14 of My Favorite Reads from November 2014

With all the noise overwhelming our lives and our social streams it’s easy to miss the good stuff. Content like tweets, in particular, are especially perishable. That’s why I’ve always been a fan of highlighting some of my favorite posts at the end of each month.

This is my effort to provide a little signal by curating some of the best/most interesting posts (of the 100’s I read) during the month of November 2014. I recommend identifying and diving into 2-3 that resonate with you. Focus less on the dopamine rush you get from hopping from article to article and more on how you apply the wisdom in these posts to your own life.

Please use the comments section to recommend and share other posts you found useful and/or your best post from November.

The commentary below the link is typically the author’s own words that I’ve extracted as a key takeaway; however, sometimes I add my own commentary and make connections as well.

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[Blog Posts/News Articles]:

The Eulogy Test: How to Live a Life of Small Kindnesses – Shane Parrish

You never hear, ‘George increased market share by 30 percent,’” (Arianna) Huffington said at a recent event at Soho House in New York City. What you do hear in eulogies, she says, are stories of “small kindnesses.” Interestingly that’s also how to get ahead in the workplace. In various now-famous studies in his book Give and Take, Adam Grant has shown that the most successful people in the workplace tend to be the ones who give selflessly to others without expectation of returned favors. (Of note: Givers are also at the bottom of the success ladder. Don’t let yourself get walked all over either).

In Thrive, Huffington argues that power and money have too long been life’s main yardsticks of success, and that we should measure our achievements instead by four new metrics: Wisdom, Wonder, Well-Being, and Giving. If the eulogy test is an indication, Giving is likely the most memorable of the four.

Entrepreneurship and Depression – Kyle Wild

The predominant work culture in tech startups today is a culture of overwork; it’s a culture that eats away at one’s time and one’s space. Most humans possess a psychology that requires taking breaks. Real breaks. Total disconnection from The Project At Hand. We are creating workplaces that reinforce the idea that taking a break is a bad thing; workplaces that systematically fuse the concept of disconnecting with the emotion of guilt.

We have to stop glamorizing the grind, stop the founder martyrdom, stop reinforcing the hero complex. Stop squeezing the lemon, when we should instead be figuring out how to build sustainable lemon orchards. Stop telling everyone to work harder instead of smarter, because we’re making their lives harder instead of making them smarter. And people are fucking dying from it.

The Cult of Busy – Dina Kaplan

Busy can become a way of life. We’re seduced by all the incoming – the emails and text messages that make us feel wanted and important — stimulating our dopamine, as research shows, but in an exhausting, ultimately empty way.

Busy has a dangerous allure. If your normal is busy, it’s tough to sit quietly with your thoughts or to really feel what you’re feeling. What if, instead, everything became a choice – how we spend time, who we respond to and how much or little we write? What if we recognized the difference between accomplishing our goals for the day and responding to other people’s requests? What if we learned to say no – a lot?

Busy should be a confession, not a boast.

The Disease of Being Busy – Omid Safi

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

I don’t have any magical solutions. All I know is that we are losing the ability to live a truly human life. We need a different relationship to work, to technology. We know what we want: a meaningful life, a sense of community, a balanced existence. It’s not just about “leaning in” or faster iPhones. We want to be truly human.

ReWork: Rethinking Work and Well-Being – Arianna Huffington

We are still paying a heavy price for conducting business as usual. According to a study by the Milken Institute, the cost, in terms of lost productivity, to the U.S. economy due to chronic, stress-related conditions like cancer, heart disease and diabetes comes in at a staggering $1.1 trillion. On the flip side, a study out of Harvard found that for every dollar a company spends on wellness programs, it makes back $3.27 in the form of lower health costs, and the equivalent of $2.73 in reduced absenteeism.

Click the link above to read about some of the ways that companies around the world (SAS, Etsy, Boston Consulting Group, etc.) are investing in their futures by investing in their employees.

The Top 10 Behavior Mistakes and How to Avoid Them – Sam Thomas Davies

  • Relying on Willpower for Long-Term Change
    • Willpower is a limited mental resource and the more you use it, the more it impairs your self-control.
    • Instead of relying on willpower to learn new behaviors, form what (BJ) Fogg calls “tiny habits” instead.
  • Blaming Failures on Lack of Motivation
    • Your motivation – like your emotional state – ebbs and flows; it’s unpredictable and when you do need to rely on it, you’ll often be disappointed.
    • You don’t need motivation to change, but what you do need are easier behaviours, ones that are impossible to resist. (Ex: Floss one tooth).
  • Believing that Information Leads to Action
    • Knowledge is not power, but knowledge and application is. An idea is only as good as its execution, so be sure to apply one new idea you learn.
    • Don’t be rational about change, get emotional; associate massive pain to not changing and pleasure to changing.

 

Three Procrastination Killers – Rohan Rajiv

  1. Clarity – Why do we need to do this? How must it be done? What must be done next?
  2. Momentum – Another approach is to start by checking small items of a task list so we build the “getting-things-done” momentum.
  3. Willpower – If all else fails, willpower is the ultimate weapon.

On Undecidable Tasks – Cal Newport

The ability to consistently complete undecidable tasks is increasingly valuable in our information economy. Because these solutions cannot be systematized, this skill cannot be automated or easily outsourced. Similarly, if you can complete undecidable tasks, you cannot be replaced by a 22-year old willing to work twice your hours at half your pay — as it’s not simply raw effort that matters.

Undecidable tasks are often really hard to complete. Because there’s no easy way to divide them into concrete actions you have to instead throw brain power, experience, creative intuition, and persistence at them, and then hope a solution emerges from some indescribable cognitive alchemy. And what type of effort supports such difficult cognitive challenges? Deep work.

I Need You – Seth Godin

Three magic words. They light up our brain, they grab our attention, they initiate action. Political fundraisers have turned this from an art to a science to an endless whine. So have short-term direct marketers with access to a keyboard and the free stamps of internet connection.

We used to have our ears open to anyone we loved or trusted whispering, “I need you.” It’s been overwhelmed lately, though, by selfish marketers shouting, “WE WANT ANYONE.”

 

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[Interesting]:

Quit You Job – Derek Thompson

Jumping between jobs in your 20s, which strikes many people as wayward and noncommittal, improves the chance that you’ll find more satisfying—and higher paying—work in your 30s and 40s.

“People who switch jobs more frequently early in their careers tend to have higher wages and incomes in their prime-working years,” said Siu, a professor at the Vancouver School of Economics. “Job-hopping is actually correlated with higher incomes, because people have found better matches—their true calling.”

And here’s one of my favorites, James Altucher, with 10 Reasons Why You Have to Quit Your Job This Year.

Better All the Time – James Surowiecki

Interesting read on how the “performance revolution” came to athletics — and beyond to other endeavors such as manufacturing, chess and classical musicians. The biggest change in performance over the past few decades—it’s not so much that the best of the best are so much better as that so many people are so extraordinarily good.

The ethos that underlies all these performance revolutions is captured by the Japanese term kaizen, or continuous improvement. This idea is more applicable to some fields of endeavor than to others—it’s easier to talk about improved performance in sports or manufacturing, where people’s performance is quantifiable, than in writing or the fine arts—but the notion of continuous improvement has wide relevance, leading to dramatic advances in fields as disparate as airline safety and small-unit performance in the military. Which raises a question: what are the fields that could have become significantly better over the past forty years and haven’t?

In one area above all, the failure to improve is especially egregious: education. There is one crucial factor in how kids fare that schools do control; namely, the quality of their teachers. Surowiecki points the finger at the lack of quality training they receive. While I whole heartily agree, I also think that the American education system is a model that beats the creativity out of kids. That teaches them that test scores, fitting in, fear of failing, and mediocre obedience is the key to success. (More thoughts here).

Masters of Love – Emily Esfahani Smith 

Of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages, as psychologist Ty Tashiro points out in his book The Science of Happily Ever After, which was published earlier this year. So what separates the masters from the disasters? How did successful couples create that culture of love and intimacy?

Psychologists found that the only difference between the couples who were together and those who broke up was active constructive responding. There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness. As the normal stresses of a life together pile up—with children, career, friend, in-laws, and other distractions crowding out the time for romance and intimacy—couples may put less effort into their relationship and let the petty grievances they hold against one another tear them apart.

In most marriages, levels of satisfaction drop dramatically within the first few years together. But among couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.

If you’re interested in improving your relationship with your spouse or significant other, I highly recommend learning more about “bids” in which partners demand emotional connection and involvement from each other — and more importantly the three basic ways to respond to these “bids.” These bidding interactions have profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time; whereas, the couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.

America’s Toughest Commutes, Charted – Zach Wener-Fligner

Nationally, Americans travel about 25 minutes each way to work. But there are 1.7 million people whose commutes exceed 90 minutes.

In addition to being a general drag, the slog has serious health and lifestyle implications. Longer commutes are associated with stress, pain, laziness, obesity, and divorce. They are bad news.

90% of Obese People Don’t Think They Have a Weight Problem – Lizzie Parry

In one of the first studies of its kind to examine perceptions of obesity, fewer than 10 per cent of those who are clinically obese accept they have a serious weight problem. Experts fear as bigger sizes become the new ‘normal’, people are less likely to recognize the health problems linked to their weight.

Obesity leads to an increased risk of: heart disease, many types of cancer, strokes, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, decreased worker productivity and increased absenteeism, infertility in women and many more. Not to mention the healthcare costs associated with treating all of these ailments. Approximately $210 BILLION.

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[Thoughts I’m Chewing On]:

  • Clearly, based on the articles above, it is how I can “work smarter” and not be so damn busy, freeing up more time to explore, create, play.
  • Also, on average, I spend 12+ hours staring at a computer screen. My eyes are mad at me… I’m considering a digital detox (for anything unrelated to work) at some point in 2015.
  • My wife read my monthly reviews (more on that process here if you’re interested) and prescribed more family, friends and fiction for me in 2015.

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[Quotes]:

“Two kinds of days worth living: Days of inspiration & of perspiration. If not having the former, make sure to have the latter.” @skinnerlayne

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you!” – @AlezandraR

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If you made it this far and found this post valuable in any way, please let me know in the comments which of these reads caught your attention. Better yet, why don’t you share something you’ve read recently that you think I’d find interesting.

If you like this post, you might also like this year’s previous installments: