Updated on 09.02.16

Inspiration from Mike Birbiglia, Richard Needham, Etenesh Diro, and More

Trent Hamm

A Dozen Pieces of Inspiration #26

Once a month (or so), I share a dozen things that have inspired me to greater personal, professional, and financial success in my life. I hope they bring similar success to your life.

1. How to Overcome Procrastination

From the description:

We sift through the world of science, studies, data and theories to uncover what we know about procrastination and to find out if it’s possible to conjure a cure.

This is a brilliant summary of procrastination and some techniques to solve it, pushed together in three minutes. In a nutshell, the best way to fight procrastination is to increase your neuroplasticity, and the best way to increase neuroplasticity is mindful meditation. Not only are the ideas here really worth considering and exploring, they’re presented wonderfully.

Neuroplasticity is a strong personal interest of mine, to the point that I’ve actually been piecing through journal articles related to it. The mind is a fascinating thing. It’s basically everything for us in terms of how we experience the world, yet we really don’t understand it all that well. The things we do know are very much akin to studying a black box, where we put in things and see what comes out. We’ve done a lot of clever things in terms of what we put in there, but we still don’t have the clearest view of how it all works.

Why do we procrastinate? No one knows for sure. But we’ve use the “black box” strategy to figure out some ways to battle against it, and the best way is mindful meditation.

2. Richard Needham on brutal honesty

“People who are brutally honest generally enjoy the brutality more than the honesty.” – Richard Needham

Honesty is a incredibly good thing, especially when it comes from someone that you already have a trusting and positive relationship with. I find honesty from friends to be one of the best traits they can possibly have.

Honesty, however, is not the same thing as brutal honesty.

The purpose of brutal honesty is to harm the recipient. Whenever you’re choosing to state the “truth” in a way that will obviously bring significant grief and harm to the recipient, you may be being honest, but you’re also being a horrible person, one well worth cutting out of someone’s social life.

If you have an honest statement that you need to make to a close friend, choose the right time to do it – probably when you’re alone with that person – and the right way to say it. Saying it in a cutting way in front of a crowd of people? That says far more negative about you than whatever your honest “criticism” might be.

3. Mike Birbiglia’s 6 Tips for Making It Small in Hollywood. Or Anywhere.

Here are the six tips summarized:

1. Don’t wait.
2. Fail.
3. Learn from the failure.
4. Maybe quit.
5. Be bold enough to make stuff that’s small but great.
6. Cleverness is overrated, and heart is underrated.

I especially agree with that last one. Many, many people out there try hard to be clever. They wield snark like a weapon and fire off sarcastic rounds like Rambo in the jungle.

The thing is, everyone’s trying to do the same thing. Another thing: while cleverness and wit can bring about a smile, it very rarely lasts. It very rarely changes your heart in any way.

Being heartfelt might seem corny and trite and “lame” to some, but heart also sticks with you. Heart is capable of bringing a tear to your eye while also making you laugh, a trick that snark can never pull off.

Cleverness can make you smile, but being heartfelt can bring a tear to your eye while smiling. The latter is harder to pull off, but it’s worth so much more.

4. Walt Whitman – O Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up – for you the flag is flung – for you the bugle trills,

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths- for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father! This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck, you’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult o shores, and ring o bells! But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies, fallen cold and dead.

This is such a beautiful lament of a loved leader or mentor lost.

I think of this poem because someone who was once a great mentor to me is perhaps facing his final days. It is a truly sad day for this world when a person as wonderful as he leaves this world.

I will miss him greatly.

5. Anthony Goldbloom on the jobs we’ll lose to machines – and the ones we won’t

From the description:

Machine learning isn’t just for simple tasks like assessing credit risk and sorting mail anymore — today, it’s capable of far more complex applications, like grading essays and diagnosing diseases. With these advances comes an uneasy question: Will a robot do your job in the future?

This is a powerful question that everyone should be asking themselves going forward. Are you doing a job that a computer or a robot could not do?

The thing is, for many jobs – perhaps even for most jobs – the answer is a difficult one to think about. Computers and robots are on the verge of doing the vast majority of jobs that humans can do, leaving behind only highly creative and very demanding fields.

It is really hard to imagine what the world will be like when almost every job can be done by computer or robot at a far less expensive rate than employing a human to do that task. This is going to affect all of us in a very real way. It’s something we need to start thinking about sooner rather than later, and I’m glad that this huge issue is at least on the minds of some.

6. E.B. White on improving the world versus enjoying the world

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” – E.B. White

I think this is the very dilemma that a lot of us face every day, too, and it’s figuring out how to solve – or at least balance – that dilemma that brings a lot of sadness and frustration into people’s lives.

Often, our desire to enjoy the world is financed by our jobs which, ideally, would quench our desire to improve the world. However, a lot of people work at jobs that detach them from that inner desire to improve the world and, at the end of the day, they’re left with just a little bit of time to either enjoy or improve the world, leaving very little time for both.

I find great joy in enjoying the world and in improving the world, but I only have so much time during the day. I’m lucky enough to work in ways that I feel improve the world, but that doesn’t change this dilemma that White spells out so well.

7. Simple Habit

As I touched on in the first part of this article, mindful meditation is something that can go a very long way toward improving neuroplasticity and thus decreasing one’s procrastination (along with other benefits, such as better focus).

Mindful meditation – of which I view prayer as being one type – is something that has been a part of my life for years. This app – Simple Habit – is the best tool I’ve ever found for such meditations on the go. (If you’re at a desktop computer, I recommend Calm, but I don’t like their mobile app as well as Simple Habit.)

It’s basically just a collection of guided meditations intended for various purposes – mindfulness, focus, relaxation, de-stressing, and so on. There are quite a few that are free and you can get a lot more with in-app purchases.

I just like the interface and simplicity here. The app makes it so easy to just do a quick and refreshing meditation to clear the mind, chop away some stress, and bolster your focus.

8. Marcus Aurelius on the power of your thinking

“The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius

You choose what you think about. You choose how you react to things and whether you celebrate the positives or dwell on the negatives of something.

When you see a person, do you see the good things first? Do you see a person who is going about their day? Maybe they’re wearing interesting clothing or have a smile on their face or look focused (all things I reflect on positively). On the other hand, maybe you’re critical first. Maybe you think negatively about their body type or something else about them.

Those thoughts color who you are. If you think negative thoughts by default, you’re becoming a more and more negative person. If you think positive thoughts by default, you become a more and more positive person. Your thoughts shape how you view everything, how you react to everything. Over time, they change the very core of who you are.

The thing is, you can easily be conscious of these thoughts. You choose what to think about. You can be mindful about what thoughts cross your mind and you can consciously choose to de-emphasize the negative, destructive thoughts and emphasize the positive, constructive thoughts.

Who do you want to be? It’s all within your mind and what you choose to think about.

9. Leila Hoteit’s 3 lessons on success from an Arab businesswoman

From the description:

Professional Arab women juggle more responsibilities than their male counterparts, and they face more cultural rigidity than Western women. What can their success teach us about tenacity, competition, priorities and progress? Tracing her career as an engineer, advocate and mother in Abu Dhabi, Leila Hoteit shares three lessons for thriving in the modern world.

I won’t list these here – they’re well worth discovering for yourself in the video. Suffice it to say that they’re great points to think about, but what really stands out here is how these sensible truths click even across the great cultural divides.

We share very little culturally. We have different genders, different races, different religious beliefs, different cultural backgrounds. Yet there are a lot of truths that make sense for both of us. Aside from the part where she speaks of the specifics of her background, we have a lot in common. Why? We’re human. We’re both looking forward to the future, both for ourselves and for the next generation. We both want to be tenacious and to do well at the things we choose to take on.

The lessons of success are the same for all of us. The core principles that improve us as people are the same for all of us. They remain true even across incredibly wide gaps of gender, culture, race, religion, and nationality.

We have far more in common as people than we often think. We take so much commonality for granted and because of that some people get sucked into the seductive trap of looking only at the handful of differences. That’s a shame, because it causes us to miss out on so much.

10. Etenesh Diro’s 3000 meter steeplechase heat at the Rio Olympics

No video, no anything else, just a story.

The steeplechase, for those unfamiliar, is a running event with a number of obstacles in place that the runners have to leap over (28, in the case of the 3000 meter event). There are also a number of obstacles that include a small water pit on the far end (7, in the case of the 3000 meter event) that gives the event a bit of an “obstacle course” feel.

At the 2012 Olympics, Etenesh Diro was one of the finalists in the 3000 meter steeplechase event, and she had high hopes for the 2016 Olympics. In her third heat at the Olympics, she was about 800 meters from the finish and was in the lead when she collided with another runner after jumping over one of the obstacles (collisions happen on occasion in the steeplechase). However, Diro’s shoe fell off in the collision and she stopped to try to put it back on as runner after runner passed her. There appeared to actually be some kind of functional problem with the shoe, so after about ten runners passed her, she tossed it aside and began to run with one shoe – a track shoe on one foot and the other foot bare.

Believe it or not, she actually made up some ground running like this and finished seventh in her heat, which wasn’t high enough to directly qualify for the finals. (The judges eventually awarded her a spot in the finals.)

The reason I found this so inspirational is that, even with the disaster that occurred and even with the shoe that didn’t seem to work, she still kept going. She tossed aside her shoe – which is probably the one key piece of gear that track runners have – and continued going without it.

Never, ever let a problem stop you, even if it seems like a disaster. Keep going. Finish, even if you can’t win.

11. Calvin Coolidge on listening

“No man ever listened his way out of a job.” – Calvin Coolidge

I actually got this quote from the video below, but I really wanted to include it as a separate entry because this quote really hits home when it comes to how valuable it is to listen to people.

Almost everyone spends the time when other people are speaking to simply formulate the next piece in their argument. They don’t listen to what the other person is saying at all, or do so in a very secondary way.

Listening, however, accomplishes several things that are far more valuable. One, it allows you to hear what the other person is saying, both in terms of good points (which can leave you thinking) and bad points (which you can incorporate into your own responses). Two, actively listening allows you to follow up directly on what the other person is saying rather than just going off on your own tangent (which makes actual discussion and learning impossible for both of you). Three, it earns the respect of the other person involved in the conversation.

When someone is speaking, listen. Don’t just think about what you’re going to say next. You’ll find that you learn a lot more and that your input becomes a lot more useful and valuable.

12. Celeste Headlee on ten ways to have a better conversation

From the description:

When your job hinges on how well you talk to people, you learn a lot about how to have conversations — and that most of us don’t converse very well. Celeste Headlee has worked as a radio host for decades, and she knows the ingredients of a great conversation: Honesty, brevity, clarity and a healthy amount of listening. In this insightful talk, she shares 10 useful rules for having better conversations. “Go out, talk to people, listen to people,” she says. “And, most importantly, be prepared to be amazed.”

Here are the rules – and they’re great ones.

1. Don’t multitask.
2. Don’t pontificate.
3. Use open ended questions.
4. Go with the flow.
5. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs.
7. Try not to repeat yourself.
8. Stay out of the weeds (the details).
9. Listen.
10. Be brief.

If everyone applied these ten rules to conversation, having conversations would be a wonderful, enlightening experience for everyone. They would be powerful avenues for sharing and exchanging ideas, building mutual respect, and learning from each other.

The problem is that almost all of us are terrible conversationalists. We usually are focused more on making our points rather than listening to and understanding the points others are making, which is a shame because we’re missing out on the many values of conversation.

As I noted above, good conversations can lead to greater understanding, mutual respect, and the development of better solutions to problems, but those benefits only come from using good conversational strategies on both sides. These rules can go a long way toward achieving that.

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