Time for Awe and Wonder

A few hours to get inspired.

Hey friends,

As I'm writing shortly after midnight on Monday (technically - practically it's still Sunday night) I want to reflect on the past 8 or so hours, but also years of my life.

Some time ago I figured out everything I have in life so far – good and bad, but I think I'm in the black overall – has come from me doing two main things: getting a lot of shit done as fast as possible and thinking really hard about who I am, what I'm doing, and why.

The thing is, I've yet to learn to balance these things. It feels very much impossible to be doing something intensely and with maximum involvement while also intensely thinking about the grand scheme of things. To be both tactical and strategic, not just oscillating between the two.

And this oscillation between tactics and strategy isn't an issue in itself. We're not wired for multitasking anyway, we're just switching attention between things at a great switching penalty. So if we have to do different things, the best approach is to give ourselves enough time and focus to make progress on each of these things instead of trying to do both at once.

My main issue is my oscillation frequency isn't high enough. A few years ago I got inspired by Ali Abdaal's Pilot, Plane, Engineer approach – where you spend a certain percentage of time on the strategic stuff (setting goals, making plans, maintaining routines – setting course and maintaining your plane) to be able to then focus on execution the rest of the time (flying your plane) – and committed to using it to keep my life on track. Every Sunday, I told myself, I would set aside time for deep, meaningful, strategic work, such as reading, thinking, planning, organizing, and then spend the rest of the week following the plan. It worked great for a while, but I very quickly realized that when I focus on something exciting – tactically or strategically – I tend to really focus on it. When I'm in the "getting shit done" mode, I can easily spend weeks, months getting it done. When I'm in the "thinking things through" mode, I can spend weeks thinking and planning.

Frequency this low can work for some cases, but is otherwise a challenge since getting too tactical means losing direction, and getting too strategic means losing momentum. It becomes an even bigger challenge if you're in any sort of leadership role where setting the right direction is at least as important as making progress.

This brings me back to this Sunday. It's one of these Sundays when I've once again managed to rise above the tactics and routines (and procrastination) to spend a few hours on something deeper and more meaningful. Not just acting on impulses, but thinking things through. Wondering. Getting inspired. Creating insights.

How do you create insights?

First, and most importantly, clear your mind. Chatter and clutter aren't great insight generators. Lots of ways to clear your mind: mindfulness, meditation, walking in nature, journaling, exercise, digital detox, psychedelics, stimulants (counterintuitively). Microdoses of acid or psilocybin work wonders for me, but so do other things. Mix and match as needed, just don't be dumb.

Second, you can now focus on the things you want to be focusing on. Worried about your direction in life? Bring back dreams and memories, revisit old journals, write a new one. Need inspiration? Look at nature. Or go read a good long-form piece (or a good book) on the thing you're curious about. Manifest more curiosity. You have all the time in the world now for awe and wonder. Well, a few hours at least. Feeling stuck? Do something random – something you don't usually do, just for the sake of novelty.

Third, share your thoughts with someone you can have a meaningful conversation with. Earlier today, I spent a few hours chatting with a few of my good friends about a few different things (see the thoughts section below), and these conversations were much deeper than the ones I have on a day-to-day basis simply due to the different mindset. Slower, more focused, more meaningful. Meaningful conversations are how you take individual thoughts and connect them together, often in unexpected and unintuitive ways.

Finally, write it all down. It pains me to imagine all the possibly life-changing thoughts I've lost simply due to being unable or unwilling to write them down.

Then wake up the next day and do whatever you want with these insights. Act on them if you feel like it. You don't have to. Not all ideas are actionable. Some are good to just keep in mind. Others are great to wonder about. To get awed and inspired by. To share with others. Or to never come back to. They're your insights, do whatever you feel like with them.

Have a wonderful week,


A few thoughts

Life's best moments are non-reproducible, but it's alright. The most memorable moments or periods of my life are non-reproducible. Every single one of them is a unique combination of people, places, activities, music, moods, thoughts, and life stages which all together form a perfectly memorable moment or period, and it's impossible to reproduce it by trying to combine the same elements at a later time because the elements themselves have changed by then. But it's alright since it makes me keep looking for and creating new memorable moments instead of recreating the same ones time and again until I die.

The comparison of apples to oranges is the thief of joy. I used to constantly compare my life achievements to those of the people around me until one day a switch flipped in my head that made me realize it makes no sense to compare my own life's milestones to those of others since it's like comparing apples to oranges if you're following your own path. Nowadays I get inspired by others' achievements instead of being envious of them and it's been one of the best things to have ever happened to me mental health wise.

Your path is your very own, so own it. If you've lived your life (or part of it) following a certain path you truly believed in and it didn't work out in the end it doesn't make you a loser – just a person who followed a certain path that didn't work out. You didn't have an option to choose a different one – it wasn't yours.

A memorable life is an extrapolation of memorable experiences. What feels great, slightly terrifying, sometimes uncomfortable? Skydiving. Riding a motorcycle. Being eccentric. Running your own business. Choosing your own path. Those are all memorable experiences. Can you extrapolate these (not just combine) to a larger scale to imagine what a whole life had to be to feel as memorable?

Enjoyed this

OpenAI & Grand Strategy "The ancient Greek poet Archilochus of Paros wrote, as Isaiah Berlin remembered it, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” The grand strategist, according to Gaddis, is both fox and hedgehog: “We’d need to combine, within a single mind (our own), the hedgehog’s sense of direction and the fox’s sensitivity to surroundings. While retaining the ability to function.” Grand strategists must, as Octavian and Lincoln did, “stick to their compass heading while avoiding swamps.” Pursue a grand ambition relentlessly, but remain flexible in your pursuit as you respond to changing circumstances."

Another weapon to fight climate change? Put carbon back where we found it "Carbon itself is hardly our foe. It will remain, of course, essential to life itself—the basic unit for organic molecules. Some 18.5 percent of the human body mass is carbon, more than any other element except oxygen. Plants need carbon from CO2 for photosynthesis, and while you may hardly think of it anytime you are cc’d on an email, the acronym stands for “carbon copy,” a throwback to the days when extra copies of a paper document could only be made by pressing a typewriter’s keys onto the original as well as a carbon-film solution underneath it. But there is simply too much carbon in the atmosphere around us—a genie we once brilliantly popped out of the bottle but one we now are struggling to rein in. It will require all the ingenuity we can muster."

The Last Thing To Ever Happen In The Universe "The universe today is happy and healthy, with exciting things going on – but at some point the night will turn dark. Everything that once was, will peacefully sleep forever. But what is the last thing that will ever happen? Let's travel to the end of the universe…"

The fun part

Winter may be beautiful, but spring can't come soon enough.