Monthly Review: March, 2019

Reading sessions

31 days out of 31 (31 points)

Books read

2 books.  Monthly target = 5 (12 points)

Daily writing ritual

31 days out of 31 (31 points)

Green Shakes

31 days out of 31 (31 points)

Deep Work Session

31 days out of 31 (31 points)

Gym Sessions

8 sessions out of 12 (21 points)

Meditation

370 minutes in 31 days (31 points)

Cold Showers

31 in 31 days (31 points)

Flossing

28 in 31 days (31 points)

Pool Practice

20 Sessions (20 points)

270 out of 296 (91.2%)

Summary of my Performance this Month

  • Struggled to get enough exercise again.  My recent lack of movement and training is now starting to show in my physique!
  • Didn't get through many books this month.  My reading time was vastly reduced for a few reasons that I'll cover below.
  • Kept up with pretty much all my other habits consistently.

Key Points for March Review

Consistency is Hard

Not going to lie: many times in the past month I've thought something along the lines of:-

  • I'll just have a day off
  • I won't bother meditating today
  • I'll skip the shake because there are no greens in the freezer...
  • etc...

These thoughts can be quite alluring, spring up out of nowhere and can derail even the most determined worker.

While these thoughts are common, I've noticed that it really doesn't take much effort to shut them down.  The most challenging part is to recognise them in real time as and when they appear in consciousness.  Once aware, the battle is mostly won.  It's then merely a case of deciding whether to follow the narrative in your mind or whether to let the unproductive thoughts and feelings pass.

Once you've made the decision to not follow the narrative, it's amazing how quickly a new and more positive chain of thought can arise.  I can literally go from feeling like I can't be bothered to feeling energised and motivated in the matter of a few minutes.

Recognising the impermanence of thought and reminding myself of this particular trait in real time is perhaps the best anti-procrastination hack I've ever come across.  

I've come to accept that, while I can reduce their frequency, I'm never going to stop having negative thoughts altogether. But that doesn't matter.  The real skill is deciding which thoughts are useful and should be followed, and which to let go.

I can thank meditation for this particular insight...  Sometimes I'm so anxious to end my meditation session that it's almost unbearable.  I just want to stop the practice, move about and do something.  Yet, by focusing my attention elsewhere, within minutes the anxiety passes.

So, when I'm sat at my desk and every sinew in my body is rebelling, I recognise what's happening and I just get started.  Within minutes I'm usually free.

Alcohol is a Headwind

I'm doing my best to qualify for an international pool (billiards) competition that takes place each year in Asia.  With that comes many long nights of practice and money games against the best players I can find.  An unwanted side effect of being a "shooter" is that most pool table resides in a bar so you're never more than a few words away from having an ice cold beer in your hand.  

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that I'm a raging alcoholic by any stretch of the imagination.  My drinking habits would likely be considered tame by most standards.  But I definitely enjoy a beer.  That beer sometimes leads to a few more. 

That's definitely played a part in my downfall this month.  

It's clear that you can be successful and still drink liberally.  There are too many real-world examples of this to deny.  But there is a price to pay. 

For me that price came in the form of more difficulty getting into a state of focused attention.  Whether it was my deep work sessions or meditation, things just didn't come quite so easily.  

I spent some time last year learning about the physiological effects of alcohol consumption and discovered some theories as to why this might be the case:-

  1. Alcohol numbs our ability to feel pleasure.  

    Drinking alcohol stimulates a dopamine release, which we enjoy in the form of pleasure.   At some point the brain realises that things are out of wack, and in an attempt to maintain homeostasis releases a natural painkiller called Dynorphin.  

    This means we need more stimulus to feel the same amount of pleasure.

    It's the same physiological process that causes heroin addicts to keep increasing their dose in the search for that blissful experience they got from their first hit.  They'll never get there and instead take extreme amounts of heroin just to feel normal.

    Apparently, just one drinking session can cause this kind of pleasure numbing effect for up to 10 days.  In other words:  enjoying alcohol even just once can have a negative effect on your ability to enjoy life for the next week and a half.

    For me, this effect was incredibly noticeable.  

    It was harder for me to "get into" my book while reading.  Took longer to get focused when writing and left me more distracted when meditating.

    These activities are enjoyable in a healthy addiction free mind, but they can't compete with overloaded neuro-transmitters caused by pleasure inducing drugs.

  2. Alcohol damages our pre-frontal cortex.  

    I'm not qualified to speak in any great detail about the physiology of the brain, but there seems to be quite a bit of evidence to suggest that pleasure inducing activities (drinking alcohol, watching porn, taking drugs etc.) can reduce grey matter in the pre-front cortex.

    This is the part of the brain that's responsible for willpower and self-discipline.  

    In short:  drinking alcohol seems to reduce our willpower, which in turn means we're less likely to make good decisions and delay gratification.

It's clear that drinking alcohol comes at a cost.  

I can't produce content, videos, software, continue to study and learn and do the things that I want to do without the ability to focus.  Each time I drink alcohol, I compromise my capacity to do so.  In other words: I voluntarily add a headwind to what is already an ambitious path.   

It's for this reason that I'm going to give alcohol a miss in April.

10 Arguments for Deleting your Social Media Accounts Right Now

Last month I read this great book by Jaron Lanier.  

Prior to reading his thesis I felt that I had strong and psychologically healthy convictions for having social media in my life.  It helped me stay in touch with friends and catalogue my memories, artefacts that I'd enjoy reminiscing about in the future.  I wasn't addicted to the platform and didn't spend half my waking hours mindlessly browsing through news feeds; how much harm could it be?

160 pages later and I was utterly convinced that I needed to remove all social media from my life.  

This quote from the book summarises it pretty well:-

"This book argues in ten ways that what has become suddenly normal - pervasive surveillance and constant, subtle manipulation - is unethical, cruel dangerous, and inhumane. Dangerous? Oh yes, because who knows who's going to use that power, and for what?"

Having read the book and had some time to digest the arguments, It's now extremely clear to me that my interests and the interests of social media platforms like Facebook are in complete conflict.  

The business model of free services in exchange for data seems like a great deal for the user at surface level.  Who cares if Facebook knows how old you are, what your favourite film is and what your political orientation is?  You get to stay in touch with all your friends, share stories, images, see what's going on in the world and enjoy all the features that the incredible platform has to offer.  Pretty good deal, right?

When you dig deeper, though, the plot thickens.

Jaron explains that Facebook is really one huge manipulation machine with the goal of modifying the behaviour of its users for profit.  

Let's be clear about this: Facebook's goal is to satisfy advertisers.  You are the product.  The more you can be manipulated by ads, the more profitable they become.  

Even worse, the manipulation machine is available for hire to anyone that will pay for it.  Even those that want to rig an election.

A common rebuttal is that "ads don't affect me" or "I'm in control of my behaviour, I can't be manipulated".  It's an understandable position, one I've also been prone to.  We feel like we are in control.  

The problem is that such platforms are investing millions of dollars into mind hacking research.  They're devising algorithms that manipulate users below the level of conscious awareness.  They're manipulating you in ways that you're not even aware.

In his fantastic book "Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious", social psychologist Timothy Wilson describes in great detail how much of our behaviour operates beneath awareness:-

  • "It is clear that the adaptive unconscious is responsible for a good deal of our behaviour, and in these instances the reasons for our responses are impossible to access directly."

In one chapter entitled "Knowing why", he mentions that we sometimes  "act under suggestion but then make it up rationalisations to explain why" and even that "a small percentage of the population can be easily hypnotized and end up doing things with no conscious awareness of why". 

We feel like we're in control and are the authors of our lives, but often our thoughts, feeling and emotions bubble up from our adaptive subconscious originating from seeds planted externally.  What's more, when we make decisions that seem right to us, we often confabulate to rationalize why we made such decisions.

Facebook, and other social media platforms with the same advertisement model, are actively researching how to plant these seeds, even if they are in direct conflict with the best interests of you and your life.

So, in March, I deleted Facebook.

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Paul

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