Reading and Getting Things Done

Two Sundays in a row writing this blog, I’m going to give myself a pat on the back.  The recent theme in general for me has been about doing the things I want/wish/know to do.  I read a book this week, “One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way” by Robert Maurer that was very influential for me in this.  I’ve read a few books about creating habits and routines lately that made a lot of logical sense and got me excited, but after a week I would find myself disappointed that I fell back into my old habits.  

 

Dr. Maurer’s book explains Kaizen methodology, a popular thing in Japan which I had heard of, but didn’t know the US actually taught them to help rebuild their country after the second World War.  Kaizen is defined as: “continuous improvement in performance and productivity”, or just “continuous improvement in a general way.”

 

In my head I’m always trying to improve in general, even though I’m often on a meandering path towards that.  One problem I’ve had, and quasi-recognized it which the book made very clear, is that I often try to make massive sweeping changes.  I want to learn a new machine learning algorithm and plan out a huge course load and project.  I go from not studying Spanish, to thinking I’m going to do an hour a day.  A few months ago I hadn’t wrote fiction in a while, but attempted to do the NanoWrimo challenge (2,000 words a day for a month essentially which for me is about 3 hours writing a day) and flamed out in days.  The book blew my mind explaining why I often fail in these pursuits.

 

I’m going to butcher the explanation because I don’t want to go back and read it right now (and the book is only 200 pages or so, so it’s pretty easy to read), but basically the amygdala part of our brain which is does the primary role of decision making has a major aversion to big change.  It likes patterns and known habits, even if they are not good for us.  It also is responsible for the “fight or flight” mechanism that kicks in whenever we experience fear or stress.  When we go from eating fast food everyday to full Paleo and all of the new decisions that requires, stress from the amygdala kicks in, and we are strongly motivated to go back to McDonalds instead of eating a salad.  The brain doesn’t like massive change, good or bad.  Of course we CAN make massive change, and sometimes it’s necessary and good (he gives the example of a pregnant women stopping smoking and drinking), but we’re much more likely to fail.

 

How do we overcome this fear that stops us (me in particular) from doing the things we want to do?  Tiny, tiny steps.  Breaking things up into such a small daily (or almost daily) habit that it’s ridiculous to not do it.  Examples are: 1 minute of meditation, throwing away one bite of your junk food, learning one foreign language word a day, etc.

 

Of course you’re not going to get ripped eating one less bite of a Big Mac or doing 1 minute of marching each day, but you’re conditioning your brain that it isn’t scary to do something new.  This can eventually lead you to marching for 2 minutes, then during all of your commercial breaks, and maybe eventually getting a treadmill/gym membership. It’s early (I started last Monday after reading the book), but this has been working really well for me.

 

Somehow I’ve stuck with really good eating habits by cooking at home exclusively the past few weeks, and I’ve always been good about going to the gym because I enjoy it.  My fiction writing and Spanish though? I’ve started and stopped so many times that I needed a system like this to hold my hand.  I decided to write 1 sentence of fiction and watch one Spanish video (they’re a few minutes long) on my Fluent Forever app, and I’ve stuck with it!  I actually ended up writing a paragraph as I enjoy writing once I start, it’s just getting to it that has always been intimidating.  I know a paragraph isn’t much, and I felt tempted to start pushing a lot longer, but it’s fun to keep it so easy and consistent right now.  Same with my Spanish, which I ended up doing several extra lessons and enjoying it.

 

I’m ranting on about some small short-term changes, but it really feels like it’s working, and it has been a big boost to my happiness this week so I wanted to share.  

 

I finished an old crime book from one of my greatest lists, “Cutter and Bone”, which was one of the darkest, edgy, and witty books I’ve read in a long time.  Right off the bat I was surprised at how funny and shocking a book from the 70’s still was, and it was fun to read about the 70’s version of California which wasn’t too much different than now in many ways.  My only warning is that the book is dark. The main characters aren’t very likable, and you have to be able to handle a nihilistic outlook on things.

 

Movie wise I rewatched “Lost in Translation” after seeing it over a decade ago which had some really nice scenes, but it’s probably my last viewing.

 

“Great Expectations” the 1998 version with Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow on my rewatch after nearly two decades made my weekend.  I can’t tell how much I was influenced by loving this during my youth, but it still completely held up and then some. The music, acting, set design, and story hits a perfect emotional journey for me that I’m looking forward to the next time I watch it.  Out of curiosity I looked at reviews and was very surprised that it was so mixed, and in the particular the director wasn’t proud of it, but I did see many people claim it was their favorite movie of all time.  I guess it works for you or it doesn’t, but it still inspired me and brought a few tears.

 

I have a busy week of crypto research ahead of me (and I did a lot this last week as well), so I will leave you with a pic from my favorite local reading spot by the lagoon here in San Juan.  Have a great week! 

 

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