Perfect Canvas

Never Lose That Feeling

When I was interviewing for the Happiness Engineer job at Automattic (almost a year ago!), the trial lead (the full-timer conducting my interview) asked why I wanted to work in the Happiness Engineer role. With my background in personal training and a short stint in online advertising, it wasn’t the most natural fit.

In response, I kept touching on a particular “feeling” that I had had when all the pieces of my original website fell into place. At that point, I had setup my own self-hosted WordPress install and learned just enough of CSS to be dangerous. While I frequently brought down my own site and had to call in reinforcements to help bring it back up, there was this moment where it was perfect. I had the right widgets, the perfect design, and the ideal canvas for my thoughts and ideas. Best of all, I had built it.

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Majoring in the Minor

If you’ve stumbled across the blog over the past few days, you’ve seen an absolute nightmare. I’ve changed the site design more than five times over the course of the past week. I just couldn’t make up my mind on how I wanted to present myself online.

Meanwhile, I haven’t actually created a piece of original content in over a week. I’ve completely missed the point.

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Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

—Howard Thurman

(via)

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James Clear on living a meaningful life:

There are people who make each day a work of art by the way they do their work. There are unsung teachers who shift the minds of children, garbage men who keep society running smoothly, grocery store clerks who bring a smile to the face of people in the checkout line, and unknown artists who create beauty for a handful of fans. It’s not about what you do, it’s about how you do it.

If you’re looking for an inspiring writer to follow, I would highly recommend James. Few people have perfected the right blend of psychology, science, and story-telling like he has.

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iPhone Comparison

A terrific breakdown of how the iPhone camera has evolved over time:

Every time I do this comparison, I am amazed at how far the iPhone camera technology has come. It has transformed the way we capture and share memories. With each new phone, we can capture these moments faster and more accurately with better quality images.

I’ve been trying to take more pictures recently in an attempt to pursue photography as a hobby. While I’ve thought about getting a more sophisticated camera (like the Olympus EPL-5), I always come back to the iPhone since I always have it with me.

(h/t Tellyworth)

Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes

Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock HolmesTitle: Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
Author: Maria Konnikova
Published: December 31, 2013

I picked up Maria’s book after reading nearly every column she’s written for the New Yorker. She does a tremendous job of applying scientific discoveries to practical, real-world use cases. I’ve quoted her articles several times in some of my published pieces including my article on reading retention.

Her book, Mastermind, was yet another shining example of how Maria can combine science and real-world application to help you improve your thinking in some way. Drawing upon stories from the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, Maria provides detailed instructions on how to improve your thinking. She touches on how to become a better observer and how to draw upon past experiences and elements in your “brain attic” (a collection of experiences and facts similar to Mozart’s bag of memories) to form better conclusions. The end goal is to ultimately make better decisions and avoid mental biases like the Availability Heuristic and the Confirmation Bias.

One aspect of the book that I found interesting was Maria’s instructions on how to separate yourself from your work. In a world of constant connectivity, being able to take a step back and involve yourself in something else has a direct correlation with your happiness and how well you’re able to solve problems. According to Maria, the best activities have the following attributes:

It needs to be unrelated to what you are trying to accomplish (if you are solving a crime, you shouldn’t switch to solving another crime; if you are deciding on an important purchase, you shouldn’t go shopping for something else; and so on).

It needs to be something that doesn’t take too much effort on your part (if you’re trying to learn a new skill, for instance, your brain will be so preoccupied that it won’t be able to free up the resources needed to root through your attic; Holmes’s violin playing—unless you are, like him, a virtuoso, you need not apply that particular route).

It needs to be something that engages you on some level (if Holmes hated pipe smoking, he would hardly benefit from a three-pipe problem; likewise, if he found pipe smoking boring, his mind might be too dulled to do any real thinking, on whatever level—or might find itself unable to detach, in the manner that so afflicts Watson)

If you’re interested in the science of thinking and how your brain formulates opinions and decisions, I’d highly recommend giving Mastermind a look.

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I loved Maria Popova’s breakdown of why creative work hinges on memory here, particularly, this part about Mozart:

Mozart, she notes, called this his “bag of memories” — a mental reservoir of experiences and impressions “accumulated during the childhood years of intense wonder, a source to which many creative people return again and again.”

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Reading List – Summer 2014

Awhile back, I made a commitment to read more books throughout the year. Many of the books I’ve read since making that commitment have formed the basis of articles that I’ve written. They are the prime source of inspiration for many ideas that I have on my list to write about right now.

I’ve always found reading lists helpful. I gather the majority of my book suggestions from podcasts or a collection of Farnam Street, Brain Pickings, or Ryan Holiday’s email blast. I thought it would be helpful to catalog what I read over this past summer in case I’ve read anything you want to pick up. If you’ve read something that was absolutely fantastic, please also let me know on Twitter.

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

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How to Make Better Decisions Based on Science

This post was originally written for the Crew blog.

2+2=

Unless you’re a cyborg, you couldn’t help but think of the number “4″ when you saw the above expression. In the same way, the partial phrase “bread and” leaves you with the word “butter” on the tip of your tongue. That’s no accident.

Our brains make thousands of decisions every day. Many of them (like whether you want cream and sugar in your coffee) seem to be automatic. Others (like where you want to go for dinner) can be a bit more taxing and require mental effort.

Research has identified two seemingly separate “systems” of the brain responsible for decision-making. In order to make better decisions, we need to understand what each of these systems is responsible for and how we can shift from one to the other.

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How to Become More Creative

This post was previously published on the Crew blog.

How many uses can you think of for a paperclip in three minutes?

If you’re average, you’ll probably be able to drum up 10 or perhaps 20 different uses. I came up with 11. The somewhat famous paperclip test was created in 1967 by J.P. Guilford as a measure of divergent thinking. It’s part of a group of assessments known as ‘alternative use tests’ which measure creativity.

Incomplete Figure Start

 

The above example shows a common incomplete figure exercise. This test asks users to complete the picture in each window. This is another test of divergent thinking, the more creative you are the more interesting the results tend to be (see below).

Incomplete Figure exercise

 

Creativity is often viewed as something you either have or you don’t. But that’s not entirely true, according to a study completed by Harvard, creativity is 85% a learned skill. That means we can improve. The question is how?

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