Mental Gear Switch: From External Validation to Internal Validation

As a bit of ninja training for my mind and writing skills, I like to answer questions on Quora. I’ve found directing my writing at a single, visualizable person to be much easier than a vaguely defined audience. I’ve included one below that has been a recurring theme of life (and many others, I suspect).

How do I stop basing my self-worth on how good I am at something?

You’re asking the wrong question.

What I think you want to ask: “How do I stop comparing myself to other people?”
Instead of “how good I am” in relation to others, look at “how good I am” in relation to yourself. Getting validation from your own progress (be that in school, work or some skill) is not a bad thing. What makes us suffer is comparison with other people.

Buddhism (and many other religions, philosophies) have been struggling with this problem for…forever. So don’t think there is an easy answer.

Still, you’ve made the first step. You recognize the problem. The next step is to rewire your brain from getting validation from others to getting validation from yourself.

I’m not so good at it yet, but here are a few things that have helped me:

  • Realize nobody is happy. Social media has made this worse, but all the smiling faces on the Internet make us falsely believe people are happy. Most people aren’t: they hate their jobs, they don’t think they make enough money, they are worried about being fat, they are lonely…and on and on and on.
    • Why look to others for validation if they aren’t happy anyway? That’s purposely throwing yourself into the fire. Instead, find a few, select role models than you can truly look up to and model yourself after them.
  • Think long and hard about what YOU want. I’ve done this for 10 years. And I do it still. Every. Damn. Day.
    • If you don’t know what you want, you will default to wanting what others “have,” suspicious that what they have is the answer to happiness. It’s not. 99% of people are sheep, following each other around because they believe somebody else will tell them the answer to happiness. THEY WON’T. Only hard work will tell you where you want to go.
    • When you’re old and dying, what can you look back on and smile at? What things can you do today so that, when you go to bed at night, you can sigh a sigh of satisfaction and say, “There is no place I’d rather be. There’s nothing else I’d rather have done. Let’s wake up and do it all again.” Don’t know the answer? Read. Talk to people. Ask questions. When I was lost, I read 200+ books in a single year.
  • Keep an internal scorecard. This comes straight from bazillionaire investor Warren Buffett. Measure progress by how much you improve on a day to day basis, not on how skilled you are in relation to others. That’s a never-ending circle.
    • You’ve already passed the first step: awareness. Now, like a meditator bringing his distracted mind back to a breath, every time you find yourself comparing yourself others, consciously bring your mind back to your internal self. Say to yourself, “That’s great, Sally makes 100k per year. But am I better today than I was yesterday?”
    • Once you make a habit of personal progress, it becomes an addiction. You want to improve every day. Satisfaction starts to come from inside, not outside.

I got all excited and wrote rapid-fire from my brain… Hope it helps. Just remember everyone has this problem, and you are way ahead of 99% of people by realizing that validation from comparison to others is not sustainable (there’s always somebody better than you at X).

Link to original post.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

How Does Seth Godin Write for His Blog?

Seth Godin is a serial entrepreneur, writer of an army of a bestsellers and a owner of a ridiculously popular blog. When he writes, people read.

Better writing is a goal of mine this year, so I’d thought I dig in to see what Seth has to say. Below are some nuggets of wisdom about how Seth approaches his writing practice:

  • Write like you talk AND write every day. Seth writes every day and writes like he talks. Writing is a discovery process. We don’t know ex ante what will resonate with an audience. Write. See the response. Reflect. Improve. Write again. Writing daily and writing naturally have natural synergy. You can choose to pretend to be something you’re not, but, assuming your audience is smart, intelligent, excellent people, they’re gonna catch your lie. Eventually, if you survive to the other end, perhaps you’ll find that (A) you have things to say and (B) people care about it.
  • Writing isn’t typing. Seth mentions that he spends ~15 minutes typing. I spend 15 minutes flicking to Facebook every day (a lot more sometimes). There is the type of writer that writes and rewrites and then rewrites again. Then there is the type of reader who thinks. If your ideas in your mind turn into things you want to say, the only time you need is the time to type out what you already want to say.
  • Work harder. Seth mentions (probably exaggerating slightly) he studies / does research for 16 hours a day. Most of us barely spend 3 (be honest, you read Reddit at work…).

This is what it comes down to: 16 hours a day of thinking and learning and only 15 minutes of writing.

There is this camp of writers that says: “You should sit in front of a page and just write.” But perhaps a better way to approach things is: “You should sit in front of yourself and just think.”

Think until you have something to say and then say it.

How to Work Using a Squat “Desk”

For the last few months, I’ve done most of my work using a squat “desk.” Why not work and get that posture-improving squat volume in at the same time? Before I started, I could hardly squat for 5 minutes at a time. Now, just the other day, I put in 4 hours working from the squat position.

Squat desking like the boss I am.

How to set up a squat desk:

  • Find low desk or chair
  • Adjust screen (I use a laptop) height to be chest level
  • Squat

Some stuff to watch out for:

  • If you’re missing ankle ROM, you might find your back rounding. Do corrective exercises to work on this – squatting with a rounded back isn’t improving your posture.
  • Make sure the screen is high enough. Having a high enough screen forces you to activate the muscles that are weak in kyphotic posture. You should feel the burn in just a few minutes if you have bad posture.

Happy squatting!

Avoid Cognitive Dissonance: Mental Resets and Filtering

Cognitive dissonance is poison for the mind. When faced with conflicting decisions and evidence, our minds can become trapped in an eternal cycle -go left or go right? Instead, we go nowhere at all. We go from rational to emotional and start making errors. High-level thinkers must identify cognitive dissonance and move to counter it.

This is especially true for traders. Many traders are hooked up to information flow that comes in 24/7 in an unending stream. There are a dozen ways to interpret the same piece of news (noise) that can then go to affect any of another dozen mental models. End result? Overcomplexity, frustration and poor decision-making.

By the time you reach cognitive dissonance / overcomplexity, it is too late. You need to step back and do a mental reset -clear the mind and start over fresh. Like we reset a computer, we can reset our minds to try and wipe out some of the cognitive clutter than is affecting our decision making.

When I feel that I am compromised, I shut down my computer and try one of several mental reset exercises.

Some things I have been playing with:

  • Breathing exercises (Vipassana-style)
  • Picking up heavy things at the gym + loud music (surprisingly therapeutic)
  • Long walks (nowadays, 2-3 hours walking is the norm)
At first, you may think that these “waste time”. Think again. Any time you put into these will pay dividends by improving the time you do spend in your core discipline. Spend an hour on a mental reset to make back what could be a dozen hours of quality decision making later…a simple tradeoff.
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