Self Improvement


Carving out some space to try new things can help us take risks in our art that we may not otherwise do.

Treating art as play reduces the fear and pressure of being perfect. This easy practice can also spill over into other aspects of life and help us to put ourselves out there in unexpected ways.

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Self Improvement

Forcing ourselves to create daily can improve our work in unforeseen ways.

As our skills improve, so will our curiosity for learning increase. Adding workshops to refine our craft can inspire us to improve further.

Freeing up your creativity

In the book, An Artist's Way, Julia Cameron teaches the value of morning pages to free up your creativity: Writing three longhand pages first thing in the morning to unburden your mind.

One can apply the same methodology to artist pages: taking 10 - 15 minutes first thing in the morning to create as you wish. No rules, no expectations. Doing this can be surprisingly rewarding.

The point of doing morning pages is the process, not whether the art is good or bad. In the process, we learn to love taking risks and trying new things to see what brings us joy.

Even if the art is "bad", we learn to embrace it for the process, the joy and the calm it brings to our day.

Turn off notifications for all the apps on your phone, so you don't have to put your phone in do not disturb mode. That way, you have more control over what you see on your phone.

The point is to use your phone mindfully. Consider if a specific notification will be useful to you.

If you don't choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will, and their motives may not be the same as yours.

For example, a notification from Netflix informing you that a new season of your favourite show is available may cause you to put your life on hold to watch it for a few days. Then you may watch some YouTube clips. If you don't intervene, others may control your attention and you may become a mindless drone.

Follow one or two people whose work adds value to you. You may not agree with everything but may like their style and perspective.

Consume content relevant to you and ignore everything else. Ask yourself:

  • Is this worth my attention?
  • Will it enrich my life?

Social media can be a great tool for connecting with people, but it is not suitable to obtain information. It is not a replacement for books or articles.

Most people are unaware that they are being used on social media. They may think they're in control, but they're influenced all the time. That is why we should be mindful of how we use social media.

Information is primarily about data and facts, while knowledge is mainly about applying information. For example, it is a fact that the average hedge fund underperformed the market over the last decade. Knowledge would be to use that information to form an investing strategy.

Most people obtain a lot of information because it's easy - a post on social media, a short video, an article, etc. However, it serves no real purpose because it lacks direction and application.

Where to direct your attention

Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote, "Most of what passes for legitimate entertainment is inferior or foolish and only caters to or exploits people's weakness."

This is very telling even in our age about our attention and the things we focus on. We let other people decide what to focus on and are defenceless when the media exploits our weaknesses. Instead, we should control where we direct our attention.

Self-awareness comes from gaining richer and more accurate knowledge of yourself by combining theory and experience.

More self-knowledge leads to more success. If you understand how you function as an individual and as a person in general, you can gain a deeper purpose of your goals and know what will make you fulfilled.

Developing insight about yourself

Two perspectives can help to develop self-knowledge.

  • The "inside" view. This kind of self-awareness you gain from life experiences, such as a breakup, or finally knowing what you want in life. This knowledge underpins much of our motivation but tends to be hard to write down.
  • The "outside" view. You can gain this perspective from reading psychology, economics, neuroscience, and religion. This perspective doesn't explain your situation but can offer ideas for all situations.

The outside view is broad but often lack details. The solution to problems of the outside view is to educate yourself.

Learn about motivation, memory and willpower. Read broadly and widely to understand the human condition.

Wisdom is gained from experience. But our experience is also very narrow and a fragment of the possible lives we could have lived.

  • We can broaden our range of experience by trying a bunch of things. While this may sound silly to someone who is struggling, it is often a good answer.
  • To take full advantage of our limited experiences, we can document and measure them. We often fail to build on past successes because we don't take count of the foundation that was laid beforehand.
  • Talk to more people. Other people can offer a valuable outside perspective on your inside view.

By using simple behavioural interventions, we can create helpful habits. Instead of only identifying a negative behaviour and then trying to avoid it, we can find a substitution which we love, and that will give us a sense of joy, such as eating a healthy snack or texting a friend.

Traditional tools such as journaling, reflection, and lessons or classes can be used in conjunction with behavioural interventions.

  • If you are putting off a difficult conversation, identify what makes you feel really good, and do that when you get a moment. Doing so will remind you that you worth caring about. When you feel good, you feel more capable of doing the hard thing.
  • Instead of "dump the toxic people," give the valued people in your life a call. Being energised by lovely people in your life, you might find the time around other people more bearable.
  • While you focus on your goals in life, you can also be reminded to look around daily and really see the value of everything you already have.
  • A child learns about the world through reflex and conditioning. A baby cries, and someone comes to help. They do something and get rewarded.
  • Then behaviour becomes reasoned and chosen. As a person grows, so reflex and conditioning are replaced by desire, choice, reasoning and consequence. Physical development is also occurring. We may think and then do, but also do and then think.
  • Positive change needs to appeal to both as it needs to challenge ingrained habits.

As adults, when we want to change something we might seek help - join a gym, or take lessons, or see a coach. Regarding DILT, the teachers often teach from the bottom up. They give classes and tools and continue to encourage us.

But, people prefer efficiency instead of effectiveness. We will revert to behaviours that give us immediate pleasure, such as comfort eating or a spending spree while we find working harder less appealing. As our motivation decrease, we may drop out of coaching and fall back to where we started.

We often know what we should be doing, but find there is a gap between knowing it and doing it.

What sets us in motion is usually external. We may suddenly have no choice, or someone may incentivize us. However, when it is internal, we often indefinitely postpone what we know we should be doing.

A potential answer comes from Robert Dilt's logical levels of change, modelled in a hierarchy.

  1. Purpose (What else?)
  2. Identify (Who?)
  3. Values and beliefs (Why?)
  4. Capabilities (How?)
  5. Behaviours (What?)
  6. Environment (Where and when?)

Change that begins at the bottom does not affect the next step up unless you make an effort to climb. Change that starts at the top will filter down naturally.

When we receive a reward for a job we've done, we always equate a certain amount of expectations and feelings of excitement towards the reward.

Reward prediction errors play a major role in learning because it helps us understand people's motivations behind certain behaviors and their perspectives or beliefs about the world.

Seeking Happiness
  • The pursuit to happiness has always been a never ending journey. It started even before the French philosophers came into the picture.
  • From Aristotle to Bentham, they all argued that our subjective well-being is important. However, it has been proven that increasing societal happiness is not a walk in the park.
  • The main driver of happiness is how the reward matches with our expectations, not the reward itself.
  • Many people seek to learn as the opportunity arises even if the reward of the game isn't of any material value, that is why many people still enjoy playing sudoku amongst other things.
  • The motivation to join in an intrinsically rewarding activity - like solving problems - has been shown to decrease when a payment is introduced.
  • Rewards in the real world often come in uncertain amounts. However, the good news is that regardless of what may be, learning has the potential to boost happiness.

The happiness of the subjects did not depend on how large the rewards were. Instead, the momentary happiness depended on the outcomes of their expectations.

The process of learning how the experimented game worked made people feel good rather than the reward they won.

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