Law 28: Enter Action With Boldness

If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid. – Robert Greene

I am reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power [Kindle] for the second time. A selection of his 48 rules are in my personal bible. I’m a strong believer in re-reading and reviewing your favorite content. You always learn something new. Not unlike the way your experience evolves as you appreciate a favorite song or movie.

This time Law 28 really spoke to me. The power of audacity and boldness. Whatever your politics, Trump has it in spades. Softbank founder Masayoshi Son. Of course Elon Musk.

Here’s an excerpt from Law 28: Enter Action With Boldness:

Most of us are timid. We want to avoid tension and conflict and we want to be liked by all. We may contemplate a bold action but we rarely bring it to life. We are terrified of the consequences, of what others might think of us, of the hostility we will stir up if we dare go beyond our usual place.

Although we may disguise our timidity as a concern for others, a desire not to hurt or offend them, in fact it is the opposite – we are really self-absorbed, worried about ourselves and how others perceive us. Boldness, on the other hand, is outer-directed, and often makes people feel more at ease, since it is less self-conscious and less repressed.

[…]

Few are born bold. Even Napoleon had to cultivate the habit on the battlefield, where he knew it was a matter of life and death. In social settings he was awkward and timid, but he overcame this and practiced boldness in every part of his life because he saw its tremendous power, how it could literally enlarge a man (even one who, like Napoleon, was in fact conspicuously small). We also see this change in Ivan the Terrible: A harmless boy suddenly transforms himself into a powerful young man who commands authority, simply by pointing a finger and taking bold action.

You must practice and develop your boldness. You will often find uses for it. The best place to begin is often the delicate world of negotiation, particularly those discussions in which you are asked to set your own price. How often we put ourselves down by asking for too little. When Christopher Columbus proposed that the Spanish court finance his voyage to the Americas, he also made the insanely bold demand that he be called “Grand Admiral of the Ocean.” The court agreed. The price he set was the price he received – he demanded to be treated with respect, and so he was. Henry Kissinger too knew that in negotiation, bold demands work better than starting off with piecemeal concessions and trying to meet the other person halfway. Set your value high, and then, as Count Lustig did, set it higher.

Understand: If boldness is not natural, neither is timidity. It is an acquired habit, picked up out of a desire to avoid conflict. If timidity has taken hold of you, then, root it out. Your fears of the consequences of a bold action are way out of proportion to reality, and in fact the consequences of timidity are worse. Your value is lowered and you create a self-fulfilling cycle of doubt and disaster.

Remember: The problems created by an audacious move can be disguised, even remedied, by more and greater audacity.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

“The keys to life are running and reading”

will-smith-running“The keys to life are running and reading. Why running? When your running there’s a little person that talks to you and that little person says, oh I’m tired, my lungs are about to pop off, I’m so hurt, I’m so tired, there’s no way i could possibly continue, and you want to quit, right? That person, if you learn how to defeat that person, when you’re running, you will learn how to not quit when times get hard in your life. […] The reason that reading is so important, there have mean millions and billions and billions and gazillions of people that have lived before all of us, there’s no new problem you can have, with your parents, with school, with a bully, with anything. There’s no problem you can have that someone hasn’t already solved and wrote about it in a book.” – Will Smith

If you’d like to kill two birds with one stone, read the book Spark, about the power of – and science behind – running.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

Are we in a time of growing anomie?

Anomie is the condition of a society in which there are no clear rules, norms, or standards of value. In an anomic society, people can do as they please; but without any clear standards or respected social institutions to enforce those standards, it is harder for people to find things they want to do. Anomie breeds feelings of rootlessness and anxiety and leads to an increase in amoral and antisocial behavior. Modern sociological research strongly supports Durkheim: One of the best predictors of the health of an American neighborhood is the degree to which adults respond to the misdeeds of other people’s children. When community standards are enforced, there is constraint and cooperation. When everyone minds his own business and looks the other way, there is freedom and anomie.

We sure as hell don’t discipline other peoples’ children. Instead we vent and whine and shame bad parents on Twitter. Perhaps the social medias are today’s standards and institutions, stepping forward as governments and religions slide back. Both of these trends worry me, and I’m trying to understand why.

The quote is from Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis [Kindle]. I’m re-reading this book for the third time, and I’m learning more than the first two times combined. In the past I was happy by default, and now happiness takes effort. So I understand and appreciate his findings and suggestions in a new light. Similar to how you empathize with and are grateful for your parents as you start to adult.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

Tolstoy finds God: “I saw before me nothing but destruction, towards which I was rushing and which I feared”

I was put into a boat (I do not remember when) and pushed off from an unknown shore, shown the direction of the opposite shore, had oars put into my unpractised hands, and was left alone. I rowed as best I could and moved forward; but the further I advanced towards the middle of the stream the more rapid grew the current bearing me away from my goal and the more frequently did I encounter others, like myself, borne away by the stream. There were a few rowers who continued to row, there were others who had abandoned their oars; there were large boats and immense vessels full of people. Some struggled against the current, others yielded to it. And the further I went the more, seeing the progress down the current of all those who were adrift, I forgot the direction given me. In the very centre of the stream, amid the crowd of boats and vessels which were being borne down stream, I quite lost my direction and abandoned my oars. Around me on all sides, with mirth and rejoicing, people with sails and oars were borne down the stream, assuring me and each other that no other direction was possible. And I believed them and floated with them. And I was carried far; so far that I heard the roar of the rapids in which I must be shattered, and I saw boats shattered in them. And I recollected myself. I was long unable to understand what had happened to me. I saw before me nothing but destruction, towards which I was rushing and which I feared. I saw no safety anywhere and did not know what to do; but, looking back, I perceived innumerable boats which unceasingly and strenuously pushed across the stream, and I remembered about the shore, the oars, and the direction, and began to pull back upwards against the stream and towards the shore. That shore was God; that direction was tradition; the oars were the freedom given me to pull for the shore and unite with God. And so the force of life was renewed in me and I again began to live.

…from Tolstoy’s A Confession [Kindle].

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

3 books that changed my life and I hope they help you, too: Power of Habit, Spark, and Religion for Atheists

3 Books: Power of Habit, Spark, Religion for Atheists

In the last few years, there were 3 books that profoundly influenced me and together pushed me in a whole new direction, with respect to both life philosophy and career interests. As part of writing Habit Driven Life, a series of essays that I might turn into a book, I wanted to share these three life changers with you.

The first was Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit [Amazon aff]. Here’s my cheatsheet for it. Charles’s book taught me that if your life is a house, then habits are its brick and mortar. Brick by brick, layer by layer, habit by habit, you construct the building that is your life. Your creation can be a wobbly shack or it can be a rock walled mansion. It all depends on your habits.

The book was filled with mental lightbulbs. One lightbulb that shined brightest for me was a concept known as keystone habits. Like the keystone which is placed at the top of a stone arch, holding the arch together, keystone habits are behaviors upon which other behaviors rely. For example, in a group of good friends, there is often one person who does all the planning and organizing. Without her there might not be a group, or the group would socialize far less often. Keystone habits work like this. An example of a keystone habit for me is daily exercise. Every day that I can go for a long run, I am happier and more relaxed. I have a better appetite. I sleep better. I can almost feel the mental cobwebs being dusted off and wiped away with each mile.

After reading The Power of Habit, I began to think of a day as just a sequence of habits. If you haven’t programmed your habits, then your habits are programming you. Habits create outcomes, good or bad. If you don’t wake up early and feel refreshed, it’s because you don’t have the habit of going to bed early and sleeping under the right conditions (such as a very dark and quiet room). If you don’t build your favorite side project, it’s because you haven’t created the right routines in your schedule and in your environment to do so. If you want to accomplish your dreams, you absolutely MUST set the right habits.

Some of us are lucky enough to have good habits from childhood, learned from our parents or teachers or coaches. But everyone can improve their habits. And good habits, no matter how sturdy, can break, fall apart, require maintenance. Just like a house.

Building the right habits requires experimentation and patience and, above all, repetition. You simply make your bed each morning, morning after morning. A year later, one random morning, you’ll leave your bedroom and walk into the kitchen. You’ll have a moment where you wonder, wait a minute – did I make my bed? And you’ll walk back to your bedroom to discover that the bed’s already been made.

You, my friend, have got yourself a new habit.

It’s a great feeling.

Here’s aspiring comedian Brad Isaac telling a story about Jerry Seinfeld and the habit that helped him become the world’s richest standup comic:

He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.

“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”

**

The second book was John Ratey’s Spark [Amazon aff]. Here’s its cheatsheet. Spark convinced me that regular aerobic exercise could alleviate and cure almost everything that began to plague me in my late 20s: growing social anxiety, a sometimes depressive mindset, the heavy lethargy that enveloped me like a fast moving fog on many afternoons. The book provided just the – spark – I needed to get out of the house and run. And as I mentioned above, running has rewired my life.

Spark is the sort of book that’s like a wise grandfather. It tells you what you kinda-sorta-already know, but finally, for the first time, you truly listen. Your heart and soul open, and the book gets into you, and it tweaks and adjusts and cleans things like a mechanic.

**

The third and final book was Religion for Atheists [Amazon aff]. The author Alain de Botton asks, how can we live better by studying the world’s enduring religions? He submits, in convincing fashion, that religious traditions from Buddhism to Judaism are enduring sources of wisdom and self-help. I’m a big fan of Alain’s work.

As you study organized religions, digging through and within their infinite layers, you see that each tradition is a massive collections of habits. From prayer to sacrament, from weekly sermon to annual pilgrimage, religion-as-institution just might be the most enduring and comprehensive collection of habits we’ve ever assembled. Religion is belief, and religion is ritual. And ritual is a collection of habits, in much the same way a football team is a collection of players.

A devout Muslim prays at five precise times each and every day, in a highly prescribed and structured manner. What actions do I perform five times a day? Only the most fundamental ones: eat, drink, use the restroom, check my email. Talk about power and influence. Hinduism has been around for 4K years. What else but the most essential technologies have lasted this long? The written word? The wheel? Certainly not the oldest American corporation (DuPont, about 200 years old) or even the world’s oldest university (depending on who you ask, about 1000 years old).

Now of course religion can go very wrong. But so can any other set of powerful and lasting beliefs. After all, democracy and capitalism are two pillars upon which America today stands, but it was these same engines that propelled us to take our land, with violence, from the very people who had been living there, while also capturing and importing millions of others to serve as slave labor for centuries. Two enormous tragedies from which we’ve yet to fully recover. Both driven by, and justified by, the ideologies upon which we’re so reliant today.

But I digress.

Upon finishing Religion for Atheists, I downloaded and read the Bhagavad Gita, in awe of its lyric beauty and incomparable scope. I started to attend church, which is a fulfilling but not-yet-regular habit. I deepened my meditation practice. Slowly, most importantly, I began to have faith: not in a powerful, bearded man who sits high above the clouds and renders judgment, but rather in a force that is both far simpler and yet more magical. The simple belief that there is something greater than us in the world. By us, I mean you and I.

The single danger of life in a godless society is that it lacks reminders of the transcendent and therefore leaves us unprepared for disappointment and eventual annihilation. When God is dead, human beings – much to their detriment – are at risk of taking psychological centre stage – Alain de Botton

If Power of Habit gave me understanding and Spark gave me inspiration, Religion for Atheists provided purpose. I felt driven to understand and share religious wisdom, wisdom that has, for the most part, been isolated and kept within silos.

I believe we can and should learn from all of the religious traditions. Whether you’re Catholic or agnostic, Hindu or Wiccan or atheist. Many people are already doing this, even if they don’t see it as such. From yoga to meditation to pilgrimage, from vegetarianism to tithing to universal compassion, religious ideas and rituals are everywhere in modern secular society. And everywhere being rebranded and reinvented for reasons that are as difficult to explain as they are easy to understand.

So these three books: Power of Habit, Spark, and Religion for Atheists. I hope you browse them, I hope you read them, I hope you enjoy them or at least are challenged by them. And I hope you let me know. Thanks!

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.