TRY THIS: Stop Multitasking (Pro Tip: there is no such thing)


My instant gratification monkey is great at telling me stories that make me feel good about doing shit that he wants to do, while my rational mind knows that shit stinks.  The best tool I have found to overcoming these feel good stories that support unwanted habits or behavior is the bright shiny sunlight of AWARENESS, DATA AND FACTS.  One such exercise is 15 Minutes of Honesty.  Today I have the mythbuster which destroys the “I am good at Multitasking” story, one of my monkey’s favorites:

1 Minute Proof that I suck at Multitasking.

For most of us, the rational mind has convinced the monkey that texting and driving sucks, but we continue to believe the monkey at work, with friends and around the house.  The monkey mind LOVES multitasking.  Jumping around between things feels like engagement.  Feels like a lot is getting done.  Many people and things need my attention. So many that I have to spread myself thin.  It makes me feel important, needed, worthwhile.  Multitasking implies that we are working on multiple tasks simultaneously and in total getting more done (says the monkey).  But the human brain isn’t able to focus on more than one thing at a time, so what are actually doing is RAPID TASK SWITCHING and the research shows a significant switching cost overhead associated with this process.  In some cases it can be 100% overhead meaning it takes TWICE as long to complete two tasks done with rapid switching instead of in serial (one at a time).

Okay, okay says my monkey, sure I hear you, but I don’t really believe you.   Those university studies are done on drugged up grad students (not smart monkeys like me), I am WAY more productive than them!  I am great at multitasking!

Okay Monkey, let’s put that to the test.

Grab a piece of blank paper, a pen and a stopwatch.  Your task is to draw two lines and write a sentence on one line and a series of numbers on the second line.  On the first line write “I am great at multitasking.”  On the second line write the numbers 1-20 in series.  The goal is to end up with one line with the sentence and one line with the number series.  But we are going to perform the tasks two different ways and time ourselves doing each method.

Method 1: Separate Task in Series:  First, do the tasks in Series, one after each other, focusing only on the immediate task at hand each time.  Draw the first line, write the sentence “I am great at multitasking”.  Draw the second line, write the numbers 1-20 in order.  Start the stopwatch when you begin and stop when finished.  Write down the time.

Method 2: Multitasking/Rapid task switching:  Switch between tasks as you are doing them.  Draw the first line.  Write “I”.  Draw the Second line.  Write “1”.  Go up to the first line, make a space, then write the letter “a”.  Down to the second line, write the number “2”.  Now back up to the first line, write the “m” of “am”.  Down to the second line for “3”… And so on until you have the two lines done.  Write down that time.

Here is my piece of paper from this morning.

Multi tasking exercise
Multi tasking exercise

Serial :24 seconds, Multi :50 seconds.  Oh, the monkey doesn’t like that.  The tasks are the same.  The time to compete 2X!  “I can do better” my monkey says.  So I do it 10 more times.  Trying every trick I can think of to improve the multitask scenario.  After 10 iterations, average time to complete:  Serial :22 seconds, Multi :50 seconds.  So I actually got better at doing the tasks in serial (practice), but the switching costs of multitasking kept my performance stuck.

Being a nerd, I dug a bit deeper.  What exactly is going on that causes 100% overhead during multitasking?  A few things I observed in this particular exercise include:

  1.  Physical movement between task space.  In serial, I write the sentence from left to right all at once, one letter next to the other.  In multi, I have to move the pen between the lines, find the correct place to put the letter or number, and start.  This movement time, while small, is probably about 80% of the time to even write one letter or number.  While the impact of physical movement in this particular exercise may be outsized versus other multitasking scenarios, the effect can still be significant.  Even moving the mouse to switch between applications, or navigate around your phone. In this exercise I estimate that Physical movement explains about 80% of the variance.
  2. Mental reset (reconfiguring your control settings).  Writing numbers and letters are different. Each time you switch you have to try to remember your place in the task, figure out what to do next, then do it.  That mental framing, “getting into the task” takes time.  For a simple task like this it was small, maybe 10% of the variance in this exercise, but in some tasks like writing a novel, it can be very large.
  3. Cognitive stress.  While the mind can’t focus on more than one thing at a time, having more than one thing pressing on you can cause the stress of the impending task to weigh on the current task.  I found this often in the exercise, writing a number and already thinking ahead to what letter I had to write next.  Thinking of task 1 during task 2 made task 2 take longer to complete.  In this exercise I estimate cognitive stress explains about 5% of the variance.
  4. Task volume explosion.  When doing the tasks in Series, you have basically four sub-tasks.  1. Draw a line.  2. Write a sentence.  3. Draw a line.  4. Write a series of numbers.  When done Multitasking, there are 44 sub-tasks (10x!).  Draw line (x2), Write Letter (x22), Write number (x20).  It takes more mental energy to check off 44 things than it does to check off 4 things.  In this exercise I estimate that Task Volume Explosion explains about 5% of the variance.

Ok, so exercise done, variance explained, Monkey convinced right?  Well I hope so, but this is one that keeps coming back like a bad penny.  Today I am aware, but then I get busy and the Monkey comes back with extra Trumpesk confidence “I am great at multitasking”.   So bookmark this post.  Whenever you hear the monkey’s story, redo the exercise.  Spend time on the analysis.  Let it sink in.  Eventually you may change the Monkey’s story.


Like how I used the Monkey’s own story to prove the absurdity of the story? Change the story, change yourself.  Remember the Monkey believes stories it believes/feels to be true.  The stories are in his(your) head due to some kind of confirmation or learning in the past.  At one time, the story may have even been correct or have served a valuable purpose.   Or it may have been implanted there falsely (say by a large conglomerate (Apple, Microsoft, Google, et al) trying to sell you productivity tools/technology) by advertising or media.

Here at DGC we like to practice contemplation and give you practical tools to analyze where you are in life and if it is all going the best it can for you.  A key tactic in this journey is to Know your Stories (the monkey’s and everyone else’s) and then ASK IF THOSE STORIES ARE STILL SERVING YOU on a regular basis.  Compare the Stories against the facts.  In the case of the “I am great at multitasking” story, a fairly simple one minute exercise lays bare the truth.  Many times it only takes changing one word in the story.  Repeat that story enough and it will become the Monkey’s story.  My truth about multitasking?  Say it with me:  “I suck at multitasking!”  Convince your monkey of this and productivity will skyrocket!

Try This: 15 Minutes of Honesty re: goals/action alignment



keep calm and achieve your goals


We all tell stories about ourselves.  One of mine is “my actions are very aligned with my goals and values.”  A smile and a burst of confidence appear every time this story passes through my neurons.  Sometimes, though, the red pill (reality) can slap that stupid grin right off my face.    This morning reality slapped me.  Hard.  Usually I just shrug it off and keep going.  Today I decided to learn something.

So, being a data nerd, I developed a quick honesty exercise which produces ONE actionable item with high probability of getting your goals/values/actions back into alignment.  Kind of like a Chiropractor for your brain.   Similar to the Recover Your Grit exercise, but this one is bite sized exercise and can be done in 15 minutes.


My morning routine of work-out, meditation, morning pages, etc. usually takes about an hour and a half.  This morning it took 3 hours.  Yea, that is right, 50% dilly dallying.  Now I am not one of those “got to be productive 100% of the day” guys, but 50% waste is excessive by any measure.  Usually I tell myself I am too busy to do the analysis, the job is too big, not that much time was wasted, etc.  But do I really have a more important thing to do than figure out where 50% of my time went and how to get that time back (if I want to)?  So here is what I did:

The 15 minutes of Honesty in Actions Exercise:

When the red pill of reality slaps you in the face (“Oh shit, I think I just wasted a bunch of time!”), do this exercise immediately.  It works best if the period of time is less than a day.  Say a couple of hours, or even a whole work day.  But not more.  If the time interval is too large, you won’t remember enough details to be helpful.  Also you must do it immediately or your memory will start to re-write the facts and the analysis will be less truthful.

Take out a pad of paper.  Yes paper and pen.  Turn your phone off.  Walk away from the computer to a quiet place with a desk and a chair.  No technology to distract during the exercise.   Remember you only need 15 minutes then you can go back to being so busy you can’t take time to get less busy.:)

At the top of the first page, write the date and time period you want to analyze that just felt like it got hijacked.  For me a recent one was a three hour period from 6-9 am Monday Sept 26, 2016 at my house in Seattle Washington.  Name the primary activity that was supposed to be going on then.  For me, recently, it was my morning routine.  It could be a project you were supposed to be working on, time with the family, etc.  Underneath this heading, draw a horizontal line across the page and a line down the middle to separate the page into two columns.  On the top of the left column write “On Point Actions”, on the right write “Not On Point Actions”.  If you are feeling spunky (as I was) you can add to the right column “distractions/shiny objects” or any other colorful characterization of the things that tend to take you off task.

Now rewind your mind back to the beginning of the time period you are analyzing and roll forward minute by minute remembering everything you did.  Those things that were on point write in the left column and put the number of minutes you did each of them.  Those things that were off point write them in the right column with minutes associated with each of those.  Add up the minutes on the left and the right. They must total the interval you are analysing (in my case 3 hours).  If they don’t you are missing something, go back and add more actions or time to the actions you already have.  When I did this exercise, I need a second page for the shiny objects/distractions because there were so many of them.  Here are the pages from a recent exercise I did.

15 minutes of honesty page one
15 minutes of honesty page one

15 minutes of honesty page two
15 minutes of honesty page two
Often when writing down an action that I was doing, I realized that starting one action actually lead to other actions.  So for these items, I put an indentation below listing the follow on actions that happened because I started the primary action.  For example “read email” turned into “buy electric pulse exercise suit from Indiegogo for $1,450”, register for a conference, download some pictures, and unsubscribe from three newsletters.  While we all know that email can be a rathole, the depth and breadth of that rathole can be hidden until we actually do an exercise like this which catalogues exactly what happened in email. This exercise is very good to highlight how actions are linked together and which “master actions” like “email” and “check facebook” and “check stocks” and “check Instagram” can lead to much greater time diversions than your brain originally planned.

When you are finished and the minutes match on each column to the total time you are analysing, then summarize at the bottom of the page what happened.  Calculate the ratio of on point and off point time.  Add in any other consequences of the off point actions (like in my case money spent buying things that were not originally on my list at the beginning of the time).  My recent results were 1:35/1:25 and $1,550 unplanned spending.  47% not on point.  Now at the bottom of the page of the right column, make a list of the top 5 things that got you off point with the most number of minutes.  For me these were: check email, check facebook, check stocks, text people, mess around with apps on phone and daydream.  Now see if there is a common root cause, or enabling event/technology between any of these actions.   For me, 5 of the six were related to the iPhone.  So I grouped these and wrote “iPhone” next to that group.

So what is the #1 thing I can do to re-align my actions during the morning routine with my goals and make that time as much on-point as possible?  Turn off the damn iPhone during that time.  Nothing I normally do in the morning routine requires the phone (by design).  Now when you do the exercise you may have another action or enabling technology that distracts you.  Maybe the TV,  or other chores around the house, or children, or going shopping.  Whatever takes you off task.  The point here, is to sit down and make the list in excruciating detail.  Add up the minutes. Account for every one.  Note the other unintended actions ( money spent, etc.) Honesty and authenticity is the goal of this little red pill.  You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken.

Until I did this exercise, I had let my monkey mind convince me that having a phone always near by was productive and ultimately allowing me to get more done in the day.  But this exercise in honesty and drilling down to every minute laid bare the reality that much time was wasted chasing shiny things and doing non critical things.  Some of them I maybe would have done anyway, but the point is that I could always choose to do them later.  Allowing the monkey mind to indulge the shiny objects in the middle of other time which my goals say should be dedicated to another activity just made that activity longer and less productive.  In the end multitasking has often left me with a longer list of unfinished projects.  This exercise documents this in detail so that your monkey mind can not ignore the data any longer. You have the paper.  Your hand wrote the lists.  You have re-lived the diversions and productive time in detail. You truly understand the difference. Next time you conscious mind will have a reference point to make a more informed decision of whether to indulge the monkey mind or not.  You also have One concrete intervention (which you can use or not, up to you) which has a high probability of keeping the monkey mind at bay during time you want dedicated to on-point actions in support of goals.


I do this exercise whenever I have a flash of realization that I am off track with actions and goals.  I have done it three times in the last month.  Each time a different proximate cause and intervention has surfaced.


I created this exercise myself, so this specific technique has not been studied (as far as I know), but this is part of the quantified self, although most of that literature is around sensor data. Part of the “know thyself” world.  The more you are honest and authentic with yourself, the better able you are to get where you want to be in life.  This exercise is similar to some the work in Cognitive Behavior Therapy to discover automatic thoughts.  Much of that scholarly work is hoarded by the information bandits who hold our mental health hostage behind research grants funded by taxpayers, so we are left to figure out our own exercises.

This is a small, manageable way to get some insight.  And it is free from me to you.  There is no downside.

REVIEW: Jonathan Livingston Seagull: The Complete Edition

Jonathan Livingston SeagullJonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Third time reading this book. First time in 20 years. First time reading the Complete Edition (including rediscovered Part Four).  The photography included in this edition really adds to the beauty and contemplation of the story: it is worth buying the printed book for the pictures alone.

This book never gets old. It just gets more useful and I understand it better. When I first read in college, it seemed like a weird fantasy story about a bird. My young self was a bit of an outcast. I very much wanted to have the tenacity to dig deep into a passion everyone else thought was useless and prove them all wrong. So I did that (computers). This is probably why Seagull is on every college reading list and rightfully so.

Then re-reading it in my 30s after leaving the Catholic church and recently returning, the religious undertones popped out. Especially in (new) part four where the true meaning of the initial quest has been lost in the bureaucracy of the belief system built around it (sound familiar Catholics?) This is a classic Hero’s Journey as described by Joseph Campbell. Hero is passionate, gets cast out of society, becomes enlightened around his passion, comes back to teach the TRUTH, is initially scorned, then accepted, then revered, then co-opted for other purposes and the TRUTH is lost. That is also the story of the Catholic Church in many ways.

Reading it again in my 50s after settling down a bit, the later parts of the story resonated. The desire to share your life wisdom with love and kindness. The frustration with success leading to misinterpretation and co-opting of original intent. But still the desire to give back to the next generation. The hope that an open mind willing to learn still existed.

Some favorite quotes:

“Who is more responsible than a gull who finds and follows a meaning, a higher purpose in life?  For a thousand years we have scrabbled after fish heads, but now we have a reason to life – to learn, to discover, to be free!  Give me one chance, let me show you what I have found.”  Jonathan  “The Brotherhood is Broken”  said the other birds and they turned their backs on him.

“His one sorrow was not solitude, it was that other gulls refused to believe the glory of flight that awaited them; they refused to open their eyes and see.”

He spoke of very simple things – that it is right for a gull to fly, that freedom is the very nature of his being, that whatever stands against that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation in any form.  The only true law is that which leads to freedom, there is no other.  The only difference, the very only one, is that they have begun to understand what they really are and have begun to practice it.

A long silence.  “Well, this kind of flying has always been here to be learned by anybody who wanted to discover it; that’s got nothing to do with time.”

“Why is it,” Jonathan puzzled, “that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself i he’d just spend a little time practicing?  Why should that be so hard?”

“To begin with,” he said heavily, “You’ve got to understand that the seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull, and your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip, is nothing more than your thought itself.”

They were honored, and worse – revered, but they were no longer heard, and the birds who practiced flying were fewer and fewer.

Anthony Seagull didn’t have answers, but he knew that he would gratefully, gladly lay down his life to follow any bird who could demonstrate what he was talking about, show him just a few answers in life that worked, that brought excellence and joy into everyday living.  Until he found that bird, life would remain gray and bleak, illogical, without purpose; every seagull would remain a coincidental collection of blood and feathers pointed toward oblivion.

My suggestion: Read this every 10 years. You will learn something new each time.

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Review: The Valkyries: Paulo Coelho

The ValkyriesThe Valkyries by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have been reading quite a few [author:Paulo Coelho|566] lately. Recently reviewed The Pilgrimage and The Alchemist. The Valkyries was a recently given to me by a friend who said it helped her through a messy divorce. While I am not going through a divorce, when she mentioned something about leather clad motorcycle lesbians and a desert spiritual ritual, I started right in.

Unfortunately for me the Valkyries fell flat. Third best of the three I have read. Skewered on the pitard of too much angel, ritual, “Tradition” talk and not enough context or engaging story narrative. While at times Coelho wants us to believe the story actually happened (mentioning in the epilogue that a letter from a reader verifying the existence of a shrine in the desert is filed with Brazil’s national library as proof of something), I became completely lost and uninterested in his search for his “Angel” and some kind of “Tradition” which remains unexplained. Half allegory and half biography, The Valkyries fails at both. After reading it I don’t know what the characters were looking for, I don’t know what they found and I don’t care. The story confused me and didn’t engage me.

As with all Coelho books, there are glimpses of insight worth underlining. Unfortunately these are few, far between and deeply hidden in The Valkyries. Here are a few of my favorites:

“In order to live in the present, you have to control your second mind. And look at the horizon.”

“Don’t fight your thoughts. They are stronger than you are. If you want to rid yourself of them, accept them. Think about what they want you to think about until they grow tired.” (standard meditation stuff, but well told)

“Let’s suppose that paradise is here. And every person on earth is here in the plaza. Each of them has their own path for arriving here. That’s why people talk to their angels. Because only angels know the best path. It does no good to seek advice about it from others.”

“I’m saying that everything is a ritual. Just as a mass is a great ritual, composed of various parts, the everyday experience of any person is, also. The name of that ritual is ROUTINE. When the ritual becomes consolidated, the person becomes a slave.”

“You need yet another miracle. And you will always need yet another. You will never be satisfied, and you will never understand that the kingdom of heaven cannot be conquered by force.”

“Each would always be fascinated by the other – so long as each remained exactly what the other imagined.” Imagination is better than reality for most people.

After the confusion, I sat back and tried to figure out what my friend gleaned from the book that helped in her divorce. Going back through my notes in the book, I found these notes around the “ritual” Paulo did in the desert cave with one of the Valkyries.

“There was a pact,” valhalla said, “What was it?”
“I promised I would abandon my dreams.” “I promised that I would never grow again. I thought that I could no longer trust myself.”

I have found it to be true that our lives are in large part governed by sacred promises we made to ourselves long ago that we may not be aware of today. Those promises were made to deal with a condition back then, but may not serve us today. Awareness of those pacts and contemplation of their use going forward in our lives is a critical skill I believe everyone should learn and perform about every 5 years. I recently did just that. While this skill and recognition is valuable, it is so far buried here in the story I missed it the first time. This piece is what my friend learned from. I am afraid most people will miss it.

After being completely underwhelmed by the narrative, the Epilogue turned out to be the best part. Coelho says clearly what his story did a terrible job of doing.

“We can share our experiences – as I have tried to share mine in this book but there is no formula for growth. God has generously made His wisdom and His love available to us, and it is easy, very easy, to find them. We, at this moment in history, must develop our own powers. We must believe that the universe doesn’t end at the wall of our room. We must accept the signs, and follow our hearts and our dreams.”

My recommendation: Skip the book, read the Epilogue and you will understand everything.

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Try This: Morning Pages 


Morning Pages is a tool promoted by Julie Cameron in her Artist Way book as a daily practice for anyone interested in creativity, not just writers.  This guy also describes the practice very well.  Basically first thing in the morning, right after waking up, before you get going with the day, while you are still in that in-between mind state, write for 15 minutes in stream of consciousness style.  Just whatever comes out.  Cameron recommends using pen and paper in a journal.  I did the hand journal for about a month and a half, then moved the practice over at since I can do it on my smart phone in bed and get some interesting analytics (data nerd alert).  I am going back to pen and paper to slow it down again and get away from the distractions inherent in working on a screen.

I have been doing Morning Pages for about three months now.   Concrete results from doing morning pages:

1. I produce 3x the writing as before. Basically I believe doing the 15 minutes of work right in the morning in the alpha brain wave stage sets up a creative foundation for the day. I find later when I sit down to write a blog post or something else it comes easier and more clear. Even if the topics are completely different.

2. Greater understanding of the dream world in relation to the real world. Since mp are done in that waking up phase while your dreams are still somewhat present, I have noticed that more of my dreams are making it onto the pages. That brings their content into the conscious. Without mp the dreams were forgotten. There was no mechanism to connect the two worlds. There is a lot of understanding going on in the dream world. Good to get it up to the surface.

3. I have built confidence overall. Basically it is about 15 minute job each day. I can find 15 minutes. If I can find 15 minutes for mp i can find 15 minutes for something else.

4.  More creativity in general. Even if you are not a writer, or trying to write, mp is a creative exercise.  Often times, solutions to issues reveal themselves in morning pages spontaneously.  A motorcycle maintenance solution popped in the other day.  As did a stream of good names for a new web site.  And a landscaping solution.  Creative solutions in diverse areas of my life, nothing to do with writing.

5. More clarity to the day:  Doing a brain dump first thing in the morning is kind of like a clean sweep.  You can get all the monkey mind thoughts and inner critic out on the page and start new.

Other Observations:

Long Hand VS on a device:  I did both.  Started out long hand, three pages in a note book.  It was hard to use my hands that way after such a long time on the keyboard.  It felt very slow and I had the desire to want to use some of the writing later, or do analytics on it.  So after awhile I moved the practice to  Very good interface, good device support, challenges to keep you on task, merit badges, and some interesting analytics.  While I gained the ability to write on more devices, to share the work, and the analytics my nerd desired, I lost some of the soul of the exercise.  Writing long hand is slower and that is good.  You have to actually slow down your brain to your hand speed. You also don’t have a web browser or other apps there to quickly engage with in diversions that come up during the writing. When I write long hand with the phone and computer off, I begin and end the exercise without distractions 99% of the time within 20 minutes.  750words has a handy analytic of start, stop times and words written over time.  Using 750words I have completed the words in less than 20 minutes less than 40 percent of the time.    Due to the ease of indulging distractions on a device, my productivity goes way down.

What to write about.  Some people structure their writing.  Two pages on this, one on that, etc.  I have done it with and without structure. What I find is that without structure many times the stream can get stuck and I end up filling up space with mumbo jumbo words.  That is especially true on 750words where the word count at the bottom of the screen is menacing you the whole time.  If you are sitting there staring at the page, just start writing about staring at the page.  And why the exercise is so hard.  Then write your to-do list.  If you run out of inner critic stuff, or lingering to-do items, start writing about what you are going to do today,.  Meetings, people, events, etc.  If I get stalled (rarely), I just ask “Today would be so awesome if….” and start again.  Never fails.

There are many twists on how to do Morning Pages.  Here is exactly how I do it.

I get up (without an alarm so it is a natural time to awake), take a cold shower, dress, make a cup of coffee, then sit down at a desk to write morning pages.  Leave your phone in another room.  Do NOT sit in the same room as a computer or any electronic device connected to the internet.  I write morning pages at a desk because writing by hand in my lap gets uncomfortable after 10 minutes.  I write before meditating as I have found the clearing out of MP helps deepen the meditation.  I write the pages longhand (not on computer anymore see above) in a notebook that I put aside and never open again.  I try to make my only distraction picking up the coffee cup or stretching my fingers.

  • Pro tip for the to-do list addicted among us:  Put a small sticky note on the desk next to your journal.  When something comes up that you want to add to your to-do list, write it down there.  DO NOT allow your device with the to-do list app to be there, that rathole enabler will distract you.  At the end of the session, transcribe the valuable things from the post it notes to your regular to do system, or simply get them done.  This one upgrade has alleviated the major objection my monkey mind had to not having a device within hands reach – all those amazing inspirational to-do items that came up during morning pages.  There will be a lot.  But this post-it note system ensures they don’t become a rathole of wasted time.


Do every day for 30 days.  Contemplate the effect on your life.  Continue if positive.  Overall, Morning Pages has earned a place in my morning routine due to the clear benefits I have noticed in my life.  It is the second best ROI on 20 minutes I have during the day (#1 being meditation).


Normally on Try This exercises, I reference any science I can find behind the exercise.  I can’t find any scientific studies on MP.  But there are hundreds of positive reviews and testimonials on-line.  While I have a proclivity for evidence based solutions, when the evidence is my own experience, I honor that.

Review: The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo

The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Much ink has been spilt over Coelho and The Alchemist. Here is some more (e-ink).

Having heard Coelho recently with Krista Tippett ON Being, I was motivated to re-read The Alchemist. The first time I read it was shortly after everyone else read it. Just after Bill Clinton was photographed with the book. That is the first and last time I ever took a cue from Bill Clinton. I wonder if he gave it to Hillary? She should probably read it now. And Bill should re-read it. But I digress.

After a 23 year hiatus, the re-read fell a bit short. My first read was in my late 20’s in Italy as a single guy working for Microsoft. I was searching for something and hungry for guideposts. The Alchemist spoke to me on many levels. At that time, it did help me move in the right direction. Re-reading it today at 52 with three children, an ex wife and multiple careers behind me the context was a bit off. When I read the story around the same time as “the boy” it was motivating and engaging. Today it seems a bit naive and idealistic.

Yet I still rate it 5 stars. Not every book has to connect with me the same way every time. This is truly one of the top ten books anyone under 30 must read. In a weird way I might also put it on the list for those over 50 who are looking for an “act three” in life to also read. For at the core it is a story about moving on, about taking a risk, about having faith, about re-discovering what you know but lost. Despite setbacks it is never too late to regain faith. Go ahead, you won’t be disappointed.

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Review: The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho

The PilgrimageThe Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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A couple weeks ago I had a long car trip so I caught up on pod casts. One of the backlog was the Paulo Coelho interview with Krista Tippett for On Being. I read The Alchemist years ago and rehearing the story and Coelho’ deep spirituality I decided to read some of his other books. I had also been considering walking the Camino de Santiago and wanted to read more about The Way.

Unfortunately, I was thoroughly disappointed in The Pilgrimage. Ok, it was his first book, written very late in life. But there is nothing special about the book. No great insights, no great narrative, lots of weird magical plot lines without much context. It is unclear how much of the story is supposed to be allegory (as he perfected in The Alchemist) and how much is memoir. I found the story unengaging and plodding. I only finished it to write this review, not because the story was enjoyable or interesting. If you are you read The Alchemist and are looking for more of the same, go forward in his works, not back to The Pilgrimage. Give the Pilgrimage a pass.

There are a few tidbits of appealing philosophy tucked into the book, but they are surrounded by ramblings and magical sword searching so as to be almost unrecognizable. For example,

” Changing the way you do routine things allows a new person to grow inside you.”

“We kill our dreams because we are afraid to fight the good fight.”

“The first symptom in the process of killing our dreams is the lack of time. The second symptom of the death of our dreams lies in our certainties. …the third symptom of the passing of our dreams is peace.”

“All of us seek eros, and then when eros wants to turn itself into philos, we think that love is worthless. We don’t see that it is philos that leads us to the highest form of love, agape.”

I also found the exercises Petrus gives Paulo during the trip to be useful. I have tried them all. While not as spiritually transformative as daily meditation, they are interesting diversions. Try them.

Try This: 10 minutes of REAL conversation

This exercise is a combination of active listening and free flow creativity that has popped up in a couple of quite diverse events recently, including the Search Inside Yourself newsletter, a mediation retreat and a Catholic mens group.  Every time I do this exercise I learn something new and grow the relationship with the other person.

Grab a friend, lover, acquaintance, or even a random stranger (I did this once at a coffee shop and it was an AMAZING thing), and take 10 minutes to do the following:

Be in a place where you can hear each other clearly and there will not be interruptions and you will not be self-conscious.  Flip a coin to see who starts.  Set a timer for three minutes.  Each person 3 minutes to talk, while the other listens mindfully without comment.  The initial talking should be done stream of consciousness style – without editing or overthinking.  Talk about anything, the weather, what you are doing in the day, how stupid the exercise is, the silly looking person across the room, whatever, the key is to just keep talking non-stop for 3 minutes.  As you speak, simply notice what emotions arise, what you say and how you say it.  The key is to listen mindfully without interrupting and to share without self-critique or editing.  After both have spoken, spend the last 3 minutes in normal conversation together debriefing and reflecting on the exercise.

When I have done this, it is amazing how long talking for three minutes feels like.  It is also interesting to note all the feelings that come up while trying to fill 3 minutes.  When listening, I find myself striving to jump in and encourage someone having a hard time filling the time, or wanting to comment on something. It takes focused effort to allow the speaker to speak.  When speaking and having someone paying full attention for 3 minutes, it is an amazing gift.  Likely those 3 minutes are the most time during that day that you will be consciously aware you have another beings FULL AND UNDIVIDED ATTENTION.  That is an amazing blessing and reminds me to give that level of attention to others more often.


DGC Glossary: Gainfully Unemployed

Gainful unemployment has gotten a bad rap as basically lazy freeloaders leaching off society who can’t risk losing benefits by getting a real job.

I am trying to rehabilitate gainful unemployment.  Or take “gainful employment” down a notch.  Often “gainful employment” involves slavish dedication to someone else’s goals in exchange for money that maybe some day you can make enough of to finally pursue your own path.  Employment implies working for “The Man”.  Usually all the money gets consumed maintaining the support systems around earning the money and the hamster wheel spins ever faster.  Regardless of income level.  Stepping off or being kicked off the hamster wheel often elicits a truly Orwellian desire to get back on.  Western society teaches us that “gainful employment” fundamental to everything it means to be alive.  I have a problem with that thesis.

What if unemployment was simply not working for The Man.  What if rather than demonizing the unemployed as lazy freeloaders, we encouraged them to take the time to examine their path and find work that more authentically fit their true selves?  Recently I have been running into more people who are getting it right.  After reading The Journey Home by Radhanath Swami, about the revered path of a wandering mendicant in India, I was struck by the stark contrast in how the unemployed are treated.  In India or Tibet, a buy on the street begging might just be an enlightened guru.  In America that thought wouldn’t even cross anyone’s mind.  The Puritan’s sure did a number on us our collective consciousness when they implanted “hard work” = “good person”, “no work” = “sinner, devil” into our collective consciousness.  What if more people took time pause and consider their path? What if we encouraged it?  Contemplation of your path is the “gainful” part.  If more people were living in alignment with their strengths and authentic selves, wouldn’t we all be better off?  Sometimes that takes a couple tries, and a couple pivots and pauses.

For the last three years I have considered myself “gainfully unemployed”.  I have not had a boss, nor have I been the boss of anyone.  While not on a 9-5 schedule, I have pursued many projects and activities to help myself and others.  I have spent quite a bit of time contemplating the path, the goals, the type and form of goals, exploring various diversions, and connecting with many people and places.  I have invested time and money into many projects across the spectrum.  This blog is part of this contemplation path.  While I don’ t know what the exact destination is, there is alot of activity.  Sometimes it is better to journey than to arrive.

So “gainfully unemployed” is actively taking time to contemplate and explore the path in life on your own terms.  Something I highly recommend for at least a year for everyone who can.

Glossary: Non-energetic joy

The kind of joy that exists without a proximate cause.  Joy experienced just by being in the world without anything specific happening.  Often achieved during meditation.  Like the sun that is always shining above the clouds, this kind of joy is always there to be accessed.  A benefit of meditation is recognizing that this kind of thing exists and can be tapped into at any time.  This is the only kind of sustainable joy.  Happiness over the long term is only possible through this kind of joy.

This is my own wording of non-energetic joy as described in Joy on Demand: The Art of Discovering the Happiness Within by the Jolly good fellow from Google.  The original Pali word is Sukha which the most Buddhists translate somewhat differently.  And should never by confused with Suka, the Slavic insult that means “shut up bitch”.

Some quotes from Tan re: the two kinds of joy:  “Our lack of joy is certainly not for lack of ways to gratify our egos and senses.  However, the joy that comes from these sources is inherently problematic since it depends on external factors out of our control.”  “By contrast, joy that comes from within – from a peaceful mind as a result of taking a few breaths, joy from being kind toward others (which involves other people but does not depend on them), joy from our own generosity, joy from doing the right thing – all this joy is ours to have, independent of circumstances.”  Yea I want more of that one please.

The opposite is energetic joy which in Pali is Piti.  Joy that requires a cause.  Like someone saying they love you. Or receiving an award. Or buying something you have wanted for a long time.  In my experience you can’t string together a happiness with alot of instances of Piti.  Although I have certainly tried mightily.

I find both these concepts very useful.  You can’t really find joy or happiness without understand the different forms.  The effortless forms, the forms that are achieved by letting go and waking up are the sustainable, always available forms.  All others are short lived and dead ends.