Inspiration from Bruce Lee, William James, Diving, and More

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. Bruce Lee on practice

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” – Bruce Lee

Practice, practice, practice. The more times you do something, the easier it becomes and the better the results.

It’s true for virtually everything in life. Cooking meals at home. Exercising. Reading. Meditating. Doing a work task. Almost anything you can think of, the more times you do it, the better you get at it.

If it seems hard but the advantages are obvious, do it. It probably won’t go well. That’s okay. Do it again. And again. And again. It will get easier. You will get better. The advantages will manifest themselves in your life.

2. Shepard tones

From the description:

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a nerve-wracking movie. Three separate storylines tell the tale of the famed World War II evacuation in a intense two hours of film. A lot of that feeling has to do with how the film’s score uses Shepard tones — layered sound waves that simulate a constant ascent in tone — to create a sensation of building tension. They’re a personal favorite trick of Nolan’s: he’s based sound effects and entire soundtracks with other composers on the auditory illusion. In Dunkirk, composer Hans Zimmer crafted his soundtrack around the effect — and it’s an auditory masterpiece.

I recently watched a portion of Dunkirk and I found it to be incredibly intense, so much so that the portion I had seen stuck in my head for a long while. I wasn’t sure why, though, but this short documentary explains it: it’s the Shepard tone, a clever little trick of overlapping audio tracks that makes it seem like the music is rising higher and higher and higher without end but never climaxing, which creates this unrelenting sense of intensity. The video explains it well.

I’m becoming more and more aware of how important sound editing and music is in terms of manipulating your emotion when you’re watching a film. Music can make a huge difference in terms of how you’re feeling when you’re watching a movie. The use of Shepard tones in Dunkirk is a strong example of this.

The thing is, we’re constantly manipulated by subtle things like this. The music in Dunkirk was able to put me on edge very effectively, and it’s relatively subtle. You might not even notice it at all if you aren’t looking for it. The world around us is full of these kinds of subtle effects, for better or worse, and they often nudge us without us even realizing it. It’s simultaneously amazing and a bit scary.

3. Socrates on change

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.” – Socrates

One of the most powerful things I’ve learned when I’ve successfully changed things in my life is that if you keep up your old routines, you’ll never really change. You absolutely have to knock down some things and rebuild from scratch if you want to see change.

Back in the day, my ordinary daily routine involved a lot of daily routines that led directly to spending. I would stop at the coffee shop every single day. I would go to a nearby place to eat lunch most days. I would stop at a bookstore at least a couple of days a week. I would go to the convenience store near our apartment on a daily basis.

I didn’t fix it by trying to tweak my normal routines. I fixed it by nuking big parts of my routine. I started taking my lunch with me to work, along with a beverage for the ride, and I assembled it the night before. I started keeping a bunch of my own beverages in the fridge, replacing the bottled drinks I got at the convenience store. I started going to the library once a week or so and checking out a lot of books so I always had a strong sense of already having fresh and new books at home. I actually changed my commuting route as well.

I focused strongly on building up those new routines and, more or less, they held. My incidental spending dropped like a rock.

It’s all about changing routines. You have to knock down your old routines and build new ones to replace them or nothing will ever change.

4. Massimo Pigliucci on the philosophy of stoicism

From the description:

What is the best life we can live? How can we cope with whatever the universe throws at us and keep thriving nonetheless? The ancient Greco-Roman philosophy of Stoicism explains that while we may not always have control over the events affecting us, we can have control over how we approach things. Massimo Pigliucci describes the philosophy of Stoicism.

This is a great summary of the philosophy of stoicism, reduced down to a short animated video that’s clear enough for anyone to follow. Stoicism has become fairly popular in recent years as a philosophy to live by. Why? Because it works really well.

At its core, stoicism is all about controlling what we can control and not having an automatic emotional response (and acting based on that emotion) to the things we cannot control. You can’t control a lot of the unexpected events in your life, but you can control your response. You can’t control most of the things that would cause you pain, but you can control how you deal with that pain. That’s stoicism.

This is a really really powerful way of dealing with almost anything that life might send at you.

5. Gandhi on the ocean of humanity

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” – Mahatma Gandhi

There are always going to be people you disagree with in life. There are always going to be people out there who are negative. There are always going to be people out there who would do harm.

Those people are a mere drop in the ocean of humanity. The angry guy at the beach, the angry woman with road rage, even the ten thousand online people raging about things, all of them are the tiniest droplets of the more than seven billion people on earth.

Those people are loud and you want to look at them, but look elsewhere. Look at the many, many good things going on in the world.

If you don’t see good things, try reading Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker, which summarizes many of the enormous advantages of the world we live in today, or even watch this summary video. Don’t get distracted from that. Don’t get caught in the negative spiral.

6. Ten Meter Tower

This is a brief documentary that shows a series of people going up to the top of a ten meter high diving tower above a swimming pool. They look down roughly thirty three feet at the pool and then have to ask themselves whether they have the courage to jump or not.

I have fairly severe altophobia. While I’m okay climbing a fairly steep hill, I don’t enjoy going to the top of things like lighthouses or other structures. Consciously, I’m aware that a dive into a pool from a ten meter height wouldn’t kill me, but unconsciously, the idea sounds incredibly unpleasant.

Watching these people struggle with this same issue humanizes them a lot. There are few things more effective at humanizing other people than seeing their fears bubble up right to the surface as they try to deal with something that makes them deeply apprehensive or fearful. You feel for them, because you’ve likely struggled against things you’re afraid of, too.

Watching this video made me feel a part of collective humanity in a way that few things do. I felt connected to a lot of the people in this video because of that shared fear.

7. William James on battling stress

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” – William James

This ties directly back to that stoicism video I shared earlier on. The ability to choose our thoughts, to decide what we’re going to react to and how we react, to select what we’re going to give consideration to and what we’re not going to invest time and thought into, is perhaps the most powerful tool we have in navigating life.

We do it constantly with small things. We glance at a blemish on our hand, instantly judge that it’s really not worth worrying about, and move our conscious thought onto something else. We do it with our food, with the task at hand, with everything. We choose, almost unconsciously, one thought over another.

Making that choice a conscious choice sometimes is a powerful thing. It enables us to get past difficulties and find success. It enables us to get past hurt and find joy. It also trains us to do it again and again and again.

8. Frances Frei on how to build and rebuild trust

From the description:

Trust is the foundation for everything we do. But what do we do when it’s broken? In an eye-opening talk, Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei gives a crash course in trust: how to build it, maintain it and rebuild it — something she worked on during a recent stint at Uber. “If we can learn to trust one another more, we can have unprecedented human progress,” Frei says.

It is hard to trust others, particularly when your own trust has been broken in the past, but it’s incredibly valuable.

I look at trust as being like a net below you as you’re walking on a tightrope. You spend a lot of your time building that net before you ever get up on that rope. You know that some of the strings you put into that net are going to break, but you also know that if you add in enough strings, it won’t matter and trust will keep you up. If you never build much trust at all, it won’t hold you no matter what you do.

I tend to extend trust to people until they give me reasons not to trust them. It has backfired on me in the past. More often, though, I’ve reaped enormous benefits from that trust. Most people don’t want to betray someone else’s trust – they want that connection, too. The presence of a few bad elements in the pool (like the earlier Gandhi quote alludes to) doesn’t change that.

Build lots of trust. Extend trust to others. Understand that sometimes that trust will be betrayed, but that the cost of the broken trust is far less than the value of the reciprocated trust.

9. George Herbert on the right time to do something

“Don’t wait; the time will never be ‘just right.'” – George Herbert

There is never a “perfect time” to take a career leap. There is never a “perfect time” to turn your financial life around. There is never a “perfect time” to start a new creative endeavor. “Perfect time” doesn’t exist.

Instead, you have right now. Tomorrow won’t be any better. Nor will next week. Or next month. You might think of reasons why right now is more difficult in some respects than things might be in a month or two, but in a month or two, something will occur to make things particularly difficult then, too.

Don’t wait around to do something. If you don’t feel like the time is right, sideline it and put your energy toward doing something else. Don’t sit around and fret about the perfect time to start saving for retirement or the perfect time to ask her on a date. Just do it.

10. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones – Life in Eleven

I’ve enjoyed the music of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones for going on twenty five years now. They’re firmly in that group of musicians that I’ll listen to obsessively for a month, then I’ll move on to another well-loved group or performer, then another, and then in a year or two I’ll move back to Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, and so on around it goes.

The band plays a mix of jazz and bluegrass music, which is an interesting mix of genres to say the least. A close friend of mine used to call their music “freestyle bluegrass,” which is appropriate, too.

Regardless of what you might call it, it’s brilliant, distinctive music. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones has been my soundtrack for the last month.

11. Charlie Munger on little steps

“I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and boy does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.” – Charlie Munger

For those unfamiliar, Charlie Munger is the vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, the Omaha-based investment firm of which Warren Buffett is the chairman. They essentially built it up together.

This is a great philosophy for virtually anything you might want to do in life. Strive to go to bed just a little bit better than when you woke up, every single day. If you do it every single day, then you’re going to wind up with good results.

Think of where you want to be in five years. How can you be just a little closer to that when you go to bed tonight? Maybe get a step counter and strive to walk at least one step better than your seven day average each and every day, for example. Maybe strive to do one extra frugal task today. Whatever it is, make that one extra little bit normal.

12. Primitive Radio Gods – Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand

Songs make you think of people. Sometimes, you hear a song and you miss someone.

Sometimes you go look up that person to find out what happened to them and it breaks your heart.

Sometimes you realize that it’s a mistake to lose track of people who meant so much to you.

Reach out to that person who changed your life and then disappeared. If nothing else, let them know they changed you and thank them. Do it now, before you wake up one day, hear a song, look for the person that the song reminds you of, and realize that person isn’t around any more.

I’ve been downhearted, baby, ever since the day we met. We were never quite sure what B.B. King was saying in that repeated sample. That’s what he was saying. I wish I could tell you that now.