Who do you follow?

Who do you follow? On instagram, on twitter, in real life? Is this something you think about?

They say when you are ready – a teacher will appear. I thought I was ready for a long time without running in Mr. Miagi.

I have come to learn that everyone can teach you something. Everyone has something to offer. But some can provide more insight than others. Some can help you on your path to a better life – others will take you on detours. But do you take the time to “maintain your thought garden”?

Reduce the noise so you can find the signal.

Inputs and Outputs

Lately, I have been thinking about inputs and outputs. Something to the effect of, “you are what you eat” and “tell me the five people you spend the most time with and I can predict your future.”

Thinking about inputs – what comes into my “system” – also has me thinking about the inherently complicated nature of systems. Always more than one variable present at a time – so control becomes impossible.

But in general, do you try to effect the outcome? How often do you think about the inputs coming into your life? For me, I don’t think I have ever unfollowed anyone on Instagram. I hardly ever get rid of clothes. I hardly ever get rid of files or papers or books. Things just collect. That means more inputs – more things constantly tugging, I go through life accumulating.

I am not advocating any dirty label, like minimalism, or finding what sparks joy, or Zen Buddhism – but instead acknowledging our power. We make choices everyday. We choose our inputs, and that controls our outputs.

Today, I will unfollow 3 people on Instagram.

Resistance and the Sunrise

In 2013, I woke up early on a Saturday morning. Saturdays are days when I could have slept as long as I wanted. But I chose to wake up at 5:30am and drive off into the darkness. The goal was this beautiful spot I had come across driving around and always wanted to photograph. The night before I set my intention and my alarm.

The spot was a lake, argued to have the highest concentration of Alligators in the state of Florida. Now, I am not scared of alligators. But I am not a fan of them either. Living in Florida and being an avid trail runner – I have had a number of encounters with alligators. But hanging around photographing with a tripod is a little different than already being in motion – and it is a perfect example of what Steven Pressfield calls the “Resistance”.

 The Resistance is that thing in your brain that pops up whenever you try to do something – usually creative or productive. The voice in your head goes something like, “I know, I will wake up early and go take photos of the that beautiful lake.” And then the alarm goes off and it is still dark, and you would pay money to hit snooze. And there are so many steps you have to take to get out the door. And when you imagine arriving at the spot you don’t know where you will park and on top of that – the spot is the highest concentration of alligators in Florida.

This rationalizing brain is the enemy. And that morning in 2013 I beat that part of my brain. And I took some decent photos. I ended up more focused on the street than the lake – and that took me by surprise.

I did not run into any alligators and I did not win any awards for the photos I took that morning. But what I did get was better. I got the valuable lesson that, for some reason, I must relearn every week. The lesson that my life goes better when I fight resistance. 

Resistance is the enemy. And the time when resistance is at its highest, and the battle is hardest to win, is also the most important moment to rise to the occasion – the morning. If you can wake up when the alarm goes off – and start your day. Make your bed if you can (if don’t have a loved one sound asleep in it), get a little bit of stretching, exercise in, some meditation and then from there the day seems to be docile. Things tend to be smoother. As the age old saying goes, “win the morning – win the day”.

For me the right time to wake up seems to be at 5:55. What’s your time?

Courage to Consistently Create

We live in a time of noise. Tweets, instagram posts, snapchat stories, New York Times, NY Post, ESPN, Disney+, the list goes on. Today, we all have a voice and access to a platform. Channels are everywhere.

But, most of us use these tools to consume rather than contribute. When was the last time you made a film? Or tweeted for that matter? According to Pew Research, “most U.S. adult Twitter users don’t tweet very often. A large majority of tweets come from a small minority of users.And while stillness and silence are incredibly important and undervalued – so is contributing to the conversation. So what does it take to contribute?

Not much – just type something and hit send. So perhaps a better question is, what prevents us from contributing, from creating? For me, a feeling of insecurity arises around thinking about what I do not know. I feel like I need a Ph.D. in the subject to be able to comment. Which to be honest, when it comes to complex foreign policy or nuanced health care discussions, the world could use a bit more of that hesitation. But discussions, reflections, putting your thoughts on paper and in to the world – this is how we grow. And it takes courage. Courage to be wrong and to have someone tell you that. To learn and move forward – but at least you are moving forward instead of watching the world go by.

Details and the Devil

Details are exhausting. What percentage of people who accept terms and conditions read them? How much attention do you pay to the oil with which you cook your food? What about the material of the frying pan? (hint: Teflon prior to 2013, not looking so good for the health) Maybe you pay attention to these things when cook at home, but what about when you go out to eat? Given that oils and pan materials vary greatly in health related studies, it would seem important – but how many details can we worry about?

I was thinking about this while studying the German language. In German, the cases are specific. The articles change depending on their role in the sentence. This allows you to say something like “Den Apfel hat das Madchen” which to an untrained eye looks like “The apple has the girl”, but the sentence actually says, “The girl has the apple.” One letter changes the entire sentence. Den Apfel versus Der Apfel and who owns who is completely changed.

This led me to thinking about the expression, “the devil is in the details”. It is a common expression. One that I use or hear when something goes wrong, or when someone does something “careless”. One is reminded that we should pay more attention. That the details matter. But to what extent or end? This can be exhausting. I am not a lawyer – so even if I read the terms and conditions, would I understand them? Should I understand all the details behind this website? Every line of code? What about the binary sequences that make it up? Its details all the way down.

This got me curious, where did this devil in the details phrase come from, and why inflict it on the population? Everyone can’t be expected to know everything. So I looked it up and to my surprise, it appears that it derives from an earlier phrase, “God is in the details”. What a different notion. In the details await opportunity. By looking closer, by learning a bit more you might unravel mysteries.

I find this thought invigorating. The terms and conditions are now not a legal trap waiting to catch me, they are an opportunity to learn. If you take a few extra minutes to learn about health studies about oil and cooking, you might improve your health and share with your family and improve their health. God is in the details. Delightful.

On Feedback

“When feedback is immediate, clear, and concrete, people learn quickly.When feedback is delayed, abstract, and opaque, people rarely learn.” James Clear

I have recently started trading on RobinHood. It is fun – which might be a problem. But the fun part of trading is that you get direct feedback. Decisions are rewarded or punished. It is the same reason I love the chess.com puzzle feature. You are immediately rewarded or punished. Feedback is instant.

For so much of life, feedback is not immediate. Goals are distant or unquantified. Success is not something measurable in data. How do you measure happiness? This is both wonderful and tiring. We should not seek to measure everything, but if you want to grow – feedback is required.

Love, Hate and Chess.com

My relationship with the Chess.com puzzle feature is borderline masochistic. The premise is simple – you are presented with a chess game that has progressed to a certain point and it is up to you to make the next move. 

There is one correct move you can make. If you make that move, you may be prompted to make another move – of which there is only one correct move. Sometimes the puzzle can involve up to 4 or even 5 moves, I believe. If any one of those moves is not perfect, you lose points off your ranking.

I have completed over 2,400+ chess puzzles. I occasionally go through periods where I pay extra and can do 25 puzzles a day – but usually I am limited to the 5 free puzzles a day. I also go for months without any puzzles, but I always return.

My ranking is a miserable 713 currently. Here is my all time chart:


My ranking never really gets any better. And that is the point of this post. The source of the masochism. I desire to actually improve, rather than just play for fun.

My current plan is to keep a journal of mistakes and revisit them. Chess.com also now has a learning feature. I will work on those puzzles with the same focus. I will also document my thoughts upon looking at a difficult board and reflect on if there is a better chain of thoughts through which I can analyze the board.

My goal is to break 900 by August 31st.

This experiment has more to do with growth in learning than chess specifically. Chess is an arena that gives immediate feedback so it will be my current training ground. I am hoping the lessons learned in improving my chess puzzle score can be applied to any area I wish to improve.