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My Favourite podcast episodes recorded with a mike

These Are My Favourite Podcast Episodes from the Last Month

My favourite podcast episodes from the last month include some of the absolute best I’ve ever listened to. Podcasting isn’t new to me as I’ve been listening for years. My favourites are the long play ones, the ones with interviews that run for nearly two hours in length. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a long drive, a hustle through the leaves of autumn, or a hot sweaty run, I’m hooked. I’m often drawn into the depths of the conversation, shaking my head, smiling, or laughing at the twist and turns of the discussion I’m party to.

The real power of the podcast isn’t the entertainment value, it’s the opportunity to learn. And oh boy, have I learnt. Repeatedly I assimilate the perceptiveness which overflows from each episode. Much of what I learn informs my writing, as well as improving my decision-making or approach to life.

My Favourite Podcast Episode 1

Until I opted to listen to this episode, I had never heard of Chamath Palihapitiya. His conversation with Shane Parish on the Knowledge Project was fascinating for me.

My big takeaway was Chamath’s points and examples on the process of thinking from first principles. Thinking from first principles is a method of problem-solving made more popular by Elon Musk. All too often though, the only example is from Elon himself.

Tesla cars, and the process of building rechargeable batteries suitable to power the Tesla cars is one such example. The other, more famous is Elon’s grasp of the space industry. Elon explains how thinking from first principles enabled him to find the material costs of space travel and break the inhibited cost structure of NASA.

Beyond these examples, I have rarely found practical examples of thinking from first principles.

In this podcast, Chamath explains his first principles view of America’s international relations. The differences between Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s policies and how these impacts investing. Chamath’s first principles open a view of objectivity rarely seen in the polarized world we live in today. It is refreshing, but more importantly, it shows the superpower which comes from seeking out first principles.

We live in a time when science and rational thinking should reign supreme, but it doesn’t. Instead, our thoughts are stifled by opinion and short-term thinking.

The conversation flows as Shane allows Chamath to get into his flow, which makes this one of favourite podcast episodes and this episode is worthy of a second listen.

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My favourite Podcast Episode 2

Tim Ferriss is the master of the podcast space, and his longevity marks him out as someone worthy of listening to. Tim has had many hits, and his first podcast interview with Naval Ravikant has stood out as one of the best. Although Naval made a guest appearance when Tim interviewed Jerzy Gregorek, we have had to wait a long time to hear Tim and Naval talk together again. And so, October 2020 brings Naval as a guest to the Tim Ferris Show for episode 473.

For just over two hours, Tim takes Naval on a journey of explanation. One which digs into several of the Twitter threads which have garnered Naval’s fame. Tim dissects Naval’s How to Get Rich (without getting lucky) thread, with Tim taking the opportunity to break into some of the key points in more detail.

There are so many great takeaways, but for me, Naval’s take on meditation and the process of self-examination was the most interesting. The deep dive reveals how much of a deep thinker Naval is. Spending an hour, every day to examine his thoughts, his challenges, and to pull them apart to the point he resolves them is something most of us do not achieve.

Naval thinks of his thoughts as emails in an inbox, waiting for him to process them.

The analogy is a clever way of thinking about how we manage our minds. Too often, we float on the surface of our minds, not stopping to get into the detail and resolve our fears, define our hopes, and live our best lives. As the modern-day philosopher, Naval’s sageness captures the attention of many. His one million Twitter followers could happily be known as the cult of Naval, such is the respect he has earned.

The best lesson was the last, be the happy one.

Concluding thoughts

There are thousands of podcasts we get the chance to listen to, but time is precious. Therefore, I’m very selective over what I listen to. Shane and Tim are two excellent operators, and it makes sense they would be part of my favourite podcast episodes. They keep it simple; they avoid politics, current affairs and remain focused on drawing out the lessons we can all benefit from.

It is this focus which I appreciate. I can get into that and use them to learn. If you haven’t heard these two podcast episodes yet, give them a listen. What did you learn?

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Inspiration through empowerment brings the best out of people, and makes them smile

Inspiration Should Be More Than Words. It Should Be Empowering Too

Inspiration is the process of uplifting others. The common belief behind the act of inspiring someone is the words you use. As I was to see, it only works if you empower others through your words too.

The first day is always the worst. If you could ask Dr Miranda Bailey she would agree whole-heartedly. Her glum expression reflecting the hollowness she now feels. Gone is the high of starting her first day as chief of surgery at Grey Sloane Memorial Hospital.

Stood on the open passageway where the two sides of the atrium become one, Bailey has a choice of views. To the south, the red and white stripes hang against the giant flagpole, fluttering gently in the breeze as the Seattle skyline sits poised in the background. In the other direction is the centre of the atrium, the reception area where patients, visitors, doctors, and nurses go about their day.

Instead of absorbing the atmosphere, Bailey sulks, crest-fallen at what has become a horrible day. Despite her fierce reputation, ‘The Nazi’ is all a front. Introverted, but overtly confident, her vision hasn’t materialized. Instead, she has had to isolate one doctor, deal with squabbling surgeons and lovers, and feel scorn from an overworked Meredith.

In Bailey’s mind, Meredith is her Aide-de-Camp. The one who turns strategy into action, or in the case of a hospital, the unwell to the healed. But with no title, Meredith tackles the workload alone, and struggles to keep pace with the events of the day. Exasperated, her tone with the new chief is abrupt. Confused, Bailey’s questioning opens a pandora’s box of frustration from Meredith. 

Battered, humbled, and daunted by the sheer size of the challenge she faces, the views across the atrium offer Bailey a moment’s peace. Not only has she failed in setting out her vision, but she has also lost her colleagues.

Leadership lesson

The wallowing of self-pity escapes Bailey, as the moment of failure becomes framed in words. Her mentor, and earlier chief, Dr Webber is the sponge who soaks up Bailey’s sorrow. “I’ve failed. They hate me.” 

“If you want someone to run a four-minute mile, you don’t chase them. You don’t give them something to run from. You give them something to run to.”

He pauses, his fingers brushing the grey hairs which decorate his chin. His sageness now ready to try and guide his former student back to the right path. “If you want someone to run a four-minute mile, you don’t chase them. You don’t give them something to run from. You give them something to run to.”

His perceptiveness is a nudge to Bailey about the true skill of leadership.

It isn’t micro-managing; chasing and harassing others to get things done. It isn’t being fierce, or sharp in her tone. Leading is inspirational; inspiring her team to achieve goals and stretch them.

As Webber’s quote sinks in, Bailey goes in search of Meredith. An explanation for the overworked surgeon comes forth. “I wanted you to be me. Just as I was the engine to Webber, so I want you to be my engine.” What follows next is the switch Webber spoke about. “I want you to be my chief of general surgery”.

Now Bailey’s words to Meredith begin to turn the tide, the promotion a recognition Meredith can and will work with. Instead of feeling put upon, Meredith takes forth her title to lead and guide her team of general surgeons. Empowered rather than harassed, the change is emphatic.

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Inspiration by empowerment

As the pandemic has done for many of us, box sets are now a pathway to relieve the monotony of isolation. Grey’s Anatomy, and it’s sixteen series have certainly broken up the festival of peace we’ve all experienced this year. Many of the episodes force a lesson upon us. Such is the way with exceptional stories, and this episode certainly prompted me to see how effective empowerment is. 

When I first think of inspiration, I think of General Maximus as he rides his horse back and forth along the frontline of soldiers in the opening scene to Gladiator. His steel sword reflecting the orange light of the fires that burn behind the lines. As he rides, so he issues a rallying cry to his troops. Inspired; so much so, the soldiers can see beyond the horror of war, and start marching towards the enemy.

Inspiration is so much more than leading from the front. It is more than battle cries, more than leading by example, although both are relevant. Inspiration is empowering others, allowing them to take responsibility. It lights up the pathway forward, which is what this excellent example highlights.

Yes, Bailey had delegated her work to Meredith, but she hadn’t empowered her to do it. Without the empowerment, Bailey faces a doctor bitter at the excessive workload, and worse, resentful of her new boss.

The inspiration comes from the empowerment. Now, Meredith is alive to the responsibility. No longer bristling, the promotion lifts the new chief of general surgery to do what Bailey needs. Inspiration should be empowering.

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decision making process is a series as steps

A Good Decision-Making Process Matters. Here are 5 Steps to Follow

A good decision-making process matters. So much so because a bad decision-making process – as in not having one – is even worse. The downsides open a window to a sky filled with darkness. The error-strewn landscape shows the full impact of allowing our impulsive urges and our misplaced intuition to shape our decisions.

Our primal urge to act quickly in every situation is one which must be overcome. Bad habits fester, growing into the blockers of progress which hold mankind back. The vices of gluttony and sloth come not from spectacular events of horror, but repetitive episodes of impulsive and badly thought through decisions.

To prevent the continued spread of the disease of habitual failure, we need a strong decision-making process. One which supplies a pathway to progress, of a means to fill engaged and forward-thinking, rather than standing still.

A Five Step Decision-Making Process

Five steps form the foundation of a good decision-making process. Here they are: –

  1. Stop
  2. Assess the information you have
  3. Name your Biases
  4. Gain a different Perspective
  5. Decide

Each step offers a means of improving your outcome, and although we can’t eradicate the role of chance, we can take consider its impact.

But first, let’s get into the decision-making process one step at a time.

1.      Stop

If everyone stopped before deciding what to do, things would be vastly different. A pause, a holt, a break, call what you want, but just the act of stopping changes the dynamic of every decision. If you don’t stop, well, you just run into your intuition which may be okay. The chances are though, your intuition won’t have an earlier experience; it will think what has gone before was a good fit, but it won’t be.

Stopping has the power to prevent impulsiveness. It is the circuit breaker to poor decision-making. It also gives you the space to begin to think…

2.      Assess the information you have

So, you have paused deciding what to do next. Now you’re in the right place, you start to assess the information you have about the decision in front of you. Questions prompt you to challenge what you know and most importantly, to find out what you know to be true.

Blinded by the bright lights of information, we often find ourselves dazzled, unable to see the reality of the choice we face. Although it is difficult for us to be objective, it’s crucial to assess the situation by proving the facts to ourselves. We must exclude opinions and emotions to exclusively consider the truth of the decision we are about to make.

3.      Name your Biases

Aside from the facts, cognitive biases feed us an alternative view of the decision we face. Confirmation bias limits our acceptance of the truth. We will seek one piece of confirming information to support our choice, conveniently ignoring all the other evidence to the contrary.

We are all gamblers; biased in favour of potential gains and too accepting of the losses. Such is the impact of loss aversion, another proven cognitive bias. There are many, many others. Too many to mention, but each of them has the potential to steer us away from the correct choice.

By naming your biases, you become aware of them.

Having awareness is a window into the limits of our objectivity. It creates some ability to limit what you see through the dimension breaking lenses of our biases. A lack of awareness is horrifying to the outsider who knows better. Therefore, it is imperative you name your biases. Then you have a chance of defeating them.

4.      Gain a different Perspective

Your decision is still fraught with incorrect influences. Information from sources we trust can turn out to be incorrect, but trust blinds us to the error. We can’t see it. The sequence of fact-checking risks exposure to our biases and further compounds a faulty view of the choice ahead and the outcome on offer.

An unfamiliar perspective can change everything. One of the greatest blindsides of a decision is in the moment. Feelings – both ours and others – provoke an emotional response to the choice ahead.

Our only thought is about how we feel now.

An alternative perspective, whether yours or someone else’s gives you the insights not previously considered. Asking yourself how you might feel about the decision in ten minutes, ten days or ten months can change a lot. Removing emotion, which time does changes beliefs.

Asking someone else is another way of shifting the viewpoint. A friend, mentor, or coach can give insights not visible to us when we’re caught up in the heat of the moment.

5.      Decide

Decisions matter. Deciding what to do is the end of the decision-making process I’ve mapped out here. Having made the effort to stop and assess the information you have, to name your biases so you can limit their impact, and seeking a different perspective you can now make the choice.

Deciding what to do isn’t about saying yes, it’s also having the means to say no. Arming yourself with knowledge offers progress. It empowers you to decide.

Decision-Making Process – a means to behave logically

As an ending, I’m going to offer a warning. It’s a warning of the perils of not using the five steps, of opting to go with one, or two, or even four of the steps to this process.

Typically, we face a multitude of decisions every day. Take the act of crossing a road, a behaviour so simple we don’t stop to even think about it. Our intuition normally takes control, ignoring the known dangers.

Sometimes, we dart across the road impulsively. Chance doesn’t favour us, as the red lorry struggles to stop in the rain, you’ve misjudged the lorry’s speed as it hits you, sending flying to the floor.

But what if we paused; what if we assessed the information to hand? What would we learn? We would see cars, buses, and occasional lorry going about their day. We might also assess the weather, becoming aware of the wet road surface as rain makes the tarmac slippery.

Getting to the second step of the decision-making process alerts to factors ignored in our dash to get to the other side. As we consider naming our biases, loss aversion appears. We forget about the downside of being run over, instead favouring the muffin and the caramel latte calling you from the café across the road. Confirmation bias alerts us to the speed of the car passing in front of us but ignores the red lorry that can’t stop as quickly on the wet surface.

At the third stage, you might still run for it. But what about an alternative perspective? “Should we go now?” You ask your partner. Her view suggests the pedestrian crossing a short walk away.

The outcome

Your decision made at the end of the decision-making process is not to cross the road. Instead, you decide to use the pedestrian crossing and remove the risks found when you assessed the information but also factored in your biases and an unfamiliar perspective.

A simple story, but one which proves the power of using the decision-making process in everyday life can change your outcomes.

It is exactly what a good decision-making process should offer.

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Quick decision making looks like these cars speeding past

Quick Decision Making is Bad for You. Here is Why you Need to Slow Down

Quick decision making is rarely a clever idea unless you’ve received training on how to make quick decisions, then you’ll be okay. Armed with pressure-driven crisis management tools, you’re poised to assess the situation quickly and respond accordingly.

Most of us don’t have the benefit of a teacher to explain the fundamentals of decision-making, let alone quick decision-making. A good school will teach you everything to do with spelling, reading, and experimenting through the wonders of English, Maths, and science, but nothing on how to make decisions.

And that’s bad.

It’s a little sad too because decision making is the most important skill you can have. You should be aware quick decisions normally have a bad outcome unless lady luck is lingering. A quick decision often ignores the situation, instead relying on your intuition to guide you towards your preferred outcome.

Intuition isn’t as good as we believe it to be. You see intuition is a learned response from an earlier experience. Sadly, learned responses only develop through repetition. If the song isn’t stuck on repeat, then you’re unlikely to learn the words. Instead, you’ll choose your own words, you’ll hum, you’ll even mumble your way through.

We do the same with our intuition when it comes to quick decision making. We fudge it, we make an earlier experience fit the new one we’re in. Downsides come thick and fast, and serendipity hasn’t even lent a hand yet.

Forget Quick Decision Making – Slow Down

Direction over speed. When travelling, going in the right direction matters more than the speed you’re going. Going fast in the wrong direction is bad. We’re only travelling to get to a destination.

Making decisions is the same.

A decision made in haste offers little thought to the outcome. It takes no account of the situation we might find ourselves in. Little or no assessment of the facts, all of which matter in every decision. Don’t fool yourself but be aware, no one fools us like us.

Slowing down your decision gives you the platform to assess the situation. You can find out the facts, considers the probable outcomes, and ponder the behaviours of others in the decision you make.

You might consider your emotions and your biases, as you become influenced by the time you’ve spent on the task in hand. Loss aversion, confirmation bias and the sunk cost fallacy are all demons sent to blight our considered choices. You might not see them, but they are there, ever ready to pounce and spoil the outcome.

Without slowing down, you don’t even get the chance to consider the part they might play.

Defeating the Quick Decision

Our habits tend to drive quick decisions; we become accustomed to reacting quickly. A simple example is what time you go to bed. Your binge-watching: the clock on the polished fireplace is creeping ever closer to eleven, but the programme you’re glued too is so good. As the credits start to roll a button appears on the screen, the glowing box a hook to keep you seated for the next episode.

Do you accept it? Or do you stop it and go to bed?

An assessment of the situation might declare to you your eight hours sleep has become seven already, and another hour will make it six hours sleep reducing your time in bed by a quarter.

As you ponder the stark loss of a quarter of your sleep, you become aware of the impact; you’ll be tired, grumpy, and unable to function properly at work. Logically, the answer should be to hit the off button and head for bed.

But logic rarely exists in a quick decision. The choice in the heat of the moment is an easy one, intuition takes over meaning you don’t even have to decide.

You’ll keep going. One more episode won’t hurt, and besides this series is amazing.

To defeat quick decision making isn’t easy. It will require self-awareness of every choice you have to make, and then you’ll need to stop. Take a moment to pause and then begin a new decision-making process.

Bad habits are defined by bad decisions that litter our world like trees in a forest. Like an overplanted woodland, it’s time for some pruning.

It is the first step to getting away from quick decision making.

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Writers Hate Change as this writer ponders whilst using a laptop

Why Writers Hate Change in a Changing World

October brings a momentous change to Medium – one I’m happy to see

Change is the only constant we’re told, nonetheless, we writers hate change. A noticeable reminder of this was the arrival of the new homepage to the Medium website. Its appearance teased in a recent article by the CEO of the platform. Gone is the traditional header bar with links to the primary publications, heckling traffic away from the universe of us underlings grasping for attention below the fold.

The strategy of Medium is another constant of change, moving from platform to publisher, and now from publisher to platform. It offers yet another reason for writers to moan and complain about how unfair the world is.

The emphasis from the new app and the website is on the writers you follow because the platform wants to be the home of the blogger. Yes, it favours publications, it must; to keep some structure for the vast numbers of new articles published every day.

It’s changing; an innovative approach, a fresh clean reading page in the app, more relational content on the homepage, and yet the groans echo around the Facebook groups. Writers hate change, they hate the fact the reader is the priority.

Writers want to be king, so the platform should focus on them.

Before these recent changes, the platform demanded appeasement to their rules. For me, this meant I had resentfully stopped writing for me, focusing instead on gleaming the perfect headline, scrolling the endless images of Unsplash, and devoting my attention to the requirements of the publication.

I couldn’t write with abandon; to conform to the rigours of perfection the platform desired to put its best foot forward. I tried to play by the rules, but the never-ending quest for the perfect article was a hindrance to my goal to write and express myself.


A visit to the vast atrium of twitter led me to a previously unseen corner. The corner was full of intellect, wisdom, and hope of a brighter future. As I read – and learnt, so I came to see my old writing platform as a prison.

In a world where most writers just want to write and be free, Medium was inducing a fog of confusion. Writers critically want their work seen, consumed, and hopefully enjoyed. To achieve this, writing meant appeasement of the rules, of baying to the ideals of others. Firstly, publications; the commanders of the audience with their own rules of topic, format, and curation.

Opting to self-publish brought other horrors. Articles overflowed from the cradle of articles pending curation. Days, and sometimes even weeks would past. Each day the candle of hope which would see an article find an audience through curation slowly dimmed. Curation was the last hope, but too much time had slipped by.

The prison I was writing in had all the control. I had none. I could keep battling, but with ever-diminishing returns and little or no views, the game was up.

My frustration grew to the point my blog via WordPress appeared. I mirrored the blog with my publication on Medium, revelling in the delight of writing what I wanted, when I wanted, and most importantly, publishing it when I wanted to.

It was changing, but one where I was in control.

Medium’s Biggest Change

October’s Medium newsletter brings news of a huge change. Not the cosmetic changes of a new app and website, but one which will change the game for writers.

Curation is no longer a blocker to distribution.

I don’t know if I’m right, but it is my view every article published without curation was red-flagged. The red flag limited the distribution of the article to just your followers. Now the system is open, and curation is no longer the pass or fail it once was.

For sure, Medium will still be looking and reading, categorising the best to achieve greater visibility, but no longer will we be playing the checkbox game of curation to achieve views.

“This is the conversation I want to have.”

Tyler Cowan

As a writer, I hate change, but I hate rules more. I don’t want my writing to conform, I want it to expressive and delightful, like the chirping birds as they sing to welcome the orange hues which greet a new day.

I’m the selfish one. The one who writes for me, to vent my anger, to grow my passions, and occasionally to figure stuff out. I don’t want to be framed in a prison, where someone dictates the pen I use, the words I craft, and all the other rules, most of all though, I don’t want someone else’s opinion as to whether a larger audience should read it or not. If readers follow me, its because they like what I write. As Tyler Cowan says, “This is the conversation I want to have.”

Removing the wall of curation enables me to do that again.

Writers Hate Change, but they might grow to like this one

For sure, many will moan. We crave certainty, not a mystery. The lines of confusion and fear were palpable as writers questioned the clear removal of curation. The gamification of Medium is over, and many writers will hate this change.

Don’t get me wrong, this won’t open the door for bad writers to make hay. Instead, like reading time, the audience will confirm great writing when they find it.

Writers on the platform have lost sight of what writing is. It is our creativity, our expression, our imagination, and our knowledge time stamped in pixels. Why should this art need rules?

I write this piece with a growing sense of excitement.

The platform I thought I had found to express the storm of thoughts spinning around in my head is now before me. The rules have diminished, shrunk by a realization that what writers want is freedom, not restrictions.

Welcome to a Medium without curation.

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A Successful Habit Needs More Than One Decision

It needs a hundred

A successful habit isn’t just one decision, it’s a hundred decisions. A habit is a sequence of repetitive tasks over a period. The writer of Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about building a system, of forgetting the goal; that’s how you build a habit.

James isn’t wrong, but we fail because we don’t grasp that a system, no matter how easy it is to start, still needs a decision. The great fallacy of building habits is the belief that the commitment to the system is one decision.

The One Decision Habit

Most new habits come from a desire to be healthier or wealthier. There is always a goal; an outcome we look to achieve. Don’t delude yourself a habit is anything less than a pathway to achieving this. We create a running habit to become healthier, we set up behaviours to save money for the holiday we want. There is always a goal.

With a goal in place, logically a system is the best way forward. There are good systems and bad systems. Good systems are easy to start, have low barriers to entry and offer the hook of satisfaction at the end, so we can congratulate ourselves for the effort.

Accountability, along with the tease of reward prod and poke us into keeping the habit. We are supposed to become slaves to the process, repeatedly following the system and seeing the gains we make towards our goal.

And still, we fail.

The Reality of a Habit; Another Decision

I start and break habits with jarring frequency. Loathing the fact, I take the warm, pulse calming comfort of the duvet over getting up to go running. I enjoy running; being at one with nature as pound up the path, with the first rays of the morning sun lighting up the route ahead for me. The moment the elements are at their toughest is the moment I feel most alive. When the rain cascades in sheets, soaking me to the skin. With the leaves swirling in the wind, blowing me one way, then the other. These are the moments I run for.  

I love them, but still, I can’t escape the bed.

There was the decision at the beginning, but now I’m having to make another one. I wasn’t prepared for this. My mind is arguing with itself. Why would I want to get up I ask myself? All sense of the goal has gone, all I have is a choice between a warm bed and a chilly morning run. The big picture has left, lost to the more urgent choice of warmth over cold.

A Successful Habit takes a Hundred Decisions

We don’t get our running kit out the night before, leaving it cocooned in its drawer. We ignore the alarm when it interrupts the sun-drenched beach with the waves lapping gently against the shore. Dreams are also more inviting than our current surroundings. We forget the system, stalling on starting. What went wrong? Why did we stop?

At the beginning of every day is a new requirement. A need for commitment, a request to make a new decision. A habit is a pathway to your goal. Don’t kid yourself its anything else. Delivering the goal takes decision after decision.

Success comes from recommitting yourself every day.

The failure to keep a habit stems from this oversight. It doesn’t matter easy it is to start (although it helps), you still have a decision to make.

Habits fail because we don’t prepare ourselves for the hundred decisions ahead. The decision is one where we recommit ourselves to the goal we’re chasing. Renewal brings a fresh commitment; removing the need for smaller decisions which get in the way. In the first stages of habit building, recommitment is vital. Without it, the only decision is a local one. One which ignores the goal.

With time, by repeating the habit over and over, it becomes part of your intuition. The decision is an automated one. Your mind has come to accept the habit as something you do, just like you eat, sleep, ride a bike or drive a car. To make a habit part of your intuitive behaviours you must recommit every single day.

It’s why a successful habit is so much more than one decision.

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Overthinking as a man sits and a smokes

The All-Consuming Agony of Overthinking

If there was a competition for overthinking, I’m the winner. The crescendo of noise builds as I walk through the crowd, shaking hands with fans as I get closer to the presentation stage. Other competitors look on with envy, unhappy at their wasted time spent pondering the imponderable. As I stand before the trophy, I become lost in thought.

Yep, I’m overthinking again.

As I lift the trophy above my head, soaking up the vibrations and the buzz from the audience, I notice a beeping sound. It grows louder as I turn to the crowd and they raise an even bigger cheer when I hoist the trophy up high, punching the air to show my delight. Then, the beeping takes over; the crowd, the clapping, the trophy, they’ve gone. All I have is darkness and high-pitched beep which I can hear, but also feel…

Another blow lands as I become aware of the bedroom, my wife hitting me again as I awaken to silence the alarm, beeping for what my wife feels is eternity. I’m disappointed not to see my trophy, with an etching of Rodin’s The Thinker on the front, his chin resting on his hand as he ponders and overthinks.

Overthinking – Quantity not Quality

My dream was a sarcastic prod at something I do too much of. I think – a lot.

You won’t find me dealing with a three-pipe problem, unlike Sherlock Holmes as he sits in his armchair pondering the mystery in hand.

It is quite a three-pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

It is an iconic scene, as a haze of smoke drifts through the rays of sunlight as they pierce the window. Holmes is oblivious to it all, his only thought the problem in hand. His imagination is an engine room of creative ideas, as he considers a variety of solutions to the problem in hand.

For Holmes, it’s one problem pondered, imagined, and conceptualised, as he puffs through three pipes. His focus brings the quality of thinking required to solve the mysteries we know him for.

The Paradox of Overthinking

I marvel at my imagination. I marvel at how I’m able to think; to overthink instead of working slavishly on my work. Unlike Sherlock Holmes who concentrates deeply on one topic, I don’t.

My mind is like my nephew this summer; running along the sandy beach teasing the seawater as he waits to see how close it will get to the bottom of his shorts. For hours, he is dancing with the tide, running backwards and forwards, roaring with laughter as the crest of each wave tickles his legs.

Like my nephew, I never go deep when it comes to thinking. The waves take the shape of innovative ideas, old ideas, memories, regrets and a thousand other thoughts. Each one splashing at me for my attention as I try to think. As I start to think about one thought, another one comes along. Wave after wave pounds at my legs as I overthink on everything, rather than one thing.

It is the all-consuming agony of overthinking. 

When we think about overthinking, we face a paradox; one where we convince ourselves overthinking is bad for us. We fret about daydreaming, of procrastinating and ending up with nothing.

The paradox is right. What must change is the focus.

The Three-Pipe lesson in Thinking

Sherlock’s superpower: his unique strength was his ability to focus on one problem and one problem alone.

We live in world of noise that no human has ever had to face before. A continuous stream of inputs all fights for our attention. Distracted by email alerts, message notifications, breaking news banners, the TV, interactive displays, and each other, so our thinking reflects our inputs. Our minds are a mirror. What goes in, comes out.

Multiple inputs mean a glut of outputs – that is thoughts and ideas spinning in our heads as we think. We call it overthinking.

Of course, Sherlock lived in quieter times. Free from the iPhone, the mac book, the iPad, and his iWatch, he didn’t have the inputs we do. His sources of information were books and a newspaper.

His inputs reflected his outputs.

For the time it took Sherlock to smoke three pipes, he would sit in silence. No distractions, no noise, no squeals for his attention. Nothing would distract him as he sat in his armchair and thought. His mind utterly focused on a complex case which the police were unable to solve. By the end of the third pipe, Sherlock had the case cracked.

All he did was sit and think about one thing.

The Power of Peace

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,”

Blaise Pascal

Pascal was clearly onto something with this infamous quote. The inverse of this quote also makes compelling reading.

All of humanity’s opportunities stem from our ability to sit quietly in a room alone.

Concentration, focus, attention; these are the superpowers of mankind. Often referred to as deep thinking, this concept is more alien to us now more than ever. Not because we can’t sit quietly, but because we can’t manage our minds in the same way.

When we do spend an hour free of distraction? When do we spend more than a few minutes contemplating a big decision?

The answer: we don’t.

My Overthinking Dream

I reflected on my dream about overthinking and I suspect my subconscious was mocking me. Let’s face it, nothing good comes from overthinking. I, like many others, become distracted with multiple inputs all trying to grab my attention. As I sit here, authoring this article my mobile is never far away. A flicker from the screen acts as a call for my mind, trying to pull me back in.

My urge to open my browser and check social media is equally unflinching.

Sitting for the time it would take me to smoke three pipes (approx. one hour) and only think about one thing, would be a sizable challenge. But I also know how good it could be. I know how much better my decision-making would be. I know I could solve problems which previously appeared unsolvable.

The trophy: well I consider it a prompt. A nudge to remind me where my, and humanity’s great superpower rests.

Superpower Thinking

To access this superpower means change. An easy answer might be to try and sit quietly for an hour, but drawing on the insights of Sherlock Holmes, it is clear this is entirely the wrong approach. Our minds are conduits; we feed in information and do our best to absorb it, using the lessons to inform our outputs.

It must be less in, less out.

Less in means an end to notifications; less time connected to the internet and less noise. I’m minded to the catchline of the Farnam Street blog, signal in a world full of noise. I must filter my inputs and improve my signal. Even without notifications, I’m still in an atrium of sound, listening, reading, and consuming vast swaths of information.

I recently committed to reading five books a year. The reason: to learn more, to understand more, and to build a better retention of the insights I’m learning. Previously, I read and read with little gain. I’m drawn to the image of my nephew in the sea again, my reading wasn’t deep, just flirtatious.

To become a deep thinker, I must become a deep learner. Only then can I expect not to get a trophy for overthinking.

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The Pleasure of Writing as the writer finishes and puts the pen down

The Pain and the Pleasure of Writing

Writing is both delightful and terrifying in equal measure. The journey can assault your senses, giving moments of joy as words flow quicker than water from an exposed fire hydrant. Smiles can quickly turn to frowns as ideas evaporate before your eyes.

Where can a writer find pleasure from writing?

It is unlikely to be a stinging assessment from a reader who didn’t appreciate your craft. The worst feedback is none, no words of praise or thanks. Only silence.

The Pain of Writing

The reader has little idea of the journey. No idea of the pain of forging one way with your prose, only to find a dead end. The delete button removing moments of thoughts as blocks of text become an empty white space. The white wall only serving to inspire the same emptiness of mind. Not ideal when imagination is the creator.

These moments of hollow thought are the worst. Your stomach churns with the realisation you’re alone, like an astronaut floating in space with no gravity to return you safely to the ground.

It is a feeling of true pain for the writer.

The Pleasure of Writing

We all crave pleasure; for writers, it’s the ultimate alternative to pain. Pleasure appears in many ways; it could be from the finished piece which is poised to entertain. Or the happiness from a positive comment, kind words spreading an internal warmth. The count of readers gives another shot of adrenaline to the pleasure-seeking writer.

Before the results appear, there is the internal monologue of joy when writing is at its best. When ideas spew forth and words tumble. Sentences knit themselves together like lines of a pattern, bringing the page to life.

It is the flow state of writing writers crave.

“Happiness is a way of travel. Not a destination.” Roy Goodman

It doesn’t matter whether one person reads the article or a hundred. The pleasure doesn’t come from the neatly adorned title, or the flow of words as they run down the page. No, the pleasure comes from the journey it took to get to the end. The thinking, the debate you have with yourself about whether to go this way or that way. The crafting of each sentence, of each word.

This is the way writers travel with their prose. It is their moment of happiness.

The assault on the senses when things flow is profound. The challenge for every writer is creating these conditions. It’s like trying to climb a mountain without a map, all paths lead to the top, but some offer an easier, less tiring ascent than others. Find the right path and you’ll make it to the top every time.

Writing is more complex than hill climbing.

A Journey of Discovery

You arrive at the foot of the peak blindfolded. No idea of your position or where the summit is. Your only goal; to reach the top as quickly and efficiently as you can. And you’re still sightless. It feels like an impossible mission. 

By some fluke you find a path, having spent hours circling the base looking for a way up. Not only does it have a handrail, but it’s also free of vegetation, and then you’re climbing. 

Creating the first draft, developing a structure, and formatting sentences is a similar experience. Writers have a multitude of pathways they can’t see. 

It makes it exciting; like Columbus on the Santa Maria, discovery is the end goal. For some, uncertainty is the starting point, for others, it offers a moment to freeze.

Slowly, but surely, you work it out.

Developing your ideas, creating a story, teasing the outcome, crafting the outline, all way markers to check off as your draft evolves. Yes, it’s tough, painful, and exciting — all at the same time. A rollercoaster of emotions throwing you in all directions.

It is the journey we love. 

It’s why we love the pain and the pleasure of writing.

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A Blaack Swan

Black Swans; The Hard Truth of Life

How seemingly extreme events aren’t the preserve of the global community, but affect us individually

A sharp breath from me was the only outward sign of how tight my wife was hugging me. Our embrace grew closer as my body became tense, neither of us wanting to let go. The clock, with its continuous ticking nudging the second hand onwards, was the only other sound in the hospital ward.

The door swung open, as first a nurse, and then a porter appeared. It was time.

We pulled away from each other, our stares not faltering as we searched for signs of weakness in this final moment. There was time for one last kiss, a final smile from me and a whispered “good luck, I love you” as the porter and nurse took my wife to the operating room.

A squeal from the rubber wheel echoed around the empty room as they departed, leaving me to worry whether this was the last time I might ever see my wife alive.

A Real-life Black Swan

I didn’t know it then, but my wife was experiencing a black swan.

A black swan is a moment in life when the unexpected happens to you. It isn’t bad luck or a freak of nature, but something that affects us all. It is more than an outlier, more than a thousand in one chance that one might befall us.

You see, a black swan is identifiable when it conforms to the following three structures.

  • It’s an outlier
  • It has an extreme impact
  • Humans will make it explainable and predictable

Allow me to expand.

It’s an Outlier

Something happens that’s outside the realm of regular expectations because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.

Extreme Impact

When this event happens, it has an extreme impact. Whatever it is, it can change your life – or someone else’s.

We will convince ourselves it was a perfectly rational event

Yes, despite the event being an outlier and extreme in its impact, we will concoct a story, an explanation that tells us that we should have seen it coming.


It doesn’t take a lot for my mind to fill with the horrible outcomes I could envision that day. These visions – nightmares – couldn’t hold back the numbness that first stirred in the seat of my pants as it spread, first, down through my legs and then up to my back. I needed to awaken the circulation that had slowed from the hours I had spent sitting.

Up I rose, slowly and without grace, much like someone far more senior in years would. I stretched, reaching up high to the ceiling far above. A sign of the ensuing restoration of circulation was the short stabbing pains, the so-called pins and needles.  

How many hours had my wife been in the operating room now? Three or four hours at least.

Fear once again began to take hold as I guessed the future. What if the surgeon cut her brain stem? She might be stuck or in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. How would we manage, especially with an eighteen-month-old daughter? What if she didn’t wake up after the operation. How I would I cope? How would my daughter cope?

I couldn’t think like this I told myself, as thirst took my attention away from the downward spiral I was on. I hadn’t moved, other than the stretch since my wife went down. I’m sure there was a coffee machine outside. But that would mean moving, and not being there to see my wife after the operation. What if she came back, and I wasn’t here, I would feel terrible?

The thirst won.

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The operation was to correct a hernia in my wife’s head. Her brainstem was compressing the fluid that surrounds the brain, thus giving rise to intense pains. Often, she would pass out, collapsing on the spot. Left untreated, it would eventually kill her.

Not long after the birth of our daughter, my wife became ill. As she describes it, her head would explode in a rush of pain. As quickly as it appeared though, it would disappear. The cause was unclear with my wife believing she had a brain tumour. Our doctor couldn’t hold back the laughter at my wife’s attempted diagnosis.

A second appointment a month later drew a referral to see a neuro consultant.

MRI’s, blood tests, and a lumbar puncture awaited my wife when we visited the neurology department. The first two tests resulted in a rapid visit from a doctor. His warning was a profound one. “You must not have a lumbar puncture. If you’re approached to have one – refuse. It could kill you. The consultant will see you shortly.”

The tests had found something, that was for sure.

Black Swans; The Hard Truth of Life Pinterest Tile

My Wife’s Black Swan

Despite the explanations of the condition and the knowledge it had troubled my wife throughout her life, it was clear to me this was a black swan.

As outliers go, this was one for my wife. What odds would her parents have gotten on her having a brain condition, let alone a rare one? 1 in every 1,000 people have a Chiari Malformation, but most don’t know as they don’t suffer from it. For those who do suffer, the frequency changes to 1 in every 1,667. Compare it to cancer where it is 1 in 3 and you can see how much of an outlier this condition was.

Then there is the extreme impact of the condition. Passing out from the intensity of the pain isn’t something most of us experience. At one point before the operation, this was affecting my wife two or three times a day.

Of course, the crowning glory of a black swan is our ability to make it explainable. In my wife’s mind, the pain from the condition was with her when she was a child. Straining to go to the loo was one such trigger of the explosion of pain, something my wife remembered. She was joining the dots up and explaining her pain and the condition.

Bring these three elements together and you have my wife’s black swan.

Your Black Swan

You won’t know it, but you will have experienced a black swan already in your life. Chances are, you have experienced a few. How many events in your life have been completely outside the realms of your normal life? How many of them led to an extreme impact? Death, a loss of your home, a car accident, or some other life-changing event.

Crucially though, you have a reason.

You’ve got a story that makes sense. Don’t kid yourself, life is far more complex than we understand. We all want to understand. Our imaginations kick into action, stringing together any sort of excuse to enable us to tell others why. It is the narrative fallacy in all its glory.  

‘I don’t know’ might be the most sensible answer, but often, it is the most unaccepted.

Black swans are a part of life. For the control freaks, the super-forecasters, the people who want to make permanent decisions, this is unwelcome news. Just like my wife’s Chiari Malformation, we have no way of foreseeing these events. We must accept the uncertainty.

Twenty years have passed since I sat and waited for my wife to return from the operating room. A thousand lifetimes passed before my eyes, each of them offering a different outcome to the operation my wife was having. The longer I sat there, the worse each version ended. It was a tortuous five hours I will never forget, the pain only ending when the nurse came to get me.

My wife was alive. She was heavily sedated, with morphine numbing the intense pain. A pain so bad, the surgeon would describe as the worst headache anyone would ever experience. She had her black swan and lived.

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Dynamic of decision-making as captured by the city lights

The Easily Forgotten Dynamics of Decision-Making

The 3 dynamics of decision-making to consider when making any decision.

We make decisions all day, every day and often without thought. We think of decisions as a binary choice; of yes or no – and then, we make them quickly.

Sometimes, we pause to consider the consequences. Other times, we jump straight in – to hell with the outcome. Regret and hindsight all kick in when things go wrong. But we rarely pause to try and learn from our mistakes. Blame often falls on the other party, like it’s God’s fault when it rains.

It’s always someone else’s fault.

No longer consumed with hunting to survive, improving occupies our minds. No matter the subject, we want to know more, learn more and be better than before.

When it comes to our decisions, we must open our minds to the process of reflection. Before we can improve our decisions, we must understand the factors within one. I’ve labelled these factors dynamics because they’re not consistent. They change and evolve, complicating every decision we ever make.

What are the dynamics involved in making decisions?

As I said, dynamics are the variable factors that influence every decision we make. And although we nit-pick at the shifting sands of the choices we make, they come down to three factors.

• Information – before we can decide, we need to be aware of the information we have. Where most of us fail is that we don’t question the validity of the information.

What do we know to be true?

Ray Dalio

Ray Dalio features this question a lot in his work and life principles. Applying this question to your information forces you to recognize where it is incomplete – a fact we ignore most of the time.

• Emotion – whether we like it or not, emotion influences our decisions all the time. How we feel changes, often within the blink of an eye.

Being aware of your emotional state is an essential skill in decision-making. Once you have awareness – you have the insight into its impact.

• Chance – Maria Konnikova’s excellent book, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win highlights an ugly truth.

Even with the best hand, you can still lose.

Maria konnikova

Accepting what you can control, and what you can’t control is crucial in decision-making. The impact of chance is everything that’s beyond our control. It plays a huge part in the outcome of our decisions. And yet, we blame it when we fail, and we ignore it when it goes for us – claiming the success ourselves.

The Awareness of Choice

Being aware of the three dynamics of decision-making gives a glimpse to the depth behind every choice we ever make. Awareness brings visibility – providing you’re open to it. If you are, well, you’ll start to see how ignorant we are of these factors.

We consider information, but we rarely question the validity of it. We certainly don’t ask ourselves what we know to be true, as Ray suggests. Consider the inverse of this question; what information can’t we be certain of? 

Incomplete information is where our assumptions reign supreme.

How many of us assess the weather by looking outside? We decide what to wear for the day, based on a glimpse of the sky. By not checking the weather forecast we are accepting incomplete information. Think back to the last time you cursed the rain falling from the sky. Did you check the weather forecast?

Of course, emotion plays its part in every decision, and often it’s the emotion of someone else who’s affecting your feelings. Looking back, we have the chance to reflect on our emotions.

Put yourself in the helicopter pilots’ seat as you replay the decision; what can you see?

We can’t forget chance, the bringer of luck and the factors we have no control over. Understanding that chance affects our decisions, and their outcome is hard. Managing risk is something good decisions encapsulate.

Limiting risk is reducing the impact of chance.

As Tim Ferriss says; the chance of being in a road traffic accident is low, but we still wear seatbelts.

Concluding Thoughts

We live with the three dynamics of decision-making all the time, but we are rarely aware of them. Only through awareness of the three dynamics can you reflect on your decisions.

Reflection is the door to learning.

It offers a way for us to assess our decisions. To consider how we react with information – both complete and incomplete. To see our emotions and understand how the emotions of others influence our choices. Luck, chance, call it what you like, it swings with us and against all the time. 

By reflecting on these dynamics, we can learn to make the right choices to manage the impact of them. We mustn’t confuse decisions with outcomes. A good decision won’t always result in a good outcome, but you can minimise the downside.

It is easy to forget these variables, especially when the outcome sucks.

But denial won’t help us. It won’t improve our decisions and it certainly won’t help improve the outcomes we want.

Don’t ignore the dynamics of decision-making.

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