Sunday, 28 December 2014

Capping Shakespeare at 99

What's Shakespeare good for anyway? Why don't we just get rid of all his work and move on?

Well, it turns out, for plenty of reasons.

For one thing, people like Shakespeare's work. Millions of people get enjoyment from his plays.

Secondly, his plays have the ability to change audiences for the better. Studies show that reading literature can increase empathy and tolerance and improve social skills and theory-of-mind.

Thirdly, literature can allow audiences to change in their own way. This sort of change is likely net positive.

Fourthly, Shakespeare's plays are important cultural artifacts that say a lot about the society that produced them.

Fifthly, the production of Shakespeare's plays creates jobs.

Sixthly, now that Shakespeare is so influential and talked about, reading his work will let you see how he influenced other writers. Plus, you'll finally be able to get all the references.

Seventhly, Shakespeare had his own style and authorial voice. You won't get quite the same product from reading a different author or playwright.

Eighthly, reading Shakespeare's plays improves reading skills, which are very valuable.

Ninthly, reading Shakespeare can be a good stepping stone toward an interest in "intellectual" stuff.

These are all perfectly good reasons to support Shakespeare. They're also perfectly good reasons to support JK Rowling.

Then why does it sound wrong to put these two writers in the same sentence like that? Maybe each reason applies to both authors but they apply more to Shakespeare than they do to Rowling.

So Harry Potter teaches reading skills but Shakespeare's plays teach better reading skills? Harry Potter creates jobs but Shakespeare's plays create more jobs? Harry Potter has millions of fans but Shakepeare's plays have even more fans? Harry Potter is an important cultural artefact that says a lot about its environment but Shakespeare's plays are even more representative of their time? This doesn't sound very plausible to me. Maybe it's true for some of the nine reasons but some of the others are probably more true of Rowling's work than they are of Shakespeare's.

I think the reason why this comparison feels like blasphemy is that most people have another reason to support Shakespeare: Tenthly, he is a shining spiritual knight of creativity with god-given gifts of artistic splendidness.

Shakespeare has the "it" factor. His work is high in "artistic value," meaning his work has the properties that most people incorporate into their rubrics for evaluating artistic value. His work requires a high level of training and skill, it has proven to be timeless, it has high emotional impact, it contains profound ideas, there is high aesthetic value, and so on. These are the sorts of qualities people look for in a Great Godly True Artist.

But these judgments are (1) largely rooted in arbitrary facts of evolutionary biology, (2) largely affected by the idiosyncracies of your particular culture, (3) partly affected by your personal experiences, (4) partly affected by the context (lighting, mood, position, time of day) in which you experience the art, and (5) are virtually never made in any formal, coherent way but are instead blended together with a mix of intuitions and arguments.

We can definitely say that Shakespeare scores very well on traditional rubrics of artistic value, as well as any artist in history. But all that tells you is that lots of different kinds of people like his stuff. It doesn’t tell you about any kind of “real” value that transcends groupings of opinions. If we look at artists in terms of how much they offer the rest of us, the Tenth Reason starts to look pretty empty. Even if it was true that Shakespeare was orders of magnitude better than JK Rowling at each skill (which it isn’t), that still wouldn’t mean much in terms of what the two of them have to offer the rest of us.

If we look at art according to what it accomplishes in the world, the artists that entertain and inspire us most won’t necessarily be the artists that deserve the most praise. Just like how it feels better to donate to a specific face than to donate to a statistic. When you’re running on corrupted hardware, the outcomes that satisfy you aren’t necessarily the outcomes that should motivate you.

The reasons we use to trumpet great artists into angels are the same reasons we use to justify good-but-just-good artists existing at all. When we reduce artists’ skills and effects to their LCDs, there are no longer enough cracks to store the magical ingredients that make it seem like some artists are orders of magnitude more skillful than others. Even Shakespeare gets capped at 99 – at best.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

The EA Sports Model of Artistic Talent

When I was a kid I loved to play EA Sports's NHL 2001 on Playstation. In the game, you could play hockey, make trades, set line combinations, draft talent, and do other fun stuff that I can't remember because it's no longer 2001.

Every player in the game had each of their skills rated from 1 to 99. So a really good player might have had a 90 shot, 88 speed, 95 stickhandling, and 85 body checking or whatever. Just think of it like a report card. But they would also have an overall rating that basically summed up their entire report card with their average.

Had Wayne Gretzky been in the game in his prime, he might have had a 97 or 98 overall rating. The worst players in the league had overall ratings in the low 60s. Anybody with an overall rating above 80 was a player you wanted on your team.

I think that we should think of artists in this way too.

I used to believe that some famous artists were basically many orders of magnitude more talented and brilliant than other famous artists. Comparing a Hollywood director like Steven Spielberg or Ron Howard to the greats like Andrei Tarkovsky, John Cassavetes, or Ingmar Bergman was just blasphemous. It's like comparing Miley Cyrus to Bach! Or JK Rowling to Dostoevsky!

I would have told you that not even a thousand Spielbergs could equal up to one Tarkovsky because Tarkovsky is a true artist and Spielberg makes generic Hollywood crap.

I wasn't thinking like NHL 2001. Had I created a video game featuring famous artists, I might have given Spielberg a rating of 65. Then I would have given Tarkovsky a rating of 3,200,673 and Da Vinci a rating of 28,238,912, and Simple Plan a rating of 7.

I'm skeptical of any evaluative model of art that places a single artist as a thousand times more effective than his or her rivals - especially if the basis of that judgment is aesthetic or artistic value rather than social effects or some other objective measure.

I think the EA Sports designers got it right. Even Wayne Gretzky can't surpass 99 and even the worst pro players are above 60. This is how it seems to work in just about every other field. What's more likely, that human talent is especially variable for those fields where it's notoriously difficult to quantify success... or that human evaluations of talent are especially bullshit for those fields where it's notoriously difficult to quantify success? You don't need to worship history's most successful artists - or anyone else for that matter.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Implementation Intentions

Possibly because they have such a terrible name, implementation intentions (also known as if-then plans) seem to be pretty underdiscussed.

Basically, a shit load of psychological theories and models have proposed goal setting as the critical step in goal attainment. And it's not wrong that setting goals is helpful. But we also know that people commonly fall off the wagon when it comes to achieving the goals they set out for themselves whether it's because they never started in the first place, got derailed, kept plugging away at a sunk cost, or overextended across too many goals. Estimated rates of compliance with the advice of self-help material are under 50%. So even people highly motivated to change behaviours fail to put into practice the wisdom they've paid for. Obviously, there's some kind of disconnect between desiring achievable things and achieving desired things.

Recently, there's been a lot of research into an extra step in the process that has an even greater effect on goal attainment. Researchers have found that statements of the form, "I intend to achieve X" ought to be bolstered by if-then plans such as, "If Y happens, then I'll do Z." What these implementation intentions do is prepare for obstacles to goal attainment by contextualizing the goal-directed behaviour within the situation that it will actually take place. Making a commitment to attain a goal doesn't prepare you for the situation in which you'll need to take actions toward that goal. Unforeseen factors can throw you off if you don't consider the environment in which you plan to take next actions.

These have good track records at improving eating habits, increasing physical activity, following recommended relaxation techniques for reducing anxiety, enhancing influenza vaccination rates, and increasing voter turnout.

For each goal that you'd like to attain, consider the next action you can take that will get you there. For actions that you know might be difficult, plan a specific time and place in which you'll take these actions and prepare a response to the foreseen obstacle.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

De-Idealizing the Self

[This is a throwback post from my old, failed blog Rationalist Cinema Meme Catapult. It's a pretty big change of pace from my usual content on A Nice Place To Live.]

Hundreds of years after Descartes's death and long after most philosophers and scientists abandoned substance dualism as a realistic view of the mind-brain connection, most filmmakers still portray the self as something magical and pure, a kind of Cartesian theatre.

The perpetuation of this meme probably helps to re-enforce our culture of irrationality.

Selves are dynamic, malleable things. They evolve with age, and with life experience, but are also subject to moment-to-moment fluidity. This can happen either by choice or by manipulation from the outside.


Human minds are subject to all kinds of built-in biases that lead them to wrong conclusions. One of these biases is called "priming." Priming is when random events in your environment hijack your personality for a span of a few minutes.

For example, if I ask you to pick between two concepts (say, "banana" vs "glue stick"), an encounter with a third concept will influence your decision as well as the rate at you which you recognize the strings of letters as words. A glue stick is associated with arts and crafts, so a word like "scissors" or "crayons" might do the trick. All you need is to come into contact with this word and it will subliminally hijack your upcoming decision. The site of a box of crayons lying on a desk may prime your brain to think about crayons - and all of their associations - for the next few minutes.

People can also be primed with concepts or ideologies. A money-primed student is less likely to help a fellow student pick up the contents of a spilled pencil case, for instance.

"Anchoring" is when a random concept, especially a number, influences your estimates of an unknown quantity. For example, if you spin a wheel that happens to land on the number 18, and then I ask you how many teeth a raccoon has, your guess is more likely to be in the vicinity of 18 due to the spinning of the wheel. Anchoring effects have been shown to occur even when the subjects of the experiments are forewarned of them.

Marketers use tricks like these all the time to prime people for buying. Priming has even been shown to impact how people vote in elections.

It might sound scary to you that your decision-making can be manipulated without your knowledge or consent. But it gets worse. Not only can your personality be influenced by priming and anchoring for a few minutes, but you can also get stuck in a mindset that continues to influence you for years.

This is what Anna Salamon and Steve Rayhawk call a "cached self." It's the feeling of attachment people get to their self-image, causing them to make decisions based on what's in line with how they should act given their identity. People feel an intuitive pull toward their current self-concept and make arbitrary decisions based on how they "ought" to act, if they don't have their guards up.

The kicker is that once we perform a given action, be it sarcastically, dishonestly, unwillingly, or what have you, we are liable to adopt it into our self-image. Every action is a possible expansion of our identity, opening passageways that may be repeated and re-enforced at some later point. Just as a forced smile makes one feel happier, any random thing you say or do might hijack your self-concept for the long-term future. Often this comes in the form of the feeling that we need to commit ourselves to intellectual positions we've held in the past, to practice as we've preached, that changing our minds is embarrassing.

Learned helplessness is an example of individuals closing themselves to new possibilities due to an irrational allegiance to their cached selves. This is when people have learned that they do not know how to do something (like math) and then each time somebody tries to teach them that thing, they automatically feel that math is simply beyond their ability to understand. The individual's brain has tagged math with "too-difficult-for-me-to-understand" and the result is helplessness. This pattern has very little to do with math and a lot to do with the individual's mindset.

Conscious choice:

We do, however, in our limited way have some kind of "free will," even if our actions are constrained 
by factors outside of our control. I mean this in the sense that our behaviour can be predicted somewhat reliably based on empirical evidence. We have a "personality" or a "style" that makes us like certain things and dislike others, act certain ways but not in others.

Most people are consciously aware of their identity despite several cognitive biases preventing infallible knowledge of how they actually appear to others. Considering our self-image, we make active choices to appear a certain way. I might decide to dress a certain way so as to align myself with a particular subculture. Or to only drink Coke and never Pepsi, because that's the brand I want to support. In doing so, I'm weaving the narrative surrounding the brand name "Coke" into my own self-narrative.

Because that's what a self is. It's not a collection of atoms that can be found in the brain, it's an abstract concept referring to a mental narrative. As we consciously prune and expand our narratives, our identities, trying to become more of X and less of Y, we literally alter our selves. This process is a big part of being cool, being normal, being counter-cultural.

By combinations of intensional and accidental factors, our selves constantly fluctuate. I think of this phenomenon as the sculpting of identities.

Sculpting Identities:

So our identities are never quite sitting still. We consciously update them so as to create a desired self-image, but also we are manipulated without our consent by external factors, some of them arbitrary. 

People, then, are sculptors of their own identities. But artists also sculpt the identities of their characters (and simultaneously use all these characters, along with other elements, to sculpt their own identity).

Part of what makes life, especially social interactions, so complicated and scary is the instability of the self. Because of how neglectful Hollywood is of this fact, it is one of my favourite themes a film can have.

Ray Carney compares Mike Leigh's approach to mental identities to the typical Hollywood approach. He concludes that in Leigh's films, the characters are depicted from the outside, the way we see other people, rather than the Hollywood way of depicting characters: from the inside, the way we see ourselves. Hollywood films are worlds where characters are their intentions. There is no distinction between what a character is and what he thinks he is. The villain knows he is evil, the protagonist knows he is in love, the lawyer knows what he is fighting for. Everyone has infallible access to their own motivations, goals, and public identity.

Hollywood characters are not only marked by holding infallible knowledge of the contents of their own minds. Their minds are also transparent to the penetration of others. Characters can communicate telepathically with each other, their inner mental states only expressed to the audience through musical cues, costume, camera angles, and other formal techniques. The character doesn't need to express his mental identity. The director will tend to that. In many cases, two characters need just make eye contact from across the room in order for their Cartesian Theatres to exchange programs.

In Leigh's films, this is reversed. Characters struggle to understand their own motivations and desires, and thus fail in their attempts to express themselves to others. Leigh's characters don't communicate telepathically like the cop duo in Barton Fink. They flounder. They are real people trying to communicate without the aid of magical subjectivized consciousnesses.

Hollywood films pin down characters to static motivational states: character X is mentally ill, character Y is a rebel. This flattens out all the fluctuations of the conscious self, the awkwardness, the subtle facial cues, the mid-conversation course corrections, the tensions of everyday interpersonal dynamics. 

The vibrancy of the human mind is reduced to abstract categories. Lifeless, static categories. Carney says that in ironing out the wrinkles of consciousness and replacing them with lifeless, static categories, doing replaces being.

In the "being" version of consciousness, there is no such thing as sculpting identities. People simply are their clothes, their bookshelves, their cars, their jobs. Only in the "doing" account of consciousness do we see people in the process of sculpting and being sculpted, figuring themselves out even as they express themselves.

De-stabilization in Queer Cinema:

Leigh is not the only filmmaker with a de-idealized presentation of consciousness, nor does he have the only approach to de-idealization.

Queer cinema is a category of films that reflect the collective queer consciousness in their presentation of sexuality as something that is de-centered and fluid. These films refuse to define homosexuals in terms of stereotypes and social norms, instead portraying sexual orientation as something dynamic and consisting of an element of fluidity. Sexuality is often the focus of queer films, although it is not used merely to associate characters with pre-existing categories and thus align them with the stereotypes that belong to these categories. In queer cinema, gender is deconstructed as a response to dominant essentialist sexual identities in the media. Queer filmmakers are particularly concerned with avoiding or subverting normalizing depictions of homosexuals that reduce characters to the set of stereotypes that are associated with them. There is usually a more nuanced understanding of the divisions between heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality.

As you might expect, I tend to like queer cinema for its sensitivity toward the fluidity of identity and recognition of how essentializing categories can be limiting and even lead to conflict.

Throughout his career, the queer filmmaker Derek Jarman emphasized the humiliations and horrors of social interactions in a very stylized way. Unlike Leigh, he didn't place real-seeming characters in real-seeming situations. But unlike Hollywood, he didn't idealize communication or consciousness or identity. Rather, his stylized characters tended to be tortured, tormented, conflicted in their attempts to break out of the social roles that are prepared for them. His films are bubbling, boiling brews of politically motivated anger - but significantly, he stops just short of cynicism.

In my favourite scene of his movie The Garden, two men rip cotton out of a gay man's suit and stick it to his forehead. They laugh hysterically throughout the process, delighting over this simple act of bullying. They come off as primal little creatures and they're difficult to empathize with. Although the scene feels so full of rage, 
we still feel very intensely the gay man’s embarrassment and the stomping on his dignity, so even while the scene feels like a violent expression of hatred by Jarman, I sensed an affirmation of the dignity of man, the idea that people matter.

Jarman is not necessarily indicative of the entirety of queer cinema, but his de-idealization of subjective consciousness and static categories of mentality in favour of a de-centered portrayal of (sexual) identity is very typical of the movement.

Korine's Creatures:

Harmony Korine is not a queer filmmaker but he is influenced by certain memes that originated in queer cinema before being circulated into the popular consciousness. His characters are comparable to Jarman's, primal and pathetic, and unable to fit in to the pre-packaged roles middle America offers them.

The characters in Korine’s films are depraved mixtures of children and animals. Often this is shown through prolonged scenes where adults behave and argue like kids. In these scenes the characters are evidence of the banality of humans and their attempts to adhere to socially constructed laws and standards of conduct. All humans are losers and freaks that fail to live up to the social standards expected of them. In fact, it is the very attempt to meet these standards and become normal or cool that reveals a character as pathetic. The only places in Korine’s films where characters truly fit in is when they let go of all thoughts of being normal and accept themselves as freaks or else choose to live in the moment, substituting a self-conscious monitoring of the self for honest, pure experience. Every attempt to conform leads to unhappiness, like the novice Buddhist clinging to his earthly desires. For Korine every moment is an end in itself. Rather than focus on telling stories in the traditional Hollywood way, he focuses on characters and moments, trying to make every scene memorable. In these moments, characters reveal themselves, for all their oddities and failures, as being perfect the way they are, simply miscast for the part that's demanded of them.

As his work consists of primarily youth anthems, Korine pays quite of a bit of attention to detail when it comes to sculpting the identities of his characters. He is known for being an impulsive filmmaker, but in the script of Gummo he pays particular attention to how people dress, what shoes they wear, what brands they associate themselves with, even pinpointing which stickers they would have on their bicycles. He understands how people use brands and accessories to sculpt their identities, or how automatisms form identities in the utter absence of a self-concept.

Like Jarman's work, Korine's films are radically anti-Hollywood in almost every way. In regards to characters, he de-idealizes mental identities, highlighting the difficulties of really connecting with others or of even understanding oneself. His films show the frustrating constraints of social norms and conventions, welcoming those freaks - i.e. all of us! - who simply do not fit into a typical vision of society.


The self is an easily manipulated abstract concept referring to a mental narrative that is in constant flux. It is a highly complex entity that is not reducible to abstract psychological states. Great art will acknowledge this by de-idealizing consciousness and celebrating the dynamism of experience, especially in regards to social interactions. Most films don't do this and thus fail to understand one of the most fundamental aspects of our existence. Some filmmakers that avoid the trap of subjectivized, Cartesian consciousness are Mike Leigh, Derek Jarman, and Harmony Korine.


[This is a throwback post from my old, failed attempt a blog: Rationalist Cinema Meme Catapult.]

Neuroaesthetics is a new and still somewhat controversial approach to unraveling the mysteriousness of art. It uses neuroscience to understand the physical process of making aesthetic judgements. It is closely related to neuromarketing, which uses brain science to identify mass preferences and predict mass consumer behaviour.

The goal of neuroaesthetics is to replace our half-formed understanding of the relationship between a stimulus and the psychology it provokes with an understanding of the relationship between psychology and the physiological properties of the brain. Some early progress has been made.
The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is host to an interplay of various classes of emotions. For example, the medial OFC has been shown to play a role in making aesthetic judgments when subjects are asked to express their reaction to paintings as either "beautiful," "neutral," or "ugly." But there is much more to experiencing art than "good-neutral-bad."

Neuroaesthetics is offensive to some traditional aestheticians and art historians because it is reductive. I doubt most fans of art, for instance, would appreciate VS Ramachandran's list of 10 universal laws of art:
  1. Peak shift
  2. Grouping
  3. Contrast
  4. Isolation
  5. Perception problem solving
  6. Symmetry
  7. Abhorrence of coincidence/generic viewpoint
  8. Repetition, rhythm, and orderliness
  9. Balance
  10. Metaphor

Art culture is not fond of universal laws. Ramachandran's list looks like the start of a rulebook for calling some art good and other art bad. But we know that art is very difficult to explain or justify in quantitative terms and that attempts to do so are almost universally disliked.

For example, there are different kinds of viewing and one would expect them to involve different neural processes. One study draws such a distinction between "objective and detached" viewing and "subjective and engaged" viewing. There are also a million offer factors that affect an aesthetic judgment.

Brown and Dissayanake offer three serious criticisms of neuroaesthetics:
  1. Neuroaesthetics is based on a class of emotions that applies to much more than just art.
  2. Art appreciation and production use more than just aesthetic emotions.
  3. The basic emotion theory (BET) first proposed by Darwin is oversimple.

They also bring up that a neuroscientific theory of art must be able to account for all kinds of art, not just Eurocentric visual art, which is what the pioneers of the field such as Zeki and Ramachandran have focused on.

I think their second criticism needs to be taken most seriously. Art is a complex experience that involves many factors: self-awareness, mood, environment, cultural context, body positioning - almost too many elements to count. Aesthetic judgements alone seem to tell us very little about how people actually engage with works of art. After all, there could be - and I think there are - clashes between what's most aesthetically pleasing and what's most valuable or praiseworthy.

Brown and Dissayanake take 
Clore & Ortony's three-part categorization of kinds of emotions and add a fourth group:
  1. Outcomes: Emotions involved in the consequences of actions, often goal-motivated
  2. Objects: Emotions involved in responses to objects (e.g. aesthetic emotions)
  3. Agency: Emotions involved in making moral judgements of people
  4. Social interactions: Emotions involved in self- and situation-conscious social interactions

This alternate approach to understanding emotions is less simplistic and doesn't reduce art to aesthetics.

Useful as neurological experiments may be as the first building blocks of a one-day fully developed understanding of the inner psychophysics of appreciating art, the correlations drawn in neuroaesthetic experiments to date are the equivalent of taking a snapshot of the view outside your window and showing it to your friend, saying: "Look at this map I made of North America."

That Ramachandran predicts a galvanic skin response will be activated by a particular technique (multiple viewpoints of faces) used by a particular group of artists (Cubists) from a particular culture (European) using a particular medium (painting) seems to tell us almost nothing about how people actually engage with art.

This is why Brown and Dissayanake propose that neuroaesthetics be replaced with "neuroartsology," a field that tries to account for all the varied neurological processes involved in the viewing of art, rather than merely aesthetic judgements.

For the most part, neuroaestheticians are aware of the shortcomings of their findings and their limitations in describing art. But their field is a legitimate one - after all, there is nothing theoretically impossible about an inner psychophysics of aesthetics (or artsology) - and their experiments bring us a tiny step closer to an understanding of aesthetics that surpasses what we can do with rationality and intuition.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Summary of David Allen's Getting Things Done

This is a summary of David Allen’s Google Talk about his book Getting Things Done. The book teaches readers organizational skills and techniques for boosting productivity, achieving goals, and reducing psychic weight.

Allen sees the ability to get things done (GTD) as a martial art. It requires practice, technique, and control. It’s a very important martial art because it helps us accomplish whatever it is we want to accomplish despite the limitations of our evolved psychology.

Our brains aren’t very good at holding commitments. It’s typical for people to take mental notes of tasks to do later – and then forget all about them. The commonsense models we tend to use to stay on top of our many commitments and goals are flawed to the point that they are often disconnected from reality. Have you ever remembered something you needed to do (e.g. take out the garbage), felt bad about not having done it yet, and then done absolutely nothing about it? Our monkey brains say “taking out the trash sucks and I don’t want to do sucky things so I won’t do it.” But reality says, “taking out the trash is weighing on your mind and the longer you ignore it, the suckier the situation will get and the more it will continue to weigh on you.”

These sorts of thoughts and worries pop into people’s heads, doing nothing but stressing them out. There’s usually an inverse correlation between the amount something’s on your mind and the amount of work on that problem that still needs to get done. If you’re worrying about something, you’re probably not making progress on it. All of that other junk – those mismanaged commitments – steal your attention and energy, leaving you with little left to focus on what you really need to be doing. You have a finite amount of psychic RAM. Keep the amount of junk to a minimum.

Allen says that most people have so much mental clutter that it clouds them from engaging with present tasks and making progress. As a result, you usually aren’t available with your full resources to deal with your work. He explains that your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to concentrate. And your ability to concentrate is directly proportional to your ability to eliminate distraction. And most of these distractions come from mismanaged commitments.

If you don’t give enough attention to what demands your attention, it’ll start to take more attention than it deserves. So when things start taking your attention, handle them before they start to bother you even more. A three quarters full trash bag is easier to take out than an overflowing trash bag. Doing the work immediately is actually a kind of laziness – it reduces your overall amount of work and stress. (I once had a super productive professor that referred to this as “future laziness.”)

In order to get things off your mind, you must clarify and organize your commitments, and trust that you’ll engage consciously with those commitments at the right time and place. Most people are most satisfied with their jobs the week before they go on holiday. That’s because it’s a time of organizing, arranging, and making preparations. Vacationers need to make sure the neighbour’s picking up the email, a friend’s watching the cat, their clothes are packed, the flight’s booked, etc. If people did this weekly instead of yearly, they could feel a lot better and be a lot more productive.

There are two key aspects of self-management. Firstly, obtaining methods to maintain the right perspective is critical because things seem drastically different from different perspectives. You need to remember what’s important to you, what needs to get done, what your values are. Having perspective means that your ideas are aligned and clear about your decisions, directions, and priorities.

Secondly, you need to have control over your engagements and actions. You must have a “mind like water,” the ability to appropriately respond to and engage with whatever is present. Martial arts deal with surprise. You could be walking down an alley and four people jump you out of the blue. Now you must defend yourself. So when you train, you’re training yourself to better deal with surprise. Allen thinks that a lot of your competitive edge comes from this skill. When you want to apply for jobs but unemployment makes you so depressed that you instead just lie in bed – that is a loss of control. You have fallen off the wagon. But Allen adds that it’s as easy to get back on the wagon as it is to fall off.

Too much control and no perspective makes you a micro manager. High perspective and no control makes you unorganized. You need both perspective and control to gain mastery of your workflow. At this point, you are calling the shots and not just letting life happen to you, which is the default mode.

Five keys to gaining control of your workflow:
  1. Collect everything that has meaning to you (needs to be done, changed, or is in process).
  2. Process things – get them done rather than putting them off.
  3. Organize a reminder to do things that aren’t able to get done.
  4. Review your commitments and to-do lists.
  5. Do whatcha gotta do.