Inspiration from Luvvie Ajayi, James Baldwin, Kronos Quartet, and More

Once a month (or so), I share a dozen things that have inspired me to greater personal, professional, and financial success in my life. I hope they bring similar success to your life.

1. J.R.R. Tolkien on a better world

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien

Contentment. Friendship. Experiences. Love. Simple joys. Simple pleasures. Those are the spices of life. They’re the things that make day to day life worth living.

No matter how much money you have, you can’t ever buy those things. You don’t find contentment or friendship in your bank account balance. You don’t find love or the simple pleasure of soft grass under your feet from wealth. Those things are not found there.

The only use for wealth is to ensure that all of those things that really matter and make life worth living are safeguarded. It ensures that your basic needs are covered so that you can actually enjoy all of those things without stress and uncertainty hanging over your heads.

Beyond that, hoarded gold is just a pile of rocks.

2. A life audit

This is an absolutely amazing article by Ximena Vengoechea that outlines a really nice process for auditing your life. The idea is to simply assess where you’re at now in terms of your dreams for your future, your time use, and your relationships, and think about where they should be going forward.

To start, take 100 post-it notes and, on each one, write one wish you have for the future. No filter, just write them down. Another way is to use unlimited post-its but give yourself an hour. When you write one, stick it on a big open space like a table or a wall. When I did this, I just wrote on post-its for an hour and put them randomly on the kitchen table.

Next, organize and group them in some fashion. You’ll find that they group together reasonably well. Move them around as you see fit. You’ll notice that just a few groupings eat up most of the post-it notes, and those are areas you should prioritize. I wound up with about eight groups, with three of them taking up the majority of the notes.

Next, organize each group into things you can do right now, things that are daily habits or can be achieved by daily habits, or ones that are long term aspirations. Make a giant to-do list of the things you can do right now and use that as a guide. Similarly, make a big list of the daily habits and make a block of time in your life each day to just run through those habits. This actually ends up feeling a lot like a “brain dump,” to tell the truth. Still, the lists I came up with made me feel excited and empowered.

Next, make a ballpark picture of how you spend your time. Draw a circle and slice it into a pie of how you spend your time on an average day or during an average week. Sleep? Work? Watching TV? Browsing the internet? What do you actually do? (Time tracking can help with this). After that, make an ideal picture of how you think you should spend your time, notice the differences between the two, and strive to implement changes in your life that bring about that shift. The biggest thing I wanted to cut out was idle time, to be honest, and I mostly wanted to replace it with focused leisure time.

Finally, look at who you spend time with currently, and then also at the people you most want to spend time with – the people that inspire you but are also available to you. Try to transition to spending more time with the inspiring/available people. For me, I realized I simply need more enriching relationships in my life, which kind of looped back to my big brainstorming on the post-it notes.

It’s a wonderful process. Please, read the article and give it a shot.

3. James Baldwin on negative emotions

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” – James Baldwin

If you find someone else to blame for your mistakes and for the random misfortune of the world, it becomes very easy to not look at yourself and see what you can do better.

Think about who you hate and stereotype and think of as less than yourself. What good does it do you? How does it propel you to better things in life?

Think about all of the anger you feel about how things are unfair. What good does it do you? How does it propel you to better things in life?

Now, look at yourself. What are you doing wrong? Fix that, and I guarantee it will propel you to better things in life.

4. Mariano Sigman and Dan Ariely on how groups can make good decisions

From the description:

We all know that when we make decisions in groups, they don’t always go right — and sometimes they go very wrong. How can groups make good decisions? With his colleague Dan Ariely, neuroscientist Mariano Sigman has been inquiring into how we interact to reach decisions by performing experiments with live crowds around the world. In this fun, fact-filled explainer, he shares some intriguing results — as well as some implications for how it might impact our political system. In a time when people seem to be more polarized than ever, Sigman says, better understanding how groups interact and reach conclusions might spark interesting new ways to construct a healthier democracy.

All right, confession time: right now, my family is going through a few decision making processes together (don’t worry, Sarah and I have a really strong marriage – we’re not getting divorced or anything and our family is strong; these choices are related to other areas of life). One big one that we’re discussing the possibility of moving (for a number of reasons) and Sarah and I decided from the get-go to involve the children in the discussion and, at least in part, in the decision making process.

The decision making process has been rather chaotic and I have been looking for guidance on how to improve it, not just as a teachable moment but in terms of how Sarah and I can make decisions better, too.

This video is great as the ideas apply well to families and to larger groups, but it’s also a fun watch. Give it a shot.

The most helpful thing for us was for each of us to decide what we wanted on our own, and then to pair off and talk about the desires of each of us in the pair without just overrunning the other person. What are the things we really agree on? The consensus things from each pair (10 total pairs) ended up forming the backbone of a really great decision we all felt like we were a part of.

I want to use this technique again and again.

5. Winston Churchill on the work of the world

“Most of the world’s work is done by people who don’t feel very well.” – Winston Churchill

I didn’t want to get out of bed all week. It was too cold, I kept telling myself. I’d rather be under the warm blankets.

Each day this week, I got up anyway. I was the first one in my house awake each day, and I enjoyed multiple hours of quiet in which I got many things done.

I didn’t feel like getting up. My life is better off because I did.

Most of the world’s work is done by people who don’t feel like it.

6. SiteBlock

SiteBlock is a Chrome plugin that allows you to block distracting websites. You just make a list of sites that you want to block (or, even better, a list of sites that you DON’T want to block and it will block everything else) and set the number of minutes you want to allow Chrome to not block those sites each day (say, 30 minutes a day that you’re allowed to visit other sites).

This helps so much with distraction. I have a handful of sites that can just suck away time and this tool helps me to avoid spending too much time on them. It’s helped me to keep on track with my work instead of just idling off to some website when I’m uncertain of the next word or phrase when I’m writing.

It does require you to be using Chrome as your main web browser, though.

7. Luvvie Ajayi on getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

From the description:

Luvvie Ajayi isn’t afraid to speak her mind or to be the one dissenting voice in a crowd, and neither should you. “Your silence serves no one,” says the writer, activist and self-proclaimed professional troublemaker. In this bright, uplifting talk, Ajayi shares three questions to ask yourself if you’re teetering on the edge of speaking up or quieting down — and encourages all of us to get a little more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

A lot of the best things we do in life make us feel uncomfortable. I think of the first time Sarah and I agreed to go on a date – it was uncomfortable, but it was one of the best things we ever did.

Being the first is really uncomfortable as there is always a risk of being left alone and becoming the outcast. That’s the wrong way to think about it. The world doesn’t change if you don’t do or say things that make you uncomfortable. If you want a better world, you have to be uncomfortable sometimes.

The key thing is to ask yourself about the best outcome and the worst outcome and recognize that the worst outcome is probably not that bad or it’s extremely unlikely, but the best outcome is amazing. Stop thinking only of the bad outcome.

Plus, Luvvie is hilarious. Well worth watching.

8. Timothy Leary on responding to others

“If you want to change the way people respond to you, change the way you respond to people.” – Timothy Leary

If you don’t treat others in a good way, why would you expect them to treat you in a good way?

If you don’t like how others treat you, think carefully about how you act towards others. Do you pour out a lot of negativity? Are you quick to anger? Do you listen?

Why would you expect anyone to not do the same to you? Why would you expect anyone to not feel the same way about you?

If you act negatively toward others, expect the same in return. If you speak negatively about others, expect the same in return. If you talk negatively about others when they’re not around, expect the same in return.

9. Deliberate experimentation

I keep coming back to the idea of deliberate experimentation in my life, which is something that Michael Simmons spells out in this great article.

Deliberate experiments are simply things that you do on a trial basis to see whether or not they work well for you and have a nice benefit. Doing something for thirty days, for example, is a great deliberate experiment. If you find that the thing you’re doing has a net benefit, you can and should keep it around; if it doesn’t, then you should drop it and try something else.

Think of it as prototyping your life or your work.

I’ve been doing this with frugality and other money habits since the dawn of Money360 and lately I’m expanding it into other areas in my life. The process of deliberate experiments almost always results in improvement, but you have to give it time and effort to see the dividends.

10. Viktor E. Frankl on living

“Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.” — Viktor E. Frankl

This quote sums up why I constantly reflect on recent choices in my life and recent interactions, and why I visualize ones that are coming up.

Recent events and interactions get replayed in my mind, and I try to imagine how I could have handled them better and what value I can pull out of them. What did I do right? What did I do wrong? What can I learn from all of this to do better going forward?

More importantly, visualizations let me picture various ways to handle an upcoming situation and try to come up with the best avenue for doing so. This almost always leads to a better result.

I can take what I learned from visualizing and replaying past events and use them as a model to avoid missteps in the future. In essence, in my mind, when I do something of any importance, I’ve often already done it a time or two in my mind and seen how it can go awry, so I’m equipped to do it better this time.

11. Kronos Quartet’s performance at the 10th Anniversary NPR Music concert

From the description:

Collaboration. It’s at the heart of many of NPR Music’s finest moments. And it’s in the DNA of the intrepid Kronos Quartet, which some 40 years ago began working with composers around the globe to spotlight new music.

Opening our 10th anniversary concert at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., Kronos, true to form, gave an appreciative audience both a world premiere and an extraordinary surprise collaboration.

There’s more to the description, but I absolutely do not want to spoil this for you. This is an absolutely amazing musical performance that blends familiarity and surprise and skill and artistry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to this in the last week or two.

If you like string quartets, and especially if you like both Americana and string quartets, this must be listened to.

12. Carl Jung on fate

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung

We are all driven by instinct and impulses. Most of what we do in a day isn’t thought about consciously.

Until we step back and rethink those unconscious choices, we can’t build a consistently better life. Instead, we’re stuck on our course.

Step back sometimes. Think about your instincts and unconscious choices that you make all the time. How could they be better?

Then, put work to make them better. Think often about how you could do better than before and you’ll find yourself putting that thought into action. It’s the changed action that’s the key.

The goal is to retrain your unconscious mind so that it guides you in better directions. The only way to do that is to think consciously about your decisions and forcibly shape a new path for those decisions to follow.

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