Archive | June, 2010

Using Tai Chi to Improve Focus, Control and Balance

29 Jun

Tai chi chuan is an internal Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and health benefits. It is also typically practiced for a variety of other personal reasons: its hard and soft martial art technique, demonstration competitions, and longevity. Consequently, a multitude of training forms exist, both traditional and modern, which correspond to those aims. Some of Tai Chi Chuan’s training forms are especially known for being practiced at what most people categorize as slow movement.

Tai Chi, Yoga and martial arts surprisingly improve our focus, control, balance, breathing, fitness, energy as well as our quality of life.

In “Pragmatic Thinking and Learning” book, June Kim tells the following story:

“After beginning martial arts, I recognized that my focus span (the period of time I can keep focusing on something) and control (such as getting focused in a poor environment) has improved. I have been continuously recommending my practice to software developers and other knowledge workers. It’s called Ki-Chun; it has a martial arts aspect as well as tai chi, meditation, and breathing aspects.

“I have seen a recognizable difference in a friend of mine who started the practice. In less than a month you could see the difference clearly. He told me that he could more easily concentrate and the quality of his concentration improved.”

Yoga, meditation, breathing techniques, and martial arts all affect how your brain processes information. Even something as simple as breathing in a particular manner can profoundly affect how you think.

Power of Tai Chi is unbelievable, believe it.

Database tips

28 Jun

by: Derek Sivers

Pick a program.  If you travel a lot, and have a laptop, get a program that runs on your laptop.  If you don’t have a laptop, and often use other people’s computers, use one of the many websites that let you track your contacts online.  If you need to do business away from a computer, completely, use a smart phone.

Make sure it has keywords, notes, and hopefully a conversation history.  This is the difference between an address book and a contact-manager.  A good contact manager will let you keep track of past phone calls, emails, conversations, including a date.  You may hear from someone after two years of not speaking, and be able to pull up your notes and remind yourself what happened last time you spoke.

Try to find one with reminders.  It is SO nice to punch a future date into your computer, and tell it to remind you to do something on that date.

Whichever one you choose, know it well.  Spend a few hours really getting to know it.  Then it will be effortless for years to come.

Keywords: Multiple keywords are the most important thing in your database. Every person in your address book should have a few words attached to their record like “drums, webdesign, percussion” or “agent, clubowner, songwriter”.  Some people will only have one word there, some will have a list of the 25 instruments they can play.  This comes in the most handy when you need to find “drums” in Texas, or you’re trying to remember the full name of that webdesigner named “Dave”.

Notes:  You need a big text area next to their contact info, where you can type anything you want. Type notes from your conversations. Cut-and-paste emails they’ve sent you.

Mail-merge:   Mail-merge is what they call it when you write a form letter, and it puts the person’s name in each letter, sending it separately, instead of sending everyone something that says “Dear Music Industry Professional” or “Hey everyone!”.  You can even use these on a small level.  Sometimes you need to email ten guitarists to see who wants a gig.  Mail-merge would let you easily personalize those ten emails.

What program? I don’t know.  I used to recommend some, but times change so fast, new things coming out every month, old things disappearing, so instead you’re just going to have to find one yourself

mnmlist: minimalism isn’t just for the affluent

27 Jun

From mnmlist.com:

There’s a criticism of voluntary simplicity or minimalism (two flavors of the same thing) that seems to be widely accepted: that it’s a luxury of relatively affluent people, that it’s not something the poor can afford to do.

I disagree: anyone can do it.

Minimalism is simply eliminating the unnecessary. And while the poor (anyone who’s not in the middle class or above) might not have the ridiculously unnecessary things that the affluent have, there are usually things that can be eliminated.

The photos of minimalist houses, desks, and Macs that you see on many minimalist sites are obviously for the affluent — they have expensive furniture, computers, gadgets, homes that aren’t affordable for many people. But that’s not a requirement of minimalism.

In fact, there isn’t a requirement for minimalism. You can invent your own version, and if you’re more worried about how to survive until the next paycheck (I’ve been there), then cutting back on the unnecessary will help you get there. Look for unnecessary expenses (like eating out, going to the movies, buying junk food snacks, or renting DVDs) and eliminate them, finding ways to have fun that are free.

Eliminating unnecessary possessions also means you’ll need a smaller home, which will save on rent and heating/cooling. Buying fewer things means less debt. Spending time with loved ones or doing things you love means you spend less. All of these things are good whether you’re wealthy or not.

It’s true that the poor are often thought of as not having the luxury of even thinking about simplifying, or minimalism. They’re too worried about putting food on the table, or where the rent is coming from, or how to avoid creditors until the next paycheck. And there’s a lot of truth in that. But it doesn’t have to be true: anyone can pause, breathe, and decide to live differently.

Anyone can make the decision to do without the unnecessary, to cut off cable TV, to consider doing without a car, to only buy what’s absolutely necessary and to rethink what’s necessary. I’ve been deep in debt, and I know the feeling of drowning with no way to get out. I got out, mostly because I cut expenses to the bone while looking for ways to increase income. Minimalism helped me to get out of debt, and to get out of poverty. It’s not just for the affluent anymore.

I Have No Talent

27 Jun

by John from RailsTips:

The other day someone sent me an IM and thanked me for my open source contributions. They then said something about wishing they had my gem/code creation talents. I didn’t miss a beat and informed them that I have no talent.

It is true. I have no talent. What I do have is a lot of practice. And I am not talking about occasionally dabbling in Ruby on the weekends. I am talking about the kind of practice where I beat code that isn’t working into submission (though often times the code wins).

The kind of practice where all of a sudden I realize that it is 2am and I’m exhausted physically so I should go to bed, but mentally I feel on fire so I let the code have me for another hour or two (I imagine this state to be like a marathon runner or ironman near the end of their race).

The kind of practice that leads to a GitHub profile stuffed with code I regret (and am embarrassed about, but don’t delete to remind me of where I once was) and code I am proud of (not near as much as I am embarrassed about though).

Intelligence

I am also not very smart. I have a good memory (though my wife will tell you it has some missing pieces) and I work really hard. Really hard. I get that from my dad. He is also not very smart (his words, not mine), with a good memory and works really hard. :)

I am sick of hearing people say, “Oh, I love your code, I wish I could do that.” You can. The only reason you can’t is because you don’t practice enough. I used to think that I wasn’t smart enough. I was jealous of those that did crazy code stuff that I couldn’t even comprehend. Then, one day, I ran into something I did not understand and instead of giving up, I pushed through. I sat there in front of my computer for hours and wrestled with class and class instance variables.

That day was a turning point for me. It was the last time I thought that whether or not I was successful depended on my talent or intelligence. It really comes down to hard work people. Ever since then, I have attacked each thing that I do not understand until I understand it.

I will close with this. I still suck. There are still so many people out there who are far better than I am, but that does not stop me anymore. I do not measure myself against the programming greats, but against those projects on my Github profile from years ago.

Assume the basic sale, and go for quantity

27 Jun

By Derek Sivers:

My first job ever was telemarketing: renewing people’s subscriptions to Time magazine. We worked on commission.

When I started, I used to meekly ask, “Um. Hello. Your subscription is coming up for renewal. I’m wondering if, maybe, perhaps, you might want to renew it again this year?”

After three weeks, they were going to fire me, because I was doing terribly. But the manager (Denise Koss) thought I was cute so she let me listen in to the top salesman on the floor.  Here’s how his calls would go.  Pay attention to the difference in approach.

“Hi there this is George Amos from Time Magazine, and I’m calling to renew your subscription today. I notice you’ve been wasting money by renewing only one year at a time, $54/year, and I hate to see you waste money like that, so let’s get you in for a three-year subscription, bringing your price down to only $25/year.  That way, as the price of that one-year renewal keeps going up each year, it won’t matter to you, because you were smart and got in at the half-price rate for three years.  Now are you still at ___(their address)___?”

Now if they complained about the price of a three-year subscription, he’d say, “Ok I can tell you’d rather just do it for a two-year subscription, then.”  If they complained about that, he’d say, “Alright – we’ll do just a one-year renewal.”

It was amazing that almost every phone call he made renewed, whereas I would call 200 people and none of them would renew.  After listening in to a few of his calls, though, I tried it myself, and became the top salesman on the floor.  It’s easy. Just get into the right mindset.  You’d be surprised what a huge difference it makes.

A band on CD Baby called Celldweller did this wonderfully.  When their new album came out, they emailed their fans and said, “Our new album is out tomorrow, and nobody anywhere has it yet.  If you buy only one, the price is $12.  But if you buy more than one, the price is only $9 each.  So buy 10.  It will cost you $90, but you’ll be able to sell them to your friends for $12 each and make a profit.”

What’s amazing is most of them did!  Most who didn’t buy 10 would apologize at the end of the order form, saying, “Sorry I don’t have $90 now, but I’ll buy 5 copies today and come back for 5 more soon.”

They sold 3000 CDs in no time at all.

How do you turn inspiration into skill?

27 Jun

by Ryan from 37Signals.com

Over the last few months I’ve noticed a ton of inspiring websites. Camerion.io, Art Lebedev, n+1, Show of Force, and on and on. And everytime I look at one of these sites, I think to myself “Oh I’m so inspired. Look at how they did this. Look at that paragraph style. Look at that header. I feel so full of ideas.”

Then it’s time to work on a new project, and did all the inspiration make a difference? Actually, no. Most of the work I do is looking like all the other work I’ve done for months and months and years. Apparently looking at cool stuff isn’t enough to increase your skill. It’s easy to look at some stuff and say “oh that’s inspiring, that gives me ideas” without moving an inch.

So I got thinking. How did I develop the basic skills I have right now? Mostly by copying heroes. When you’re fresh starting out, you have no fear of diving in and copying something directly. It’s like playing guitar. When you start playing guitar all you want to do is play the first verse of your favorite song. Big success! You don’t need to write the next great guitar symphony or a hit single. It’s totally satisfying to learn to play something somebody else can already play. And you get better by doing it.

And it was the same way with design. I was totally psyched to copy a Müller-Brockmann poster, a Designgraphik composition, or an Apple UI. Merely executing the copy was a thrill. But now every design is supposed to be the next great thing. And as days and weeks and months go by, the design level stays the same while the aspiration goes higher and higher.

So maybe it’s time to take one of these Fridays off and just copy something.

The Art of Learning – by Josh Waitzkin

27 Jun

The Art of Learning: Review and notes by Derek Sivers:

Chess master becomes Tai Chi master, realizes his real genius is learning, and shares his insights and stories.

my notes

Entity vs Incremental theories of intelligence: (by Carol Dweck)
Entity theorists think “I am smart at this” and attribute success or failure to ingrained and unalterable level of ability. They see it as a fixed entity that cannot evolve.
Incremental theorists thnk “I got it because I worked very hard at it” or “I should have tried harder”. With hard work, difficult material can be grasped, step by step, incrementally, the novice can become the master.
When challenged, incremental theorists are far more likely to rise to the level of the game, while entity theorists are brittle and quit.
Children who associate success with hard work tend to have a “mastery-oriented response” to challenging situations.

The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic long-term learning process, and not live in a shell of static safe mediocrity.
Growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety.
Like a hermit crab, when you outgrow your shell, you need to be vulnerable while you find a new shell.
Someone stuck in entity mindset is like an anorexic hermit crab, starving itself so it doesn’t grow to have to find a new shell.

Many people take a process-first philosophy and transform it into an excuse for never putting themselves on the line or pretending not to care about results.
They claim to be egoless, to care only about learning, but really this is an excuse to avoid confronting themselves.
Short-term goals can be useful developmental tools if they are balanced within a nurturing long-term philosophy.
Too much sheltering from results can be stunting.

We have to take responsibilty for ourselves and nurture a healthy liberated mind-set.
We need to put ourselves out there, give it our all, and reap the lesson, win or lose.
There will be nothing learned from any challenge in which we don’t try our hardest.
Growth comes at the point of resistance.
We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lies at the outer reaches of our abilities.

The importance of regaining presence and clarity of mind after making a serious error.
The first mistake rarely proves disastrous, but the downward spiral of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th error creates a devastating chain reaction.

If a student of any discipline could avoid ever repeating the same mistake twice, they would skyrocket to the top of their field.
Of course this is impossible – we are bound to repeat thematic errors if only because many themes are elusive and difficult to pinpoint.
Minimize repetition as much as possible by having an eye for consistent psychological and technical themes of error.

It’s essential to have a liberating incremental approach that allows for times when you are not in a peak performance state.
We must take responsibilty for ourselves and not expect the rest of the world to understand what it takes to become the best that we can become.
Great ones are willing to get burned again and again while they sharpen their swords in the fire.

Making smaller circles:
Those who succeed have slightly more honed skils than the rest.
It’s rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skill set.
Depth beats breadth, because it opens a channel for the intangible, unconscious, creative components of our hidden potential.

Intuition is our most valuable compass in this world.
It is the bridge between the unconscious and the concscious mind, and it is hugely important to keep in touch with what makes it tick.
It’s open communication with the wellspring of our creativity.

My vision of the road to mastery:
- start with the fundamentals
- get a solid foundation fueled by the understanding of the principles of your discipline
- expand and refine your repertoire, guided by your individual predispositions
- while keeping in touch, however abstractly, with what you feel to be the essential core of the art
What results is a network of deeply internalized, interconnected knowledge that expands from a central, personal locus point.

When everyone at a high level has a huge amount of (technical) understanding, much of what separates the great from the very good is deep presence, relaxation of the conscious mind, which allows the unconscious to flow unhindered.
This is a nuanced and misunderstood state of mind that when refined involves a subtle reintegration of the conscious mind into a free-flowing unconscious process.
The idea is to shift the primary role from the conscious to the unconscious without blissing out and losing the precision the conscious can provide.
Compare to putting your attention to your peripheral vision while reading a book, then putting your attention back on the book without losing the peripheral.

In every discipline, the ability to be clearheaded, present, cool under fire is much of what separates the best from the mediocre.
If one player is serenely present while the other is being ripped apart by internal issues, the outcome is already clear.
The prey is no longer objective, makes compounding mistakes, and the predator moves in for the kill.
This issue is even more critical in solitary pursuits such as writing, painting, thinking, or learning.
In the absence of continual external reinforcement, we must be our own monitor, and quality of presence is often the best gauge.
We cannot expect to touch excellence if “going through the motions” is the norm of our lives.
If deep, fluid presence becomes second nature, then life, art, and learning take on a richness that will continually surprise and delight.
Those who excel are those who maximize each moment’s creative potential – for these masters of living, presence to the day-to-day learning process is akin to that purity of focus others dream of achieving in rare climactic moments when everything is on the line.
The secret is that everything is always on the line.
If we have any hope of attaining excellence, let alone of showing what we’ve got under pressure, we have to be prepared by a lifestyle of reinforcement.
Presence must be like breathing.

Practice the ebb and flow of stress and recovery.
Instead of working until you are exhausted, push yourself to a healthy limit, then recover for a minute or two, and push yourself again.
Create a rhythm of intervals. With practice, increase the intensity and duration of your sprint time, and gradually condense rest periods.

When Garry Kasparov handled his occasional lack of confidence by playing the chess moves that he would have played if he were feeling confident.
He would pretend to feel confident, and hopefully trigger the state.
Step by step, Garry would feed off his own chess moves, until soon enough the confidence would become real and Garry would be in the flow.
In one way of looking at it, Garry was not pretending. He was not being artificial. He was triggering his zone by playing Kasparov chess.

All of the learning principles discussed in this book spring out of the deep, creative plunge into an initially small pool of information.
Study positions of reduced complexity.
Apply internalized principles to increasingly complex scenarios.
Take a single technique or idea and practice it until we feel its essence.
Gradually condense the movements while maintaining their power, until we are left with an extremely potent and nearly invisble arsenal.
Focus on a select group of techniques an internalize them until the mind percieves them in tremendous detail.

Once we have felt the profound refinement of a skill, no matter how small it may be, we can then use that feeling as a beacon of quality as we expand our focus onto more and more material.
Once you know what “good” feels like, you can zero in on it, search it out regardless of the pursuit.

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Recommend: Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware

27 Jun

Software development happens in your head. Not in an editor, IDE, or design tool. You’re well educated on how to work with software and hardware, but what about wetware—our own brains? Learning new skills and new technology is critical to your career, and it’s all in your head.

In this book by Andy Hunt, you’ll learn how our brains are wired, and how to take advantage of your brain’s architecture. You’ll learn new tricks and tips to learn more, faster, and retain more of what you learn.

You need a pragmatic approach to thinking and learning. You need to Refactor Your Wetware.

Programmers have to learn constantly; not just the stereotypical new technologies, but also the problem domain of the application, the whims of the user community, the quirks of your teammates, the shifting sands of the industry, and the evolving characteristics of the project itself as it is built.

We’ll journey together through bits of cognitive and neuroscience, learning and behavioral theory. You’ll see some surprising aspects of how our brains work, and how you can take advantage of the system to improve your own learning and thinking skills.

In this book you’ll learn how to:

  • Use the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition to become more expert
  • Leverage the architecture of the brain to strengthen different thinking modes
  • Avoid common “known bugs” in your mind
  • Learn more deliberately and more effectively
  • Manage knowledge more efficiently

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