Category: Thoughts

Short book review: Atomic Habits

I recently finished reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. For me, it served as a good collection of many “productivity” tactics I’ve read over many years.

Sadly, the mere act of reading this book won’t magically solve your problems. The book is only a recipe. And reading is only step 0 on your journey to build better habits.

This isn’t one of those books that give you a ton of benefit only by reading them. In other words, it didn’t completely transform my thinking. Maybe it will for you, though.

Don’t get me wrong—I did enjoy the book and I certainly learned new things from it. But I’ll only be able to say whether or not this book is great after I’ve tried following its recipe. And it seems like a good recipe indeed.

Interestingly, I enjoyed that last few chapters that focused on self-knowledge more than the actual tactics about building habits, so make sure to stick around until the end of the book. Or if you get bored and decide to abandon the book, try jumping forward to chapters 18 & 19 and see if there’s something you like in there.

Here’s the takeaway for you, dear reader: if you care about self-improvement at all, you should probably read this book and try to follow its recipe. Maybe it’ll be a transformational book for you, or maybe it won’t be. But it’s a short, easy read and it’ll be time well-spent.

If you don’t like reading, I can also recommend the audiobook version of this book, which is how I ‘read’ the book. It’s read by the author himself, which isn’t always a good thing—lots of authors just aren’t good narrators—but James Clear did a good job of reading his own book.

Skills vs meta-skills

For the longest time, I’ve wondered why education systems don’t focus on teaching essential skills like good interpersonal communication, logic, the art of presenting, persuasion, developing continuous self-awareness, knowing how to receive any type of feedback and knowing how to give good feedback, effective reading, …

The answer—I just realized—is very simple. What I had thought of as skills are actually better described as meta skills.

What’s the difference?

A skill is something you can get paid to practice: sales, marketing, programming, photography, etc.

On the other hand, no one will pay you to be self-aware or to know how to be good at receiving/giving feedback.

The reason we’re not taught meta skills is because it’s hard to put a direct dollar value on them.

So they teach us the stuff (skills) that companies want to hire us for. But not the stuff (meta skills) that will make us successful at literally any job we end up taking.

If you, like me, haven’t been taught these skills in school—it’s not too late. Start now. You’ve gotten this far without them. Which is great—in a way. Because once you have them, there will be no stopping you!

Happy learning.

Austin Kleon on daily blogging

I had forgotten how wonderful blogging is as a mode of thinking. Blogging is, for me, more about discovering what I have to say, and tweeting more about having a thought, then saying it the right way.

Once I started daily blogging, not only did I have more to link to, it’s actually better stuff

Daily, just consistent, blogging is something I’ve been wanting to achieve for so long, but building new habits is hard.

Ever since I came across the “writing is thinking” mentality, I’ve been a strong believer in it. Writing forces you to put thoughts to words, and when you try to do so, you’re forced to think something through. Sometimes you discover that your thought didn’t make sense, other times you flesh it out more and develop it further.

If you’ve toyed with the idea of blogging but haven’t jumped in yet, or if you’ve never considered it before, I recommend you read Austin Kleon’s full post. It’ll only take you a couple minutes to read and you’ll be happy you read it. Trust me.

Look Here

One Day You’ll Be Dreaming Of Something You Have Now:

Work toward your goals and your dreams, but remember that one day you’ll be dreaming of something you have now. It may be your youth, or your health, or a lost loved one, etc. We will lose things along the way.

A good reminder to snap out of being so obsessed with the chasing the future that we don’t enjoy the things that will not be with us in that supposed happy future.

Thoughts on peace of mind vs. desire for progress

Amr Khalifeh - Post Image

I’m a big proponent of always trying to know myself better. For example, studying the things that upset me and knowing why they affect me in such a way, finding out about my weaknesses, and so on. If you’ve ever tried to learn about how your mind works, how to be mindful and in control of it, you’ve likely come across this piece of wisdom in some form or another: desire is the source of misery.

If you give it some thought, you find that it makes sense. In most cases, if not all, we’re upset because there’s something we want that we don’t have: money, love, success, free time, etc. My mistake was in making & adopting the following conclusion: if desire equals misery, I should strive to limit my desires as much as possible. But of course, that’s easier said than done.

But why was that the wrong conclusion to make? Well, recently, I made the mistake of wanting something too much, and I failed to get it. I had made it such an important part & goal of my life that when I failed to get it, it impacted me tremendously. I was in so much pain and it felt like a big part of me had collapsed. Only then did I realize that I hadn’t been applying the lesson of limiting my desires. So I tried to reapply it. But since I had been burned by my recent desire, I ran as fast as I could to the other extreme of no desires at all!

That turned into a kind of depression. I lost all motivation to do anything. Like, what’s the point? If it’s best to not want anything, then I don’t really care about making progress on anything. Yes, that sounds silly, I know. But I was still rebounding from the initial impact of my failure. Shortly after, my senses started coming back to me. I remembered that living without wanting anything is just not realistic. Life without progress, no change, would quickly drain the will to live out of its owner. We all want progress on something: career, relationships, mindfulness, spirituality, etc.

So how do you reconcile these two things: not becoming miserable by your desires but also be motivated enough to make progress towards things you desire? The answer in retrospect is obvious: like most things in life, it’s a balance. But how do you get that balance right in your mind? Different people do achieve it in different ways. Personally, I’m a man of faith. I believe that if I work hard & work mindfully, Allah will take care of the rest. Half work, half faith. My faith helps me keep my peace of mind while also pursuing progress on things I want, and without becoming enslaved by my wants & desires. Now since I’m not perfect (gasp!), I lost sight of that and had to relearn it. But hope I’m getting back on the right track.

All the best,

Repeating Priorities, Not Excuses

I find that most people, me included, are skilled at tricking our minds into thinking we don’t have control over the things standing between us and the things we desire. The trick behind it: excuses.

We’re not even very creative with our excuses. Take exercise, for example. Most people who claim they wish to more fit/healthy cite some the following as excuses: too tired today, the weather is not ideal, no budget for gymno time (this is easily the biggest one). But when you take a moment and think about it, it’s not really about the excuses. If exercise was a real priority, you would’ve exercised even if all the conditions weren’t ideal. But until you take the time to think about what your priorities are, and in what order they rank, your mind will simply jump to the usual list of excuses.

Thinking about your priorities actively, rather than merely reacting to what each day throws into your lap, will not only give you clarity about what truly matters at any given point of your life, but it also makes you face some truths about what you cannot do, because it simply didn’t rank high enough for you to make the time for it. I’ve always said: I wish I could play the piano. In reality, I could start learning, but when I sit down and think about the time investment it would take, I’ve yet to justify prioritizing piano playing over what my current priorities are. Luckily, priorities change with time, so there’s always hope. But at least now I don’t feel that I’m not learning the piano out of laziness, rather it’s the reality that there are more important things for me to focus on right now.

Finally, by repeating priorities instead of excuses, it works as a natural reminder to re-examine those priorities and see whether new priorities should be set, or whether some re-ordering is needed.

The video below by AsapTHOUGHT goes into this with a more amusing description of the problem.

The Marvel of Creation (Set 1)

Amr Khalifeh's image of jellyfish 1

The Marvel of Creation is a series of posts, each containing an image or set of images that make me stand in awe at the sublime creations of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. This is the first set.

Looking at those jellyfish, I could help but stop and think how such a simple looking organism could be a living thing that has moves about at its will. How could something so sparse and translucent be more than an inanimate object?

Amr Khalifeh's image of jellyfish 2

When things like those jellyfish make you stop and think for a few moment, you might be lucky enough to pause long enough and remember how little we know about the world, and how much that will never be known or discovered.

Amr Khalifeh's image of jellyfish 3

Subhan Allah…

We all like to think that we’re rational adults, that we evaluate things based on facts before concluding with a judgement. But that false belief couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Yes, while some can be more disciplined others in their mental evaluations of things, situations, and people, we cannot fully escape the effect our body chemistry has on our thinking.

I’m not going to try and summarize the School of Life video linked below because it’s not long anyway and you should watch it. But I do wish to highlight this: while knowing some imperfect traits about ourselves doesn’t automatically mean that we’re never going to make those mistakes again, the fact that we now know means we can at least recognize when it happens and try to counterbalance its effect. In this case, when you find yourself judging a situation or person while you’re tired, angry, sad, keep a mental note to come back to your judgement later on and see if you still come up with the same conclusion.

Why is ‘follower’ a bad word?

In the Big Think video below, Simon Sinek, talks about vision and how we now live in a world where everyone is pressured to have a novel, exciting vision if they want to be considered a valued player in our world’s economy.

He argues that not everyone needs to come up with an original vision and that it’s fine to be a follower of someone else’s vision. After all, if everyone is encouraged to be a leader, then who’s left to be led? Now at some point, being a follower has become a bad thing. It probably has to do with our simple minds focusing on the spotlight because we can’t focus on everything at the same time. So we reserve most of our attention and admiration to those in the spotlight, such as leaders/visionaries.

However, just because our minds tend to fall for a simplistic view of the world (because it’s easier & more glamorous), it doesn’t mean that this is the way the world actually works. People who are considered followers can & do lead gratifying lives and be just as proud of their work as anyone else. It may sound obvious, but sometimes we forget obvious facts when the world around us keeps trying to force a certain idea into our minds.

With all that said, Sinek does talk about the important of having a direction. Because while you don’t necessarily need to be a leader to achieve great things, you do need to have a direction in order to reach a specific destination; otherwise, you’re likely to be stumbling around and not making the best use of your time & energy.

Speaking from personal experience, finding direction isn’t easy either. When you have a wide field of interests, having to choose one over the all other paths that you believe you’ll love is very difficult and feels limiting. Everyone says that a jack of all trades is a master of none, but I’ve come to learn that while that is true, someone can find a lucrative balance. But the way to get to that balance can’t be to pursue many directions at once, unless you’re a super-human, then good on you! The better way to pursue multiple interests is to tackle them one by one, reaching what you consider a good depth in each before moving on to the next.

Traits to Shoot For

Another great video from The Schools of Life YouTube channel. However, while the video comments the 10 commandments, I believe that Islam’s teachings are not bound by time, and should never be replaced. I just felt the need to point that out to not be mistaken for believing that old religious teachings (Islam, specifically) should be replaced. I agree with all the points mentioned in the video, and I think we should strive to have them in addition to the old teachings, not as replacement.