You’re busy with things you don’t care about

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If you’re like most people, you are constantly starting one thing than letting it go as you move on to something else.

This wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that some of the things you quit (or don’t do as often as you should) are activities or projects that would produce the most change in your life or the life of others.

There are probably things that you say are the most important things in you life, but then you go off getting heavily involved in things that are not really so important to you. I would even go so far as to say that possibly up to 50% of what you are so busy with are things you don’t really care much about at all. But you do them anyway. Stinks, huh?

So why do you do it? Why does just about everyone do it? I have no idea. I suppose that it is just emotions or the brain’s attraction to anything new. But I do know (and so do you) that it’s not good. In my own case, it has led me to try a lot of different things, sure, but I risk becoming a sort of “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

Also, enthusiasm in the projects that you deem as most crucial in your life needs to be maintained, instead of moving on to something else that is not on your “critical” list.

So why does your interest move on to other things? In most cases, it is because of exposure to those things. Amazon sends you an email with a book on a new way of doing business and suddenly you’re reading all about it. Which is not bad, unless you haven’t finished building the new process that you read about last month (which you decided was ground-breaking). The same seems to happen with hobbies. One thing catches your eye, then another and you move on. You don’t even enjoy the new hobby as much as your old one, but you switched anyway.

I should mention that I’m not against letting one’s mind go and experimenting with various new ideas and activities. I think that starting new projects is a great way to “change things up” and learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s just that too often these new things lead you away from your primary focus. Then they just become distractions.

So what to do about it? Try these two things:

1)  Evaluate all projects and activities that you are currently involved in and decide if they are truly the things that are most important to you. Writing down what you do for a week or two would help to see what activities you are busy with compared to what you might think that you’re busy with.

2) Remind yourself daily of what you consider to be the most important projects and activities. Don’t just make a list. Read a portion of a book each day that is specifically related to the most-important things in your life (or re-read sections that you’ve highlighted, since so much goes forgotten anyway). There should only be between three to six essential projects or activities in your life. Spend about 15 minutes reading about each one. An hour to an hour and a half every day might seem like a big investment, but not when you think about the results it can produce, namely concentration of your time and energy on those things that you’ve purposefully decided are the most important things in your life. I say reading a book, but any format will do. You could listen to a podcast, watch a video online (such as a lecture on iTunes U) or rent a documentary from Netflix. But the idea is to make sure that it is about those areas of your life that you have consciously decided are the most important to you.

There is also a lot of benefit to committing some of the ideas you read about (or viewed) to memory, which I’ll talk about in another post.

It would be a shame for years to go by (or your whole life) and you discover that you’ve done a lot of stuff, but nothing that you really cared about, nothing that really mattered.

Better to decide what you want now.

Then live it.


all four of you

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You think that we are one person, but in a sense you are four people:

1) Who you think you are

2) Who others see you as

3) Who you really are

4) Who you want to be

The first two “people” above are, in actuality, “views”. There is your own self-perception and there is the perception that others have of you. The second person is the real you. The fourth “you” doesn’t yet exist, but could be who you become in the future. Reaching out to become more like person number 4 is the part that is most related to setting and attaining goals.

The four “people” are never completely the same. But the more you try to make them the same, the better. If the view others have of you is the person you really are, then you are honest and consistent in your words and actions. If the view you have of yourself is fairly close to the person you really are, then you know yourself well and it’s easier to see what changes you need to make in order to become person number 4 (the person who you want to be).

So the question is: “How do you take the four and make them one (or at least as close to the same as possible)?”

Start by clearly defining each one.

The first one is the easiest. Writing it down is the best way. Describe yourself as thoroughly as you can. Ramble on in your description of yourself. List your likes and dislikes, your qualities and faults, and anything else that you can think of about yourself.

Next, do a survey of those with whom you interact regularly. Ask them to describe you honestly. Don’t have them write it down. It gives them to much time to think and edit their ideas. Explain to them that you want honest, frank opinions and that you won’t take offense no matter how negative some of their descriptions might be. Try to survey not only close friends but also colleagues and others who you might see daily (such as a doorman) even if you don’t feel like they know you well. Later, write down the general descriptions given to you by each person.

Now, sit down and do some deep soul-searching. As you look at the description that others gave of you, ask yourself if some of them might be correct. You might be surprised by what some people think about you. It is especially revealing when several people have the same perception of you and yet it’s markedly different than your own perception of yourself. Even if you can’t admit that you truly are the type of person that others describe, you might at least realize that this is the person that you seem to be because of things you do or say to others. By combining your own ideas about who you think you are with the perceptions that others have of you, you should have a better idea of the person you really are.

Finally, decide who you want to be. This is also best accomplished by writing.

Describe yourself exactly as you wish you could be. Spend a good deal of time on this and go into great detail. Describe how you look, act, talk, feel and think.

Combining the four of you into one is a long, complicated journey, but the steps above can provide a basic map to start you on your way.

Conversation 1

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Bill: “Hot day.”

Jill: “Yes, it is. Of course it’s not really the heat that gets  you.”

Bill: “No, it’s the humidity.”

Jill: “Exactly.”

Jill (again): “You know, I actually don’t care that much about the heat. This happens every Summer since the first Summer, and it bores me to talk about it. I think we only discuss it to fill up that empty space that occurs when two people look at each other, whether on purpose or by accident.”

Bill: “You’re right, of course. How did you know you could say that to me? That I would not be one of who rolls their eyes and looks around desperately for someone else who is willing to just chat for the comfort of familiar words?”

Jill: “I don’t know, really. Maybe it wasn’t that I did know. Not for sure, anyway. I think I just decided to risk it. Rolling eyes is better than stale talk.”

Bill: “So where to now?”

Jill: “How about why that painting on that wall makes me feel so cold?”

Bill: “It could be the colors. So many shades of blue and grey. The dark shadows, too.”

Jill: “That. And the path. I first focused on its beginning. But it’s the end of the path that makes me feel a chill.”

Bill: “I can’t see the end.”

Jill: “No. It sort of just disappears rather than ends. And rounds off as though there is nothing after it. Nothing. Just wind and rain and the feeling that you can’t turn around. Ever.”

Bill: “So here we are in this terrible heat, and yet feeling so cold. Because of this painting.”

Jill: “It’s the abstract that is real to me.”

thoughts on Moonwalking with Einstein (from guest writer Don Singletary)

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I am currently reading (audible recording actually) Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer.


This morning on my walk I was ‘reading’ Chapter 7 (or there abouts) in Part II of the tape. It addressed the history of writing in the context of the book’s subject, which is actually the art and history of memory. It seems that Socrates was against the written word. (I don’t have a print version of the book but I did find a source/blog with virtually the same amazing information.)


Seems ‘The Soc’ thought something like this: writing would lead society down a treacherous path to moral decay and laziness…… although (a reader’s) knowledge might increase, they themselves might become empty vessels.
He viewed the written word as only groups of symbols that were to remind people of what they already know- and spoke words (paraphrase) that say: You (the teacher) transfer no true wisdom to disciples – by telling them many things without teaching them anything. You will make them seem to know much while for the most part they will know nothing. And as men filled not with wisdom, but conceit for wisdom, they will become a burden to their fellow men. (I think that is a great description of a PhD person.. just personal opinion of course.)


Other facts from the book (that I recall somewhat semi-accurately):
5th century BC: scrolls were up to 60 feet long and had no punctuation or spaces in the words. The first spaces between words developed around 200 AD, and not until 900 years later did books have punctuation and spaces between words as a standard of the day.


And those books had no index at all! So if you wanted to find something you had to read the whole thing. A printed bible was about ten pounds and it was not until the13th century that the bible was all bound in one book, prior- it was many books. In those days, locations with as many as 100 books were considered to be rare and large collections.


And when one did read a book, you committed as much to memory as you could since you would probably never see the book again. The first bookshelves with titled spines appeared in 15th century (and they may become obsolete in our lifetime.) When books were produced in flat pages and bound — this was considered a ‘Google-like’ leap in book technology; for the first time – one didn’t have to unroll scrolls to find the words—this was a huge leap in information retrieval in its day.


Now some ‘non-book’ thoughts quickly:


We humans are notoriously bad at predicting the future: The city planners of NY City around 1880 stated that the city could never grow to more than a million in population because there would be no place to stable that many horses.


Here are some other predictions by people that you may recall: ( from my 2008 book Send Your Brain to the Gym):


Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances. – Dr. Lee DeForest, Inventor of TV


The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosive. -Admiral William Leahy, U.S. Atomic Bomb Project


There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom. -Robert Millikan, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1923


Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons. – Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949


I think there is a world market for maybe five computers. – Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943




I suppose Socrates never considered a reader that might read a few words or paragraphs (ooops!…I forgot; they didn’t have paragraphs.) and stop to ponder their meaning – and that those words could convey new ideas and emotions – concepts ‘above’ the printed word. It was very short-sighted of the old boy but entirely forgivable – as there weren’t any books for him to read. I’ve heard that one issue of the Sunday NY Times contains more info than say, Ben Franklin, every came across in a lifetime.. and he founded the country’s library system. I could not help but wonder how much information/data an educated person in the day of Socrates with no books, would hear. As Foer points out – in those days memory was everything. One of the first things new students were taught was memory technique/systems (Foer describes many of those techniques and their use and evolution.)


I‘d rather be selling my own book but I have to say Josha Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein is fantastic – Lots of stories of the eccentricities of people who are national/international memory champions. He shows why good memory is more a matter of discipline and hard work, than of genetics/IQ; he will make you a believer on that.


If this note had been written in 500 BC it would be all caps, no spaces, and no punctuation… so if I made errors here, you should hardly notice!


-by author Don Singletary (

creation is tough work


Working on a project that is different from anything that you’ve ever done before feels like lifting a heavily loaded barbell off your chest. It feels impossible to do. You just know you can’t do it. But something inside you knows you can. So there’s this war going on in you. Are you afraid of failing? Or maybe afraid of succeeding? Why?


What is it about creating something entirely new and marvelous that causes such resistance?

brick walls

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“The brick walls are there for a reason. They’re not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”


-from The Last Lecture

ebooks in developing countries

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When we talk about ebooks and the future of publishing, we can’t just talk about the money side of things. Yes, there needs to be a business model and all that, but we also have to talk about everyone having access to books. Even in the poorest communities in the U.S., you can walk into a public library and find a decent amount of books on a variety of topics. But there are places, such as Ghana, where it can be almost impossible to get a hold of a book. Can you fathom that? Think about the intellectual isolation that people there experience. Think of the reduced size of the world that children there live in without access to books. As it is, there are many things that the people of Ghana and other developing countries lack. Books can transport them to places where they might never be able to visit. They can enable them to experience things that they otherwise might never experience. And books can help them to grow in knowledge and wisdom in a way that is impossible without material to read.

What if we put this thought before any other when thinking about the future of publishing: How can we use the new electronic platform to make books available to everyone, even those in developing countries? Organizations such as are working on this. But what are you and I– as writers, editors, proofreaders and indexers doing? What can we do? Somehow I think that if we can answer those questions first, the answers as to what to do regarding the whole digital publishing revolution will become obvious.

And the money? The profit we need to make as writers, editors, publishers, etc? I don’t know. But it can’t be our first thought.

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