Cultivate your intellectual nutrient base

INbase-540x392Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death. —Einstein

Just as we all have a biological nutrient base—we routinely digest a suitable and adequate amount of physical nourishment—we need an intellectual nutrient base (INB). On a regular basis, we must feast on proven sources of “food for thought.”

My intellectual nutrient base includes:

  • Books—I read a book a week. Click here to read a previous post on the value of reading.
  • Magazines and newspapers— I read National Geographic, Smithsonian, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and the weekend edition of the New York Times.
  • The Great Courses (www.thegreatcourses.com)—there are 558 available courses taught by noted professors that can be downloaded in audio or video formats. I’m currently watching The Philosopher’s Toolkit and Scientific Secrets for a Powerful Memory. Lectures are 30 minutes in length. About four nights a week, I watch a lesson before I go to bed. Subscribe to their free catalog for special pricing.
  • TED talks are short, engaging, and free. Go to www.ted.com, search by topic, and enjoy.
  • Engaging friendships. I spend time with friends that challenge and stimulate my mind.
  • Times of meditation and reflection. I often find a quiet place to just be quiet and think.

Customize your own intellectual nutrient base. Just as you have a unique preference for physical food, discover what best nourishes your mind. Experiment with many options and commit to a few.

Your INB will keep you fresh and vital.

When I meet someone for the first time, I can quickly surmise if his or her life is fresh and invigorating or if it’s grown stale. The symptoms of an atrophied life are obvious: threadbare curiosity, tired vision, unimaginative vocabulary, dated and overused stories, and a slow, almost languid pace.

People who have pushed the pause button on their personal development may be described by the fictitious gravestone that reads: “Died age 45; buried age 70.” Quite frankly, those people are uninteresting and lifeless.

But people who are fully alive, current, and vitally engaged with life are interesting to be with and have something to contribute to life and relationships. They provide stimulating conversations and insightful observations. Lifelong learning fosters interesting and growing relationships and is sustained by systematic consumption of an intellectual nutrient base.

I would like to give you a free digital copy of my book Lifelong Learning. Click here to download a PDF version.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Summary
What? – Just as we need physical nutrients to keep us physically fit, we need consistent intellectual nourishment to keep ourselves mentally healthy.
So what? – Your INB will keep you mentally fresh and invigorated.
Now what? – Define and use a personal INB.

Be diligent

diligenceDiligence is the constant and earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken. —Atal Gawande

I have never thought much about diligence. Virtues like courage, initiative, honesty, and optimism seem to get all the attention. Diligence appears mundane, simplistic, even boring. But it is the prerequisite of all great accomplishment.

Diligence is putting your hand to the plow and not letting go until the row is hoed. It always requires focus, and often requires aggressiveness and inventiveness.

Initiative takes the lead and diligence keeps up the pace. These two virtues converge to form industriousness.

Diligence is personified in the life of Demosthenes, a contemporary of Plato and Aristotle, who overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges to become one of the great orators of Athens, if not history.

He was a sickly and frail child, inhibited by a debilitating speech impediment. When he was seven years old his parents died. His guardians stole his inheritance.

But one day, the young Demosthenes heard a speech at the court of Athens given by a gifted orator and was so moved by the man’s stirring voice and inspiring ideas that he vowed to follow suit and become a statesman—one who could persuade others with his words and thoughts. He crafted and followed an improbable plan to overcome his challenges and perfect his skills.

To strengthen his voice and the clarity of his speech he practiced speaking with pebbles in his mouth. He rehearsed near the seashore, working to make his voice heard above the pounding of the waves. He built an underground dugout so he could study without distractions and shaved half his head so he would not be tempted to deviate from his studies by engaging in social activities. He reportedly copied Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War eight times in order to improve his command of language and to absorb its history.

His diligence to study and prepare worked. Through his insightful writing and persuasive speaking he became a leader in 4th century Greece. Some consider him the father of democracy. His speech On the Crown has been called the greatest speech of the greatest orator in the world.

While it’s fascinating to talk about the paraphernalia of Demosthenes’ diligence— pebbles, waves, caves, and a shaved head—we need to examine ourselves and ask, “Are we diligent,” and if so, what is the proof? What habits and routines demonstrate our careful and persistent work and effort?

A lack of diligence will derail our best intentions. Its presence will aid and support our goals and plans.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Don’t let emotions control your life

Plus - recommended article on the prosperity gospel

Feelings are more dangerous than ideas because they aren’t susceptible to rational evaluation. —Brian Eno

Have you watched this video? If not, please do so.

I am surprised by, and sometimes frustrated at, some people’s submission to emotions. Emotions dominate their lives. Rational thought is ignored and facts are resisted. Like the lady with the nail in her forehead, life is seen exclusively through the lens of emotions.

I do understand and appreciate human emotionality—I even wrote a book on the subject. But let’s pursue a balance between emotions and rational thought. Don’t live your life based on emotions, and for sure, don’t make decisions based on emotions.

Can we agree on the following?

Learn to tell the difference between feeling and thinking.

Mark Twain said, “We do no end of feeling and mistake that for thinking.” Often, we’re simply not aware of which part of our brain is most active at any given moment: our limbic system (emotions) or our frontal lobe (thinking and reasoning). When you’re feeling angry, sad, happy, rejected, overwhelmed, fulfilled—those are feelings. When you’re considering data and facts and you favor rational discourse and the thoughtful weighing of evidence—that’s thinking.

There is often an inverse relationship between feeling and thinking.

Sometimes the more emotionally stirred-up we are, the less rational we are. In extreme cases, when someone is emotionally peaked, he or she may be incapable of thinking rationally. Likewise, if we view life exclusively through the lens of rationality, we won’t fully understand the human condition and we’ll miss out on the depth of human experience. Strive for balance. Avoid emotional incontinence.

Don’t immediately act on feelings.

In his must-read book, The Road to Character, David Brooks said, “The point of all this (self-regulation) was to separate instant emotion from action, to reduce the power of temporary feelings. A person might feel fear, but he would not act on it. A person might desire sweets, but would be able to repress the urge to eat them. The stoic ideal holds that an emotion should be distrusted more often than trusted. Emotion robs you of agency, so distrust desire. Distrust anger, and even sadness and grief. Regard these things as one might regard fire: useful when tightly controlled, but a ravaging force when left unchecked.”

When making decisions, rely more on facts.

To make a sound decision, you need facts. Seek them out and prioritize them. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions but not to their own facts. Occasionally, opinions and personal perspectives need to be considered, but not before the facts are examined. For sure, when you’re peaking emotionally, refrain from making major decisions.

In general, rational thinking trumps emotions.

All humans are inescapably emotional, so we can’t ignore human emotionality. Our lives are filled with both positive emotions (I feel affirmed, satisfied, happy, content, supported) and painful emotions (I feel sad, neglected, hurt, alone, unsupported), and they are part of the human experience, contributing to our very existence. But logic and reasoning provide a surer path to truth and progress.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Summary

What? – Live a balanced life in which both emotions and reason are in their place and at their best.
So what? – Don’t let emotions rule your life.
Now what? – If you tend to be overly emotional, work on establishing a more healthy balance of emotion and reason.
Leaders – Emotional intelligence is an important skill for leaders to have. Learn how to control your own emotions and how to properly respond to other people’s emotions. Base your leadership and particularly your decision-making on facts and rational thought.

Recommended Article

Occasionally, I’ll include in a post, the link to an interesting article which addresses a different topic than the post.

Here’s a fascinating article – Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me – by Kate Bowler (February 13, 2016; New York Times). It raises some thought provoking issues about the prosperity gospel. Click here for the article.

Have a “Popeye moment”

Plus - recommended article - Finding Beauty in the Darkness

PopeyeThat’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more. —Popeye

Do you remember the cartoon character, Popeye the Sailor Man? He was long-suffering and took a lot of abuse from bullies. But there would come a time when he had endured all he could. His patience exhausted, he would say, “That’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more.” Then he’d crack open a can of spinach, consume it in one gulp, his muscles would grow, and then he’d beat up the bad guys.

Sometimes, we need to have a “Popeye moment.”

Here are some areas to think about.

Distance yourself from unhealthy relationships.

Karl Albrecht suggests, “You can ‘fire’ anyone from your life whom you find toxic and disaffirming to your personhood.” Granted, some relationships are easier to jettison than others (it’s easier to disengage from a colleague at work than from a family member), but to one degree or another, you can and should distance yourself from injurious relationships. You may need to “fire” a customer or a friend or a neighbor. Offer “pink slips” to people who don’t belong in your life.

If you’re overcommitted, trim back.

The Plimsoll line is a reference mark located on a ship’s hull that indicates the maximum depth to which the vessel may be safely immersed when loaded with cargo. If you put more cargo on the ship than recommended, bad things can happen.

In like manner, every human has a “personal Plimsoll line” that indicates how much “cargo” he or she can negotiate. We all have different capacities so you need to determine what your limit is and stay under it.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed you’re probably overcommitted. Analyze all your commitments by asking this question. “If I wasn’t currently doing this, would I start doing it now?” If the answer is no, perhaps you should hit the delete button.

Position yourself so that when you need to, you can push back on unacceptable situations.

You may want to flee an uncomfortable situation but you can’t because there are no good alternatives. You’ve painted yourself into a corner and have no options. It may take time to reposition, but ultimately you need to build in some margin and options so you can aggressively respond to distasteful situations. A friend advised me to always have six months of “go-to-hell money” in my savings account. “That way, if your job becomes unbearable,” he said, “you can tell your boss what you think and then walk away.”

Often, we slowly drift into intolerable situations, which makes them harder to see.

The “boiling frog anecdote” describes a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will slowly be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to respond to threats that develop gradually. These situations are usually the hardest to recognize. The slow slip into jeopardy is so subtle that we are unaware of the descent.

Let me give a prosaic example of a slow drift into an intolerable situation. Over the course of about nine months I slowly developed a serious sinus infection. If I had been stricken by the flu I would have recognized it; if I had had a heart attack it would have been obvious. But the gradual descent into nasal catastrophe was so subtle that I didn’t respond aggressively; I just developed increasing tolerance for the yucky symptoms. I finally had a Popeye Moment, made an appointment with an ENT physician, and the problem was solved.

Audit your life and determine if you’re tolerating an uncomfortable or compromising situation. If you are, allow yourself a Popeye Moment—“That’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more”— then follow through and change the situation.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Recommended Article

Occasionally, I’ll include in a post, the link to an interesting article which addresses a different topic than the post.

Here’s a fascinating article – Finding Beauty in the Darkness – written by Lawrence Krauss (February 13, 2016; New York Times). It speaks of the unfathomable beauty and majesty of God’s creation. Click here for the article.  

Start with the end in mind

Plus: recommended article on How to Read a Book a Week

visualize2.001Bill Brooks, management consultant, tells how visualizing success helped Florence Chadwick become the first woman to swim the English Channel.

“When Florence Chadwick set out from the coast of France to make her historic swim in 1952, she was full of hope and courage. The lone swimmer was surrounded by boats filled with journalists, well-wishers and a few skeptics. For years she had trained vigorously to build her stamina and disciplined her body to keep going long after everything within her cried out for her to quit.

“As she neared the coast of England a heavy fog settled in and the waters became increasingly cold and choppy. ‘Come on Florence, you can make it!’ her mother urged as she handed her some food. ‘It’s only a few more miles! You’re ahead of schedule!’ But Florence was beaten by the tortuous elements of nature that day.

“Exhausted, she finally asked to be pulled aboard the boat. She was heartbroken, especially when she discovered how close she’d come to her goal.

“‘I’m not making excuses,’ she later told reporters, ‘but I think I could have made it if I could only have seen my goal.’

“Florence determined to try again. This time, she added a new dimension to her daily training. She studied the shoreline of England where she expected to land, and memorized every feature of the seacoast. Each day as she swam, she would replay that mental image of her goal.

“Eventually, she entered the waters again and set out for the coast of England. Along the way, she ran into all the fog, turbulence and cold water she’d met before. But this time something was different. She swam with greater vigor and determination. Even the skeptics noticed her new confidence.

“She became the first woman in history to swim the English Channel.”

What made the difference? She said later that it was because she was able to keep her goal clearly in focus in her mind, even when she couldn’t see it with her eyes.

I’ve used this principle often in life. When training to run the New York Marathon I often imagined crossing the finish line in Central Park. When working on my graduate degree I would fantasize about having Ph.D. as a post-nominal. When I was writing my first book I imagined holding the book and caressing the cover. Starting with the end in mind helped me to persevere when the journey got hard (and it always does get hard).

Starting with the end in mind will not only offer needed motivation, it can help us in practical ways. Visualize the end of a project and then work backwards, identifying the major steps required to complete it. For instance, reverse-engineer the building of a house: in your mind, see the completed house and then dismantle it one step at a time in the reverse order of how it will be built. Reverse-engineer a major project at work or a vacation—any goal that involves multiple consecutive steps.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Summary
What? – When attempting a major project it often helps to visualize the completed project.
So what? – Visualizing the end of a project motivates us to persevere during difficult times and it may help us properly plan the project.
Now what? – Choose a project you’re about to start and visualize what it will look like when you’re finished. Keep these images in mind as you work on the project.

Recommended Article

Occasionally, I’ll include in a post, the link to an interesting article which addresses a different topic than the post.

My friend, Phil Bruce, sent me the link to an excellent article written by Peter Bregman, published by Harvard Business Review, titled How to Read a Book a Week. It offers practical advice on how to learn from reading. Click here for the article.