My Daily Habits Checklist (September 5 – September 18)

Daily Habits Checklist September 5 - September 18

The first week was great. Anything above 80% is a win. The second week was ok save for Monday. I was some combination of hungover and sick and lazy on Monday and essentially took the day off. I might have accomplished a few things, but I chose to penalize myself and not color any of the cells.

Speaking of which, I’ve switched to colored cells! Thanks to Janet for the suggestion. Apparently it’s what Seinfeld does to write jokes. He colors a calendar box every day that he writes, and his goal is to not “break the chain”.

The colored cells are more pleasing and fun. Feels more like a game. And sometimes a change is good just for change’s sake.

Other updates:

  • this month’s Giving Habit went to GiveDirectly, which specializes in cash transfers to the poor
  • a new habit to practice guitar for 30 minutes each day
  • the back and neck exercises were combined into a habit called “stretching”

My morning routine feels solid, but I’d like to improve my evening routine. It’s pretty haphazard. I brush my teeth and floss and read books including my “personal bible“, but there’s no order to the activities, little regularity, and a lot of room to experiment, to optimize.

A friend inspired me to start journaling in the evenings. I’d like to make that a habit, a short review of the day and some free-thinking. Another small but useful habit would be to choose tomorrow’s outfit. (nothing fancy, I’m no Pharrell here, but doing this step would save me a few minutes of groggy morning indecision)

That’s it folks. Thanks for reading! Here’s an explanation of how and why I track my daily habits.

What habits do you monitor? Which habits would you like to develop? Email me anytime.

8 softly powerful excerpts from “the Living Buddha”

I just finished Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness [Kindle]. Beautiful and simple, a little crystal of stories and advice. Nhat Hanh is considered by some to be a (the?) Living Buddha. Here are 8 of my favorite excerpts.

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to talk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child – our own two eyes. All is a miracle.

Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves. Consider, for example: a magician who cuts his body into many parts and places each part in a different region – hands in the south, arms in the east, legs in the north, and then by some miraculous power lets forth a cry which reassembles whole every part of his body. Mindfulness is like that – it is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life.

To master our breath is to be in control of our bodies and minds. Each time we find ourselves dispersed and find it difficult to gain control of ourselves by different means, the method of watching the breath should always be used.

…a person who knows how to breathe is a person who knows how to build up endless vitality: breath builds up the lungs, strengthen the blood, and revitalizes every organ in the body. They say that proper breathing is more important than food. And all of these statements are correct.

Take the example of the Zen Masters. No matter what task or motion they undertake, they do it slowly and evenly, without reluctance.

…it is not just our own lives that are recognized as precious, but the lives of every other person, every other being, every other reality. We can no longer be deluded by the notion that the destruction of others’ lives is necessary for our own survival. We see that life and death are but two faces of Life and that without both, Life is not possible, just as two sides of a coin are needed for the coin to exist.

When reality is perceived in its nature of ultimate perfection, the practitioner has reached a level of wisdom called non-discrimination mind – a wondrous communion in which there is no longer any distinction made between subject and object. This isn’t some far-off, unattainable state. Any one of us – by persisting in practicing even a little – can at least taste of it. I have a pile of orphan applications for sponsorship on my desk. I translate a few each day. Before I begin to translate a sheet, I look into the eyes of the child in the photograph, and look at the child’s expression and features closely. I feel a deep link between myself and each child, which allows me to enter a special communion with them. While writing this to you, I see that during those moments and hours, the communion I have experienced while translating the simple lines in the applications has been a kind of non-discrimination mind. I no longer see an “I” who translates the sheets to help each child, I no longer see a child who received love and help. The child and I are one: no one pities; no one asks for help; no one helps. There is no task, no social work to be done, no compassion, no special wisdom. These are moments of non-discrimination mind.

The objects of meditation must be realities that have real roots in yourselves – not just subjects of philosophical speculation. Each should be like a kind of food that must be cooked for a long time over a hot fire. We put it in a pot, cover it, and light the fire. The pot is ourselves and the heat used to cook is the power of concentration. The fuel comes from the continuous practice of mindfulness. Without enough heat the food will never be cooked. But once cooked, the food reveals its true nature and helps lead us to liberation.

A Habit Driven Book

So you can probably tell that I’m obsessed with habits: this website name, my daily checklists, the notes on TED talks and nonfiction books…

It’s about to get worse! :P

I’m now writing a book about habits. To be called The Habit Driven Life. The name is inspired by Rick Warren’s bestseller The Purpose Driven Life, which is about how to live a good, meaningful, Christian life. I think having a purpose is great. Purpose is like a destination. And habits are the vehicle that gets you there.

Originally I had started a project called “The Soul Habit“, a book about how we should study all the world’s major religion to improve our lives. And I still want to write that book. But I realized I was getting ahead of myself. The Soul Habit is really step two. And a Habit Driven Life is step one. I first need to explain why habits run our lives, and how we can build good habits to achieve our dreams, whatever they might be: running a marathon, starting a business, becoming an early riser :)

One will rarely err if extreme actions be ascribed to vanity, ordinary actions to habit, and mean actions to fear. – Nietzsche

Thanks for following along. More to come!

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny. – Lao Tzu

The 3 ways in which religion tries to meet our deepest needs

Ok, technically, Professor Roberto Unger calls them “the 3 religious orientations to the world”.

In his view, the major religious traditions fall into one of 3 groups. These groups have separate and distinct ways to understand our world and our individual and collective purposes within.

I came upon his theory in the below YouTube video and had the proverbial mind-blown moment (actually, moments, very plural) and was compelled to share:

I can only give a very simple, laymen’s description of his system, but I think you’ll find it fascinating.

The 3 orientations are:

1. Overcoming the world = Buddhism
2. Humanizing the world = Confucianism
3. Struggling with the world = Christianity

Or as I think of them:

Buddhism = Air (floats away, detaches, avoids)
Confucianism = Water (works around, negotiates, softens)
Christianity = Fire (changes, transforms, engages)

Buddhism teaches you to overcome the world. Buddha thinks the ultimate goal of a person’s life is to go beyond the world, to detach and remove yourself and rise above the suffering, the emotions, the vicissitudes of daily existence. Through this process you will reach nirvana. That’s why I compared Buddhism to air. It floats, it’s there, but you can hardly feel it.

Confucianism humanizes the world. What matters to Confucius is our society and its system of roles and responsibilities, created and maintained by us. There are 5 big roles in Confucian thinking: parent-child, older sibling-younger sibling, ruler-subject, husband-wife, and older friend-younger friend. What gives life purpose and meaning is to perform our given roles as well as we can. In a sense, life is a play, and our job is to know our character’s responsibilities and perform them well. That’s why I see Confucianism as water. It’s about flow and harmony and respect.

Christianity struggles with the world. Professor Unger believes this orientation (if not Christianity itself) will grow in prominence relative to the previous two. Struggling with the world is about effort, engagement, and conflict. It says, life can be better, but it is up to us to make it so. That’s why I see this orientation as fire: fire transforms, fire burns hot, fire can destroy a forest but in so doing can also nurture life and provide warmth and cook food.

So if we think about the world’s enduring religions, where do Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism fit in? I didn’t even know people saw Confucianism as a religion or a spiritual orientation, but I’m sure Professor Unger has a good answer to that. I should ask him…

Notes from Sam Harris’s interview of Will MacAskill

Here’s the episode, it’s fantastic and dense and requires a more attentive listen than your average podcast:

I wanted to share a few particularly powerful comments:

  • Obligation versus Opportunity paradox: an obligation is when you have the moral imperative to help a person or cause because your life is better, which doesn’t seem to convince either Sam or Will. An opportunity is when you help because you’ll feel better and improve your reputation as a result, and this is more convincing to both. Will’s Effective Altruism movement is based on this
  • 90/10 problem: 90% of r&d funds are spent on 10% of humanity’s problems. For example, Will mentions male pattern baldness as an example of a problem that attracts a lot of research dollars but it mostly affects a small, well-off minority, while new antiobiotics aren’t being invented because the profit motive isn’t there
  • Will describes patents as “two wrongs trying to make a right”. Very interesting. The first wrong is that companies can’t capture the full market value of their r&d, and the second wrong is to grant a legitimate monopoly in the form of patents and hope the two failures cancel each other out