Ben, doing some intense kite-surfing. You cannot see the storm he was entering at that moment. I suspect it was a wild ride.

A big inspiration for me is my friend Ben. You look at him and you always see him doing interesting things: Learning new languages, acquiring craft skills, joking with strangers, working weird jobs, you name it. And you can see how he profits from it.

Don’t get me wrong here. Ben is a very laid-back person. He doesn’t stress out. But still you can see how he’s getting better at stuff. For me, that certainly entails a notion of interestingness.

Once I asked him how he manages to do it. He told me this:

“No matter what I do, I always do it as intense as I can.”

Now wait: I know this sounds abhorrent.

Intense.

You think of the guy you met at that cocktail party yesterday. He got pretty intense. What a sucker…

But wait.

That’s not what this is about.

I really think that Ben has a point.

We all wish for life to be comfortable. And often enough, it is. But if becomes too comfortable, it can get boring: Things get stale. We don’t learn anything new anymore. We get covered in dust because we’re not moving away from the sofa anymore.

This is a moment when it pays off to consciously make things a little harder for yourself.

Fun, The Hard Way?

How do you do stuff “as intense as you can”?

I’m certainly not the inventor of the concept, but to me it looks something like this:

You’re afraid to drive on icy roads? Doesn’t have to stay like that.

Just free up some time when road conditions are bad, take out your car, and go for a ride. Drive very slowly, without any pressure. Go somewhere where there isn’t any traffic, like an empty parking lot. Then start playing: Slide around a bit. Do a handbrake turn. See how your tires and brakes behave on the ice. Learn what they can cope with. Learn where they fail. Go to that point, and then go a tiny bit further. You’re in a safe environment, after all. What’s the worst that could happen? Try to experience how it feels to lose control – and what you can do to get it back.

There’s one obvious benefit to doing this: The next time you have to drive on icy roads, you’ll be prepared. But there are  two other benefits that might be less obvious: Learning things the hard way – but in a playful manner – is a lot of fun. It also builds confidence.

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Play some Buzkashi. Or, like, whatever. Just do something.
[This is my fourth Moderate Proposal for Daunting, Delightful and Dilettantish Deeds to Pursue in 2014. See the introduction, part 1, part 2 and part 3.]

I’m an idler. Sometimes, I prefer staying in bed over doing new things. But when there isn’t nice company in bed, doing new things is often more interesting. As I still deem interestingness to be a good thing, I figured pursuing it more consciously would be a nice proposal for 2014.

Superhuman Passivity

Pursuing interestingness means (occasionally) overcoming our desire to stay in bed and watch Netflix. Reasons to do so, there are plenty. Remember this brilliant column by George Monbiot:

How did we acquire this superhuman passivity? […]

Almost universally we now seem content to lead a proxy life, a counter-life, of vicarious, illusory relationships, of secondhand pleasures, of atomisation without individuation. Those who possess some disposable income are extraordinarily free, by comparison to almost all our great-grandparents, but we tend to act as if we have been placed under house arrest. With the amount most of us spend on home entertainment, we could probably buy a horse and play buzkashi every weekend. But we would rather stare at an illuminated box, watching other people jumping up and down and screaming. Our political constraint is one aspect of a wider inhibition, a wider failure to be free.

Call me pathetic, but I think Monbiot has a point here: Our passivity is directly related to our lack of freedom. And while I don’t spend a lot on home entertainment, I definitely think it wouldn’t hurt to play more buzkashi. Metaphorically, you know.

Maybe not every weekend.

But at least every once in a while.

Pressure

I’m no productivity guru, so I don’t want my proposals to become stressful.

Thankfully, there’s an easy way to avoid overwhelm, reflected in this Metafilter post on how to figure out your life goals. What stuck with me there is the suggested approach of implementing things on a minimalist level, even when that might look piffling:

If there’s anything that you can do right away – do it! And do it more often – maybe one of the details of your perfect day is “brewing a cup of coffee that I’d ground from whole beans fresh”, and up to this point you’ve been making do with Maxwell House. If that’s the case, all you’d need to do is get a coffee grinder and start buying whole bean coffee instead. Even though that’s only a small detail, go ahead and do it right away – you’ll be that tiniest bit closer to what you want for yourself, and that’ll be that tiniest bit of a boost for your mood.

As with anything, taking baby steps is a smart approach. Traveling to Afghanistan, meeting a group of warlords, mounting a horse for the first time and attempting to drag a goat carcass toward a goal looks like a bit of a challenge. I might just start by visiting a pony yard.

What about a measure?

Measuring interestingness is a hard thing to do and I wouldn’t freak out about it. Here are a few pointers I came up with:

  1. Different people have different interests. Maybe I prefer buzkashi while you’re all about football. The good thing is that it doesn’t matter: Interestingness is measured best by how we personally feel about it. If something is interesting to you, that’s all you need.
  2. New experiences are often more interesting than well-known ones. But then, achieving mastery1 in something can be interesting as well. As for me, I’ll simply aim for something else than same-old for starters.
  3. Active rather than passive: To pick up the football example, organizing a tournament with friends and strangers in the park definitely cuts it. Going to the stadium could still be okay, especially if it’s something new for you. Staying home alone watching a match on TV could be enjoyable, but it probably wouldn’t count in my book.2

I’ll explore this further over the course of the year, but it should be enough to get me started. Bring on those horses. (And make that a dummy goat. Thanks!)

  1. Or merely getting better… []
  2. But then, it might be extremely interesting for the seasoned Buzkashi player who has never seen a flatscreen TV. Return to point number 1. []

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You need to get a job.
You need to take your anti-depressants.
You need to have six-figure income.
You need to marry a beautiful spouse.
You need to perform flawlessly.
You need to look like the TV starlets.
You need to drive a bigger car than your neighbor.
You need to be fit as a fiddle.
You need to create a revolutionary movement.
You need to see a doctor.
You need to become way more productive.
You need to buy an iPhone.
You need to eat your greens.
You need to dominate others.
You need to fit in.

Alternatively, you need to go beyond rules.

Happy Beyond Rules Day!

It’s Beyond Rules Day once again!

Three years ago today, I released my first book, Beyond Rules. In 2012, I released an updated edition for the Kindle platform.

To celebrate, I’m happy to announce it’s available for a reduced price of $0.99 right now on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, or any Amazon store of your preference. If you haven’t read it yet, you’re invited to take a look.1

  1. Quick pricing info: I just reduced the prices worldwide, but Amazon may need a few hours to update their systems. If you still see the old price, please come back a bit later! []

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ONE by Markus FreiseFirst things first: My online friend and MoSho guest Markus Freise is crowdfunding his new book. The main product is already funded, but now even an important stretch goal is within reach.

All he needs is a handful of new backers, and it would be marvelous to get some support from abroad. Maybe you can help? (More information on this at the end of this post.)

[¶]

A recent trip led me to a castle in the Middle Rhine region to attend a course held by some of my old professors (and bosses). We got together for four days and three nights of ancient texts, philosophical debate, and decent red wine.

Coming from a qualitative approach to science, we discussed how we’re living in a world that falls for the delusion that everything is quantifiable when in reality some of the most central human experiences – creativity, our subsconsciousness, the numinous – are not.

On my way back to the island, I was more than intrigued by a post by Michael Allen Smith on his experiments with the quantifiable self and self-tracking – and leaving it behind:

The obvious explanation is that although my time commitment to quantifiable self was small, the stress of daily tracking and trying to affect an outcome was likely a cause of the headaches. Early on in the project when it was clear that I wasn’t able to solve the riddle of night headaches, I regretted posting on the experiment. I became the experiment and for over two years I was failing at it and doing so publicly.

The past two months I’ve had a noticeable decline in both headache quantity and intensity. Even lower than the two months where my caffeine levels were extremely low. And I had a higher than normal level of coffee during this time. My sleep quality was also excellent. Stepping away from the daily tracking was a wise move.

It’s just anecdotical data, you may rightly say, but the qualitative gains for Michael seem to be quite tangible.

[¶]

From Michael’s article, a link to The Unquantified Self:

The bigger question, that I have asked myself – and that anyone who self-tracks should ask themselves – where does this need to track come from? Yes, there are of course objective reasons, healthy lifestyle, concrete goals, small steps. But frankly, that’s mostly hogwash in my instance. My lifestyle would be plenty healthy without tracking.

Here are some candidate reasons:

I’ve tried to remember the times in my life when I was most obsessed by the need to track, and there’s definitely a pattern to this. Early puberty. Just after I ran away. After I quit my regular job and went freelance. Well, basically any time my life took a risky, uncertain turn, where matters outside my control could have created havoc in my life. And in retrospect it’s easy to figure out: I track to give myself a sense of control, impose some kind of imaginary order on my life. Tracking gives me the sense that I’m piloting a plane and all the instruments and indicators are telling me it’s a smooth flight. That no matter what life throws at me, I can handle it, as long as the metrics stay within range. It’s a method of self-soothing, it’s a safety blanket.

The quote is taken from the post The Urge to Track and Its Dark Roots. I believe the writer is spot on with her analysis about the reasons to track. I don’t even know if these reasons are “bad”, but if you’ve ever felt like a compulsive tracker yourself, you might want to think about it.

The last time I’ve checked my blog statistics must have been almost a year ago. I cannot say I feel like I missed anything.

[¶]

Here’s a wonderful interview with Merlin Mann. I couldn’t decide on a single quote, so here are a few of them:

I’m really grateful for the school I ended up going to: it was unusual and exceedingly kind in accepting me, given my grades and background. It was an amazing experience, but I skipped through majors like a crazy person. In retrospect, it’s kind of chilling to think about what would have happened if I had committed to any of those. I feel fortunate that, (A) I didn’t die, and (B) I didn’t get painted into a corner where I had to become a doctor or a lawyer. I never would have had the chance to stumble into something interesting. There are a lot of people who know what they want to do at a young age, but they end up kind of hating it and becoming stuck because they’re successful at it.

My highlights. Brilliant.

When we mythologize ourselves, we tend to amplify the things that turned out okay and try to turn the failures or lack of success into something we learned from. You can do anything to make your life look really grand. It’s a shame that so many people find it difficult to do the things they’d like to do because they feel cowed by seemingly successful people who appear to never do anything wrong, or always learn from their mistakes. That just rings as a lot of B.S. and self-mythology to me.

Some more:

I like to try and isolate what I’m most interested in getting better at. It can be very frustrating to keep sucking at something without realizing that it’s not the thing you should be trying to get better at. It’s like when our parents used to tell us as kids, “There is something that you don’t even realize you’re good at,” or, “People like you because of this, but you’re mad because it’s not this other thing.” Part of successfully growing up is letting go of unrealistic ideas that stop us from recognizing something else we’re good at and might enjoy more than what we’re doing now. There could be something 10 times greater than what you’re doing, but you don’t realize it because you’re fixated on the thing you feel like you should be doing.

And this:

When I talk to my friends or clients about this, there’s always this feeling of wishing or hoping that you’ll eventually arrive somewhere. But, I don’t know anybody who’s ever arrived anywhere. Everybody I know with half a brain is always a little bit nervous about how long they’re going to be okay doing what they’re doing.

Go read the whole thing already.

[¶]

Markus is someone I admire for finding success in his business niche while maintaining his creative freedom. Now he’s trying to combine the two in yet another way: By crowdfunding his next book.

His campaign is not hosted on Kickstarter (which is, I believe, still off-limits for Europeans), but on Indiegogo. I just backed it and am happy to report that the process is very smooth, with Indiegogo not even asking you to create an account.

Markus has now reached 92% of his stretch goal (7.500 euros) and I’d love to see him make it. Maybe we could even convince him to talk about his crowdfunding experience on another MoSho episode?

Whatever the case, you can help. If you’re into illustration and would like to learn about graphic lyrics, please check out his campaign!

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Invent a Drink in 2014

Booze and its effects have been present in our lives since the dawn of humanity. As Wikipedia knows, “drinking is documented in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, in the Qur’an, in art history, in Greek and Roman literature as old as Homer, and in Confucius’s Analects”.

To keep this venerable tradition alive, I’d like to become a beer brewer at some point. Unfortunately, for my current lifestyle this entails owning too much stuff. I’m lucky to have a hobby-brewing friend in Cologne who has let me assist him a few times; but as far as beer goes, I’m afraid that more won’t be possible for now.

Despite this setback, I decided to make what hipsters call “mixology” my third moderate proposal for 2014: Even when you’re not brewing or distilling your own booze, trying out and improving existing recipes can be fun.1 Thanks to spending a few years in the Caribbean, I’m quite happy with the state of my Cuba Libre and Mojito skills. Now, back in Germany, there are new drinks to master.

How to invent a new drink

A bartender and booze blogger puts it this way:

The key to creating new cocktails involves knowing your product and your market, i.e., drink a lot and talk to people.

Simple enough: I like to drink and, for starters, I’ll be my market.

But in a world of abundance, where shall I begin (without risking a cirrhosis)?

Ideally, I’d like to experiment with a local drink (that doesn’t require any fancy tools or hard-to-get ingredients). Thankfully, bartenders on my island prepare a simple variant of the famous Manhattan cocktail.2 The island Manhattan is quite sweet and pretty straight-forward to make: All you do is mix 2 parts of vermouth, 1 part of whiskey, and a maraschino cherry.

This could serve as a stepping stone. The booze blogger continues:

[Like] mastering any skill, begin with a bit of research, expect to fail a few times, learn from those failures, experiment and practice. Luckily, when it comes to inventing cocktails you still get to drink your mistakes.

This is basically applied dilettantism. It shall be fun to investigate this matter further!

Most certainly, I’ll try to replace the whiskey (that’s being used as a basic liquor in both the classic and the island Manhattan) with rum. Opposed to island habits, I’ll also try using bitters or at least a drier vermouth, in order to get a drink that’s less sweet. I also believe that adding something bubbly (Sparkling water? German Sekt?) could help to make it more of a summer drink, but that could just be a rookie mistake.

We shall see. If things go fine, a whole new drink might be the result of a summer of experimentation. For the benefit of science and mankind, onwards!

[This one had to wait until the weekend. It is my third Moderate Proposal for Daunting, Delightful and Dilettantish Deeds to Pursue in 2014. See the introduction, part 1 and part 2.]
  1. As long as you don’t exaggerate, or the next day will likely suck. []
  2. It is so popular that it even made it to the English-language Wikipedia. You’ll have to look it up on your own in order to find out about my – so far – undisclosed location. []

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