Hi <<First Name>>,
In high school, my english teacher introduced us to the term metacognition; thinking about thinking. Although that was my first encounter with the word, it was something I’d been noticing since I was a boy trying to persuade my daycare teachers to substitute my hard-boiled egg for a scrambled egg.
Understanding the mind is not just a fun theoretical, academic, exercise; as Mihnea Moldoveanu and Roger Martin write in Diaminds, “The opportunity cost of forgoing opportunities to learn to produce more successful patterns of thought is too high, because thinking shapes action, and action shapes outcomes, and the resulting outcomes are what make up our ‘lives’ and destinies.” I hope that these four books not only provoke you to think more about your own thinking, but also how your thinking can shape the outcome of each day of your life:
The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman
I found this book during my research for one of my favorite, and final, articles at Lifehacker. Most of us see luck as a purely chance-based factor, or believing that luck doesn’t matter and that we can overcome any circumstance. Author Richard Wiseman decided to explore luck and study it with the scientific method. He shows us how we can affect and influence luck, and the differences in how lucky and unlucky people think and behave. He also distills this down to very simple fundamental principles and ideas, which he calls his school of luck. He shares all of that in this book, which I really enjoyed.
On behavioral differences: The differences between the lucky and unlucky people were dramatic. The lucky people smiled twice as much as unlucky people and engaged in far more eye contact. However, perhaps the biggest differences emerged when we examined the degree to which they engaged in ‘open’ or ‘closed’ body language.
On friendship: Lucky people are effective at building secure, and long lasting, attachments with the people that they meet. They are easy to get to know and most people like them. They tend to be trusting and form close friendships with others.
On relaxation: ...lucky people have much lower Neuroticism scores on the personality test than unlucky people. This can make a big difference when it comes to them being relaxed enough to notice chance opportunities.
On noticing: Lucky people’s ability to notice opportunities is a result of their relaxed way of looking at the world. It is not that they expect to find certain opportunities, but rather that they notice them when they come across them.
On filters: He had noticed that whenever he went to a party, he tended to talk to the same type of people. To help disrupt this routine, and make life more fun, he thinks of a colour before he arrives at the party and then chooses to speak only to people wearing that colour of clothing! At one party he only spoke to women in red; at another he chatted exclusively to men in black.
Trying Not to Try by Edward Slingerland
My partner recommended this article to me, which I happily found the book from. Edward Slingerland blends modern psychology and neuroscience with ancient Eastern texts and philosophies. In today’s modern, productive, culture, we’re focused on doing and producing results; the philosophy that this espouses is not doing and allowing results. In other words, try to let go — try to not to try. The title is reflective of this paradoxical book; it’s a rewarding read, but it can be dense and meandering at points.
Quoting Charlie Parker: “Don’t play the saxophone. Let it play you.”
On spontaneity: Spontaneity in the West is typically associated with individuality—people just doing whatever they want. Wu-wei, on the other hand, means becoming part of something larger: the cosmic order represented by the Way.
On values: One can think of this larger whole as a framework of values—that is, a structure within which we situation ourselves or our actions and that allows us to classify some things as good and others as bad and to behave accordingly. … Science can tell us what is, not what should be: it traffics in facts, not values. This means that we go beyond the facts anytime we make value judgments.
On classical hedonism: The only way to truly maximize pleasure, in the Greek hedonists’ view, was to stick to eternal, imperishable, pleasures like philosophical reflection, while keeping one’s involvement in the physical world to a bare minimum.
On learning: As Confucius puts it, ‘I once engaged in thought for an entire day without eating and an entire night without sleeping, but it did no good. It would have been better for me to have spent that time in learning.’ Thinking on one’s own might be compared to randomly banging on a piano: a million monkeys given a million years might produce something, but it’s better to start with Mozart.
The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey
This book came recommended by a friend after I talked about Trying Not to Try. Through the game of tennis, W. Timothy Gallwey explains the relationship between the conscious (Self 1) and unconscious mind (Self 2). He talks about not forcing excellence or learning, but allowing yourself the time to learn it. In an age where “crushing” and “hustle” are key elements, I believe that this is a key advantage — knowing when and how to still your conscious mind, and trusting your unconscious to take over.
On stillness: Perhaps a better way to describe the player who is ‘unconscious’ is by saying that his mind is so concentrated, so focused, that it is still.
On trusting yourself: Self 1 does not trust Self 2, even though it embodies all the potential you have developed up to that moment and is far more competent to control the muscle system than Self 1.
On allowing: “In fact, don’t try to hit the ball at all. Just let your racket contact the ball where it wants to, and we’ll see what happens.”
On relaxed concentration: All these skills are subsidiary to the master skill, without which nothing of value is ever achieved: the art of relaxed concentration.
On judgment: What is important to see here is that neither the ‘goodness’ nor ‘badness’ ascribed to the event by the players is an attribute of the shot itself. Rather, they are evaluations added to the event in the minds of the players according to their individual reactions.
Strangers to Ourselves by Timothy D. Wilson
The unconscious mind influences everything we do. Even though we don’t fully understand it yet, this book shows the science of how it works. It’s a theoretical book that explores topics like how our identities form, our motivations, and how we think about the world. Ultimately, it’s still scratching the surface on our understanding of our minds, but even that exploration is already vast and rich. This book is jam-packed with interesting ideas, theories, and metaphors to shed just a bit more light on how our brains work.
On the unconscious: It is thus best to think of the adaptive unconscious as a collection of city-states of the human mind and not as a single homunculus like the Wizard of Oz, pulling strings behind the curtain of conscious awareness.
On definition: A better working definition of the unconscious is mental processes that are inaccessible to consciousness but that influence judgments, feelings, and behavior.
On habit: People are creatures of habit, and the more they have used a particular way of judging the world in the past, the more energized that concept will be.
On the conscious mind as chief: The philosopher Owen Flanagan notes that different U.S. presidents have exerted differing amounts of control over governmental policy, and that a more accurate view of the role of consciousness may be consciousness-as-Ronald-Reagan. According to many historians, Reagan was more of a figurehead than most presidents and did not exert very much control over the government. … Often the best he or she can do is to nudge the vast bureaucracy onto a slightly different course. In fact there is a danger to making major policy changes for which the rest of the mind is unsuited.
On rigidity: A disadvantage of a system that processes information quickly and efficiently is that it is slow to respond to new, contradictory information.
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I hope that some of these passages unlock the hidden doors of your mind. Maybe some will serve as catalysts for change. And remember, they’re signposts. It’s up to you whether you want to apply them or not. Reply to this and let me know which quotes or books resonate with you, what you think of the newsletter, and if there’s anything I can support you with.
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