Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Energy approach to life, the universe, and everything

I recently read Scott Adams new book titled: "How to fail at almost everything and still win big". I enjoyed reading the book a lot; Scott discusses a lot of intriguing ideas as usual. The main idea in the book was that you need systems instead of goals. Motivation is ephemeral, but systems/processes are persistent. As Jeff Bezos says "Good intentions don't work, good systems work!"

Another main idea in the book is the importance of monitoring and managing your energy for being successful. The book advises you to "watch what you eat, exercise, match mental states to activity and attack tasks when you have the appropriate energy level".

I think this energy approach to personal productivity and life is promising. So I wanted to collect my thoughts on this and see what I can add on this topic.

Things that increase energy and decrease energy

It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wears you down.
It is the pebble in your shoe.
– Muhammad Ali
This quote from Muhammad Ali is extremely insightful, and nicely summarizes everything that needs to be said on this topic. Here are my observations on what energizes me and drains my energy.

IncreasingDecreasing
believingdoubting
startingprocrastrating
planningworrying
curiosityboredom
making/writingconsuming/reading
small victoriesbig victories
meditationstress
exercisingsitting
tea/healthy foodeating a lot
happy moodbad mood
waking up earlywaking up late
reading a good bookbrowsing junk/news

Conserving energy

To keep your energy level high, you need to find tricks to conserve energy. Instilling useful "habits" is a great trick to conserve energy. When you make something a habit, you don't need to waste your energy for remembering to do it and more importantly for finding the willpower to do it. Habits make inertia work for you. The key to instilling habits is to start with baby steps. See tiny habits by Dr. Fogg to learn more.

Keeping things simple in your life helps conserve energy. Being an organized person (Getting Things Done) avoids ongoing chaos in your life, and conserves energy. I use Emacs Org-Mode to track all my tasks so I can clear my mind. Even by cleaning/organizing your room office you can notice a boost in your energy.

On this tangent, being a principled/virtuous/religious person can help a lot for success. Once you make your decision and commit to it, the temptations you need to fight become less, you can ignore a lot of distractions because they are out of bounds (designated as sin) for you. This is a very pragmatic (very Benjamin Franklin) way to approach the issue of character/virtue/religion, but there it is.

Growing your energy potential

Maintaining high energy levels is good, but you know what is better: Growing your energy potential.

The antifragility book tells us that to organic things grow by exploring and pushing/straining its limits occasionally. Related to this topic is the "Growth mindset" concept, which has been put forth by the Stanford psychiatrist Carol Dweck (I highly recommend her book). Growth mindset describes an antifragile approach to personality and life. Growth mindset people like challenges and failures, as these would make them learn, improve, and grow.

Following this line of thought, in order to grow your energy potential, you need to strain it and totally deplete it from time to time. Occasionally, you should take on more than you can handle, exercise vigorously and push your physical limits, pull some all-nighters working on a project, and fail at some of your projects. Pushing your limits and failing is good for you. It will make you grow. If nothing else, it will teach you some humbleness and throw you out of the fixed mindset you may have acquired (e.g., I know it all, I have it all, I am naturally successful). You need some occasional resets to be able to experience the beginner's mind.

Focusing/intensifying your energy

It is also important to learn how to control and focus your energy to get things done. I doubt there is an easy or universal way to achieve this.

I think intensifying your emotions helps for focusing your energy. Being curious and asking questions focuses your energy, because you will really want to get answers to your unresolved questions. Being very determined and motivated (you need to find ways to motivate yourself) will help in focusing your energy. Finally, even anger helps. I occasionally argue and pick fights with papers/books, in order to focus my energy to better understand them.

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