A Trick to Get into “Flow”

Unconscious.  Self two.  The zone.  Flow state.

There are a lot of great names for when you’re performing or creating and your rational, conscious, deliberate mind gets out of the way while you enter an unthinking trance-like form of in-the-moment action.  It’s one of the best feelings in the world.

Yesterday, I went down to the basketball court to shoot some hoops and stumbled on a little trick.  I’m not a great shooter, and often battle to turn my mind off and stop thinking about my form, because I shoot better when I’m flowing freely.  If I make a few free-throws, in a row I start to become more conscious of what I’m doing and the streak is broken.

So instead of my usual routine of layups, turn-arounds, free-throws, and threes until I hit 100 shots (you’d be amazed how long it takes me), I decided to make it really hard to begin with, thinking it might make it easier thereafter.  I had to make the first 10 shots with my left hand.  Not layups, but 15-footers.  I’m a righty and never use my left except occasionally (and badly) around the rim.  Those ten left-handed shots were very hard and very frustrating.  Because lefty shots are so foreign to me, there’s no zone I can enter.  I have to put a ton of conscious effort, focus, and attention to form and detail into every one to try to make the motion even work.

I finally did it, and by the time I did my conscious, form-following mind was totally exhausted.  Going back to my right hand was like taking a break from the chain gang to sit by the pool with an umbrella drink.  I didn’t focus on my shots, I hit a much higher percentage than usual, and I had a blast!

I think I found a new trick that can be applied elsewhere.  Give yourself a really hard challenge that requires far more focus than normal and run your rational mind dry.  Wear your brain out.  Then start the work.  I thought about how I’ve done this a few times with writing.  I’ve challenged myself with word counts or other strictures on my form that took tremendous focus to complete.  Afterwards, getting in the zone to crank out a free-flowing blog post was much easier.

More experimentation ahead.

What Happens When You Hold on to What You Gave Up


Every decision, action, and opportunity has a cost.  To do one thing means you can’t do another.

Weighing costs and benefits when making a decision is useful (though also limiting).  But once an action has been taken, it’s best to forget what you gave up.  Holding on to the memory of what could-have-been-but-cannot-now-be will only make you worse at moving ahead.  The more aware you are of value left in the past, the blinder you’ll be to the value in front of you.

I’ve experienced this with potential Praxis customers.  In the application process, questions about the benefits of the program are normal and healthy.  But when those questions consistently tack on a reminder of what’s left behind, it’s not a good sign.  “I want to know if the program does X, because, you know, I’d be leaving my hometown and my friends and I really have a good thing going right now and it’d really cost a lot to make a change and you’d better be able to make it worth it.”  That’s not a customer we want.  They’re holding so tightly onto what they’d leave behind that I suspect they’d be looking in the rear-view mirror the entire program and seeking someone to blame for every way in which their new life is harder than what they walked away from.  They’d be incapable of seeing the value in the present because they won’t let go to the value they imagine in the past.

It’s like dating someone who’s obsessed with comparing you to their ex.  You don’t want that, even if you’re better.

If you want to act, act.  Second-guessing and cost-tallying after the fact are useless.  Scratch that.  They’re worse than useless.  They make people leery of connecting with or working with you because they don’t want to be measured against your imagined past.  They blind you to present opportunity.  They warp your memory of the facts, as each day further from what you left behind it gets rosier.

Screw that.  Your past doesn’t exist.  It lives only in your mind.  Your mind is within your control.  Make it work for you.  Don’t go to war against past possibilities, create present opportunities.

Universal Basic Indignity

There are several practical and philosophical reasons a redistribution scheme like Basic Income Guarantee, or Universal Basic Income (UBI) are inconsistent with true liberalism and general human flourishing.  Even if none of those arguments mattered, an almost entirely neglected aspect of such a policy is enough for me to oppose it.

There is a real and important consequence to individual meaning and fulfillment when a universal welfare system exists.  It creates a permanent dependent class.  The compassion behind it is condescending and paternalistic, and sends a message to the heart of each recipient: “You can’t do it without me.”  That message works too well.

We all know this.  We see it in children with an unconditional parental safety net.  We see it in the past with heartfelt, compassion-based, sexist and racist institutions.  We feel it in ourselves when we’re loafing on the job in secret or getting credit someone else worked hard for.  It’s not just some WASP social construct that eats away at us, it’s our self-confidence getting flabby as the arms of another lift us over every bump in the road.

We’re hard-wired for progress.  We need it to be fulfilled.  Progress only comes when we overcome challenges.  Those challenges start with the most basic.  If we cut off access to the simple achievements, the really great ones will be well out of reach.

It’s incredibly shallow and materialistic to assume money equals fulfillment.  In some cases, it can be the biggest obstacle to it.  Unearned merit is dangerous even in small, unexpected doses.  When it’s built into a full-fledged system you can bank on, it has the power to corrode the most creative impulses and hallow out that which makes us human.

Call me flowery or dramatic.  Call me cold or callous.  Call me whatever you like, but there is no denying that being taken care of when you’re not truly helpless is destructive to an individual’s sense of self and chances for success.  Just because this problem cannot be quantified does not mean it can be safely ignored.

Have some respect for your fellow human.  Have some respect for yourself.  Don’t demand a perpetual redistribution system.  Demand freedom and earn and give generously and of your own volition.  Guaranteed comfort is a subtle, sinister form of captivity.  It may seem to promote tranquility, but tranquility is not always desired.  It may quell the very restlessness and rebellion a free society needs to grow and progress – and individuals within that society need to do the same.

This is not about manufacturing obstacles to toughen people up.  It’s about removing obstacles, even when they’re covered in velvet and smell like roses.

Compassion and respect for human life compel me to oppose the Universal Basic Indignity of a guaranteed income scheme.

Being an Intellectual Outside Academia Has Never Been Easier

A lot of people tell me they are interested in teaching, researching, writing, and exploring ideas for a living but they see the backwards, warped incentives baked into academia and want no part of it.  They feel stuck.

“But I can’t teach without certification”, or, “But I don’t know how to do what I want without becoming a professor.”  Fortunately, these fears are unfounded and opportunity abounds.  Unfortunately, if these fears loom large you might already be too schooled into a permission-based approval-seeking mindset to seize on the opportunity.  Anyone can do it, but years of being rewarded for the opposite of enterprise will make it a monumental task.

There are countless examples of professional intellectuals outside the stale, subsidized halls of academia.  Maria Popova, Alain de Botton, Steve Patterson, Dan Carlin, Nassim Taleb, and academic escapees like Thaddeus Russell and Tom Woods, to name just a few.  Whatever you think of their work, they have created successful careers around the ideas they love, free from the suffocating mediocrity of educrats.  And whether or not you like their conclusions, the quality and quantity of their work and their relationship to their audiences are orders of magnitude better than it would be if they were Academics.  Incentives matter.

So how can you do it?

It’s the simplest, hardest thing in the world.  Work.

Create.  Produce.  Ship.  Repeat.

Yes, research, read, study, dive in to ideas.  That’s a given.  Every wannabe intellectual does that.  To make a real career out of it requires constant, consistent action.  Write articles and books, make podcasts and videos, share and build an audience on social media, curate an email list, and create a findable brand around your ideas and work.  Just keep producing.  Relentlessly.

There is massive demand for interesting ideas and those who can find and communicate them well.  There is a huge market for what you’re peddling.  But if you see yourself as the deserving recipient of charity so you can read and write an article once in a while, you’re going to get nowhere in the real world.

Follow comedians.  They have a similar product.  They are selling their particular batch of ideas and insights and the particular way they communicate them to create a laugh.  Substitute “a-ha” for “laugh” and the professional intellectual is the same.  Do aspiring comedians sit around and say, “Well I really want to do comedy, but I don’t want to sit through years of comedy certification school and jump through all the hoops, so I guess I can’t”?  It’s as absurd as thinking academia necessary to be an intellectual.

Comedians just keep doing open mic nights.  Then low-pay shows or contests.  Then more.  They build a following of friends.  Then locals.  Then they travel a bit.  They share their stuff with their followers.  They make videos.  They grind.  They refine their jokes.  They write more.  Produce, share; produce, share.  It’s not a complicated formula.

Of course, your ideas have to be valuable to others.  And you have to produce and share them.  Maybe that explains why many seek the corrosive comfort of ill-gotten income in the higher ed bureaucracy.

If you want to spread ideas for a living, open your eyes to the world around you.  Don’t see roadblocks (“I don’t know how to edit video”, “I’m not savvy on websites and SEO”).  Those are good for you.  They’re keeping out those too lazy or fearful to learn (learning is often hardest for the most schooled) or partner with those who can.  That means more opportunity for you.  The world is wide open and it’s waiting for your ideas and your voice.

What have you created today?

PS – I’ve been speaking here about getting your income from your intellectual endeavors.  This isn’t the only, or best, way to be an intellectual outside of academia.  You can earn a living doing anything others value and still have plenty of time to research, write, and share ideas.  Most people who do earn their living from their ideas began doing it on the side, and many of the best thinkers I know don’t earn their bread exclusively from their erudition.

College is Dead

College is dead.

I’m not talking about the future, I’m talking about the present.  Most people just don’t know it’s dead.

It’s not online courses and video lectures that killed it.  Access to information is not a problem in the developed world, and not what college students are buying.  MOOCs aren’t nearly as disruptive as what killed college.

It’s not new certifications that killed it.  Compare the value of “I’m certified in Facebook ads”, with, “Here are my last five Facebook ad campaigns.”  Centralized credentials are only valuable in the absence of something better.

Today, something far better is available to everyone.

Here’s my Voice & Exit talk explaining what I mean.

Do You Have ‘Forward Tilt’?

So eager you physically lean over the desk during an interview.

That’s forward tilt.

I once heard a seasoned CEO describe the phrase and how integral it was to hiring at his company.  This concept has been really helpful for me, and I’m excited to help you unearth that same mentality and energy and put it to work creating your career.


Check out the Forward Tilt podcast, with weekly 5-10 minute bits of inspiration and insight every Friday.

Available on iTunes,Stitcher, Pocket Casts, and YouTube.


Check out the book, an almanac for personal growth, with 52 short entries and action items for a year of forward tilting weeks.

Available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback.

(Or download the PDF for free here).

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