Ray Dalio and Bob Dylan on challenging the unconcious mind

What does Ray Dalio, super-investor and author of Principles for Life and Work think your greatest challenge is? It’s mastering the part of you that won’t be mastered.

Your greatest challenge will be having your thoughtful higher-level you manage your emotional lower-level you. The best way to do that is to consciously develop habits that will make doing the things that are good for you habitual.
— Ray Dalio in Principles for Life and Work

I’ve been thinking of this as more like a struggle. The struggle for your (somewhat) free will — your conscious thought — to control and tame your (mostly) chained will — or unconscious mind. If you’ve ever tried to break a bad habit, a really, really ingrained one — for Ray Dalio it’s close-mindedness or something like narcissistic conversation — you can probably relate to the metaphor of a struggle. It’s not easy.

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Bob Dylan and The Band — 1974 by Jim Summaria

That struggle is well-expressed in a thread from one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs: Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat).

The truth was obscure, too profound and too pure
To live it you have to explode
In that last hour of need, we entirely agreed
Sacrifice was the code of the road

I fought with my twin, that enemy within
’Til both of us fell by the way
Horseplay and disease is killing me by degrees
While the law looks the other way

There’s a white diamond gloom on the dark side of this room
And a pathway that leads up to the stars
If you don’t believe there’s a price for this sweet paradise
Remind me to show you the scars

There’s a new day at dawn and I’ve finally arrived
If I’m there in the morning, baby, you’ll know I’ve survived
I can’t believe it, I can’t believe I’m alive

Your greatest challenge:

You have to do things that seem too hard and face much discomfort. (It’s uncomfortable developing good habits and breaking bad ones.) The discomfort is in doing things that the “lower-level you” doesn’t want to do. You have to explode an old way of doing things. There will be sacrifice. The struggle between you and your twin (the “lower-level you” or enemy within that’s easily misled by horseplay and dis-ease) will lead to both combatants falling. There are going to be scars but you’ll arrive at your destination even though you might find you can’t believe it.

 

Improving focus by removing the web browser from my phone

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Five days ago I used the restrictions settings on my iPhone to block access to my web browser. I did it on a whim wondering what it would be like and since that time I’ve turned it on once for only a few minutes. I was in Home Depot and wanted to know what kind of tape I needed for insulation vapour barrier. (It’s Tuck Tape.)

It’s been an interesting experiment.

Why? It was immediately apparent that it was destroying my focus in an incredible way. Or at least, having access to it was. I do most of my personal reading on my phone using the Kindle app and it was only by removing access to my browser that I was able to see how often I was jumping away to some distraction instead of making progress in a book. There was a sad first hour where I’d continually jump out looking for the Safari app every minute or so. I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t keep my attention on the book.

I’ve experimented with some other attempts to improve focus in a world where smart phones are the norm. I routinely delete apps from my phone that distract me. I use the Freedom app to block sites that deliver content to me through algorithms designed to “hook” me. Just like removing the browser all together they’re all easily disabled. I can delete an app or change settings. But I find that putting a simple barrier between me and distractions helps. I’m just lazy enough that I don’t want to have to update a setting in order to read something that I don’t really need to read.

You may have realized, like I did later, that I didn’t need to turn on access to my browser in Home Depot. I could have just asked someone in the store. When I’ve wanted to look something up this week I’ve instead decided to wait. Or walk to my office in the house to check something out on the laptop. Ironically making me more mobile.

That may not seem pretty radical — unless you’re like me and always have a smart phone on your hip. (“I might have to talk to someone?! Or wait?!”) You might want to give it a shot. I’m going to keep it up. My initial impression is that it’s smart to make your phone dumber.

The power of social pressures on behaviour

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Here’s Don Norman in The Design of Everyday Things on fighting the incredible power of social pressures on behaviour. What kind of social pressures? The social forces that cause “otherwise sensible people to do things they know are wrong and possibly dangerous.”

When I was in training to do underwater (scuba) diving, our instructor was so concerned about this that he said he would reward anyone who stopped a dive early in favour of safety. People are normally buoyant, so they need weights to get them beneath the surface. When the water is cold, the problem is intensified because divers must then wear either wet or dry suits to keep warm, and these suits add buoyancy. Adjusting buoyancy is an important part of the dive, so along with the weights, divers also wear air vests into which they continually add or remove air so that the body is close to neutral buoyancy. (As divers go deeper, increased water pressure compresses the air in their protective suits and lungs, so they become heavier: the divers need to add air to their vests to compensate.)

When divers have gotten into difficulties and needed to get to the surface quickly, or when they were at the surface close to the shore but being tossed around by waves, some drowned because they were still being encumbered by their heavy weights. Because the weights are expensive, the divers didn’t want to release them. In addition, if the divers released the wights and then made it back safely, they could never prove that the release of the weights was necessary, so they would feel embarrassed, creating self-induced social pressure. Our instructor was very aware of the resulting reluctance of people to take the critical step of releasing their weights when they weren’t entirely positive it was necessary. To counteract this tendency, he announced that if anyone dropped the weights for safety reasons, he would publicly praise the diver and replace the weights at no cost to the person. This was a very persuasive attempt to overcome social pressures.

 

Normal, regular people — just like you and me — are out there every day risking drowning over a set of diving weights. Don Norman’s instructor is a genius and probably a hero. I hope you’re not going to get into life-threatening situations every day but you’re going to get into potentially life-worsening ones pretty often. It’s probably worth asking what potentially life-worsening or bettering behaviours you’re rewarding in your life.

Reflecting on Design and WordPress (with art)

I wrote a post on one of our design blogs at work: Why I’m so excited about the Gutenberg Editor for WordPress. Potentially interesting if you’re interested in design and WordPress. Or, if you’re just curious about where WordPress is heading.

I was in a reflective mood when I wrote it so to accompany it I chose a painting of mountain climbers surveying a new landscape after reaching a summit.

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North-east view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko by Eugene von Guerard, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been trying to add photos to all my blog posts lately so they’re a bit more engaging when they hit Facebook. Pexels is a great choice for free stock photos but the amount of free art online is pretty staggering. Why not take advantage of it?

Your new creative manifesto

Adweek’s reasons why this second grade handout should be your new creative manifesto feels like it has everything right. At least for me. Maybe I should go back to second grade.

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The Biggest Trolling Operation in History

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Nøkken by Theodor Kittelsen

If you’ve been following the increasingly strange news about Russia’s Internet Research Agency and their involvement in U.S. political life you might find this in-depth look at their activity — from way back in June of 2015 — as fascinating as I do.

I friended as many of the trolls on Facebook as I could and began to observe their ways. Most of the content they shared was drawn from a network of other pages … clearly meant to produce entertaining and shareable social-media content. There was the patriotic Spread Your Wings, which described itself as “a community for everyone whose heart is with America.” Spread Your Wings posted photos of American flags and memes about how great it was to be an American, but the patriotism rang hollow once you tried to parse the frequent criticisms of Obama, an incoherent mishmash of liberal and conservative attacks that no actual American would espouse. There was also Art Gone Conscious, which posted bad art and then tenuously connected it to Obama’s policy failures, and the self-explanatory Celebrities Against Obama. The posts churned out every day by this network of pages were commented on and shared by the same group of trolls, a virtual Potemkin village of disaffected Americans.

After following the accounts for a few weeks, I saw a strange notification on Facebook. One account, which claimed to be a woman from Seattle named Polly Turner, RSVPed to a real-life event. It was a talk in New York City to commemorate the opening of an art exhibit called Material Evidence.

It starts to turn into something more like a paranoid pulp thriller when the author visits the Material Evidence art show and finds out that the show is somehow connected to the same trolls who put on the Columbian Chemicals Plant explosion hoax that started the whole investigation off. Then it just gets crazier.

Russia’s information war might be thought of as the biggest trolling operation in history, and its target is nothing less than the utility of the Internet as a democratic space.

The whole thing is fascinating. It might not be a bad idea to check the About page of those Facebook pages you’re following and make sure they’re pointing back to real organizations made up of real people.