On repeat

In 1977, computer scientist Donald Knuth published a paper that showed songs move from complexity to repetitive dullness. 50 years later, it turns out Knuth was correct in his assumption. Pop singers are using formulas now more than ever to write their songs. And frankly, are not finding anything new to say. Instead, they are sticking to the script.

It seems the legends (and ones on the rise) use a larger vocabulary to write their songs. I don’t think that is a coincidence. But perhaps the biggest difference is each of these songwriters had the guts to say what they really wanted to say instead of catering to the masses and record companies.

The point is rock stars can also succumb to the pressures of the world and struggle to say how they really feel. It takes courage on everyone’s part to say something that will push back the status quo. To write a song that will make a difference and matters. Even though it can alienate some of their fans.

You can choose to repeat what has been said before or choose to say something important.

Skiing fresh powder

The point of skiing isn’t to get from the top of the mountain to the bottom. The point is to find fresh powder and to ski it as long as you can in search of flow.

Flow where your abilities meet the challenge. Where time is lost. When people are so absorbed by an activity everything else falls at the wayside.

This irony cannot escape me: there is no fulfillment without struggle. We live in a unique point in history. To choose to throw ourselves into adversity and not just take the easy path.

RIP Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

What do you look at increasing?

In our world of capitalism, the default answer seems to be wealth. But when is the last time we talked about raising the difference we make in the world?

More money is probably not the answer. Perhaps, it is time to have something ignite your very soul. To do work that is dramatically changing someone’s life. That is worth getting up for every morning. Not another digit in the bank account.

Improve efficiency towards what?

Work used to be measured by how much you carried in a day. The more you lifted, the harder you worked. Get a team together and you can move faster. Design a machine to create a mechanical advantage and you can be even more efficient.

In the last two hundred years, if you were more efficient than your competitor then you made more money and perhaps knocked the competition out.

But what happens when everything is cheap, instant and we could have every convenience ever imagined?

This mindset has moved into our personal lives. Become more efficient and you will make more money. Make more money you can have more time. More time to be creative. More time to spend with our loved ones. More happiness.

The question I have is why are you not doing those things now?

Because now when we have free time we’re too tired to do those things. It’s just one big giant rat race. We are working so furiously to be done and then have the emotional energy to do the things we want to do.

Flip that around. Do the things you must do for your soul. Write poetry. Sing a song. Take a jog. Do community service. And fill in your time with your job. Happiness isn’t found before you experience it. If we are not carving time to be happy, we will look up 20 years from now with regret.

Studies show 17,000 older adults in Greece saw a 10 percent drop in mortality by staying in the workforce for an extra five years. There’s purpose in the work. We just need to find it. We are missing the point of why we started on this path to begin with.

“Do no harm”

We have enough food to feed the entire world twice over. Yet, we don’t know how to distribute it. 811 million people will still go to bed hungry tonight and are not sure when they will get their next meal. Yet, ironically, the way we produce our food is also killing our planet.

It’s impossible to do no harm even with the best intention. The person who invented the ship also invented the shipwreck. We solve problems and create more in the process.

I like to alter the moto:

Do the right thing.

Harm reduction is a natural product of making the world better. The world is certainly in no shortage of problems. What we are in short supply of is people to stand up for justice.


When Radiohead started recording their follow-up album to Ok Computers, Thom Yorke had nothing ready. He confessed he was battling with writer’s block and said, “I felt like I was going crazy. Every time I picked up a guitar I just got the horrors. I would start writing a song, stop after 16 bars, hide it away in a drawer, look at it again, tear it up, destroy it… I was sinking down and down.”

Except writer’s block isn’t real. It’s fake. Sure, writers can talk themselves into thinking they are blocked. That what they have to say isn’t any good. Then again, we sometimes are so harsh on ourselves we might not be very good at deciphering what the market likes either.

It’s not like Yorke forgot how to write a song. He might have thought the songs he was writing were not the quality he set with Ok Computers–considered by many today as one of the greatest albums of all time. That’s a high bar to clear for anyone. We might write something that could be considered a masterpiece by only a few.

Kid A after receiving mixed reviews would later be named a top 20 album in Rolling Stone’s list of Top 500 Albums of All Time.

It’s frustrating not being able to convey what you feel–to get the words just right. The good news is we are not suffering from a condition with no treatment.

Each of us have 6,000 thoughts per day

Which comes to about 375 times per hour while we are awake. As a culture, how can we experience such a massive amount of thoughts and yet talk so little about them? I think it’s because we are afraid. Afraid of being judged for thinking a certain way. Afraid to share the weird.

Thoughts are a roller coaster. They seem to originate as chemical signals from the back of the brain sent for our prefrontal cortex (that has the capacity for language) to interpret. Yet, we are quick to judge them as either good or bad. No matter how much you want to avoid thinking about a pink elephant it’s hard not to have your brain picture one right now.

So, how much control do we have with thoughts? It’s less than what we are comfortable admitting. Will power and altering the environment can take you only so far. And we can’t help there are chemicals and biology at work. There might be things we would never rationally consider. Yet, here they are. Indeed, it is difficult to fight our very nature.

Everyone has these kinds of “bad” thoughts but by no means are we bad people for having them. Instead of amplifying the voice in our head, giving it power, we can try to let them pass. We can give them a label. “Thinking…” is a good one. In the end, they are just thoughts. Nothing more. One of many. And soon they pass by like clouds.

You are not the reaction your brain has when you are sad, angry, depressed, or even happy. Be kinder to yourself as they rise.

On a side note, this is why I don’t subscribe to this myth that we don’t have any good ideas. With 6,000 per day, you are telling me you can’t come up with one idea worth sharing to make the world a better place?

“This is fine”

We all live a life that is inconsistent. We believe in things that are impossible to prove or explain. At the same time we want to see more evidence of things we are skeptical about.

The problem with inconsistent stories is they may not be true. No matter how much we want to believe them.

And then you end up like this dog:

It’s complicated to solve difficult problems. Even more difficult to find solutions when we don’t think there is a problem to begin with.

[Remember, oxygen was here long before Carl Wihelm Scheele discovered it.]

We all start in the abstract

Every person that is learning to draw begins with a stick figure. With practice, your technique gets better. Until you develop a style.

Shame keeps us away from pursuing our dreams of becoming an artist. It keeps us from even attempting something we are curious about.

You can’t learn to draw a masterpiece unless you start with the basics. Vulnerability is the key that opens that door of possibility.

Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics

High levels of achievement

Tennis legend, Andre Agassi, has some insight on this, “Now that I’ve won a slam, I know something very few people on earth are permitted to know. A win doesn’t feel as good as a loss feels bad, and the good feeling doesn’t last long as the bad. Not even close.”

…That’s rough.

It’s true, achieving that kind of level of mastery is something only a few will ever reach. I can’t even begin to imagine the time, commitment and sacrifice it takes to be considered one of the best at a certain craft. Yet, when we become too attached to the outcome we forget why we are even doing such things in the first place.

Agassi also points out, “Freed from the thoughts of winning, I instantly play better. I stop thinking, start feeling. My shots become a half-second quicker, my decisions become the product of instinct rather than logic.

There is no substitute for flow. When you reach the top of the mountain, there is only one decision to make. Keep climbing. Perhaps for different reasons now.

Attachment is detrimental to our experience.