52 key learnings in 52 weeks of 2016
The results of a year-long experiment in 2016 where I’ve recorded all of my learnings (456 in total).
The Beginning Of The End
A brief thought on reflecting effectively
One of the reasons why I love year-ends is because the “end” of anything always gives rise to opportunities for reflection. We may build an understanding of the world through our experiences, but it’s only through the process of reflection that we develop our understanding more deeply, and make our intuitive knowledge more applicable.
There’s only one problem: The first step to effective reflection is accurate recall and the human memory is inherently faulty and unreliable, partly because we’re biologically susceptible to a whole host of cognitive biases.
For example, the recency bias is the phenomenon which makes it easier for you to remember last weekend’s events than what happened during the second weekend of February earlier this year. Another one is the misinformation effect, a memory bias in which we subconsciously incorporate new information to distort memory of the original event.
The list goes on.
Together, the cumulative implications of these biases impede our ability to form the accurate and complete picture needed for effective reflection.
Since one of the key purposes of reflection is to learn from previous experiences, to do it effectively means that we need to do two things,
- Remember as accurately as possible what has happened, at the point of reflection.
- Assimilate the information from the reflection in a way that we can remember it in the future.
Which brings us to…
How might we remember better?
I want you to imagine each year as a circle. One that we draw continuously with each passing minute, day and month. One which we’ll complete at the end of the year; a full circle so to speak.
If the goal is to have a fuller, richer, and more durable memory that we can draw from, then, doesn’t it make sense to supplement our memory, in addition to the few big and easy to recall events, with a collection of little moments that would otherwise be lost in our stream of consciousness.
Here’s the central question I was trying to answer:
If it’s a circle we’re drawing, how can we draw a more circular circle?What if our circle, instead of being drawn from connecting 15 points, was drawn from connecting 50, 200, or more points?
Since association is a proven strategy in improving memory, I was also interested to find out if I could use these “points” as cues to trigger the specific moments of my life which I had recorded them — my state of mind and emotions I was experiencing at the time.
Time to experiment.
The hypothesis: By investing a miniscule amount of time (30–60 seconds) to record every interesting learning I come across, I would be able to encapsulate them into a fuller and more contextual story which I can thenretrieve more easily, and therefore be able to use.
In essence, a mental timelapse of my year in learning.
As of the time I’m writing this, 28/12/16, the total tally: 456 learnings.
Mostly they come in the form of quotes and pieces of thinking from books and podcasts, and occasionally through conversations and articles. Sometimes it’s a piece of learning from myself, no doubt somehow inspired from another piece of thinking elsewhere.
Without further ado, here’re my favorites for 2016.
52 Key Learnings In 52 Weeks
I’ve added notes to my favorites among the lot.
1. “Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.” — Naval Ravikant, Entrepreneur and angel investor.
Note: Don’t outsource your happiness to the future; choose to be happy now. Check out this podcast Naval did with Tim Ferriss.
2. “Keep your face always towards the sunshine and the shadows will fall behind you.” — Walt Whitman, Essayist / Poet.
Note: Never forget.
3. We are all investors; the currency at our disposal is time and energy.
4. Fully alive and deeply committed is serious and risky business. A life of passion and purpose will cost. “Not less than everything.” — T.S. Elliot, Essayist / Poet.
5. You’re here to cross the swamp, not fight all the alligators.
6. "One does not discover new countries without consenting to losing sight, for a very long time, of the shore." - Andre Gide, Author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Note: Took my breath away.
7. “The practice of deep Listening consists of keeping compassion alive in your heart the whole time you are listening. You do not listen in order to judge, criticize, or evaluate. You listen for one reason alone: to sacrifice the other person a chance to express himself. “— Stephen Covey, Author / Educator.
Note: Even when we think we’re listening, we’re always constructing what we want to say next in our mind that we fail to give our total attention and presence.
8. Argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong.
9. What makes the fire burns is the space between the logs. — Judy Brown, Poet.
Note: Negative space is not something we see intuitively, but cultivating empty pockets of space is hugely important in our live if we want to become more creative and effective. Full poem on Fire by Judy Brown here
10. “If a small thing has the power to make you angry, does that not indicate something about your size?” — Sydney Harris, Journalist.
11. “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed, but that or ability to do has increased” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poet / Transcendentalist.
12. “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” — Viktor Frankl, Neurologist and psychiatrist.
13. “You can have anything you want in life but not everything “” — Ray Dalio, Founder of the world’s biggest hedge fund firm.
Note: The bridgewater principles is one of the best texts I’ve read this year. I highly encourage you check it out.
14. “On matters of style, swim with the current, but on matters of principle, stand like a rock.” — Thomas Jefferson, American Founding Father.
15. “Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get.” — Ray Bradbury, Writer.
16. Every moment spent defending our opinion is a moment lost where you can learn something new from the other person’s perspective.
17. Sit sit, walk walk, don’t wobble. — Zen Proverb
18. “The modern stoic sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Essayist/ scholar.
19. Train for the reality — not in a safe space but in a manner that mimics the unpredictability and conditions of the real life.
Note: Practice like you play and you will play like you practice.
21. Passion is discovered through the process of trying out things.
Note :Contrary to popular belief, passion doesn’t fall into our laps. As we become better at something, we begin to enjoy it more.
22. A happy person is someone who can enjoy the scenery on the detour.
Note: Life does not unfold linearly. It doesn’t care about our plans. Enjoy the ride.
23. “To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things everyday.” — Laozi, Philosopher.
25. Stop searching for the right answers and start asking the right questions.
Note: The instant hack to becoming smarter. The essentialist’s approach towards anything.
26. “Anything less than a conscious commitment to the important is an unconscious commitment to the unimportant.” — Stephen Covey, Author / Educator.
Note: Cultivate a diligent approach towards ruthless prioritization.
27. “People seem not to see that their opinion is a confession of their character.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poet / Transcendentalist.
28. If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.
29. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. — Zen proverb
Note: You can only lead a horse to the river, not make it drink.
30. Life is like a photograph, you need the negatives to develop.
31. “Shun the nonbelievers, find the people who are living the life you’re living and amplify their dreams.” — Seth Godin Writer / Entrepreneur
Note :Haters’ gonna hate. Always expend your energy and focus on finding your tribe.
33. “The struggle ends when gratitude begins.”
34. “The future is an accident. It’s an accident because you explore..you can’t see it-you just have to go somewhere you haven’t been before.” — Skrillex, Musician.
35. “For artists, there is a crevasse when your views are in advance of your work.” — Leonardo da Vinci, Polymath
36. “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep” — Scott Adams, Creator of the Dilbert comic strip / Author.
Note: Awesome read — How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
38. “Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.” — Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor / Philosopher King.
Note :A profound piece of wisdom that’s immensely useful and practical.
39. “The narrower and rarer the identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will seem to threaten you.”
Note: Suggested reading — Paul Graham on keeping your identity small
40. “Inner peace is achieved when you finish all that you started.
Note: This hit me in the face like a roundhouse kick.
41. “It is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.” — Epictetus, Stoic philosopher.
43. “You’ll receive criticism and praise you deserve and un-deserve. Don’t let it get to your head or defeat you. How you handle it is a mark of your character. — John wooden, Legendary Basketball Coach
Note: He’s the coach I wish I had the chance to learn under. Here’s one of his (and now one of mine) favorite poems The Road Ahead or The Road Behind. I read this everyday last year for 3 months, through a trying period.
44. “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”- Jayson Gaignard, Entrepreneur
Note: I love this, quite possibly my favorite quote on adopting an abundant mindset when it comes to relationships.
45. “If you have one ass you can’t sit on two horses” — Hungarian proverb
Note: Made me LOL. What a great way to put it.
46. “The sea gets deeper as you go further into it.” — Venetian proverb.
Note : Shun shallowness and seek out depth. When you find it, embrace it, let it engulf you, let it surprise you.
47. It’s not about what you know, it’s about what you do consistently. — Tony Robbins, Author / entrepreneur/ philanthropist.
Note: Knowing is better than not knowing, but knowing without doing is as good as not knowing.
48. “You can’t know if a person is successful until you know his aims.” — Derek Sivers, Entrepreneur / Writer.
Note: Don’t make the mistake of judging everyone by the consensus, narrow view of success. Some people aren’t playing the same game, or the game at all. Try not to project your own ideas onto someone else. Derek Sivers is awesome, check out his site sivers.org for more.
49. You can learn a lot from your mistakes when you aren’t busy denying them.
Note: One of my personal directives — Growth without ego.
50. “Before I met you, I already liked myself.“ — Approval
Note: I don’t need your approval. Inspired by Nayyirah Waheed.
51. “Doubt is it a fearful thing, but a thing of very great value.” — Richard Feynman, Physicist
Note: Our beliefs should be tentative and not permanent; they are right until proven wrong. One of my favorite reads in the last 2 years — “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character:
52. “No life worthy of the name consists of anything more than the continual series of struggles to develop one’s character through the medium of whatever one has chosen as a career.” — Juan Belmont, Legendary Bullfighter
Note: An obscure quote shared by Adam Robinson in one of the latest Tim Ferriss podcasts, Becoming the Best Version of You. Wonderfully sums up why I love the struggle in the process of creating good work — it’s a chance to develop character.
Bonus round! Because who doesn’t like good surprises.
8 of my favorites that didn’t make the list
53. “External things can’t fix internal issues.” — James Altucher, Entrepreneur, bestselling author,
Note: Tattoo worthy. James has one of the most authentic voices in the personal growth arena. Highly recommend that you check out jamesaltucher.com for more.
54. “These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.” — Najwa Zebian, Poet.
55. “If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.” — Jean-Paul-Sartre, Philosopher.
Note: Don’t feel the need to surround yourself with people all the time. Go do things alone from time to time: movies, dinners, bars. It’s both enjoyable and delightfully uncomfortable.
56. The universe is full of dots. Connect the right ones and you can draw anything. The important question is not whether the dots you picked are really there, but why you chose to ignore all the others.
Note: Beware of the narrative fallacy.
57. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Note: Immensely undervalued piece of wisdom.
58. How you do anything is how you do everything.
59. “Some people when they hear your story, contract. Others upon hearing your story, expand. And this is how you know” — Nayyirah Waheed, Poet.
Note: Recommended to me by a friend, I haven't read much poetry but her book Salt is fantastic. Raw and real.
60. “Happiness is wanting what you already have.” — Tim Ferriss, Writer / Entrepreneur.
Note: Check out his latest book (I’m halfway in, superb thus far) Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers
Circling back to the beginning
So did I succeed? Did I manage to draw a more circular circle?
It sounds counterintuitive but I remember more (in greater details and more vividity) despite having much more things to remember. I suspect it’s because I took the time and effort to deepen my connections with them.
An unexpected discovery is that the combined learnings reflect what 2016 has meant for me, thematically speaking. This is interesting because this is essentially what my intuition has been telling me as I’ve been mentally wrapping up the past year.
Conclusion: I can tell you with confidence that drawing more connections have dramatically increased what I remember, and they also serve as effective triggers in helping me to remember how I felt.
Most of the things I do, including this experiment, is driven by a spectacular strain of laziness. I’m always on the lookout for things that might deliver asymmetrically high payoffs but require only modest investments on my part.
And since I can speak from experience now, I highly recommend you do it for 2017. Plus, it’ll also gently push you to seek out and notice interesting learnings.
Guide To Doing-It-Yourself
How I do it and how you can do it
How I do it
- I save a piece of learning on Do Button, which automatically saves it to a timestamped note on Evernote.
- I transfer my weekly learnings into Google Sheet, where I discuss it with my accountability buddy, Silje, during our weekly call, and highlight my favorite learning weekly in a separate tab in the spreadsheet.
How you can do it
Step 1 — Pick a tool.
It should be easily accessible at all times whether you choose a physical notebook or an app. I use an app because I’m paranoid that I’ll lose the notebook. Also I instantaneously get a little depressed whenever I see my handwriting (often as I’m writing) which looks like the scribbles of a 3 year-old.
I recommend creating a recipe on Do Button which saves to Evernote since it’s ridiculously convenient. And it also encodes the timestamps, which is very helpful.
If you prefer to use a physical notebook, I’d recommend using a special notebook specifically for this.
Step 2 — Pick a backup tool.
If your primary tool fails you. I use a note app on my iphone. Or I scribble it on a piece of paper.
Step 3 — Do it with a friend.
It’s more fun and it keeps you accountable.
Step 4 — Set a time of the week where you’ll review your learning.
Pick out your favorite. Bonus if you elaborate (mentally, vocally, or written) in 1–2 lines what it means for you and how you relate to it.
Protip: The key to building any habits is to make it simple so that it makes it easy for you to do it consistently. It’s important to jot them down as soon as you’ve have it otherwise you might lose it. I usually drop whatever I’m doing just to record a thought. If I’m running on the treadmill listening to a podcast I’ll stop. If I’m biking outside I’ll stop by the junction to record it. If I’m talking to someone I’ll shout at them to shut up. Just kidding. I ask nicely. In all seriousness, I have excused myself during conversations to record a thought. Totally worth it.
Which ones above are your favorites? What are some of your own? Drop me a line, I’ll love to know!
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Thanks to Samuel Weckström for providing his valuable feedback on drafts on this post, and to my accountability buddy, Silje, for doing this with me this year.