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Why Seinfeld keeps touring

My wife and I are going to see Jerry Seinfeld perform here in our hometown tonight.

He’s set for life financially, and his reputation as one of the comedy greats is already a lock.

But he keeps touring because he loves the work.

I wrote about this previously, but I love his craftsman approach. From a 2012 New York Times profile:

For Seinfeld, whose worth Forbes estimated in 2010 to be $800 million, his touring regimen is a function not of financial necessity but rather of borderline monomania — a creative itch he can’t scratch. “I like money,” he says, “but it’s never been about the money.” Seinfeld will nurse a single joke for years, amending, abridging and reworking it incrementally, to get the thing just so. “It’s similar to calligraphy or samurai,” he says. “I want to make cricket cages. You know those Japanese cricket cages? Tiny, with the doors? That’s it for me: solitude and precision, refining a tiny thing for the sake of it.”

When he can’t tinker, he grows anxious. “If I don’t do a set in two weeks, I feel it,” he said. “I read an article a few years ago that said when you practice a sport a lot, you literally become a broadband: the nerve pathway in your brain contains a lot more information. As soon as you stop practicing, the pathway begins shrinking back down. Reading that changed my life. I used to wonder, Why am I doing these sets, getting on a stage? Don’t I know how to do this already? The answer is no. You must keep doing it. The broadband starts to narrow the moment you stop.”

 

More music, more happy

My family recently upgraded our primary television and added a Sonos Playbar as well. It was an expensive addition to an already costly purchase, but it’s proving to be well worth it. (Remember: “The things you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get.”)

We use TV almost exclusively for streaming Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes, and it’s our kids who use it the most. But this new soundbar has us listening to a lot more music.

I’m no audiophile, but the quality of the sound from this Sonos soundbar is remarkable for just a single device, at least compared to what we had before.

And having great audio in our living room and the new Apple TV prompted me to give Apple’s streaming music service another try.

So, we are listening to music more often now, and it’s been a delight. We click on a playlist or album while having dinner or doing chores or winding down for bed, and it’s added a wonderful extra bit of joy to our home.

It turns out that Sonos has been doing research about this and is actively marketing results that show that listening to music out loud in your home has measurable benefits for the whole family.

Their study shows that households that play music out loud laugh more and have less tension. There’s a long list of other benefits highlighted by their research.

I know that turning on music makes us less inclined to retreat into our devices. Cooking and dining together are just more fun with music in the background. We find ourselves often singing along out loud together as we go about our evening routines.

You don’t need a fancy sound system or a sophisticated taste in music to reap these benefits. Just put on some music and tune in with those you share your life with.

 

Obama’s excellent advice: Focus on what you want to do, not what you want to be

The White House posted this video on Facebook last night of the President talking to White House interns. (ht Ryan Scates)

Here’s a transcript of his message:

“Worry less about what you want to be, and think more about what you want to do. Because this town is full of people who want to be a congressman or want to be a senator or want to be president.

And if that’s your focus, if that’s your moral compass, then you’re consistently going to be making decisions solely on the basis of how do I get, for me, what I want.

If you think in terms of what do I want to do? ‘I want to solve climate change’ or ‘I want to employ disadvantaged youth’ or ‘I want to fix a broken healthcare system’, then even if you don’t get to the place you wanted to be or the office you wanted, during that entire time you’re going to be working on stuff that’s real and getting stuff done…

Do great things.”

So good.

The question to ask yourself is not “What can I get?”

The question that will propel you the furthest and offer the most meaningful and satisfying course of action is “What can I give?”

It’s all about relationships

I somewhat randomly clicked on this TED Talk by Harvard researcher Robert Waldinger this week.

He has carried on the research in one of the longest running research projects of its kind, the Harvard Study of Adult Development. For more than 75 years data has been collected that has led to some clear answers about what makes for a good life.

Younger people tend to predict that fortune and fame will lead to happiness. That prediction doesn’t hold up.

Studying older people who have lived more life shows there is one key indicator for happier and healthier lives.

It’s actually simple and ultimately rather obvious. According to Waldinger and the study’s research, this is your ticket to a good life:

“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

It’s all about relationships.

Not only will you have a happier life if it’s built around positive relationships, you’ll live a healthier and longer life as well:

“The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”

Even brain health and mental function were notably better later in life for those who reported stronger connections in their relationships.

Waldinger closed his talk with this:

“The people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships—with family, with friends, with community.”

“The good life is built with good relationships.”

I think most people will say they want a life filled with good relationships, but how often are we intentional about investing in our connections with family and friends and community?

What if you “leaned in” to the relationships that matter most? Imagine making family and friends your true priority in the way you spend your time and where you devote your greatest energy and creativity.

If you want a satisfying life, career success and financial well-being should be subordinate to the strength of the connections you make with the people who matter most.

If you don’t have close friends, make some. If your family life is suffering, get busy making it better. If you don’t have a community that you support and that supports you, do something about it.

Life as a human here on Earth is ultimately all about relationships.

“There isn’t time—so brief is life—for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving—and but an instant, so to speak, for that.” –Mark Twain

 

 

A vast glowing empty page

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The next moment is unwritten.

The next hour, the next day, the next year—all completely empty and totally full of potential and possibility.

I routinely forget that I get to author my own moments. They don’t have to be the same as the ones before.

I don’t have to be the same and do the same things I’ve always done.

I can choose my adventures. I can be who I want to be and attempt what I’ve never tried before.

The unwritten moments unfolding before you glow with all that could be.

Or you could keep trudging along, oblivious to the possibility machine you truly are.

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Every day luxuries: “The things you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get”

I don’t know where I found this, so I can’t give credit. I clipped it as soon I saw it and saved it, but I failed to include the link. Maybe I was too excited about the wisdom imparted here:

It’s not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross. Do not “economize.” Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly insane. Even its champions are terrified by it now. It’s melting the North Pole. So “economization” is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.

The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don’t seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects. It’s in your time most, it’s in your space most. It is “where it is at,” and it is “what is going on.”

It takes a while to get this through your head, because it’s the opposite of the legendry of shopping. However: the things that you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get.

Amen.

I don’t need or want a lot of stuff. But I want the stuff I use often to be great, to give me pleasure in using it.

“Less, but better” is the mantra for me.

Kitchen tools. My razor. The furniture I sit on. The phone in my pocket. I want to delight in using these everyday things because I do use them daily.

One of my favorite purchases in the past year was this kitchen trash can. Yes, silly, I know, and expensive for a trash can. But it’s actually quite nice looking. And, even better. I love that it’s open, that there’s no lid. There’s no friction in throwing something away—no pedal to step on or lid to lift. Both its form and function are a delight.

I get a tiny tingle of pleasure (maybe microscopically tiny in this case) from using that trash can every time I throw something away. But those tiny tingles add up, as do the tiny pains of annoyance from using subpar or ugly things.

I appreciate the grace of great things, and adding more moments of delight each day or eliminating more moments of frustration or “meh” will make my days shine a bit more.

Adam Grant on what thwarts creativity in kids

This was an enlightening New York Times column by the prolific young scholar, Adam Grant. He highlights research that shows that too much structure and a rules-focused environment are not conducive to sparking creative thinking:

So what does it take to raise a creative child? One study compared the families of children who were rated among the most creative 5 percent in their school system with those who were not unusually creative. The parents of ordinary children had an average of six rules, like specific schedules for homework and bedtime. Parents of highly creative children had an average of fewer than one rule.

Creativity may be hard to nurture, but it’s easy to thwart. By limiting rules, parents encouraged their children to think for themselves. They tended to “place emphasis on moral values, rather than on specific rules,” the Harvard psychologist Teresa Amabile reports.

My wife and I certainly fall into that “average of fewer than one rule” category. I’ve worried that we’re terrible slackers and need to give our kids more structure, like an actual bed time or chores and such.

But, thanks, Adam Grant. We will continue with our rule-free ways.

I do think there’s much merit to establishing a general sense of values and a clear direction and then leaving it up to the kids (or your team or organization) to use their own judgment and creativity to figure out how to proceed on their own. This less controlling approach is more interesting and organic and just more fun, too.

Precise rules and micromanaging might get the results you desire, but it precludes potentially better results you didn’t imagine.

The best gift: Your attention

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I’m heading out today on a weekend getaway with my wife and daughters, trapped in the car for several hours together.

This will be a good time to practice giving my complete attention to the people I love most.

The aim is to turn off my mental autopilot that is great at creating the illusion that I’m paying attention. Our close confines will at least help eliminate many of the usual distractions.

Being genuinely present with others takes effort and practice.

When someone offers you their full attention, though, it’s a bit startling. It’s such a rare and wonderful experience and such a generous gift.

Imagine if that was what you were known for. It would be like having a kind of superpower.

 

More great public speaking advice from Nick Morgan

Nick Morgan keeps giving away solid advice about public speaking. If you speak in public ever, you really should be following his blog. (And his book, Give Your Speech, Change The World, has been required reading for my team.)

Today he posted an excellent list of twelve public speaking rules.

Rules three and four on his list particularly resonate with me:

3. By the end of the hour, you should be talking love. You get attention by identifying a problem and playing it up. Look at the current American presidential candidates; you’d be pardoned for thinking that Armageddon was around the corner if you took them seriously. But by the end of the talk, you should be covering what it is that you love and what’s working in your world. Long-term careers are based on positive trajectories, not negative ones.

4. You put your ideas out there; you can’t control what the audience does with them. It’s your job to present your case with passion. The audience has its own issues, and you have no control over the extent to which they take up your ideas or not. Success is making your case, not in getting the most votes – or even a standing ovation.

Indeed, “you should be talking love” as you make your call to action. What’s the point of standing in front of an audience if not to give them something you care about that can send them away transformed for the better?

It’s called “giving” a speech, right? Have a gift to offer. Talk about something you truly care about, that you love, and leave your audience with that gift, whether it’s awakening them to new possibilities or calling them to action in a worthwhile pursuit.

And Morgan’s fourth rule can be magical for not just your speaking events, but for all that you do.

Don’t be attached to the outcome. Focus on what you can control—your effort, your energy, your emotion, your authentic in-the-moment presence. The intrinsic rewards should take precedence over the extrinsic ones.

Give your speech with as much craftsmanship and energy as you can. Offer your gift. Then let it go.

Every audience is unique. Some may not give you the feedback you hope for or the smiling, engaged expressions that let you know they’re with you.

I’ve had audiences that seemed to just stare blankly at me only to find out later that several found the experience to be transformational.

Regardless, do your best. Give the audience all you have. If you don’t feel a bit drained when you finish, you probably didn’t summon enough energy or uncork enough emotion.

When in doubt, especially when facing an audience that’s not showing you the love, ramp up the awesome rather than scaling it back in self-defense.

Put out more energy, connect more intently, and be bigger on stage than seems reasonable to you.

Spread your love. Give your gift. And be content with that.

 

Take more time to do better work

The author of Deep Work, Cal Newport, has upped his activity on his blog in the wake of his new book.

Today he shared this quote from a book published by an academic in 1912:

“To save time, take time in large pieces. Do not cut time up into bits…The mind is like a locomotive. It requires time for getting under headway. Under headway it makes its own steam. Progress gives force as force makes progress. Do not slow down as long as you run well and without undue waste. Take advantage of momentum. Prolonged thinking leads to profound thinking.”

I’ve found this to be true for me. I would have a lot more profound thoughts if I more regularly carved out big swaths of time for focused work sessions.

Getting started on doing serious work, work that really matters, can be completely uncomfortable. And then sticking with a hard thing for the first 20-30 minutes takes patience and diligence.

But once the distracted part of your brain gives up and allows your mind to get into a focused flow, the work actually becomes a delight.

The key is having the will to trudge through the initial resistance and overcome the pain and friction required to get into a groove.

Be strong. Be patient.

Your best work is just past that godawful hill you’ve got to climb to get started.

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My two favorite books of 2015

The best book I read last year was Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s an effectively audacious survey of all of human history. It’s grand scale doesn’t overwhelm and is remarkably concise.

Harari fills the narrative with fascinating facts and profound insights (and some whimsy) as he details where we came from and hints at where we might go from here. This is one I’m tempted to read all over again to better process the many insights into what it means to be a human.

Sapiens_hc_c

The best novel I read last year was Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. It begins with the destruction of the moon by some unknown cause. Scientists soon discover that means the Earth is doomed, and there are two years to come up with a plan to save the human species by sending a select few into space.

The engineering details Stephenson describes can be mind-boggling and tedious. But the technical insight adds credibility to the grand and emotionally stunning, and ultimately satisfying, narrative.

I felt a persistent twinge of sadness as doomsday approached for Earth as we know it. Part two wasn’t as moving as the epic first part, but it offered a clever and hopeful conclusion.

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Sunday morning Stoic: Assemble your life yourself

Meditations 8.32:

“You have to assemble your life yourself—action by action. And be satisfied if each one achieves its goal, as far as it can. No one can keep that from happening.

—But there are external obstacles.…

Not to behaving with justice, self-control, and good sense.

—Well, but perhaps to some more concrete action.

But if you accept the obstacle and work with what you’re given, an alternative will present itself—another piece of what you’re trying to assemble. Action by action.”

It’s on me to put my own life together, to craft myself into the person I aim to be, to create opportunities worthy of my time here.

Don’t wait on others or on the right conditions or on a feeling you hope will propel you forward.

Just take action, whether you feel like it or not. And then keep acting.

Of course, it won’t go as planned. But act like the obstacles and setbacks you encounter are actually a part of your plan.

Don’t resist what is. Use everything, even unwanted obstacles, as building blocks in the creation of the life you are assembling for yourself.

Flow states and peak moments

IMG_0039Cal Newport’s new book, Deep Work, is doing some deep work on me. His challenge to focus more intently and work with more depth is hitting a nerve.

We are living in a shallow, distraction-filled age, and those who can defy the pull of the shallow and the frivolously urgent will be able to stand out and create more meaningful work.

And those who go deep will fill their lives with more happiness.

Newport quotes famed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who did groundbreaking research on what he called “flow states”:

“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

The resistance to getting into such a mind or body stretching activity is strong. But the payoff to overcoming that resistance could be the peak moments of your day, your week, your life.

 

John Gardner: Life is an endless unfolding

From the writings of John Gardner (ht John Maeda), who served in LBJ’s administration as secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare: 

One of the enemies of sound, lifelong motivation is a rather childish conception we have of the kind of concrete, describable goal toward which all of our efforts drive us. We want to believe that there is a point at which we can feel that we have arrived. We want a scoring system that tells us when we’ve piled up enough points to count ourselves successful. 

So you scramble and sweat and climb to reach what you thought was the goal. When you get to the top you stand up and look around and chances are you feel a little empty. Maybe more than a little empty. 

You wonder whether you climbed the wrong mountain. 

But life isn’t a mountain that has a summit, Nor is it — as some suppose — a riddle that has an answer. Nor a game that has a final score. 

Life is an endless unfolding, and if we wish it to be, an endless process of self-discovery, an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life situations in which we find ourselves. By potentialities I mean not just intellectual gifts but the full range of one’s capacities for learning, sensing, wondering, understanding, loving and aspiring. 

This has the flavor of Alan Watts’s comparison of life to music.

“Life is an endless unfolding.” Lovely.

It’s common to see life as a mission to get somewhere, a journey with a shining final destination somewhere out there just beyond the horizon.

But, you’ll never get there, because there is no there there.

The journey, of course, is the destination. You will never arrive.

Or, actually, you’re constantly arriving.

 

Paul Graham on the shortness of life

Paul Graham has a thoughtful post about savoring life and making the most of whatever time remains for you.  

“Cultivate a habit of impatience about the things you most want to do.” –Paul Graham

His message is a great reminder to ruthlessly prune the meaningless clutter from your life and get busy doing what you will look back on as truly meaningful. 

MLK and the long arc of the moral universe

 This is a fitting day to reflect on a couple of profound thoughts from Dr. King.

The first is on Apple’s home page today: 

And this one offers credible hope when the future appears dismal: 

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

No matter how bleak or infuriating human progress may look in the moment, we have come a long way. 

And in the long run, we will go even further. 

We will get there faster, though, if more people more regularly pondered the question in the first quote above. 

What can you give?

gift

It’s typical to start a new year with grand plans for your life, with goals and dreams and visions of a better you just around the corner of the next month or four or ten.

Well, yes, aim to get better and to fill your life with more meaningful pursuits.

But such goal planning can get a bit self-indulgent.

“What do I want?”

“What can I get?”

“How can I be happier, better-looking, richer…?”

What if instead you asked, “What can I give this year?”

“How can I contribute and make a difference?”

“What do I have to offer the world that only I can offer?”

“What is a significant problem I can begin to help solve?”

These questions spark in me a more engaging level of curiosity and enthusiasm than the self-focused questions.

Imagine winning the ultra-mega-awesome lottery jackpot. It’s fun to dream of what you would buy and to envision how the financial freedom would change your life. (For me, I’ll take a couple of Teslas and one of everything from the Apple Store and a long trip to Hawaii.)

But it’s even more fun to imagine what good you could do for others and for your community and for the world with a sudden fortune at your disposal.

It’s in giving and serving and offering something useful to others that we truly get satisfaction and joy.

Where can your voice, your creativity make a difference? How can you be distinctly useful? How can you help awaken possibility in others this year?

By focusing on what you can give, you’re also more likely to end up getting something more meaningful in return.

Imagine looking back on the year 2016 and delighting in what you contributed rather than in what you acquired.

So, if you’re feeling stuck or lost or you’ve abandoned your resolutions already, consider crafting your days around what you can give. 

*I couldn’t find the source to credit for the lovely photo above. Thank you, anonymous photographer. 

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