The Neutral Zone

It’s interesting how different people group experiences that don’t generate strong feelings one way or the other.

Let’s say you watch a movie. You enjoyed it, but don’t have any desire to watch it again. Certainly no desire to buy it. If it were on at somebody’s house you wouldn’t complain or leave the room, but you also wouldn’t request it or suggest it, especially when compared to the many other movies in existence you could choose from.

Some people would take that to mean you hated it!

For a lot of people, that’s because they’re not comfortable with how to treat things in the neutral space. Often they feel guilty suggesting something that isn’t 100% A+ super fantastic in the other person’s mind.

Someone once invited me out to dinner at a particular restaurant. I accepted and had a lovely time with a friend. They later asked me what I thought of that particular restaurant and I answered similarly to the movie description, above: “I like it, not a place I’d pick but certainly a place I have no problem going to.”

They responded as if they’d just run over my cat. “I’m so sorry! I’d have never made you go there if I knew you didn’t like it!”

First: you didn’t make me go anywhere. I’m an adult, and can voice my opinions as needed. If I didn’t want to go there, I’d have made an alternate suggestion. You couldn’t make me go somewhere if you wanted to.

Second: did I say I didn’t like it? In fact, I said I did like it! I just said I didn’t love it, but that’s okay. I’m comfortable in the space between. Especially because that’s where people are! You can’t expect to only do things that are exactly the perfect, favorite things of yours and still expect to connect with other people. I don’t need it to always be my favorite restaurant, my favorite movie, my favorite game. That’s a comfortable space to live in. It has good people in it.

The Ten-Minute Yes

I am going to give you an incredibly powerful tool for brainstorming, mentality, and creativity. I call it the “Ten-Minute Yes.”

Here’s the problem that everyone has: we reject things. Instantly, without thought, and without useful awareness. Someone gives you a suggestion or you become aware of an option and your brain says “no” almost on autopilot. Your gut instinct is sometimes good, but that doesn’t mean it’s especially informative. So when you reject things too quickly, you cut off avenues of creativity.

Here’s the solution: the next time someone suggests something to you when you’re feeling stuck, or the next time your search for a solution hits a potential option, don’t reject it – even if you feel like you know it’s wrong. Instead, set a timer for ten minutes.

During that ten minutes, live in a world of make-believe where you not only don’t reject that idea, you have fully and 100% embraced it as the solution you will choose.

When the ten minutes is up, you can go back to the real world. But for that ten minutes, don’t say “if.” Just look at “how.”

Want an example? You’re looking for a new job, but every job listing you see looks bad to you, so you’re getting frustrated. A friend jokes, “run away and join the circus.”

Set the timer! For just ten minutes, say “Okay, I’ve committed to joining a circus. Now – what will I do in the circus? Will I be a performer or one of the supporting team members? Which circus is the best? How will I apply – let me look up their website. Oh neat, they actually have a career page…”

When the timer goes off, you’re probably not going to join the circus (though you might, who knows?). But you will have generated a dozen useful ideas for your progress. Giving yourself permission for this temporary engagement frees your mind from a commitment and allows for positive play. That, in turn, lets the creative juices flow.

When the ten minutes is over, if you don’t join the circus – you’ll know why. Because you actually explored the idea, you’ll have more insight into what features of the potential solution didn’t meet your needs. That gives you direction and allows you to shape your future searches for solutions in a meaningful way.

So if you’re looking for a solution to anything and you’re feeling stuck, give this a try. The most you have to lose is ten minutes – but you have a lot to gain!

Entitled to the Pursuit

No one promised you roses.

You are entitled to the pursuit of happiness, not happiness itself. The happiness is in the pursuit, of course. It isn’t at the end. If you think it’s at the end, you’ll never get it.

Some things cannot be caught, only chased. But as long as you chase it, you have it. When you think you’ve caught it, it’s gone.

Do not be quick to dismiss effort as a chore, as an unwelcome barrier between you and your goal. The effort is the goal; it always was. You didn’t always know it.

Some games can’t ever be won, you just keep trying to beat your old high score. You are entitled to play again and again. You aren’t entitled to a single point. But as long as you play, the points will come.

Be grateful for every drop of sweat.

Like a Steel Trap

The point of thinking well isn’t to think endlessly. It’s to prepare a fertile ground in which good things can be planted. But once planted, those crops must be tended – which requires a very different kind of mental discipline.

Thinking well is about finding concepts with value. Once you’ve found one, the goal shifts – you must now implement that concept. You must turn it into action in your life, or else the thinking part didn’t yield any benefit. You have to close the trap around it.

Converting concept into action can mean a lot of things, but if you aren’t taking some action then you’re just thinking for the sake of thinking. That isn’t the point. Building a better mousetrap has no point if it never catches mice.

Command Center

The more complex your information ecosystem starts to become, the more you start to need a central place that all of that information leads to. But this can create some significant friction!

It’s an old trope; the physical “inbox” sitting on a desk with stratified layers of paper, towering enormously over the desk, with the bottom third dating back decades. It’s a cliche for a reason – when you bottleneck all of your information into a central place, it slows the flow of that information down.

A command center has to be more than just the information graveyard, a place where it goes to die. It has to be a processing center that, at minimum, acts on information at the same speed it receives it.

This alone takes time. If you’re collecting information from multiple spheres of your life, it’s not going to be an instantaneous process to move it where it needs to be in order to take appropriate action. There are plenty of ways to do this sort of thing and I won’t pretend my way is the best for everyone. But the most elemental mistake you can make is assuming that your system doesn’t need its own slot in your schedule for maintainence. It does.

Did You Have a Nice Time?

I believe in experimental experiences. In other words, do things to try things! New things are good. At a certain point, you’re good at all the stuff you already do.

But because I like to think about my own experiences, I like to mull over how I know if I enjoyed something or not.

Good company makes things very enjoyable. But to that extent, if I’m with good company, am I biased towards the action itself? Let’s say I’d never ridden a roller coaster before. I decide to ride one with some of my dearest and most hilarious loved ones. We have a wonderful time. Later, it would be reasonable for me to ask if I actually enjoyed riding roller coasters!

The same is true in reverse, of course. I love camping, but if I had to go a whole weekend with someone I found really unbearable, that might sour the experience for me. And if it were the first time I went, I might judge camping a bit too harshly.

Good company is just one confounding factor – everything from my hydration level to how much sleep I’ve gotten recently can affect my perception of things.

Of course… if that’s true, is that bad? I mean, is the “problem” here that if I have good baseline physical and mental conditions and good company, I might “falsely” just enjoy everything I do, forever?

Maybe I’m onto something here.

What You Know

Think about a topic you know a lot about. An area where you feel very confident in your expertise.

Think about why you feel that way. How do you know you’re an expert? Think about how many hours you’ve spent engrossed in the topic. How many books you’ve read, courses you’ve taken, hours of footage you’ve viewed, other experts you’ve conversed with, etc. Consider all the times you’ve had the opportunity to have your expertise tested and proved up to the challenge. Relive the lessons you’ve passed to others on that topic, and the number of times you’ve been asked directly to opine on it. In short, take a full and honest inventory of the proof of your knowledge.

Now, the next time you’re about to give an opinion on any other topic, ask yourself if you’ve committed the same level of investment into your expertise on this subject.

If the answer is no, replace your opinion with a question, and prepare your mind to hear the honest answer.

This advice, if followed, will make you a much better and happier person.

Not For Me

I sometimes see people blasting sales or marketing efforts with some variation of: “I would never buy this! What are these people thinking?”

My (internal) response: “What makes you think the goal is to get you to buy something?”

You aren’t the only person in the universe. If you see a marketing campaign that is completely uncompelling to you, remember that. My father was fond of pointing out that if people keep doing something, it’s probably working. If it isn’t working on you, then it might be an interesting exercise to try and imagine who it is working on.

There’s opportunity there.

My father would see an advertisement that didn’t appeal to him at all, and it would broaden his horizons. He’d say, “Wow, so there are people out there buying that stuff, huh? Could be money in that.” It didn’t matter that he didn’t see the lure himself. He knew a simple truth: If you spend $500 dollars on a billboard, it’s because you expect to make more than $500 dollars back in sales from it. And if you spend $500 dollars on a billboard a second time, then you did.

So the next time you see a billboard (or anything else) that seems so abjectly silly that you can’t imagine who would pay for such a thing, remember – the market of products, services, and ideas is great and wide, and you are but a tiny island. Get a ship.

Chaosherd

Sometimes our lives just get a little hectic. Lots of chaotic things happen. They might not even be individually bad things (though even good things can be stressful), but they might be rapid, unconnected, demanding of attention, unpredictable, and uninvited.

You like ice cream cake, right? Someone just dropped one off for you at your office! But your office doesn’t have a freezer. What are you going to do with it? Hurry up, it’s melting! But you can’t figure it out now, because your boss just asked if you have fifteen minutes to talk about a promotion opportunity! But you can’t leave the cake in the break room, it’ll melt everywhere. But you can’t keep the boss waiting, you might miss the opportunity. And the person who works across the hall that you like seems to be flirting with you about the whole thing and this is the first time they’ve shown interest, but you can’t chat now, you’re dealing with an ice cream cake that’s melting…

You see? All individually good things can happen, but they can happen in chaotic ways. The above example was a little sitcom-y, sure, but the same thing can happen on a scale of weeks or even months. Things can just get a little out of control.

Of course, bad things can happen too. But that actually requires a different solution: bad things are problems to be solved. Good things aren’t; you want to keep the good things, you just want to tame the chaos.

How do you do it? How do you herd the chaotic flock?

First, put some umbrella concept over the whole thing. Unite them. They have to be a flock before you can herd them. An “umbrella concept” could be a mindset shift, like: “These aren’t individual things happening to me, this is all part of the ‘Story of the Craziest Year of My Life’ that I’ll tell at the New Year’s party this year.”

An umbrella concept can also be a project that you use as a catch-all. The ‘Story of the Craziest Year of My Life’ can be a mental model, but it can also be an actual book you start collecting notes for, a vlog series you record, etc. Then all of the chaotic pieces have a place. If you just dumped a bunch of cardboard scraps on my clean table, that might stress me out. But if it were a jigsaw puzzle, the same scenario would make me feel very serene and happy. It’s all about what those elements are making.

Once you have everything under an umbrella concept, you can start making decisions for the good of that concept, and for you as a whole. Instead of focusing on each individual piece and trying to make decisions about it in a vacuum (decisions that keep being interrupted by realizations that they’re conflicting with the best decisions about something else, etc.), you’re making big decisions about one big thing. That can cut down on the total number of decisions you have to make, which is often very helpful!

So if your life is feeling a little chaotic but it’s all or mostly good things, don’t fret. It’s not a storm that will destroy you. It’s a flock that you’ll gently herd home. You got this.

New Month’s Resolution – September 2022

Happy New Month!

For September, I have a light goal. Not as in, an easy one. But my goal is to get more light.

During the best sunny hours, I tend to be indoors. I have open windows everywhere, but it’s not the same as really basking. This month, I want to bask while the baskin’s good. So my goal is to spend at least ten uninterrupted minutes outside with no agenda other than to be there. I don’t want my sunlight to always come through a window or to be stolen in the minutes between house and car to take the kids to school. I want to just sit in it, every day.

I hope your days are just as bright.