but I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime

Continued from Thursday:

Foresee Important Problems: If you’re like me, you tend to brood a lot over problems without giving them a real sense of perspective. It helps to quantify those problems using real numbers.

First, rank the likelihood of a problem occurring on a 7-point Likert scale. 1 = highly unlikely, 4 = as likely as it is unlikely, 7 = highly likely.

Next, rank the impact of the problem on another 7-point scale. 1 = minimal impact, 4 = average impact, 7 = critical impact.

Multiply [Likelihood] x [Impact] x 2 to get a number between 2 and 98. It’s not a perfect 1 to 100 scale, but it’s pretty close.

How It Works In Practice: I haven’t taken much use out of this hack yet, but what little I’ve seen I’ve liked. Sit down and pick a big goal that you’re worrying about – moving, starting a new job, a big creative project, whatever. List all the potential problems that could come up. Then rank each one for likelihood and impact. Give each one a score from 2 to 98 using the formula above. I would discount anything below a 35 (the product of an “average” score in both categories), but you can set your scale wherever you like.

Communicate in E-Prime: The originator of this hack, David Bourland, sought a way to remove dogmatic pronouncements from the English language. Using the verb to be labels an entity. Using a verb other than the verb to be reinforces the presence of the observer, reminding us that all declarations spring from a party with a viewpoint. Consider “that music is loud” vs. “I find the music loud,” or “he’s an idiot” vs. “nobody agrees with him.”

To use E-prime, you remove the verb to be from every sentence you write. Ideally you remove it from speech as well, though I can’t imagine crossing that hurdle.

How It Works In Practice: I don’t like this hack as much as the others. I get the impression that the originator read Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” and took away exactly the wrong message from it. “That’s the problem,” they said, pointing triumphantly at the rise of 20th century nationalism and the formation of the military-industrial complex. “The verb to be!”

I gave up a dogmatic adherence to E-prime while writing my Wire recaps a few months ago, when I found that I had no way to say “Wee-bey is Damon’s father” without building some truly tortured prose. I still stick to it as much as I can – as I find that eliminating the verb to be makes my writing a little stronger – but not for the reasons the authors intended.

Use The Fourfold Breath: Say what you will about the mysticism of yoga, Buddhism or other Eastern practices – breath control works. Forcing yourself to breathe slowly and rhythmically calms your body and focuses your thoughts.

Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose – making sure to expand the stomach first, then the chest – while counting to four in your head. Hold the breath while counting to two. Then exhale on another four count. Wait for another two count before repeating the process. So you will inhale, two three, four; hold, two; exhale, two, three, four; hold, two, repeat.

How It Works In Practice: I have little trouble with the breathing. The next step, emptying the mind and focusing on the present moment, challenges me. I find that if I visualize the flow of my breath – like one of those sinus commercials, with an animated diagram of air flowing into your nose and out your mouth – I can clear my thoughts pretty easily. One of the other jiu-jitsu students also recommends focusing on your core – a point two inches below and two inches inside your belly button – and imagining a glowing energy that expands with each breath.

The discipline that the exercise requires continues to challenge me. But when I get it, I get it: I feel fired up and alive.

Getting a Good Night’s Sleep: The brain, the hungriest organ in the body, requires physical maintenance like your heart, kidneys and liver. Sleep and diet affect your brain – and thus your thought processes – like they affect the rest of your body.

How It Works In Practice: I made the biggest changes to my sleep habits based on this hack. I no longer read or use the laptop in bed; I want to accustom my body to thinking of bed as “the place that I sleep and/or have sex” and nothing else. When I get up in the morning, even on weekends or vacation days, I shower within 30 minutes: this forces me to slough off my sleepiness and get a start on the day. I try not to have caffeine after 3:00 PM, so it’ll have a good 8 hours to clear my system. If I had more discipline I’d reduce the amount of alcohol I drank late at night, but I’ve never been a saint and I won’t start tonight.

Overclock Your Brain: You can get temporary performance boosts to your brain by changing the composition of its fuel. For instance, everyone knows that drinks high in glucose eventually cause you to crash. But don’t overlook the 30 to 90 minute boost in energy and attentiveness that they create.

How It Works In Practice: If I know I have a project coming up that requires some more intensive focus, I’ll grab a Diet Coke from the vending machine before I start. So far it hasn’t hurt. (Update: Gavin reminds me in comments that Diet Coke doesn’t have sugar. I need to test this hack more thoroughly)

What’s Left: So many hacks I haven’t really tried yet. Mental checksums. Memorizing calendars. Self-hypnosis. And I could stand to bone up on the ones I listed already. But already, dollar per page, I’ve found more value in Mind Performance Hacks than in most things I’ve spent money on this year.


8 Responses

  1. You know diet drinks have caffeine but not sugars, right?
    ‘The verb to be’ – many good insights can be taken to extremes. Techniques may assist in making ones language as direct and honest as possible, but they should not become ends in themselves. The real way to write honestly is to hunt down and destroy the bullshit ideas in your own brain. This is not easy nor completely attainable, but it is worth doing. If only to prevent other people from manipulating you. Just as con men claim you can’t cheat an honest man, so you can’t use propaganda on an honest man.

  2. You know diet drinks have caffeine but not sugars, right?

    If I ever did, I forgot. Damn.

  3. What exactly do you do in the shower that takes 30 minutes??  I take 15 iff I am feeling very lazy.

  4. I shower within 30 minutes of getting up. Thanks for finding the dangling participle.

  5. Big Country!

  6. You win the cracker jack!

  7. I’m pretty sure you just proved the placebo effect with your Coke experiment.

  8. It could be the caffeine. Or maybe … maybe NutraSweet! Yeah, that’s the ticket!

    I don’t even know any more.

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