Use It or Lose It

In the wild, doing whatever it takes to conserve energy is a crucial survival mechanism. But in a world where all our needs are met, it makes us very lazy and fragile.

We all know this, but our solution is usually to dedicate time to “train” our body and brain. Much of the training is domain dependent. (Head nod to Nassim Taleb on this concept.) It only makes us better at that specific task. For example, brain-training games only make us better at that game. Bicep curls make us better at curling weight with perfect grips that you would rarely encounter in the real world.

Domain independent activities, on the other hand, make us more resilient across many fields. For example, squats and other heavyweight compound movements, translate to other activities like wheelbarrowing dirt around your garden. Practicing mathematical proofs teaches us how to break down complex things into their fundamental parts; something useful when planning complex work projects.

It makes sense then to focus our dedicated training to domain independent activities. Then use our everyday lives to integrate domain dependent training. Even better, the holy grail is to integrate domain independent activities into our everyday lives.

Arguably “useless” activities that you do for the sake of doing them are exempt from this philosophy, e.g., playing the piano.

Below is just a quick example of seemingly mundane domain independent and dependent activities that make us more resilient (and, to some degree, antifragile) with little adjustment.

  • Set all passwords to letters and special characters that you struggle to type without looking instead to ASDFJKL-laden characters
    Benefits/other domains: improve keyboard navigation and finger dexterity
  • In the moment, memorize the 4 digit bulk food “walnuts” code instead of writing it on the twisty label
    Benefits/other domains: improve ability to chunk information, less time in bulk food aisle, practice keeping multiple things in your head
  • Build a mental model of the city in your head instead of relying on your phone GPS
    Benefits/other domains: less phone reliance, improve hippocampus health, spatial memory, and situational awareness
  • Take the stairs everywhere. I can’t think of a more effective way of keeping you young.
    Benefits/other domains: get places quicker, improve cardio health, mood, and hiking endurance
  • Shovel snow by hand instead of using a snow blower
    Benefits/other domains: save money, improve cardio and muscular health, increase cold adaptation
  • Carry a grocery basket instead of pushing a cart
    Benefits/other domains: improve arm and grip strength, less time in grocery store
  • Use a fork with your non-dominant hand
    Benefits/other domains: increase weak hand dexterity, appreciate our fine motor skills
  • Use a map and compass while hiking instead of a phone app
    Benefits/other domains: improve presence and situational awareness, emergency navigation, less phone reliance
  • Absorb beautiful moments with your senses instead of taking photos/videos
    Benefits/other domains: improve appreciation, presence, and situational awareness

What are more examples of what you can do through your everyday lives that make you a better you?

Use It or Lose It

Why is your Value

We were walking down the fairway on a sun-filled morning with the ocean screaming into the cliffs to our right. The old man struggling to walk along next to me hesitantly asked, “so what do you do for work that you can afford to play this course at your age?”

At $700 for the privilege, it was a mostly valid question. I’d teased out of him earlier in the morning that this was his bucket list dream for decades and he and his wife were spending 3 nights in the attached lodge for $600 a night.

I ignored the work part of the question, which I thought irrelevant, and said, “Easy! I’m staying in the hostel for the $75 a week rate. You can’t beat a week-long trip to Carmel and a round at Pebble Beach for 800 bucks!”

I could feel the air pressure change from his sudden deflated opinion of me.  Disappointed that I wasn’t some prodigy venture capitalist but rather some dirtbag golfer, we didn’t say much after that.

We both pitied each other. He delayed playing the course for when he was out of his prime because he believed he had to spend over $3000 for the honor of playing the course—and sleeping next to it. Because that is. Just. What. You. Do. But he and I knew he was there for the golf, not the turn-down service.

If people really questioned what they value in things, they would see that things are more attainable than they really think.

Do you value the second home and its accoutrements deep in the woods? Or the solitude and feeling of living like a pioneer in the midst of a winter blizzard? AirBnb can give you the latter, which in most cases is what you truly value, at a life-altering discount.

If you quietly sit in a chair, take a walk, or an extra long shower—with no distractions—and keep asking yourself why you want something until you no longer can break it down further, you’ll get to the core value that you desire. Throw away all the superfluous baggage that society says you need and instead live a life full of your values.

Why is your Value

Book notes: Where Good Ideas Come From

by Steven Johnson

Seven Patterns


Ideas are works of bricolage.

First-order combinations build on each other. New combinations users new combinations into the adjacent possible.

When ideas are “ahead of their time”, the first-order ingredients are not completely in place. E.g., Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

The trick is to get more spare parts on the table to use as first-order ingredients.


Networks to be effective: 1) need to have sheer size 2) must be very plastic and adaptable.

Carbon-life is so likely because abundance of molecules and the number of configurations that molecules can connect to it.

Must be at the edge of chaos: the fertile zone between too much order and too much anarchy

Information spillover: when sharing a culture in a high-density environment ideas tend to flow from mind to mind.

Talking shop: Most important ideas emerge during regular lab meetings, where researchers huddle around a conference table and informally present and discuss their latest work.

Work environments need to straddle balance between chaos and order. Modular office space is ideal.


Secret to hunch cultivation is to WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN.

The commonplace book is a fine line between order and chaos. You don’t want too much organization. Categories build barriers between disparate ideas.

In the past, reading and writing were inseparable activities. Reading was cross-referenced with other books.


The more disorganized your brain is, the smarter you are.

The electric noise of the chaos mode allows the brain to experiment with new links between neurons that ould otherwise fail to connect in more orderly settings. The phase-lock mode is where the brain executes an established plan or habit. The chaos mode is where the brain assimilates new information, explores strategies for responding to a changed situation. Chaos mode is a kind of background dreaming: a wash of noise that makes new connections possible.

Serendipity needs unlikely collision and discoveries, but it also needs something to anchor those discoveries.


  • Go for a walk, take long showers, or soak in tubs
  • Batch read from varied collections in a condensed amount of time to assimilate new ideas
  • Avoid the Filter Bubble
  • Make a Commonplace Book


Penicillin from mold due to science experiment mistake.

The errors of the great mind exceed in number those of the less vigorous one.

Sheer quantity ultimately leads to quality.

Error often creates a path that leads you out of your comfortable assumptions. Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.

Good ideas are more likely to emerge in environments that contain a certain amount of noise and error.

DNA mutation introduces noise and opens up the adjacent possible. There’s a small but stable error rate in DNA transcoding that is an optimal balance between too much mutation and too much stability.

Mutation rate in human germ cells is roughly one in thirty million base pairs. This means genetic inheritance from parents to child comes with roughly 150 mutations.

Stress causes more mutation to occur. More mutations when life is a struggle may give just the advantage needed to survive. But is tempered by sex.


Gutenberg press was made possible by the wine press—borrowing a mature technology from an entirely different field, and putting to work to solve an unrelated problem.

Examptation: an organism develops a trait optimized for a specific use, but then the trait gets hijacked for a completely different function.


  • symmetrical feathers provide insulation. Assymetrical feathers act as an airfoil. A feather adapted for warmth is now exapted for flight
  • vacuum tube adapted to make signals louder, exapted to turn those signals into information
  • hyperlinks adapted for navigation, exapted for assessing quality via PageRank
  • narrative writing devices like stream of consciousness adapted for specific use, exapted as a new genre
  • skeuomorphism: desktop with pieces of paper exapted as graphical interface in computers

All decisive events in the history of scientific thought can be described in terms of mental cross-fertilization between different disciplines.

Concepts from one domain migrate to another as a kind of structuring metaphor, thereby unlocking some secret door that had long been hidden from view.

Cities are environments that are ripe for exaptation, because they cultivate specialized skills and interests, and they create a liquid network where information can leak out of those subcultures, and influence their neighbors in surprising ways.

Third place, a connective environment distinct from the more insular world of home or office. Coffeehouses. Breeding ground for cross-fertilization.

Diverse fields of expertise, horizontal social networks are three times more innovative than uniform, vertical networks.

Weak Ties Across Disparate Fields

A new technology developed in one idea-space can migrate over to another idea-space through these long-distance connections; in that new environment, the technology may turn out to have unanticipated properties, or may trigger a connection that leads to a new breakthrough.

Apple’s concurrent or parallel production: all the groups—design, manufacturing, engineering, sales—meet continuously through the product-development cycle, brainstorming, trading ideas and solutions, strategizing over the most pressing issues, and generally keeping the conversation open to a diverse group of perspectives.

Have lots of hobbies

Ben Franklin was a dilettante in many fields.

One project takes center stage for a series of hours or days, yet the other projects linger in the margins of consciousness throughout. That cognitive overlap is what makes this mode so innovative. The current project can exapt ideas from the projects at the margins. Allow the mind to move through multiple boxes. Moving from box to box forces the mind to approach intellectual roadblocks from new angles, or to borrow tools from one discipline to solve problems in another.


The platform builders and ecosystem engineers do not just open a door in the adjacent possible. They build an entire new floor.

Example: advent of GPS (by tracking Sputnik) has allowed Web 2.0 mashups; leading to APIs.

The Web is a layers upon layers of platforms.

Genres supply a set of implicit rules that have enough coherence that traditionalists can safely play inside them, and more adventurous artists can confound our expectations by playing with them. Genres are the platforms and paradigms of the creative world.

THE FOURTH QUADRANT (Non-Market/Network)

It is in the nature of good ideas to stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before them. This means is fundamentally a network affair.

Matrix based on Market/Non-Market and Individual/Network

The more the government thinks of itself as an open platform instead of a centralized bureaucracy, the better it will be for all of us, citizens and activists and entrepreneurs alike.

E.g., initiative.

All the patterns of innovation—liquid networks, slow hunches, serendipity, noise, exaptation, emergent platforms—do best in open environments where ideas flow in unregulated channels.

When you introduce financial rewards into a system, barricades and secrecy emerge, making it harder for the open patterns of innovation to work their magic.

Universities have ivory-tower isolation from the real world, but most of the paradigmatic ideas in science and technology have roots in academic research.

Fourth-quadrant innovation creates a new open platform that commercial entities can then build upon, either by repackaging and refining the original breakthrough, or by developing emergent innovations on top of the underlying platform.

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. —Thomas Jefferson

The natural state of ideas is flow and spillover and connection.

In summary: Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent.

Book notes: Where Good Ideas Come From

Book notes: Algorithms to Live By

by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths

Optimal Stopping

37% Rule / The Secretary Problem / Marriage Problem
The optimal stopping rule prescribes always rejecting the first 37% of applicants after the interview and then stopping at the first applicant who is better than every applicant interviewed so far (or continuing to the last applicant if this never occurs). You will get the best candidate 37% of the time following this algorithm.

Merge Sort and Binary Search


Least Recently Used (LRU) Caching adaptations in the real world

  • Noguchi Filing System
  • Valet stand for most often used clothing
  • Library front book display area

Computational Kindness / Load (don’t make me think!)

  • Car parking starting from closest to store – first available space is the best (instead of using 37% rule)
  • Pick a few restaurants to choose from
  • Choose a few date/times for meetings
  • Bus stop with next bus arrival time sign
  • Block vs Spin: Restaurant wait-list vs open seating policy

pp. 259-261


  • Washing clothes: shortest washing times at the start, and shortest drying times at the end

Bayes’s Rule

Laplace’s law – estimate probability of future event based on previous results. The expectation is the number of previous wins plus one, divided by the number of attempts plus two:

(w)ins + 1

(n)umber of attempts + 2

Example: you flip heads 4 times out of 7 attempts. So 4 + 1 divided by 7 + 2 equals 5/9 or 56% chance. The more previous attempts, the more accurate the prediction.

This can be used to calculate the chance that the bus is late, baseball team will win, or things with much more previous results like chance baby is boy or girl or the sun will rise.

Copernican Principle or Mediocrity Principle (Bayes’ Rule without priors) – unless we know better (from priors) we can expect to have shown up precisely halfway into the the duration of any given phenomenon.

E.g., USA will most likely last another 250 years or so; Google until 2032; 7 days since last accident on the job, 7 days until next accident; bear activity in campground 10 days ago, bear again in 10 days. Looking at serial number on tram, double the number to make best estimate of number of trams

  • Normal distribution curve – lifespan of humans
  • Use Average Rule

  • Power-law distribution curve – average mean income in US
  • Use Multiplicative Rule

  • Erlang distribution curve – amount of time politicians stay in office
  • Use Additive Rule


Occam’s Razor – all things being equal, the simplest possible hypothesis is probably the correct one

Regularization solves the problem when things aren’t completely equal.

Regularization – introduce an additional term to your calculations that penalizes more complex solutions

Early Stopping is a form or regularization that forces you to stop thinking so much by limiting the number of variables that over-complicate things

E.g., Use a thick pen when designing something on paper at first so you don’t put in unnecessary details.

Darwin’s pro / con list got too detailed with too many pros and cons. He could have settled for just a few of the most important ones and made a good decision there.

How to stop a pro/con list? Perhaps by the of the page.


The perfect is the enemy of the good. —Voltaire

Constraint Relaxation – remove some of the problem’s constraints and set about solving the problem you wish you had. Then, after making a certain amount of headway, try to add the constraints back in.

For example, in the traveling salesman problem, allow salesman visit same town more than once or let him retrace his steps.

Relax constraints to get a good enough solution for solving life’s most vexing questions:

  • What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
  • What would you do if you won the lottery?
  • What would you do if all jobs paid the same?
  • What would you do ifyou could not fail?

Continuous Relaxation – most are discrete optimization problmes. No smooth continuum among its solutions. No shades of gray. Possible solution is to convert discrete to a continuous optimization. Instead of sending 100 invitations, send 50 to those with most connections who will everyone else. You turn whole numbers into fractions and do lots of rounding.

Lagrangian Relaxation – an optimization problems has two parts: Rules and Scorekeeping. Take some of the problem’s constraints and bake them into the scoring system instead. That is, we take the impossible and downgrade it to costly. Allows you to color outside the lines at some cost.

E.g., sports scheduling, overfilling wedding tables,


Three Tradeoffs: time, space, and CERTAINTY

Bloom filters – comes up with an answer which saves time and space but trades off error probablility

E.g., check to see if URL already one of 70 trillion cached URLs before caching. Bloom filter will give fast result with a 2% to 3% chance that it’s wrong


Exponential Backoff – increasing the average delay after every successive failure. maximum delay length forms an exponential progression

Game Theory

Recursion – part of bluffing; you know that they know that you know; but make sure to play only one level above your opponent

Book notes: Algorithms to Live By

Book notes: Smarter Faster Better

by Charles Duhigg


Snap out of situations where you get cognitive tunnel vision. Assess the problem and put in a mental model that makes sense for the situation.

Example: Qantas Flight 32 – so many engines and flight controls were failing that it was overwhelming. Instead of continuing with practiced scenarios and fixes, he scrapped everything and changed his mental model to a small prop Cessna. He just needed to get the plane to stall just as it touched the ground.


Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis

Reefs, forests, etc are teeming with life due to fluctuating disturbances (i.e., lightning strike, spring floods (riparian zones), medium-sized waves, etc).

Somewhat related:

The most vibrant things are at the edge. Where two disparate things meet. The meadow and the forest.

Formula to the Creative Process:

  1. Use previous experiences – how did you feel during these experiences
  2. Creative desperation – time crunches make us flexible enough to seize something new
  3. Maintain some distance – force ourselves to critique what we’ve already done. Look at it from a completely different perspective. Disturbances are essential, and we retain clear eyes by embracing destruction and upheaval as long it’s the right size.

Absorbing Data

Mental Scaffolding / Filing

Example of choosing wine by year, color, varietal, price.

Creating Disfluency

Force yourself to manipulate the raw data and come up with meaningful trends. Don’t rely on fancy programs that does all the heavy lifting for you. Use spreadsheets.

Write things down by hand. The harder it is the better. Come up with your own sentences INSTEAD of copying verbatim. Draw things out.

This is mentioned elsewhere as “desirable difficulties.” Write things by hand. Don’t copy and paste. Make flashcards.

Book notes: Smarter Faster Better

Book notes: The Inner Game of Tennis

by Timothy Gallwey

The four basic skills in the Inner Game

  1. Letting go of judgments
  2. Art of creating images
  3. Letting it happen
  4. Concentration

Must be consciously unconsciously doing the task at hand.

The player who is “unconscious” has a mind so concentrated, so focused that it is still. It becomes one with what the body is doing, and the unconscious or atumatic functions are working without interference from thoughts.

The art of effortless concentration is invaluable in whatever you set your mind to.

The Two Selves

Self 1 (the Teller) and Self 2 (the Doer) are two separate persons.

Self 1 tightens the cheek muscles and purses the lips when hitting a backhand in attempted concentration. But that isn’t needed to hit a backhand.

Self 1 does not trust Self 2, even though it embodies all the potential you have developed up to that moment and is far more competent to control the muscle system than Self 1.

Getting it together mentally involves several internal skills that overcome “trying too hard”:

  1. learning how to get the clearest possible picture of your desired outcomes
  2. learning how to trust Self 2 to perform at its best and learn from both successes and failures
  3. learning to see “nonjudgmentally”—to see what is happening rather than merely noticing how well or how badly it is happening

The above skills are subsidiary to the master skill: the art of relaxed concentration.

Quieting Self 1

Embrace childlikeness again.

Don’t generalize. Instead of judging a single event as “another bad backhand,” it starts thinking, “You have a terrible backhand.”

First the mind judges the event, then groups events, then identifies with the combined event and finally judges itself. They end up becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.

Letting go of judgments does not mean ignoring errors. It simply means seeing events as they are and not adding anything to them.

Judgment begins when the serve is labeled “bad” and causes interference with one’s playing when a reaction of anger, frustration, or discouragement follows. Judgmental labels usually lead to emotional reactions and then to tightness, trying too hard, self-condemnation, etc. This process can be slowed by using descriptive but nonjudgmental words to describe the events you see.

The first step is to see your strokes as they are. They must be perceived clearly. Without personal judgment.

When the mind is free of any thought or judgment, it is still and acts like a mirror.

Awareness of What Is

In tennis you must know where the ball is and where the racket head is.

You watch the ball but you must feel where you racket head is. Feeling it gives you the knowledge of where it is. Knowing where it should be isn’t feeling where it is. Knowing what your racket didn’t do isn’t feeling where it is. Feeling where it is is knowing where it is.

Don’t rely on reminder phrases to repeat good results. Eventually it will stop working. Instead observe the racket with detachment and interest. You will feel what it is actually doing and your awareness increases. Then, without any effort to correct, you will discover that the swing begun to develop a natural rhythm.

Self 1 is always looking for approval and wanting to avoid disapproval, this subtle ego-mind sees a compliment as a potential criticism.

When we “unlearn” judgment we discover, usually with some surprise, that we don’t need the motivation of a reformer to change “our bad” habits.

Acknowledgment of one’s own or another’s strengths and efforts can facilitate natural learning, whereas judgments interfere. What’s the difference? Acknowledgment of and respect of one’s capabilities support trust in Self 2. Self 1’s judgments, on the other hand, attempt to manipulate and undermine that trust.

Trusting Self 2

Self 2 inner intelligence learns with childlike ease. Respect it.

“Trying too hard” is what happens when Self 1 doesn’t trust Self 2. This results in using too many muscles and mental distraction and lack of concentration.

Trusting your body in tennis means letting your body hit the ball.

Letting it happen is not making it happen. Nor trying or controlling. Those are Self 1 verbs. They produce tight muscles, rigid swings, awkward movements, gritted teeth and tense cheek muscles. Resulting in mishit balls and frustration.

Swinging a golf club hard usually involves tensing your muscles. But go at a calm speed and let the club swing and the ball ends up going the same distance with half the effort. Do not identify with your swing. You are not your bad swing.

When first learning to swing let it learn, then once your body knows how just let it happen. Self 2 when adapt and learn from bad swings.

So the beginner’s secret is: allow the natural learning process to take place and to forget about stroke-by-stroke self-instructions.

First, WATCH. Absorb visually the image in front of you. This image completely bypasses the ego-mind, and seems to be fed directly to the body. Then you feel how it is to imitate those images. Then do.

Three ways to communicate with Self 2

Sensory imagery is Self 2’s native tongue.

1. Ask for Results

Don’t try to hit the ball. Just ask Self 2 to do it and let it happen. Don’t make any conscious effort to correct. Simply let go and see what happens.

Give Self 2 a clear visual image of the results you desire.

2. Asking for Form

First you must give Self 2 a very clear image of what you are asking it to do. This can be done by holding your racking in front of you in a proper follow-through position and looking at it with undivided attention for several seconds. You may feel foolish, BUT it is vital to give Self 2 an image to imitate.

Then before hitting balls, swing the racket several times, letting the racket stay flat and allowing your self to experience how it feels to swing in this new way. Once you start to hit balls, it is important not to try and keep your racket flat. You have asked Self 2 to keep it flat, so let it happen! Self 1’s only role is to be still and observe the results in a detached manner. Very important to not consciously try to keep the racket flat.

3. Asking for Qualities

Play the role of a pro. Adopt professional mannerisms and swing the racket with supreme self-assurance. Above all, your face must express no self-doubt.

Of the four styles of tennis (defensive, aggressive, all-about-style, hustler) choose to adopt the style that is most unlike the one you previously adopted. This will greatly increase a player’s range.

Discovering Technique

Instructions are relative and need to be expressed in your own experiential terms.

The best use of technical knowledge is to communicate a hint toward a desired destination. The hint can be delivered verbally or demonstrated in action, but it is best seen as an approximation of a desirable goal to be discovered.

Changing Habits

Groove theory of habits: Instead of digging your way out of old deeply-entrenched grooves/habits, start new ones!

It is the resisting of an old habit that puts you in that trench. Starting a new pattern is easy when done with childlike disregard for imagined difficulties.

Making a Change

  1. Nonjudgmental Observation
  2. Just observe the habit that you want to change without making any adjustments. Notice all aspects of it. After 5 minutes of observing you will notice what change might make most sense. Let yourself feel the change most desired, then observe a few more times.

  3. Picture the Desired Outcome
  4. Picture your serve with more power. Perhaps watch the motion of someone with more power. Don’t overanalyze. Just absorb and try to feel what he feels. Then imagine yourself hitting the ball with power, using the stroke natural to you. In your mind’s eye, picture yourself serving, filling in as much visual and tactile detail as possible.

  5. Trust Self 2
  6. Begin serving but don’t make any conscious effort to control the stroke. Resist temptation to hit the ball harder. Simple let your serve begin to serve itself. Having asked for more power, just let it happen. Keep Self 1 out of it. Be patient and trust the process. Letting it happen doesn’t mean going limp; it means letting Self 2 use only the muscles necessary for the job. Be willing to allow Self 2 to make changes withing changes, until a natural groove is formed.

  7. Nonjudgmental Observation of Change and Results
  8. Watch the results calmly and experience the process. If you feel you want to help, DON’T! By so doing, concentration is best achieved. Important to still have lack of concern of where ball is going. Serve until you have reason to believe that a groove has been established. To test the groove, serve a few balls solely attending to the ball. If the serve is serving itself, then a groove has been started and used. Don’t intellectualize it.

Self 1 wants to return the next day so that it thinks it deserves the credit. It’s ego satisfaction.

Concentration: Learning to Focus

While performing well under the relaxed concentration of Self 2, Self 1 wants to gain credit. Self 1 thinks about how it did it, make a formula out of it and thus bring it into Self 1’s domain where it can feel in control.

Death knell: “I’ve found the secret to the serve.”

You must let it go. But it is hard. How to do it?

To still the mind one must learn to put it somewhere. It cannot just be let go; it must be focused. As one achieves focus, the mind quiets. Practice is needed to learn this art.

In tennis, the ball is the most practical object to focus on.

The focused mind only picks up on those aspects of a situation that are needed to accomplish the task at hand. It is not distracted by other thoughts or external events, it is totally engrossed in whatever is relevant in the here and now.

1. Watching the ball

The most effective way to deepen concentration through sight is to focus on something subtle, not easily perceived. Notice the seams of a ball as it spins. Things slow down. The mind forgets to try too hard.

To prevent boredom of seam-watching, be endlessly curious. Be an empty cup.

Bounce-hit exercise. Say “bounce” when ball bounces off ground, and “hit” when ball hits racket.

Notice the flight of the ball before and after each hit.

Natural focus occurs when the mind is interested. Not staring or forcing focus. No squinting or straining.

2. Listening to the ball

Listen for the sweet spot. The crack.

Practice of listening to the ball is best used during practice. Then during a match you’ll automatically listen for the right sound.

3. Feeling

Must know where the ball and racket is. The critical time to know the position of the racket is when it is behind you.

The greatest attention should be placed on the feel of your arm and hand at the moment just before they swing forward to meet the ball.

Become aware of rhythm.

Focus on the feel of the ball at impact. Notice subtle differences.

It’s almost impossible to feel or see anything well if you are thinking about how you should be moving. Forget shoulds and experience is.

Notice these three senses one at a time and at your own rhythm.


Attention is focused consciousness.

Must learn to to focus awareness in the now. The greatest lapses in concentration come when we allow our minds to project what is about to happen or to dwell on what has already happened.

Alertness is a measure of how many nows you are alert to in a given period.

The critical time is between points! The mind leaves its focus on the ball and is free to wander. Focus on the the breath between points to prevent leaving the now.

Getting into the zone is a gift you receive by giving your effort.

Our desire that things be different from what they are pulls our minds into an unreal world, and consequently we are less able to appreciate what the present has to offer. You must resolve these conflicting desires to attain a concentrated state.

Games People Play

Three main games with sub-games. They all have their aim, motive, and external and internal obstacles. (see p. 94 for details):

  1. Good-o

    Aim: To achieve excellence

    Motive: To prove oneself “good”

    • Perfect-o
    • Compete-o
    • Image-o
  2. Friends-o

    Aim: To make or keep friends

    Motive: Desire for friendship

    • Status-o
    • Togetherness-o
    • Wife-o
  3. Health-o–Fun-o

    Aim: Mental or physical health or pleasure

    Motive: Health and/or fun

    • Health-o
    • Fun-o
    • Learn-o

Most end up playing a version of Good-o. We live in an achievement-oriented society where people tend to be measured by their competence.

The value of a human being cannot be measured by performance or by another arbitrary measurement.

What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best that can happen? What do I want to happen?

The need to prove yourself is based on insecurity and self-doubt.

The basic meaning of winning:

Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, but the value in winning is only as great as the value of the goal reached. Reaching the goal itself may not be as valuable as the experience that can come in making a supreme effort to overcome the obstacles involved. The process can be more rewarding than the victory itself.

In competition, the duty of your opponent is to create the greatest possible difficulties for you. He is your friend. True competition is identical with true cooperation. No person is defeated. All players benefit by their efforts to overcome their obstacles.

This attitude in action: instead of hoping your opponent is going to double-fault, you actually wish that he’ll get his first serve in.

Thank him for the fight he put up.

Play your competitor’s weak backhand so he improves.

Play every point to win. Don’t worry about winning or losing the match, but rather whether or not I am making the maximum effort during every point.

Maximum effort does not mean Self 1 over-trying. It means concentration, determination, and trusting your body to “let it happen.” Competition and cooperation become one.

It’s the process, not the results

For the player of the Inner Game, it is the moment-by-moment effort to let go and to stay centered in the here-and-now action which offers the real winning and losing, and this game never ends.

All great things are achieved by great effort, but first decide if the reward on the other side is worth the effort.

The Inner Game off the Court

Several inner skills, chiefly the art of letting go of self-judgments, letting Self 2 do the hitting, recognizing and trusting the natural learning process, and above all gaining some practical experience in the art of relaxed concentration.

At first you learn to focus to improve your tennis, BUT then you practice tennis to improve your focus. It’s a shift of mindset away from the external to the internal.

There’s the outer game played against the obstacles presented by an external opponent and played for external prizes; the Inner Game, played against internal mental and emotional obstacles for the reward of knowledge and expression of one’s true potential. Both will happen at same time, which one will you give priority?

Building Inner Stability

Perhaps the most indispensable tool for humans is the ability to remain calm in the midst of rapid and unsettling changes.

Inner stability is achieved by acquiring the ability to see the true nature of what is happening and to respond appropriately.

Instability is result of Self 1 distorting the perception of the event. Then taking misguided action which leads to further undermining our inner balance. A vicious cycle.

The key to handling stress is to build your Self 2’s stability. The stronger it gets, the more it will take to throw you off balance, and the quicker you can regain your balance.

The cause of most stress is attachment. Self 1 gets so dependent upon things, situations, people, and concepts within its experience that when change occurs, it feels threatened.

Freedom from stress involves being able to let go of anything, and know that one will still be all right.

First step to inner stability is to acknowledge that there is an inner self that has inherent needs of its own. Self 2 wants to enjoy, to learn, to understand, appreciate, go for it, rest, be healthy, survive, etc. A certain contentment occurs when in sync with this self. Watch out for self 1 requests disguised as Inner Self 2 requests.

No self-improvement: the cornerstone of stability is to know that there is nothing wrong with the essential human being.

The second step to Inner Stability is FOCUS. Focus of attention in the present moment. Don’t dwell on the past, either on mistakes or glories; don’t get caught up in future fears and dreams.

The ability to focus the mind is the ability to not let it run away with you. It does NOT mean not to think. But be the one who directs your own thinking.

Stability grows a you learn to accept what I cannot control and take control of what I can.

“Abandon” is a good word to describe what happens to a tennis player who feels he has nothing to lose. He stops caring about the outcome and plays all out. It is letting go of the concerns of Self 1. It is caring, yet not caring; it is effort, but effortless.

There is no WINNING the Inner Game. That’s a Self 1 goal. This is a lifelong endeavor where there is no top of the mountain. It’s just the process; the journey. No external credit.

Book notes: The Inner Game of Tennis

Book notes: Essentialism: Expect the Unexpected

The Nonessentialist tends to always assume a best-case scenario. Chronically underestimating how long something will really take.

The Essentialist looks ahead and plans. Prepares for different contingencies. Expects the unexpected. Creates a buffer for the unforeseen, thus giving wiggle room when things come up.

Use the good times to create a buffer for the bad.

Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small.
—Lao Tzu

Ways to create buffers:

  • use extreme preparation – prepare for anything and everything that can possibly go wrong

Hope for the best, plan for the worst. —Lee Child

  • add 50% to your time estimate – avoid planning fallacy
    • Planning fallacy – tendency to underestimate how long a task will take, even when they have actually done the task before
    • Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

Ask these five questions about an important project:

  1. What risks do you face on this project?
  2. What is the worst-case scenario?
  3. What would the social effects of this be?
  4. What would the financial impact of this be?
  5. How can you invest to reduce risks or strengthen financial or social resilience?

That fifth question points you to buffers.

From: Essentialism by Greg McKeown
Ch. 15 on Buffers – p. 175

Book notes: Essentialism: Expect the Unexpected

Book notes: The Miracle of Mindfulness

The Miracle of Mindfulness:
An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Chapter 1: The Essential Discipline

My Time

Instead of compartmentalizing time in to “my time” and “family time” make all time “my time.”

Story about family vs my time:

“I’ve discovered a way to have a lot more time. In the past, I used to look at my time as if it were divided into several parts. One part I reserved for my child, another part was for my wife, another part to help with our newborn, another part for household work. The left over I considered my own. I could read, write, do research, go for walks.”

“But now I try not to divide time into parts anymore. I consider my time with my children and wife as my own time. When I help my child with his homework, I try to find ways of seeing his time as my own time. I go through his lesson with him, sharing his presence and finding ways to be interested in what we do during that time. The time for him becomes my own time. The same with my wife. The remarkable thing is that now I have unlimited time for myself!”

Washing the dishes to wash the dishes

Don’t wash dishes to have clean dishes. Wash them to wash dishes. Focus on the process, not the outcome.

If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that waits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands.

Eating a tangerine

Becoming so immersed in talking about future plans while eating a tangerine is like “eating” the future plans.

A tangerine has sections. If you can eat just one section, you can probably eat the entire tangerine. But if you can’t eat a single section, you cannot eat the tangerine.

Chapter Two: The Miracle is to Walk on Earth

To have “unlimited my time” you must constantly recognize that this is your time. This is mindfulness, keeping one’s consciousness alive to the present reality. You must practice this not just in meditation sessions, but in one’s daily life.

When you are walking along a path leading into a village, you can practice mindfulness. Keep the thought: “I’m walking along the path leading into the village.” If really engaged then we will consider the act of each step we take as an infinite wonder, and a joy will open our hearts like af lower, enabling us to enter the world of reality.

On miracles:

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle

How to go through daily hardships and responsibilities of life?

Keep your attention focused on the work, be alert and ready to handle ably and intelligently any situation which may arise—this is mindfulness.

It is a means and an end, the seed and the fruit. When practicing to build up concentration, mindfulness is a seed. But presence of mindfulness is the presence of life, and therefore is also the fruit.


Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again. Remain conscious through the whole breath-body.

Walking alone it is easy to concentrate. But walking with someone it is harder. Don’t resist, but concentrate on the conversation and the walk at same time.

Hardest of all is to practice the Way at home, second in the crowd, and third in the pagoda. —Vietnamese folk song

The breath is the bridge from our body to our mind.

A person who knows how to breath is a person who knows how to build up endless vitality: breath builds up the lungs, strengthens the blood, and revitalizes every organ in the body.

Chapter Three: A Day of Mindfulness

Devote one day a week to being fully mindful.

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves—slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life. Don’t be attached to the future. Don’t worry about things you have to do. Don’t think about getting up or taking off to do anything. Don’t think about “departing.”

Chapter Four: The Pebble

If you want to relax the worry-tightened muscles in your face, let the half smile come to your face. As the half smile (aka indeterminate smile) appears, all the facial muscles begin to relax. The longer the half smile is maintained, the better.

Imagine yourself as a pebble thrown into a river. The pebble sinks through the water effortlessly. Detached from everything, it falls by the shortest distance possible, finally reaching the bottom, the point of perfect rest. You are the pebble. At the center of your being is your breath. When you feel yourself resting like a pebble which has reached the riverbed, that is the point when you begin to find your own rest.

Once one has realized relaxation, it is possible to go deeper and realize a tranquil heart and clear mind.

We also must practice mindfulness of our feelings and perceptions:

If the practitioner knows his own mind clearly he will obtain results with little effort. But if he does not know anything about his own mind, all of his effort will be wasted. But if he does not know anything about his own mind, all of his effort will be wasted.

Acknowledge feelings and note it.

The Guard at the Emperor’s Gate:

Whatever feelings or thought enters through the gate, you are aware of its entrance, and when it leaves, you are aware of its exit. But those that enter and exit are no different from the guard of the gate. Our thoughts and feelings are us.

When we are angry, we ourselves are anger. When we are happy, we ourselves are happiness. When we have certain thoughts, we are those thoughts. We are both the guard and the visitor at the same time. We are both the mind and the observer of the mind. Therefore, chasing away or dwelling on any thought isn’t the important thing. The important things is to be aware of the thought.

Monkey and Shadow:

The mind is like a monkey swinging from branch to branch through a forest. In order not to lose sight of the monkey by some sudden movement, we must watch the monkey constantly and even to be one with it. Mind contemplating mind is like an object and its shadow—the object cannot shake the shadow off. The two are one. Wherever the mind goes, it still lies in the harness of the mind. Once the mind is directly and continually aware of itself, it is no longer like a monkey. There are not two minds.

Eventually drinking a cup of tea, the seeming distinction between the one who drinks and the tea being drunk evaporates. Drinking a cup of tea becomes a direct and wondrous experience in which the distinction between subject and object no longer exists.

Chapter Five: One is All, All is One: The Five Aggregates

The subject of knowledge cannot exist independently from the object of knowledge. To see is to see something. To be angry is to be angry over something. When the object of knowledge (the something) is not present, there can be no subject of knowledge. So when there is nothing to thinking about, there is no thinking.

When we practice mindfulness of the body, then the knowledge of body is mind. Same for breath. Every object of the mind is itself mind. Therefore the contemplation of the the nature of interdependence of all objects is also the contemplation of the mind. The objects of mind are the dharmas.

There are five dharmas (or five aggregates):

  1. bodily and physical forms
  2. feelings
  3. perceptions
  4. mental functionings
  5. consciousness

Contemplation on interdependence is a deep looking into all dharmas in order to pierce through to their real nature, in order to see them as part of the great body of reality and in order to see that the great body of reality is indivisible. It cannot be cut into pieces with separate existences of their own.

Example of a table:

The table’s existence is possible due to the existence of things which we might call “the non-table world”: the forest where the wood grew and was cut, the carpenter, the iron ore which became the nails and screws, the sun and rain which made it possible for the trees to grow.

If you took away any of those non-table elements then table would no longer exist.

A person who looks at the table and can see the universe is a person who can see the way. You meditate on the assembly of the five aggregates in yourself in the same manner. You meditate on them until you are able to see the presence of the reality of one-ness in your own self, and can see that your own life and the life of the universe are one. If the five aggregates return to their sources, the self no longer exists.

Liberation from Suffering

People normally cut reality into compartments, and so are unable to see the interdependence of all phenomena. To see one in all and all in one is to break through the great barrier which narrows one’s perception of reality, a barrier which Buddhism calls the attachment to the false view of self.

We are only alive when we live the life of the world, and so live the sufferings and joys of others. The suffering of others is our own suffering, and the happiness of others is our own happiness. If our lives have no limits, the assembly of the five aggregates which makes up our self also has no limits. The impermanent character of the universe, the successes and failures of life can no longer manipulate us. Having seen the reality of interdependence and entered deeply into its reality, nothing can oppress you any longer. You are liberated.

Meditation on interdependence is to be practiced constantly, as an integral part of our involvement in all ordinary tasks. We must learn to see that the person in front of us is ourself and that we are that person.

Meditate on Death and a Corpse

We must look death in the face, recognize and accept it, just as we look at and accept life.

Meditate on the decomposition of the body, how the body bloats and turns violet, how it is eaten by worms until only bits of blood and flesh still cling to the bones, meditate up to the point where only white bones remain, which in turn are slowly worn away and turn into dust. Meditate like that, knowing that your own body will undergo the same process. Meditate on the corpse until you are calm and at peace, until your mind and heart are light and tranquil and a smile appears on your face. Thus, by overcoming revulsion and fear, life will be seen as infinitely precious, every second of it worth living. And it is not just our own lives that are recognized as precious, but the lives of every other person, every other being, every other reality. We see that life and death are but two face of Life and that without both, Life is not possible, just as two sides of a coin are needed for the coin to exist. Only now is it possible to rise above birth and death, and to know how to live and how to die.

Chapter 6: The Almond Tree in Your Front Yard

Reality has three natures: imagination, interdependence, and the nature of ultimate perfection.

The meditation on interdependence is to help one penetrate reality in order to be one with it, not to become caught up in philosophical opinion or meditation methods. The raft is used to cross the river. It isn’t to be carried around on your shoulders. The finger which points at the moon isn’t the moon itself.

Practice looking at all beings with the eyes of compassion: “the meditation on compassion.”

It must be realized during the hours you sit and during every moment you carry out service for others.

While sitting you may be at peace and totally relaxed. But you must be awake as a person walking on high stilts. Be like a medieval knight walking weaponless in a forest of swords. Only with this kind of vigilance can you realize total awakening.

When possessed by sadness, anxiety, hatred, or a passion, the method of pure observation and recognition may be difficult. Turn to meditation on a fixed object. Using your ownn state of mind as meditation’s subject. This reveals and heals. The sadness under the gaze of concentration and meditation reveals its own nature.

Don’t worry if those around you aren’t doing their best. Just worry about how to make yourself worthy. Doing your best is the surest way to remind those around you to do their best.

When a great Master is born, the water in the rivers turns clearer and the plants grow greener.

Chapter 7: Three Wondrous Answers

The emperor thinks that knowing the answers to these questions will prevent him from straying in a matter:

  • What is the best time to do each thing?
  • Who are the most important people to work with?
  • What is the most important thing to do at all times?

Story about the emperor visiting the hermit and the assassin

The moral: there is only one important time and that is now. The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. The most important person is always the person you are with, who is right before you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future? The most important pursuit is making the person standing at your side happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.

***We talk about social service, service to humanity, helping to bring peace to the world—but often we forget that it is the very people around us that we must live for first of all.***


The word “service” is so immense. Let’s be modest at first: our families, friends, coworkers, community. We must live for them—for if we cannot live for them, whom else do we think we are living for?

How can we live in the present moment, live right now with the people around us, helping to lessen their suffering and making their lives happier? How? We must practice mindfulness.


Exercises in Mindfulness

Half smile and inhale and exhale three times quietly when:

  • when waking up: hang Smile sign above your head
  • during free moments: sitting, looking at a child, walking, observing
  • listening to music: pay attention to the words, music, rhythm, sentiments
  • irritated

Other exercises:

  • Letting go in a lying-down position
  • Letting go in the sitting position
  • Deep breathing
  • Measuring your breath by your footsteps
  • Following your breath while listening to music
  • Following your breath while carrying on a conversation
  • Breathing to quiet the mind and body to realize joy
  • Mindfulness of the positions of the body
  • Mindfulness while making tea
  • Washing the dishes
  • Washing clothes
  • Cleaning house
  • A slow-motion bath
  • The pebble: think of yourself as pebble falling through clear stream
  • A day of mindfulness
  • Contemplation on interdependence: find child photo and ask “Who am I?” through the lens of the five aggregates
  • Yourself: say “I will use my finger to point at myself” and then point away from myself. See that you are the universe and the universe is you. There is no life and death.
  • Your skeleton: imagine all that is left of your body is a white skeleton lying on the face of the earth 80 years after burial. See it vividly. Your bodily form is not you. Be at one with life. Live eternally in the trees and grass, birds, beasts. You are present everywhere. You are not only bodily form, feelings, thoughts, actions, and knowledge.
  • Your true visage before you were born: concentrate on your life’s beginning. It is also the point of beginning of your death. They have manifested at the same time.
  • A loved one who has died: think of decomposition and interactions with that person
  • Emptiness: contemplate the nature of emptiness in the assembly of the five aggregates
  • Compassion for the person you hate or despise the most
  • Suffering caused by the lack of wisdom
  • Detached action: contemplate on a project you consider important
  • Detachment: recall your significant achievements and realize they are a convergence of various conditions beyond your reach. You will now be bound to these achievements
  • Contemplation of non-abandonment: see that everything is impermanent yet wondrous
Book notes: The Miracle of Mindfulness

Book notes: The Mindful Way to Study

The Mindful Way to Study
Dancing with Your Books
by Jake Gibbs

Chapter 3: Meditation and Mind Development

Most people in the world operate at a level that is a mix between low-level rationality and the stage below, characterized by concrete rather than abstract thinking.

Meditation influences rationality. In one study, it those who meditated made more rational decisions when faced with a decision-making situation.

Those who are mindful are better at letting go of thoughts and feeling that are irrelevant to the decision than are those who do not practice mindfulness.

As we move up in our level of mind our perspective broadens, our compassion and concern deepens, and our problem-solving ability expands.

The stage above the rational is called integrative logic, vision, logic, or creative logic. It’s the ability to truly comprehend and integrate multiple perspectives to develop better solutions.

Mindfulness meditation helps us to develop our capacity to pay attention, which assists in learning no matter what we are trying to learn at any level.

Chapter 6: Dancing With Your Books

Truly learning to dance with your books requires that you develop the ability to focus on the task of learning or the dance itself without constantly shifting your attention to the results of your effort. Thinking about yourself while dancing interferes with your performance. It takes your attention away from the activity of dancing. You must simply get of of your own way so that your attention is on learning.

Learning to dance with your books requires that you become less self-centered and results-focused and more task-centered or process-focused.

If you start thinking of yourself performing it interrupts your rhythm and takes them out of their flow.

Avoid time-place dissonance which occurs when the activity ou are supposed to perform is in the present, but your mind is on the future, where you will receive the potential return on your investment of effort.

Moving the reward from intrinsic to extrinsic (getting paid for something that you previously did for the joy of it) ruins the satisfaction of it when extrinsic rewards are reduced or have adapted to them.

Chapter 7: Qualifying External Rewards and Results

The best way to attain some extrinsic objective is to pay attention to what you have to do to get them. This way it’s possible to get the intrinsic or inherent satisfaction from what you’re doing in the present and the extrinsic satisfaction in the future for doing it.

Intrinsic rewards are more influential than extrinsic rewards in promoting performance, enthusiasm, creativity, and a sense of personal control. So a process orientation on means is more important than a results orientation on ends.

In Buddhism, Right Effort is a process-centered approach to doing any task and an approach to life. It’s best to stay anchored in the present where life’s difficulties and joys are experienced. "Right" means appropriate, effective, or wise. The practices of Right Effort and Right Meditation help us to be where we are or to stay in the present moment. They are about paying full attention to what we are supposed to be doing this moment, e.g., studying when we study or sitting when we sit.

Right Effort and focusing attention is not something that can be forced but must be practiced.

A better way than forcefully trying to attend to the present or pushing out past and future thoughts is to adopt an accepting frame of mind that allows you to relax or settle in to the moment. When you become aware of thoughts and feelings that are not directly relevant to the task at hand, note them without judging them, and gently let them be. Your mind will eventually let them go.

Chapter 8: Right Meditation

One of the most widely used definitions of mindfulness is "…paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally."

There is nothing wrong with discursive thought as long as we only give it the attention it deserves. When a chattering, drifting mind gets int he way of doing what needs to be done and keeps us off track, it is an impediment to effective performance and attaining our goals.

Chapter 10 – 20: Gumption

There is no separation between person and task while working. This absorption in the task produces Quality, and the attitude that promotes Quality as gumption.

Gumption is like Right Effort, it means that you are aware of reality and embrace it. You do what needs to be done without sniveling, self-pity, or self-indulgence. You don’t waste your time wishing things were different. When you have gumption, you meet the world on its terms in all its complexity and beauty in each moment.

Gumption Traps:

Gumption traps are obstacles to approaching tasks with Right Effort. The most general advice on handling these traps is that s soon as you realize one has grabbed you, consider it a sign that you are being unmindful.

One of the biggest impediments to practicing the techniques is remembering to do it. Use post-it notes, etc to overcome this.

1. Ego – keeps your mind from learning what is before you , and they direct all your attention on you.

Use the "I" Drop practice to diminish the ego:

  • First, recognize that you are thinking of "I" instead of driving or riding. This reduces chance of full-blown "I" episode by connecting a bunch of "I" thoughts.
  • Second, let "I" be.
  • Third, return your full attention to what you are doing.

"I" knows that if he can convince you that the way to forget "I" is to actively not think of "I" then he has you. To not think of "I" is to think of "I."

2. Value and Conceptual Rigidity – occurs when your opinion and perspective preclude you from seeing things in a new light or appreciating something new. You reject anything that doesn’t fit in with your view.

With Beginner’s Mind, you enter a situation without rigidly held preconceptions. You’re ready for anything because you’re open to everything.

Value and conceptual rigidity can cause prejudging courses and not even giving it a chance.

3. Anxiety – nervousness or worry about performance and its consequences gets in the way of performing well. Worrying how you look in others eyes takes your attention away from what you’re doing. One way to deal with this is to keep your attention on the task itself. To do this simply practice.

Three areas where anxiety can be troublesome: asking professors questions, presentations, and taking tests.

Asking Questions:The practice of not asking questions destroys gumption.

Fear of public speaking is common. The source of anxiety when presenting is a focus on results, especially on how we will look or what the audience will think of our performance. Prepare! And then follow the prescriptions of Right Effort. Focus on what you are doing not on yourself. Note distractions, observe them, and move on.

Tips: pick a sympathetic face in the audience and focus on him. Or imagine everyone is a baby.

4. Boredom

Mindset is important, understand the meaning of the work. You’re not laying bricks—you’re building a cathedral.

Take breaks.

Multitasking is not an antidote: Once you learn to pay attention to the activity of the moment, you can do it better in less time, and what you are doing becomes more interesting and satisfying.

Go ahead and daydream when your time is not otherwise occupied. But when focusing, recognize these distractions and gently return to task.

5. Lack of Energy and Interest

What’s the sense of even starting? Why not wail until some other time when you know you have the energy and interest to carry you through?

Lack of energy is a symptom of a lack of mindfulness.

Low confidence: If you are unsure of your ability to sustain the level of vitality needed to do the job, then accept whatever shortcomings you perceive, surrender to the task, and get on with the job.

  • Don’t make the mistake of checking with your feelings to see if you should begin or continue a project. You shouldn’t ask permission to start or continue based on reserves of energy and motivation.

Don’t even try a yes-or-no answer. SIMPLY MOVE AHEAD.

Energy is LIMITLESS.

Limitless Source of Energy Visualization: visualize as you breath in that you inhale the energy of the universe into your body and mind. Let its force surge through you so that you feel restored, refreshed, and invigorated. Imagine that you share in the infinite energy of the universe.

6. Impatience

Occurs when you underestimate how log task takes to complete. You should plan a modest amount of work, and give yourself plenty of time to do it.

Break down the job into manageable parts, and give time without rushing.

Waiting to the last minute by convincing yourself that you only work well under pressure. You become frantic with all attention on meeting the deadline. You get edgy and irritable.

The Progress Trap: constantly worrying how long will take to complete a task. E.g., after each page you turn to the end of the chapter to see how many page you have left.

Cause of Progress Trap:

  1. Didn’t allocate enough time
  2. Thinking about results

Good general rule is to estimate realistically time to finish a task AND THEN DOUBLE IT.

Make a daily schedule so you don’t have to make a decision about what to do next each time you complete a task. For this to work you MUST follow it strictly. Don’t fall for any false rationalizations. E.g., watching some YouTube to get over some tension.

Build into the schedule ample time for meditation, breaks, leisure, and exercise.

Be aware of falling into the trap of worrying all the time about being on schedule. Stay with current task and don’t think about the next tasks.

How to solve paradox of following the schedule strictly and not worrying obsessively about being on schedule?

  1. Be REALISTIC with tasks and time!
  2. When writing daily schedule, reaffirm your commitment to do each task with Right Effort. Get yourself in right frame of Right Effort before each task by saying, "For the next X amount of time, I am going to do Y with full attention."

You will alter your schedule some days and that’s okay. Just make sure that you have a good reason for doing it. Never postpone a task you don’t feel like doing because you think you’ll feel more like doing it some other time. Let those feeling dissipate into the ether through your meditation practice.

7. Procrastination

Many types of procrastination (75% simple and 25% complex):

Simple motives:

  • Skills and Knowledge Deficit

Most likely to delay or fail to complete tasks that are difficult, consume a lot of time, and/or require skills, talents, and knowledge that they have not developed.

  • Cool Procrastinator – disproportionate focus on social activities
  • Perceived irrelevance to career

Complex motives:

  • Perfectionist and Cavalier procrastinators lack self-confidence and are caught in the ego trap. Self-focus takes such prominence that there is little attention and energy to apply to the task when they do get to it. The best solution is to increase mindfulness while gradually and gently diminishing self-focus and increasing attention to the task.

8. Story Land or Story Mind aka Rumination

As soon as you realize you are involved in a story, label it story or topic of the story, let it be, and get back into the present.

Stories are complex and persistent. Many are recurring and it brings temporary comfort to play the story lines or run head-movies. You have to remind yourself that they are not real; they are not in the present. The more you practice staying in the moment, the better you’ll get at recognizing stories as they arise.

9. The Big Wombassa aka Arrival Fallacy

The Big Wombassa emerges when we cling to the notion that there is some future point in our lives where everything will be okay and all will fall into place.

This is an illusion. There is no event or point in time that ushers in our personal era of complete and permanent contentment.

Many of us spend our entire lives waiting for our "real lifes" to begin. Our real life, which is our only life in this body, is the life we have this very moment.

We are bad at "affective forecasting. We suffer from impact bias, the tendency to overestimate our emotional response to future events. The anticipated happiness from a new love, job, etc is usually less than the experienced happiness. Set expectations accordingly.

Through present awareness of what you are doing, you experience the intrinsic satisfaction of each moment. The satisfaction that comes from your life right now is more likely to result in a permanent increase in happiness than waiting for your life circumstances to change. You experience this satisfaction repeatedly as long as you pay attention.

Parkinson’s Law also doesn’t help things.

Chapter 21: General Gumption Conservation and Restoration Methods

The general method for handling most of these traps is some variation of mindfulness: (1) monitoring and paying attention; (2) recognizing when your mind wanders; (3) observing and letting be or witnessing and letting go of thoughts, feelings, and sensations that take you out of the moment; (4) gently returning to the present moment.

Techniques in response to gumption traps:

  1. Bagging – designate period of time to worry as much as you want. And then "BAG IT." You are done. If is not designated time and you want to worry wait until Bagging Time.
  2. Relaxation
  3. Exercise – the single thing that comes close to a magic bullet. Do it mindfully. Make the commitment and do it with Right Effort. Focus on process not goals. WHEN YOU EXERCISE, JUST EXERCISE.
  4. The Study Group or Book Dance – literally get up and dance in a group
  5. Bowing and Bells – A bow before before beginning a task symbolizes that you have deep respect for it and you intend to devote you full attention to it. You are surrendering to what needs to be done. At end of task a bow or bell is a way of clearing the mind of previous task and preparing for the next one. Approach each task with Right Effort and your bow will feel natural. In public, just a subtle deliberate nod will do.
  6. The Half Smile – subtle half smile for a few minutes can restore your gumption when frustrated.
  7. Creating A Bigger Container/Spaciousness – having small space in your mind means anything occupies your mind fully. Having a bigger space puts things in their proper perspective. Expand the container:
    1. a temporary expansion: imagine your mind-space expanding to a size large enough to contain questions about everything in your head
    2. permanent expansion: meditation practice; have enough space to handle potent thoughts
  8. The Snow Globe – imagine whatever that is limiting your gumption as whirling snowflakes. Watch the emotional flakes settle to the bottom of the globe.
  9. Daily Affirmations – recite a list of affirmations that reflect the behaviors and attitudes required to carry out your day with Right Effort. Here’s example of reminders:
    1. Be kind to yourself, no matter
    2. Accept event and circumstances.
    3. Live in the present.
    4. Don’t take things personally.
    5. Accept the past.
    6. Don’t dwell on yourself.
    7. Do not criticize others.
    8. Do everything with Right Effort.
  10. The 95MPH Cornball Pitch – "Love Yourself." Loving yourself requires that you accept whatever has happened in your past and what you think and feel in the present. If you are anxious, love, accept, or surrender to the anxious you, and get on with the task at hand. Don’t resist. Batter down the Impostor Syndrome. When feeling the "uns" (e.g., unworthy, unwholesome, unsuccessful, uninspired, unloved), relax and center yourself by counting a few breaths.

Chapter 23 Learning with Right Effort: A Review

Here are some reminders to help learn Right Effort. After practicing for a while develop your own list that is specifically suited just to you.

  1. Clear: Clear your mind by doing meditation for cleansing breaths for a few minutes. You are not trying to achieve a particular state of mind. You are not trying to push anything out of mind. You are just letting things settle.
  2. Relax: Feel you mind relax. Feel your mind open. Prepare your mind to accept whatever you are about to learn or whatever you are about to do.
  3. "Beginner’s Mind": Find your beginner’s mind. Let go of expectations. Prepare to go on a journey to a place you have never been where you will learn something new and valuable. Forget about the destination. It’s the trip itself that’s important. Don’t worry about goals and results. Focus on process.
  4. Commitment: Make an explicit commitment to yourself to do your work with Right Effort for a set amount of time or until you finish certain tasks. Promise yourself that you will focus exclusively on what is in front of you. Let go of other times, places, and tasks. Convince yourself that the only proper thing to do in the allotted time is what you are supposed to be doing. Don’t give yourself the choice of doing anything else.
  5. Acceptance: Accept that you have to be where you are, doing what you are doing. Right now there is no place you can be other than where you are.
  6. Stay in the "Now": Stay centered in the moment and the task at hand. When you notice that your thoughts are straying from your current task to other times and places, let go, and gently return your mind to your work.
  7. No Separation: There is no separate self and task or person-task distinction. You and your books are inseparably melded in the task of of the moment. Thoughts of a separate you working on the task only get in the way. The real you right now is the one intimately involved in whatever you are doing.
  8. Basics of Mindfulness: Remember to follow the general process of meditation, mindfulness, or Right Effort. This includes: (1) monitoring staying alert, or paying attention; (2) recognizing when your mind wanders; (3) observing and letting be or witnessing and letting go of thoughts, feelings, and sensations that take you out of the moment; and (4) gently returning to the present moment.
  9. Purpose: Work as if it’s the only reason you were put on this earth. Remember that right now, in this moment, is the only time there is.

After trying Right Effort for a while, conduct a self-assessment to determine which particular impediment interferes most with your application of Right Effort. Then include as part of your Daily Routine the techniques that address your particular set of problems.

Book notes: The Mindful Way to Study

Book Notes: Peak

by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
by Anders Ericsson

Purposeful Practice

Get outside your comfort zone but do it in a focused way, with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor your progress. Also figure out a way to maintain your motivation.

Mental Representations

A mental representation is a mental structure that corresponds to an object, an idea, a collection of information, or anything else, concrete or abstract, that the brain is thinking about.

These models are preexisting patterns of information—facts, images, rules, relations, etc—that are held in long-term memory and that can be used to respond quickly and effectively in certain types of situations. They make it possible to process large amounts of information quickly, despite the limitations of short-term memory.

The better your mental representation of the skill at hand the more quickly you can learn it.

Experts have higher quality and quantity of mental models than others.

Ex. baseball players able to hit balls coming from 100 mph pitchers.

Years of practice have changed the neural circuitry in their brains to produce highly specialized mental representations, which in turn make possible the incredible memory, pattern recognition, problem solving, and other sorts of advanced abilities needed to excel in their particular specialties.

The main purpose of deliberate practice is to develop effective mental representations, and, thees models in turn play a key role in deliberate practice.

Mental models aren’t just the result of learning a skill; they can also help us learn.

When practicing a new piece, beginning musicians lack a good, clear idea of how the music should sound, while advanced musicians have a very detailed mental model of the music they use to guide their practice and performance of a piece.

Higher skilled music students were better able to determine when they’d made mistakes and better able to identify difficult sections they needed to focus their efforts on. They had more effective mental models.

Virtuous cycle: the more skilled you become, the better your mental representations are, and the better your mental representations are, the more effectively you can practice to hone your skill.

Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is purposeful practice that knows where it is going and how to get there.

Characterized by:

  1. develops skill that other people have already figured out
  2. takes place outside of comfort zone and requires constantly try things that are just beyond current abilities
  3. involves well-defined, specific goals and target performance
  4. requires full attention and conscious actions
  5. involves feedback and modification of efforts in response to feedback
  6. depends on effective mental representations. Improving performance goes hand in hand with improving mental representations; as one’s performance improves, the representations become more detailed and effective, in turn making it possible to improve even more
  7. involves building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working to improve them specifically

Most effective learning: role-play, discussion groups, case solving, hands-on training. Least effective: lectures.

Steps in Everyday Life

  1. Hire a teacher that can give you feedback. Must be accomplished and have history of improving other students. You will outgrow a teacher at some point. Keep moving forward.
  2. Focus! Maintain close attention to every detail of performance.
  3. Better to train at 100% effort for less time than 70% effort for longer period. Once can no longer focus effectively, end the session.

How to break through Plateaus

p. 165

  1. Figure out exactly what is holding you back. What mistakes are you making, and when? Push yourself well outside of your comfort zone and see what breaks down first.
  2. Design a practice technique aimed at improving that particular weakness. Once you’ve figured out what the problem is, you may be able to fix it yourself, or you may need to go to an experienced coach or teacher for suggestions.
  3. Either way, pay attention to what happens when you practice; if you are not improving, you will need to try something else.

Three Steps to Starting Out – teaching children to want to learn a skill

p. 184
(using chess as example)

STAGE ONE – starting out

Children are introduced in a playful way to what will eventually become their field of interest. (Finding chess pieces and liking their shapes). Nothing more than toys to play with.

In the beginning, the parents play with their child at the child’s level, but gradually they turn the play toward the real purpose of the "toy." They explain the special moves of the chess pieces. Parents give the child a great deal of time, attention, and encouragement. They teach the child such values as self-discipline, hard work, responsibility, and spending one’s time constructively.

Many children will find some initial motivation to explore or to try something because of their natural curiosity or playfulness, and parents have an opportunity to use this initial interest as a springboard to an activity, but that initial curiosity-drive motivation needs to be supplemented. One excellent supplement, particularly with smaller children, is praise. Another motivvation is the satisfaction of having developed a certain skill, particularly if that achievement is acknowledged by a parent.

Often the children picks up particular interests of their parents. Parents who were involved with music often found their children developing an interest in music, as it was a way they could spend time with the parents and share the interest.

The children don’t practice per se, but many children do manage to come up with activities that are part play, part training. Competition with sibling may be motivation as well.

There’s a slightly different pattern in the early days of the children who would grow up to be mathematicians and neurologists than in the athletes, musicians, and artists. In this case the parents didn’t introduce the children to the particular subject matter but rather to the appeal of intellectual pursuits in general. They encouraged their children’s curiosity, and reading was a major pastime, with the parents reading to the children early on, and the children reading books themselves later.

At some point they become very interested in a particular area and show more promise than other children of similar age. The child is then ready to move on to the second stage.

STAGE TWO – becoming serious

Next step is to take lessons from a coach or a teacher. This is first exposure to deliberate practice. Teachers don’t need to be experts at the skill but need to be good at working with children and motivate to move forward through deliberate practice.

Parents help establish routines and prioritize their practice.

Motivation must ultimately be something that comes from within the child, or else it won’t endure.

STAGE THREE – commitment

By early or mid-teens they make major commitment

Often seek out best teachers or schools for training.

STAGE FOUR – pathbreakers

Some move beyond the existing knowledge in their field and make unique creative contributions.

The most successful creative people in various fields find that creativity goes hand in hand with the ability to work hard and maintain focus over long stretches of time—exactly the ingredients of deliberate practice that produced their expert abilities in the first place.

Innate Talent

IQ only gives slight edge at the beginning of learning a new skill. But once skill is established there is no correlation between IQ and skill performance. Amount of practice was the deciding factor in skill.

Early noticed "innate talent" has no correlation with how good they’ll be at higher levels.


Some people might be naturally able to focus more intently and for longer periods of time than others; since deliberate practice depends on being able to focus in this way, these people might be naturally able to practice more effectively than others and thus benefit more from their practice.

It makes sense that if genes do play a role, their role would play out through shaping how likely a person is to engage in deliberate practice or how effective that practice is likely to be.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Children who are almost one year older do better because they are a little bit more formed intellectually. They are seen as "smarter" and so they are the one’s that encouraged and supported as the "talented" ones. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is human nature to want to put effort—time, money, teaching, encouragement, support—where it will do the most good and also to try to protect kids from disappointment. The best way to avoid this is to recognize the potential in all of us—and work to find ways to develop it.

Another example of this is with children with slightly higher IQs. They learn just a little quicker and so they are the ones who are labeled "gifted" and extra attention and training is put on them. This advantage propagates through the school years.

This is the dark side of believing in innate talent. It can beget a tendency to assume that some people have a talent for something and others don’t and that you can tell the difference early on. If you believe that, you encourage and support the "talented" ones and discourage the rest, creating the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Piecing It Together


If you teach a student facts, concepts, and rules, those things go into long-term memory as individual pieces. But if a student then wishes to do something with them (i.e., solve a problem, reason with them to answer a question) the limitations of attention and short-term memory kick in. The student must keep all of those different, unconnected pieces in mind while working with them toward a solution. However, if this information is assimilated as part of building mental representations aimed at doing something, the individual pieces become part of an interconnected pattern that provides context and meaning to the information, making it easier to work with.

You don’t build mental representations by thinking about something; you build them by trying to do something, failing, revising, and trying again, over and over. When you’re done, not only have you developed an effective mental representation for the skill you were developing, but you have also absorbed a great deal of information connected with that skill.

When preparing a lesson plan, determining what a student should be able to do is far more effective than determining what the student should know. It then turns out that the knowing part comes along for the ride.

From the Physics class teaching experiment: put together a list of what the students should be able to do, then transform it into a collection of specific learning objectives. This is a classic deliberate-practice approach: when teaching a skill, break the lesson into a series of steps that the student can master one at a time, building from one to the next to reach the ultimate objective. While this sounds like like scaffolding approach used in traditional education, it differs crucially in its focus on understanding the necessary mental representations at each step of the way and making sure that the student has developed the appropriate representations before moving to the next step.

Physics students and experts do equally well on solving equations and quantitative problems, but students are far behind the experts in their ability to solve qualitative problems, i.e., why is it hot in summer and cold in the winter? Those questions require understanding of concepts that underlie particular events—that is, good mental representations. Understand the fundamentals deeply.

A major benefit for someone who develops a mental representation is the freedom to begin exploring that skill on his own. In music, having clear representations of what musical pieces sound like, how pieces fit together allows ability to improvise and explore on their instruments. They no longer need a teacher to lead them down every path; they can head down some paths on their own.

Creating a mental representation in one area helps to understand exactly what it takes to be successful not only in that area but in others as well.

Book Notes: Peak