# Cancel In

If ten people like you and ten people dislike you, that doesn’t cancel out. The ten people that don’t like you don’t matter.

Think of it differently – if there are ten people that want to give you a dollar and ten people that don’t, you made ten dollars. You don’t have to turn around and give it to the negative people. You get to keep it.

If a hundred people want to date you and a hundred people don’t, you’re going to have a hundred dates to choose from!

This not only (correctly) informs you not to care about the people who don’t want to buy what you’re selling, it also (correctly) guides you to not waste a single second thinking or talking about the people selling things you don’t want to buy. If you don’t like something, then you can’t much benefit from saying so.

Good and bad don’t cancel out. Bad cancels itself out, and good remains.

# Double Trouble

If you have two people in a group, then the maximum number of potential combinations is one.

This is relevant because a lot of people think that if they’re taking their team of four people and increasing it to eight people then they’ll be roughly doubling the complexity of the team (and thus its management).

Hahahahahaha.

How many ways can you arrange the letters A, B, C and D? Keep in mind, you don’t always have to use all four letters, so you’re also adding to that the different ways you can arrange A, B and C; B, C and D; A, B and D; et cetera.

It’s already a lot! If you have just four people on your team then their skill sets and personalities are a vibrant tapestry of possible combinations. That’s great for creativity, but challenging for productively tapping into that creativity and channeling it in a positive direction.

When you double your team size and now have letters A through H… now you see how much more complex it can be.

Some people try to solve this by creating artificial silos. They just keep A through D in one group, and then E through H in another group. If you do that, you manage to keep the complexity growth linear – but you also keep the benefit growth linear, too.

Tangent: have you ever seen how the Panama canal works?

You eventually mix everything, but you don’t just throw it all together at once. Break your team down into 2-3 smaller teams, sure. But then don’t keep those teams in isolation forever. On a set rotation, have one person at a time move one team over. Keep the silo walls from being impenetrable, while also keeping the chaos aimed in a productive direction. Let people upskill and mix their expertise while still working towards the goal.

Make the benefit growth outpace the complexity creep. Doubly effective!

# First Thing Tomorrow

I’m not a huge proponent of procrastination. Under normal circumstances, I find that attacking tasks sooner rather than later is often the optimal strategy.

Often. Not always.

Because look, some kinds of projects or tasks are best suited to certain kinds of surrounding times and circumstances, and the next optimal window for a particular task might be tomorrow morning.

Some people are at maximum creative energy first thing in the morning and are really terrible writers in the afternoon. So if a writing task comes up in the afternoon, assigning that task to the next morning isn’t procrastination, it’s productive.

The biggest challenge is not to let procrastination disguise itself as productive task assignment and slip into your mind as a trojan thought. Procrastination is still a negative; sometimes there are simply exceptions. But when the exceptions become the default, you’re in trouble.

The best thing to do – even if you’re planning to “assign” a task to a later date, do something to start it now. Well begun is half done, and even something as simple as opening up a new file and putting the title at the top of an otherwise blank page can anchor the task as something that needs doing, not something you’re putting off. Remain in control – even if you’re yielding that control to the you of tomorrow morning.

# Personal Environment

We are often machines that respond to stimuli in our environment. Maintaining integrity of response across many different circumstances is a matter of creating a personal, internal “environment” that supersedes the external ones we enter and leave.

You are never unsupervised if you create an agent of supervision within yourself. Sometimes our base nature requires reigning in; it is best that your higher nature is the one holding the reigns. Otherwise, someone else may have to pick them up.

# Listening for Action

Listening is incredibly important. “Observation” is probably a better term than “listening,” but a lot of communication between humans is verbal, so when you’re sussing out other people it’s probably listening that’s doing most of the work. Anyway, listening is really important – but not just for the sake of listening.

Tangent: Lots of animals hunt in really cool ways. It isn’t always about being really fast and biting something. One of my favorites is the way leopards hunt. Sure, sometimes they do the “run and bite” method, but a lot of time they just chill in a high tree. For a long time. Without moving. And then eventually some particular animal will walk directly under where the leopard is chilling and POW, the thing just drops out of the tree and kills its prey.

End tangent. Listening for action is like chilling in that tree. See, the tree thing only works if you’re both patient and attentive. Anyone can chill in a tree and let their mind wander or take a nap. But being able to be quietly observant, ready to take advantage of opportunity when it arises, is a practiced skill.

The whole “waiting for your turn to talk” thing isn’t just rude. It’s foolish. The world is constantly giving you information that your own brain doesn’t already have, so tell your own brain to pipe down and let you look for antelope. When the opportunity walks under your tree, you want to hear it.

# Pits & Mountains

I have observed that people often fall into one of two categories when it comes to how they view the trajectory of their lives.

In one view, your life’s journey is a relatively flat line in which there are many pitfalls and other obstacles. Each pitfall must be avoided or at least mitigated or it will make your life worse. All of your efforts go, therefore, to avoiding these obstacles when they appear. When they’re absent, people with this view tend to just coast. In fact, coasting is often the ultimate goal; they would prefer no change at all, ever.

In the second view, your life’s journey is a climb up a mountain. There are still pitfalls and obstacles, even setbacks, but it’s okay as long as the journey trends upwards, on average. Some setbacks may even be necessary to open up new paths of ascension, so they aren’t automatically avoided as the worst outcome. For people with this worldview, the worst outcome is stagnation. Not climbing at all.

These two worldviews will process events and resources so completely differently from one another that they may seem completely alien to each other. It would be difficult for them to even communicate in many ways.

The “Pit” mindset says “all change is bad.” The objective is to avoid change or mitigate its damage. The goal is comfort; not necessarily great accomplishment, just comfort – meaning, not a disaster, not painful, not anything very bad. For this mindset, the possibility of harm far outweighs the possibility of accomplishment in the calculation of risk, so this mindset will almost never initiate change. After all, change is usually bad! Better to stay where I am. Whenever something bad might happen to this person, they do everything they can to avoid it. When something bad does happen to this person, their obsession becomes a return to the status quo as quickly as possible.

The “Mountain” mindset says “on average, change is good, even if occasionally bad changes happen.” The objective, therefore, is to make many changes, focusing on initiating the ones that benefit them the most. The goal is improvement – along whatever metrics you choose. This could mean being healthier, happier, building a better community, elevating your family, being more financially independent, anything. The “Mountain” mindset initiates change frequently, recognizing that life very rarely lets you stay comfortable for long. When something bad might happen, this mindset takes into consideration the total journey to see if it’s worth worrying about. When something bad does happen, this mindset looks for new opportunities presented and ignores the lost resources as irrelevant.

There is a lot of really good personal development advice for people with the Mountain mindset that not only isn’t good advice for people with the Pit mindset – it would seem totally insane to those people. If someone’s entire worldview is “change is bad” (whether they realize it or not), then advice centering around change will be anathema. Resources that are great for helping someone climb a mountain may be very poor resources for someone trying to avoid pits.

People with a Pit mindset won’t just not benefit from Mountain resources, they’ll actually perceive that they were harmed by them. Taking a course to learn a new skill represents at least two changes (you had to spend money/time/juice to do it, and you may have to change something else to use that skill), and the Pit mindset sees those as bad things. So if you try to show someone with a Pit mindset how they may improve their life by trading one kind of resource for another (time/money for knowledge), they’ll think you’re trying to scam them. Positive change is impossible, they unconsciously believe – so you’re just a snake oil salesman.

If you have a Pit mindset, there is only one piece of advice that can actually help you: develop a Mountain mindset as quickly as possible. Start small; try to make incremental positive improvements in your life at a low personal cost. Record your progress so you can actually demonstrate to yourself in the future the relationship between your effort and the resulting improvements. Even doing this may require you to fight the voice that says it’s a waste of time. But if you don’t do it, your life will be nothing but pits, forever.

(Note from Johnny: This is a personal development blog. If you’re reading this with any sort of regularity, chances are good that you already have a Mountain mindset. But chances are also very very good that you know at least one person with a Pit mindset. If that’s so, feel free to share – you never know which catalyst will start someone on their journey.)

# Sweet

I took my children on a typical “autumn outing” today – hayrides, pies, etc. We had a wonderful time, and one of the activities was picking sweet potatoes. In addition to just being fun because we’ll get to eat those later, it also showed me a very interesting lesson – as outings with my children so often do.

You see, all three kids were doing the same activity. But each had declared a totally different goal for themselves. My oldest wanted to find the biggest sweet potato she could; each time she did she’d immediately start searching for an even bigger one. My middle child wanted to find the smallest she could find – her obsession with cute, tiny things apparently extends even to root vegetables, and she wanted something adorable. My youngest just wanted the most; he was obsessed with the ever-increasing pile and straining the structural integrity of the bags we had for the purpose.

Same activity, three totally different victory conditions. Apart from the marvellous fact that this resulted in zero arguments or competition between the kids (hooray!), it really demonstrated a lesson that I think we often forget as adults.

No one else gets to tell you what “winning” is. You pick your own games, and you don’t have to pick the ones other people are playing. You can be happy and have fun for any reason in the world. Biggest, smallest, most, least, fastest, slowest, anything in betweenest. When someone else is happiest, we should cheer the loudest for them. And we should pick our own victory conditions – that’s what makes life sweetest.

# Thumbtacks

In the book Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk, one of the characters is a deranged mother who tires of the fact that her family just wolfs down the food she makes without stopping to appreciate it. Her solution is to start putting thumbtacks into the food. That way, they have to eat very slowly and carefully in order to avoid accidentally biting down on or swallowing one, and as a side effect, they really linger on each bite.

Our echo chambers are a lot like the food we wolf down. When we fill our information feeds with sources we tend to agree with, we stop considering the individual bites of information. Everything just gets absorbed as part of a tapestry, each piece becoming supporting evidence for all the others by simple virtue of repetition. We never even notice if something should be triggering alarm bells for our critical thinking mechanisms, because those mechanisms have been shut off – we’ve trained our brains to think “all of this is safe and accurate” so we just pour it in.

So, throw in a few thumbtacks. Follow some accounts and sources that you totally disagree with. Let them disrupt the flow. When you hit those bites in your news feed, you’ll be forced to stop and chew. Carefully. And that will throw the endless conveyor belt into disarray, and you’ll be forced to chew every bite.

Growth comes from discomfort, and never forget it.

# You Can’t Give Up

I mean that in a literal sense. You can’t give up – who would you even surrender to? Life isn’t your opponent, it’s the field you’re playing on. You can’t quit, because there’s no one to quit to.

Any time you’re overcome with stress, frustration, or anxiety and you feel the desire to just throw in the towel, remember – there’s nowhere to throw it. Any course of action you’d actually take as a manifestation of “throwing in the towel” would be at least as much work as persevering. So you might as well persevere.

Futility is futile. You can only leave the game by winning it. There’s no timer; you have forever. You just can’t quit.

# Lurch

When I go hiking, I like to leave the main trails as soon as I can and strike off where there aren’t any trails at all. It’s a lot of fun to go exploring and find my way around without the obvious path.

Here’s the thing about the non-obvious path: as fun as it is, you can’t just stroll. Strolling is a luxury afforded by clear, straight roads, and those have to be built by prior travelers. If you’re the first, you have to lurch.

The rocks that let you cross the stream aren’t evenly spaced. The roots you have to step over aren’t equidistant from the branches you have to duck under. The broken ground offers only a few safe purchases. Your stride will be uneven. You will fall.

Or, you can stick to the path, and stroll around in circles.