The Wrong Way to Read and the Meaning of Insight

Your mind, like your body, needs the nutrients and vitamins of good ideas in order to survive and thrive. But as we grow older, our ego turns our head away from good ideas like the child avoiding the choo-choo train of a spoonful of peas.

Good ideas aren’t found out there. They’re found in here, in you. Wisdom means nothing to those who don’t listen. To really read a good book, you first need to actually want to read it. Your own inclination comes from within, not from without.

Therapy is a waste of time (for the client and therapist) to the person forced to go to therapy. “I, according to so-and-so, need help.” That never works. The same is true of reading.

You need to understand your motivations for reading a book. Are you thinking of buying this book because Barnes & Noble says everyone in your town is reading it? Do you want to read because that’s what smart people do? Is the self-improvement regime court ordering you to read a book because if you don’t, then you must be a loser? Or do you want to read because there’s something you need to figure out?

There’s a mistake in assuming all answers come from the outer world. Yes, good books help, but how you approach the bookhow you read the book – matters more than what the book is about. Are you reading so that you can show off to your friends? Are you reading just to confirm your barely stable mental model of the world? Or are you reading because you’ve been wearing a dunce cap your entire life, and you’d like to be less of a dunce?

Ask yourself: are my actions in the outer world strengthening, harmonizing, feeding my mind with the proper nutrients?

The outer world nourishes your inner world only when your inner world is understood, and by understood I mean that it is respected: your inner world — your psychology — is never fully understood.

To have insight is to question your reasons for doing anything other than eating, drinking, defecating, and breathing.


P.S: I turned 26 yesterday. Thanks to all who sent me birthday wishes, and big thanks especially to those who sent me some good books. I super appreciate it.

I’m taking a public speaking course and it’s going to change my life

Trying to escape communication is like trying to escape oxygen.

Everywhere you go, even when you’re alone, you’re communicating something. You’re always talking to yourself. In the Freudian sense, you’re always in a conversation with your culture and the ideal version of you. Other people expect you to behave a certain way (that’s culture). And that image of your ideal self (that’s ego), the “you” with an outstanding portfolio of work and an impressive collection of achievements, expects you to behave in a way that allows you to fulfill that portfolio of work and to collect all those achievements.

But you can’t do any of that unless you change the way you communicate with yourself and the people around you. Because the world reflects how you act. And how you act reflects how you communicate with yourself.

Communication is a superpower. History has seen phenomenal speakers use the power of words to manipulate entire countries into committing atrocities against innocent people. It’s because of this complicated history that people often see communication as manipulative. And they’re right. Communication is manipulative. But everything has a dark side and a bright side.

The bright side of communication is that we can use it as a force for good. Used with good intentions, communication is a powerful tool. It helps us do the risky work of telling others what we’re up to. It helps clear our muddy thoughts. It helps other people trust us, see us where we are, and enroll in the changes we’d like to make.

I write to figure out what I know. What I know informs what I intend to do each day. But if all I do is write, then nobody can understand me. Speaking is an extension of writing, and writing is an extension of thinking. All forms and methods of communication (writing, posture, speed, vocabulary, subject, intent, medium) are extensions of thinking.

I speak to figure out how I should share what I know with other people. I can’t enlighten and entertain people if I’m speaking like a walking corporate PowerPoint presentation. And so I’m pleased to tell you that I’ll be taking Performative Speaking, a public speaking course created by my friend Robbie Crabtree and his team.

Robbie’s a powerhouse. His command of the English language is inspiring. His understanding of story and narrative is at the level of mastery. He could have kept all his knowledge to himself. Instead, he’s sharing his 10 years of experience as a trial lawyer with those brave enough to enroll and put themselves on the hook.

This course is going to change my life. Not because I’ll be walking across hot coals, but because I’ll be doing something much scarier: talking about myself and my work in front of people I’ve never met.

If you’d like to know more about the course, and how it’ll change your life, click here.

And if you’d like to know more about Robbie, you can listen to my conversation with him by clicking here.

I have no idea how to answer this question on my psychology midterm (Part 1)

Have you ever played Binky’s Facts and Opinions? It’s a game that teaches players the difference between what’s true and what’s not. Here, let’s play together. Look at at this question from my Positive Psychology™ midterm, and tell me if it’s a fact, or opinion, that one of these things decreases happiness.*

Yeah, I could have read the text. But that wouldn’t have solved the bigger issue here: why are we being asked about matters of subjectivity on an exam about psychology, which is supposed to be scientific?

I picked religion. Not because I believe religion decreases happiness, but because I had absolutely no idea how to answer this question. It seemed like the obvious answer since it’s easy to harp on religion. Everyone and their grandpa can form a half-baked paraphrase of Marx’s, “opiate of the masses.”

So I picked religion, and got the question wrong.

If I had to take this exam again, I’d pick marriage. Because way too many people wear shirts like this…

…,and I’ve heard way too many deadbeat comedians make jokes about how horrible it is to find the 1 person out of 8 billion who give them more than the time of day.

If I had to take this exam a third time, I’d pick education. Because I’m definitely not happy. I’m confused as to what it is exactly that this question is testing me on.

Oh, yeah, and children? What? — Really?

If you want to know what the correct answer is, you’ll need to wait until October 30th.


*On a separate exam, I was asked about the different ways of getting information. One of the ways we get information is from figures of authority. According to “the lecture and text”, either marriage, children, religion, or education decreases happiness. Go figure.

The Penguin Latte Podcast #6: Pranav Mutatkar on His Petri Dish of Inspiration

Today, I’m joined by the wonderful Pranav Mutatkar (@pranavmutatkar). His newsletter, Your Lazy Sunday blends together art, music, comedy, and culture. It’s an intellectual treat for those of us who prefer not to take ourselves so seriously. Highly recommended.

We spent about half this episode geeking out about our favorite directors, psychoanalysts, philosophers, writers, thinkers, newsletters, and comedians. Pranav has much to say on achieving our goals with as little effort as possible. And if that seems completely counterintuitive to the usual approach, that’s because it is. And guess what? It works. Pranav’s life is proof of that.

Please enjoy!

What you really want to do is transition from it being lazy for you, to it being lazy for your audience, for your customers.

Pranav Mutatkar

Talking Points:

  • Living in San diego, beer culture (2:00)
  • The brilliance of Bill Watterson (4:00)
  • “A petri dish from extremely diverse places” (6:00)
  • Can we really be ourselves all the time? (12:00)
  • Pranav’s favorite directors (15:00)
  • The interplay of the movies “Her” and “Lost in Translation” (16:00)
  • Pranav’s philosophy of laziness (17:00)
  • Geeking out about Carl Jung, the Shadow, Jordan Peterson, Nietzsche, and Kanye West (19:00)
  • Pranav’s experience with Building a Second Brain with Tiago Forte (40:00)
  • Pranav’s course on lazy habits (43:00)
  • Getting comfortable on camera, starting small when you’re starting out (43:00)
  • A big riff on perfectionism (54:00)
  • Failing before you’re big (1:01:00)
  • “Translating the untranslatable” (1:04:00)
  • The Theory of Constructed Emotions (1:11:00)
  • The struggle of going deep on ideas in a world of “get to the point” (1:14:00)
  • On why we need comedy (1:19:00)
  • Being inspired by fiction writers (1:22:00)
  • Being interested in many subjects (1:27:00)
  • Pranav’s message for people who want to understand themselves on a deeper level (1:37:00)

Mentions in this episode

Her

Lost in Translation

Carl Jung

Symbols of Transformation

Jordan Peterson

Friedrich Nietzsche

Kanye West (do I really need to link this?)

The Tree of Life

Building A Second Brain

Rise of The Full Stack Freelancer

Carseat Headrest

Captain Sinbad

The Theory of Constructed Emotions

Dave Chapelle

How to write like Hunter S. Thompson

Sam Harris

How to develop better judgment without knowing everything

Judgement is the skill of considering what’s relevant before making a decision. Relevant includes the known and unknown. How the customer could react matters as much as how they’ve been reacting.

Let’s say that you’ve conditioned a customer to trust you by delivering on your promises.

That’s the known.

But today, a new problem is frustrating the customer.

That’s the unknown.

Now your job to show the customer that they can still trust you, even with problems like this. Because this customer doesn’t know (yet) that they can trust you when it seems like a problem has no solution.

Judgement is about more than the Big Business decisions.

Judgement means giving this podcast guest extra time to think about the question.

Or letting this person speak without interrupting them.

Or empathizing with this client’s particular (and maybe annoying) needs.

Or understanding how to operate on this person’s overcrowded mouth.

How to develop better judgement?

Not by attending a seminar. Not by signing up for a class.

You develop better judgement first by accepting that you cannot know everything. Sending these firefighters into a burning building could cause something terrible. But the good captain is aware of the risks, and proceeds anyway.

And the 911 operator doesn’t ask the caller to backtrack. “Sorry, we can’t put out the fire because you’re not giving us every fact about your situation. Goodbye.”

Developed judgement comes through gained experience. Gained experience comes from exposure to all the relevant situations. And the only way to gain the experience necessary for making better judgments is to never settle for familiarity.

If you’re having a first consultation with a dentist, and they’re already familiar with the inside of your mouth, then I recommend you install a new home security system.

How to tell who has good judgment?

Seek out those who seem to be playing the archetypal fool. Seek out those who say, “I’m not sure.”

“I’m not sure” doesn’t mean “I’m not interested.”

If you stop listening after “I’m not sure,” then you’ll never hear the second half: “so I need to figure this out.”

Basketball Marketing

Here’s my favorite lesson in all of psychology. If you took a class on psychology or marketing, and your professor never showed you this video, demand a refund. They cheated you.

See if you can count how many times the basketball is thrown around in this video.

 

What we perceive to be important, a validation of our feelings, or a test of our abilities, is what we pay attention to. We pay no attention to anything else other than what’s pressing us right this very second. We’re selfish by default.

And so we have to work really hard to override this default setting programmed into us from birth.

The basketballs teach us (among too many lessons to fit here) that getting along with others isn’t easy. We need to strain ourselves to look people in the eye. We need to tape our mouths shut while other people talk. It takes work. It takes work because we’d prefer to listen to other people only if other people are talking about us. You’re counting basketballs for different reasons than they are.

This isn’t to say that everyone’s going to ignore you like some banker on wall-street dual-wielding smartphones. Wall-street bankers don’t care about your anxiety because they’re wall-street bankers. They’ve got different basketballs to count. Your therapist and friends and family members care about your anxiety because they consider you (I hope) to be a basketball worth counting.

So how does this relate to marketing? To sharing our ideas with the world?

If we want anyone other than our parents to pay attention to what we create, then we need to find the others who are counting the same basketballs that we’re counting. If we don’t, then our ideas are nothing more than invisible gorillas.

It’s not up to us to change somebody’s beliefs. If they don’t believe that books are worth reading, then they’re not going to read a blog post about reading books. But if they are, then they’re probably going to read your 800 word manifesto on the power of reading.

And so, this all ties into what I call Basketball Marketing. By using the right words, evoking the right emotions, using the proper symbols and images, we can create things that resonate with people who’ve already converted themselves into people who believe in our ideas.

Basketball Marketing is about creating products and experiences that the converts – the people who’ve changed themselves into those who believe in the benefits of drinking mushroom coffee – will automatically connect with. It’s about finding the people who are counting the same basketballs that you’re counting, and ignoring the same gorillas that you’re ignoring.

Shape-shifter

yellow version of quote

The best thing about living in a subjective reality is that it’s subject to change – to your change. Within your subjective reality is your subjective representation of objects, experiences, people, and most important, of self.

The cardinal decision is to change the experience that you have of your self. None of the other changes can happen before you change that.

What most calls for your attention is determined by the way that you experience your self. A great book can be said to be intrinsically valuable. But to somebody who doesn’t experience themselves as a reader, then the book is nothing but a doorstop. The essay that’s due yesterday isn’t a priority to the person who experiences their self as a slacker.

When you decide to change the way that you experience your self, things that were once invisible become visible.

A book is no longer a doorstop. The pages within are now possibilities to humble yourself with all the ways that you didn’t know this about the world.

A phone is no longer an attention vacuum. A phone is now a possibility to connect with other people who want to change their self experience the way that you do.

Your opponent is no longer somebody who wants you to lose. Your opponent is now somebody who challenges you to play at your best.

This day is no longer something that you’re just trying to get through. This day is now the best day that you’ve ever had, even though you were just fined a $50 parking violation.

Objects, experiences, and people transform into potential outlets that help bring about your best self. And your best self is the version of you that accepts the fact that you’re not omnipotent – that you’re going to need all the help you can get from people that represent you as the example.