hours. Greg McKeown (Essentialism) made a convincing case for eight.  I then got introduced to the “Morning Sidekick” accountability journal and began using it immediately. Six weeks later, I am up at 5am every weekday (hopefully soon I will extend this to weekends as well) and killing it at work two hours later, usually 45-50 minutes early.

This has taken discipline and compromise, but after cutting out the wrong things and adding in the right things here I am. Mr Hates-the-morning guy is now excited to hit the bricks at 9pm on a Tuesday to roll it over and get started early on making Wednesday even better. Perhaps a true Owl would not be able to fight their DNA and accomplish this, but how many Owls out there are just Larks with bad habits? If you think you might be one, there is only one way to find out.

photo credit: david cooper