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Instincts

When I need something from my bag, I instinctually know where to find it.

I know this because I’ve packed and unpacked and reached into that bag hundreds of times. When I first got the bag, this was not the case. When I first got the bag, my bag-instincts weren’t yet developed.

That’s the thing with instincts: they’re weak unless we train them. After packing and unpacking and reaching into the thing over and over again, my bag-instincts grew stronger. The part of my brain that just ‘knows’ where everything is without me having to think about it became burly.

Some instincts come prepackaged with our genes, and there are others we pick up over the years because of the environment we grow up in. But everything else requires work to develop.

Even the instincts we’re born with are worth investigating. Prejudice, for example, is an instinct. We’re born understanding that we should be wary of things that are different from us; things that are outside of our experience.

The only way to train ourselves away from such a response is to experience more, to be exposed to many different sorts of people and ideas and places and things. This helps reshape the instinct so that it raises the hairs on our necks and grants a sense of unease only when there’s truly something to worry about.

We also have instincts that keep us from achieving our goals.

Consider the innate desire to relax and unwind after a hard day’s work, even though we may have plenty of energy left, and plenty of desire to reach for some new height.

That instinct came from somewhere, some primal human survival tactic to stockpile energy in case we have to run away or fight, but it can be shifted to work for you rather than against you. You can train your instincts to perk up at the idea of certain types of work, for example, or to help you feel revitalized after a specific activity (like exercise).

But it takes work to train your instincts, and that’s part of why most people never do. It requires a conscious sense of direction and tons of repetition.

Many people view their instincts as something spiritual or otherworldly, which also doesn’t help. “I don’t know why I feel this way, and therefore I must do as I feel, unthinkingly,” is a terrible perspective if you want your instincts to work for you rather than the other way around.

There’s no hocus-pocus involved with instincts: they’re an amalgamation of beautiful, intricate, gee-whiz brain science that ties together what you know and what you’re sensing.

Instincts leave your conscious brain out of the equation because that’s the most efficient way to convey such information when you need to compute quickly and sense what’s happening without fully understanding in a way you can verbalize.

Intentional, thoughtful development of your instincts allows you to train yourself to be more passively aware of your surroundings. It can help you be more aware of real dangers, rather than the unfamiliar. They can also help you to reach into your bag and know, subconsciously, where all your stuff is.

Update: April 15, 2017

Something that wigs me out about having had an apartment for the better part of a year is not knowing where every single last thing is every moment of every day. I could manage that when my life fit into carry-on bags, but it’s trickier when I own things like, say, printer paper. I know I have printer paper for the rare moment when I need to print something. But did I stash it in the bedroom closet? Or maybe the other closet?

These are not big problems, but they’re weird ones, for me. I still don’t own much, but having more real estate in which things can hide is bizarre after shrinking that real estate for long enough.

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Wonderment

The world can be a dreadful place: Dark, savage, opportunistic, and full of villains.

It can seem like all the good people are relegated to the pages of history books, and any vestiges of a positive definition for the word ‘humanity’ are archived with them.

It may seem that way sometimes, especially in the midst of a caffeine-crash, mood swing, or ‘Breaking News’ marathon, but there’s plenty to be excited about out there. The world, and the people in it, are full of potential. Immense, inspiring, world-shaping potential.

Literally everything that is and can be is out there to see and marvel over. If you ever find yourself lacking the potential for wonderment, you’re either not paying attention, or observing from a vantage point that’s denying you an amazing view.

The world is an infinitely compelling, inspiring, fascinating place. And beyond this world are other worlds, and beyond those, still more. If you look outward at all of that — everything in nature, and everything we’ve created as part of that larger ecosystem — and can’t find something that makes you happy, it may be time to adjust your perspective.

Update: April 15, 2017

Another way of saying this: find excuses to be in awe. Daily. And if you can’t find anything now, start learning more about science and technology and history and anything at all. The more you learn, the more you realize how much truly awesome stuff is out there to be amazed by.

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Because I Want To

Increasingly, I find myself going against the grain of conventional wisdom when it comes to business tactics, marketing, and the like.

It’s not that I think these things don’t work — I know from experience that they often do — it’s more that I simply don’t care to do them. Changing my blog headlines for more clicks, optimizing my book covers for better ‘conversion’ metrics, or starting entire businesses just to make money are efforts that don’t do it for me anymore. They don’t give me the satisfaction of a job well done; a creation well crafted.

This is a shift I’m seeing in more people every day, actually, and it’s heartening for several reasons.

The first is that it generally hearkens the availability of better products and services. When you’re spending less time and energy and resources on figuring out how to sell, you’re generally spending more on what you’re selling, resulting in better offerings. A drastic simplification of the sales process can mean a lot more time spent on what you’re building.

The second is that folks who approach business this way tend to be happier, overall. When it comes to work and lifestyle satisfaction, nothing beats the feeling of doing work you believe in, and exactly how you envisioned it. You may bend based on ideas and feedback from your audience, but you aren’t beholden to anyone. You aren’t loading up your writing with keywords or catchphrases, because you aren’t traffic-focused. You’re focused on doing good work.

Finally, I love seeing this kind of progression because I know why I’ve shifted in this direction: to focus more on quality in my work, and in my life. Rather than allowing conventions and gimmickry to determine my output, I do things because I want to. I start projects for fun, and write books because they’re the kinds of books I like to read.

This is, in most cases, the kind of work situation people aspire to ‘someday,’ and often that day never comes. Your work stays ‘work’ forever, and never becomes something that you can’t not do. Something that you wake up looking forward to every morning.

Consider what you’re putting aside, the types of things you want to be doing, and how you might do them today. Can you incorporate these things into your schedule now by pushing aside some other activities? Could you live on less for a while, and build up your capacity to earn over time by doing work you believe in?

Focus on the sale can help put products in hands and money in your pocket, but it’s unlikely to ever make you as happy as a passionate effort honestly produced. The results of which are made available to those who will appreciate them.

Take stock of your priorities and calibrate your life accordingly. You’ve got a finite number of years to play with: you might as well do great work for the duration.

Update: April 15, 2017

This is still a key component of how I operate today, and how I choose which projects to take on next. It requires passing on certain opportunities, but you typically end up sleeping a lot better and a lot more excited to do the work you do, rather than feeling a sense of dread about having to do it.