Following my own curriculum — Weekly update #1

Following the saying that the beginning is always the hardest the first week of my experiment was more challenging than expected. More on that later. I am currently in the last gasp of my study program writing my final thesis. I want to use these last weeks at my university as a transitional phase for my summer curriculum. After graduation I will spend five months traveling and follow my own curriculum, learning what I really want to learn and trying to get out of my comfort zone regularly. In case you want to read more about my reasons for that step, you can do so in my last article. This week, I made some progress on the curriculum. I expect it to be completed in the course of next week (although I am almost 100% convinced that it will face some adaptions over the summer). My reading practice introduced some new ideas that I want to incorporate, for example building a framework of mental models that I can apply in a variety of different situations.²

For mastering the fundamental part of the curriculum, I will set up daily productivity rituals and habits. In my experience, daily habits enable me to get much more done in a particular time-frame. However, it would become quite boring, if every day was the same. To keep the fun in the game, I will set up weekly changing projects/challenges for myself. Since I couldn’t wait for the fun to start, I initiated my first challenge this week: Reading 10 books in 7 days. Let’s see how this went.

First things first, I should have taken a closer look at the length of some of the books. Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” for example was at least twice as long as I expected it to be. Right now, with 50 minutes left on the weekly challenge clock, I have read 8 of the ten books from cover to end. I cheated a little in Darwin and skipped some passages (Let’s say I get half the points for that). I am halfway through “Code Complete,” and I do not expect to finish it tonight (an additional 0.5 points).

My overall result is 9 out of 10 which I could frame in two different ways. Either “I failed” or “It was a good ride.” I strongly prefer the second notion not only because it makes me feel better. Let me elaborate why.

1. I found extreme joy in reading again

Reading some of the passages of those great books, I felt the same sense of wonder and awe I had felt when I was reading as a child. Sometimes I had to stop reading and just stared blankly into the room to process a thought. This feeling alone and the knowledge that I did not lose the ability to feel like this when I am reading was worth the whole endeavor.

2. I learned so much that I cannot use the world failure

Reading those books provided me with new perspectives, new facts, and new frameworks. It may sound weird, but I do feel much smarter than I felt last week. Additionally, I reactivated my old reading system which involves scribbling ideas and thoughts into books or highlighting and commenting sections on my Kindle. I enhanced this approach with an adaptation of the Feynman technique and a note-taking strategy hoping that I will be able to recollect more of my learnings in the long-term. By using these techniques, reading feels like an active process and more like a conversation with a book where you can bring in and connect your ideas instead of a passive process not involving you directly.

Reading this week was so much fun that I immediately ordered six new books which were either related to the books I read or suggested by people that read my first article.¹

As promised, I will now recommend my personal favorites of this week and mention who should read it and why.

- A book for business people: The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America

Buffett manages to put an enormous amount of business knowledge into his letters and builds everything on his remarkable philosophy of enduring business success. His genius lays in the simplicity of his main thoughts which are based on a holistic framework of how he sees the world. In my opinion a must-read for everyone interested in investing or business in general.

- A book for people that want to think: Seneca: Letters from a Stoic

From the three stoic books I read this week, this one was the most profound for me. Seneca touches a multitude of different aspects, and the book involves a myriad of intriguing quotes. It is a collection of letters, Seneca wrote at the end of his life. Some people build their whole life on Seneca’s philosophy, and I begin to understand why.

- Books for everyone: Sapiens and Seven Brief lessons on Physics

When I say “books for everyone” I do not mean it in the sense that they are easy to read and only touch light subjects. The contrary is true. I think that no matter what your profession or focus is, these two books will expand your horizon and you will feel an intellectual stimulus while reading them that will last for a while.

Seven brief lessons on Physics introduces several concepts from the world of physics in a light and enjoyable manner. At the same time, it is written beautifully and is not afraid to tackle large issues while admitting that most answers physicists get precipitate more questions in return. It is a very short read and could be suitable for those that do not want to commit to a long book.

Sapiens simply blew my mind. It transformed my view of human history, not only in particular perspectives but also in a holistic manner. I have never scribbled that much in a book and the book summary I wrote about it could count as a book on its own. If you read only one book this year, I would suggest you take this one.

Taking our eyes away from great books about human history and devoting ourselves to the future, I would like to introduce my challenge for next week:

Weekly challenge #2: Meditate for a total of 12 hours

To give you a little context. I started a daily meditating practice some while ago and usually stick to it. I had some minor breaks in between, but generally, it helped me improve more than one area of my life. There are three primary aspects, why I chose this challenge:

1. I want to improve my focus
Being able to work with a focused mind is critical to me. Learning new concepts or skills is mainly a function of cognitive ability, invested time, feedback and intensity of focus. I cannot significantly change my cognitive ability and the time I have is limited and arguably my most valuable good. A proper learning process should contain a well-designed feedback loop. Additionally, I need to improve my focus as good as I can to reach a level of deliberate practice more often. I cannot do that if my mind wanders off to other thoughts during my practice.

2. Overall well-being
Meditation is positively associated with well-being both in research and in my empirical observations of myself. Eighty percent of the world class performers in Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris follow some kind of meditation practice for performance or well-being reasons (I will definitely write an article on all the learnings I took from this book at some point in the future. There are so many that I need to digest them first, though). To reach the next level in my meditational practice, I need to increase the accumulated time of meditation I do. Only meditating ten minutes a day does not reach that goal very quickly.

3. Time-constraints this week
I will be at a sports events from Thursday through Sunday in the upcoming week. Therefore, a lot of the other challenges I had in mind were not as readily applicable. Additionally, the first challenge took a lot of time. I read more than 50 hours this week. It was a good start, but the challenges were thought as an add-on and I should not forget to focus on the other tasks on my list.

I am looking forward to next week and hope that the increased meditation time will reap the desired benefits. I will tell you about it in a week.

Until then, do not hesitate to contact me on Medium, Twitter(@Mike Mahlkow) or wherever you reach me best. I appreciated all the feedback and suggestions of last week. Tell me, if you want me to change my focus. For example, some people said that they would like to read more podcast or blog suggestions. I value the input and will incorporate it into future articles.

One more thing: I have read an amazing piece of text this week. It is a letter by Christopher M. Begg who is the CEO of East Coast Asset Management. The letter is both a treasure of worldly wisdom and sound business advice woven into a colorful analogy that fascinated me so much that I reread the whole letter immediately and crafted a text summarizing my conclusions from it. Just see for yourself and tell me what you think: Grove of Titans

¹ The six books I ordered:

² If you want to read more about mental models, you can start here