Category Archives: Lifehacking

Feeling Better

OK, I’m a slow learner.

But it’s only dawned on me slowly that at least half my problems come from not feeling better.

I don’t mean “feeling better” in the sense of “feeling good.”  I would love to feed good all of the time, but it’s probably not in the cards.

I mean “feeling better” in the sense of “get better at feeling.”  I learned from Jung years ago that you either get absorbed in your feeling — bad! — or you remain mindful while a feeling passes through you — good!

So the aim is to remain mindful even while the feeling is taking place.

So far so good.  So how do you get better at something?  Well, I’ve been reading a lot about Deep Work and deliberate practice, so it was only natural to google about “deliberate practice for feelings.”

Well, pretty thin gruel: there’s a lot about getting better at expressing your feelings (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I suppose) and a lot about deep feelings, but nothing to speak of about using the “deliberate practice” technique for improving your ability to feel.

So I’m reviewing what I know about deep practice:

  • It’s systematically identifying weaknesses in the area and correcting them by repeated practice
  • It’s unpleasant, because you’re always doing stuff you’re not very good at
  • It benefits enormously from having a teacher or coach, although some people (Ben Franklin, e.g.,) seem to have done OK without one.

As I’m toting up this info, all of a sudden it dawns on me: deliberate practice of feelings is nothing but psychotherapy.

In psychotherapy, you are essentially going over feelingful situations again and again, minutely re-rehearsing what you could have done, or what you were really doing, or what you wanted to do.  You are doing this under the watchful ear of a coach — your therapist — who is correcting your self-delusions and forcing you to look straight at what happened internally and externally.

It’s deliberate practice of feelings.

OK, so I’ve been a huge lifetime consumer of psychotherapy services.  And I’ve also been a lifelong skeptic that you needed the therapist (although it’s proven itself time and again: I’m just a cheapskate, in part, and in part a non-joiner of things; I joined plenty in my youth).

So I’ve got to ask: is there any Ben Franklin-style hacks you can do to get the benefits of deliberate practice with feelings without the expense and, yes, cultishness of psychotherapy?

An ongoing question.

Themes for Study and Learning in May

Themes for April, with my self-assessment:

 I was pretty bogged down with my new course and the associated learning stuff, like Intellectual Property and different kinds of startup strategy.  I learned a lot — as I always do — by teaching the material in the course, but I didn’t accomplish much on study and learning themes 1 and 2 below.

  1. Read about plot and suspense.  I basically didn’t get to this at all.   It would get on the goals list for a week and then get shoved to the back by almost anything else.  Maybe just a classic case of “important but not urgent,” but I did some mulling about writing fiction in general during April and it was not especially fruitful or favorable to working away at the fiction-oriented Deliberate Practice.  So, net result: nothing.
  2. Read about Phenomenology and Existentialism .  I had intended to try Heidegger’s “Being and Time” this month, but didn’t get there.  Ditto the remarks above, with the additional observation that, pleasant and interesting as this stuff is, it’s really not essential to my life going forward.  I spent some energy this month reading about focusing on main things (“Essentialism”, by Greg McKeown, which was terrific, and The 80/20 Principle, by Richard Koch, which was OK but not as good.  And, frankly, Phenomenology and Existentialism are not as essential as one might wish.
  3. Learn more about DIY (“do it yourself”).  I did a fair amount of digging about DIY, mostly YouTube videos and Googling, trying to find out more about mudding and interior patching generally.  More on this this month, I think, although not one of the Big Three.

So, the May themes will be:

  1. Pathways to Entrepreneurs.  This theme re-emerges because I’m trying to dust off and get traction on my EBE Project from last fall.  The idea here is to figure out how to get academic research into the hands of entrepreneurs (and useful to them!).
  2. Retirement Jobs.  I’ve been selling the idea of actual jobs  in retirement short (as opposed to projects or little gigs).  I want to find out if there’s actually a possibility of a) getting a real job in retirement and b) getting satisfaction from it.
  3. Better Investments.  I’ve been asset allocating and rebalancing for years and want to find out if I could get better returns by investing more actively.

Themes for study and learning in February

The themes I wanted to work on  for January were:

  1. Continue with Presence and Deep Work.   I got a lot of reading done on this and some good work in January.  Going forward I’ll be experimenting with strategy and tactics for increasing my Deep Work time (and my presence with respect to Deep Work and, really, everything).
  2. Fascism and Totalitarianism.   Didn’t get far with this, since I wanted to start with Hanna Arendt and (surprise surprise!) it’s in great demand at my libary, so I haven’t risen to the top of the queue.  I’ll continue this thread in February
  3. The Body.   4HB was a bit disappointing on second reading.  Tim Ferriss is a great showman and he has all kinds of cool hacks, but for my Body scheme I’m moving forward with more classic approaches: Weight Watchers, YAYOG (You Are Your Own Gym), and the “Younger Next Year” approach to working (back) up to fitness. 

Themes for February

  1. Continue with Fascism and Totalitarianism.  Hopefully Arendt will become available soon at the library (or I may just have to spring for it).  Open to other suggestions
  2. PowerPoint innards.  I have a scheme to code a web app which will check your PowerPoint deck for “5 common Intelligent Pitching flaws” per my work on Intelligent Pitching over the last couple of years.  See back posts for more.
  3. Poker.  I’m in a regular poker game but not getting any better at it.  Time to buckle down and do some reading and deliberate practice.

Welcome your thoughts…

Themes for study and learning in January

The three themes I wanted to work on for December were:

  1. World of the Adjunct: I gave this one some thought and a little bit of study; I was able to clarify my feelings about being an Adjunct if nothing else
  2. Reaching Entrepreneurs: Just got started with this one, and most of the work so far has been practical: talking to people who work with entrepreneurs, finding out what “channels” entrepreneurs use and trust (to the extent this can be generalized about).  I’ll continue with this work in January, but doesn’t need explicit study
  3. Presence and Deep Work.  I’m still working on some of the readings I found for December, and will report on these as appropriate.

New themes for January:

  1. Continue with Presence and Deep Work (as above).  The greater my capacity to focus on Deep Work, the better things will go, and I need to augment my toolkit for engaging in Deep Work, well, Deeply.
  2. Fascism and Totalitarianism.  I had intended in any case to learn more about “Modern European Thinking” in 2017: Heidegger, Freud, Judt, etc.  But I’ll want to start with some reading on Fascism, Totalitarianism, and other forms of tyrrany.  Begin with Hannah Arendt “On Totalitarianism” and see where that takes us.
  3. The Body.  I kick off New Years (like most folks) with resolutions to have a better body in 2017, so I’ll want to read some more about this area, establish tentative comm with my body, etc.  I’ll start here by re-reading “The 4-hour body”, by Tim Ferriss.

Welcome your thoughts and comments…  Happy New Year.

What Josh Waitzkin can teach us about lifehacking

As part of the “presence in deep work” theme I’m pursuing this month, I read “The Art of Learning”, by Josh Waitzkin.

Josh Waitzkin is a chess and Tai Chi champion whose views about learning (due to his accomplishments) are worthy of interest, but subject to the caveat that most successful people are no better than anyone else at accounting for their success.

I’ve reached this sad realization after years of reading self-improvements books, which I love and continue to mine as a source of wisdom.  I believe that self-help authors are trying to do something that intellectuals should do but don’t: help the rest of us get better.

(Intellectuals don’t do it, why?  Because it’s too much trouble and they get paid for doing research that the government and corporate sectors want.)

But the ore in self-help books is thin ore; it’s the tar sands of Athabasca: lot of junk to wade through to get to the nuggets of useful stuff.  And that is because our brain is a gland that secretes the impression that we’re always right.  So self-help accounts by successful people are larded with… self-congratulation.

I almost put down Waitzkin’s book several times for this reason.  The first part, although there are some hints of interesting thoughts on learning, are essentially a series of braggy vignettes about how touch a competitor he is, how vexed he has been by numerous tournaments and rivals and challenges, and how he has surmounted them all with a steely will and (and here’s the good part) a mindful approach to learning from his mistakes.

Which is what rescues the book.

He actually goes back when he has screwed up and tries to figure out:

  1. What went wrong
  2. How he contributed to it
  3. What he can do in the future to not make the same mistake again

These are extremely powerful steps.

I tried to put them to work on my rewriting of my novel, which is up to 2 hours/day now and gaining momentum.

What I have been doing with novel rewriting is sitting in front of the ms on the computer and sometimes paying attention to it, sometimes engaging in distractions, and never really working from a plan or an agenda.  The Muse rules, right?

Starting this Tuesday I began a different regime, based on what was going wrong with the existing process.

The night before I’m going to write, I address a question to my unconscious, something from the book.  Picking the right question is a problem, but I’ve been lucky  in the last 3 sessions.

Last night, for example, the question was “Why was Elspeth jealous?”  She’s a character in the part I’m working on now.

When I wake up, I freewrite for ten minutes about the question first thing in the morning.  It’s gold; the stuff that comes out is enormously helpful for figuring out the problem.

I saw at once this morning that Elspeth was not in fact jealous but was both envious and angry, envious because she wishes she were like the hero and angry because she also has disdain for the hero.  Good stuff that made the writing session much better.

It’s a variant of what I’ve always done: load up my mind with a problem and take a long walk.  But applying it to the current situation will be a big help to me.

Hopefully I can continue to make continuous improvements using the three questions that Waitzkin uses.

Your thoughts?


“Themes” for December

I’m trying to be a bit more deliberate about what I read and what I write about and why.  Most of my life I’ve just wallowed in learning with the result that I think I know a “little” about a “lot”.  While that’s probably better than knowing a “lot” about a “little” (the stance of the typical academic scholar, who seems poorly-served by his or her narrowness IMHO), it might be better to focus on things that were useful, difficult, mind-stretching, or all three.

So for December, I want to work on three things:

  1. Presence and Deep Work.  Josh Waitzkin says, in his book on learning: “We cannot expect to touch excellence if ‘going through the motions’ is the norm of our lives.”  It smote me, that sentence.  It really did.
  2. Ways to reach entrepreneurs with information that may be of use to them but they may not be aware of.  I’m working on a project to turn academic research on entrepreneurship into useful information products for real sweating bleeding entrepreneurs out in what Teddy Roosevelt called “the arena.”
  3. The World of the Adjunct.  I’m doing a fair amount of adjunct teaching these days, and it raises many questions: the Mechanical Turk-ization of work, the death of the academy, the problem of normalizing adjunct talents and strengths, etc.  I want to read and talk and write about these topics.

That’s it.  Hope you’re interested.  Always welcome your thoughts.

Is there such a thing as a “healthcare fiduciary”?

I don’t mean the kind of people who make sure that our health-insurance “payers” are holding back reimbursements long enough to add shareholder value.  There are names for them, but probably best not printed.

I’m talking about a discussion my wife and I had the other day about sleep apnea.

I made the mistake of honestly answering a sleep-apnea screening questionnaire a few years ago, and found myself on the slippery slope to using a CPAP machine.  I have “borderline” sleep apnea, which means I stop breathing many times during the night, but not enough times to have a full-scale intervention.

Which I don’t want.  The CPAP machines look awful,  invasive, uncomfortable, and unfashionable.  I’d do almost anything to avoid them.

So my wife and I got in a discussion the other day.

“You stopped breathing last night,” she said.  “I heard it.  It was awful.  I don’t want you to get hurt.  You’ve got to do something about your sleep apnea.”

“Like what?” I said.  “One of those CPAP machines?”

“Are they so awful?” she said.  “<A mutual friend> uses one.”

But I did think they were awful.  I started lying on my sleep-apnea screening test to avoid hassle.  And here it was coming at me from my life partner.

We got in a bit of a fight about it, and she ended up saying, “OK, I won’t bring it up again.  I’ll just let it take its course.”

Which brings me to my point.  She can’t do that.  She has a healthcare fiduciary relationship with me.  And I with her.  We can’t let one another just do what we want when it comes to health.

And little as I want to use a CPAP machine, it feels good to know someone has that relationship to me.

Techie Illiteracy Quiz (and its converse)

Many years ago when I was just starting out in Silicon Valley, I dreamed up a “Techie Illiteracy Quiz” to rub my fellow engineers’ noses in how little they knew about the humanities.

It had 3 questions:

  1. Who was Napoleon, and what was his relation to the French Revolution?
  2. Who wrote “Paradise Lost”, and is it a poem, a novel, or a play?
  3. Name one philosopher and one of his or her beliefs

History, literature, philosophy.

Techies didn’t do well on this quiz.  They did best on Question 3 because of philosophers like Bertrand Russell whom some of them knew from his propositional calculus side.

I was surprised that most techies knew nothing of Napoleon or John Milton.

Recently I told this story to a friend, and he said, “well maybe there should be a ‘non-techie innumeracy’ quiz to level the playing field.”

Question is, what would be in such a quiz?

I’m thinking math/physics, computer science, life science, although that may just reflect my areas of greater experience (I don’t know much about geology, chemistry, materials science (if that’s even a separate science)).

Well, here’s a draft:

  1. Name or describe one of Newton’s Laws of Motion
  2. Who was Turing, and what was his relationship to cryptography?
  3. How does DNA replicate?

Welcome your thoughts…

What to do with books that don’t spark joy?

In the wake of moving on from @ValhallaVC, I brought home a bunch of books.

Which brought to the fore how many books I had in my home study.

So I pulled the trigger on Marie Kondo’s “Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”.

Well, I didn’t follow her Rx 100%.  She wants you to take all the books in your house, put them in one pile, and go through them.  I wasn’t even about to pile all the books in my study into one pile.

But I _did_ do what she said next, which is pick up the books, one at a time, and ask “does this item spark joy in me”?  If not, out it goes.

Well, an astonishing 150 or so books didn’t spark any joy in me, so out they want.

Life-changing magic in my study.  Lots of empty space now on the bookshelves and lots of new books to imagine there.

But, meanwhile, what to do with the non-joy-sparking losers?

I looked on the InterTubes, and found the advice to go to Powells (the Portland, OR treasure) online and sell the books.

Cool.  All I had to was paste a list of the ISBN numbers into a text box at, and they would tell me which ones they wanted to buy (for PayPal or store credit).

So I got a nice ISBN-scanning Android app (XScanPet).  I got the paid version on Google Play for $1.49 because it had some features I liked and because, well, I wrote software for a living for 20 years and think people who pump code should get paid.

And I went through the stacks of books, batch by batch, and pasted the ISBNs into  Powells has wanted maybe 15 of the 80 or 90 I’ve processed so far, so the hourly rate on this label is abominable, but so what, it’s the principle of the thing!  Those books were valuable once so they should be valuable now.

In any case, almost done.  Next joy target in the study is junk in my desk drawers.

Cheap Home Automation

My son is a new homeowner, so we naturally have a boatload of homeowner-ly things to talk about now.  One of them was home automation.

I’ve been automating lights and timers for many years now, going back to the X.10 days.  For the past ten years I’ve pretty much used Insteon equipment, form SmartHome, because it’s pretty cheap, pretty broad in terms of kinds of switches and sensors and controllers, and because, although it’s proprietary, you can get the APIs and hack at it.

So I told him about Insteon, and got as far as, “well, smart lightswitches and smart outlets in Insteon cost about $30 each…”  He said, “Whoa.  That’s not cheap.  How can I get home automation cheap?”

So we both started looking, and found a boatload of open-source work on home automation.  Most of it involves someone writing controller-side code — or even a whole controller-side platform — to command “various” peripherals.

OK, that’s great.  If you wrote your own controller and put it on an old computer — or a new cheap Pi-class computer — you could save the cost of a controller and its software.  These run about $150 for Insteon, and seem similar for other protocols.  The Zonoff hub (full disclosure: my firm Valhalla Partners is an investor in Zonoff), found in Staples Connect home automation sets, retails for maybe $50, but you get the idea.  That’s not chump change, but if you have 20 peripherals at $30 a pop, the total system cost is (20*$30)+$150= $750, so by doing your own controller you’re only saving 20%.

The main question seems to be: can you get down the price of the peripherals from $30 to something more Earth-bound?