Hi <<First Name>>,


Even though life has gotten busier for me, it’s been a great month of reading and writing. There wasn’t much I changed, honestly—just remembering that I need to make time for books and reading. I wish I could tell you it happens automatically, but after years of building the habit, I still need to deliberately carve out time and energy. The habit can fall away easily if I don’t keep it up. Same goes for this newsletter, which is reaching you just in the nick of time! On to the main event—three great books this month:


The Scout Mindset by Julia Galef


I’ve mentioned my interest in how beliefs shape our perceptions of reality—see the January 2021 issue (featuring The Magic Feather Effect, Factfulness, and Mindset), as well as the February 2021 issue (Blessed by Kate Bowler). Julia Galef’s The Scout Mindset is the natural extension and inversion of this: How can we perceive reality more accurately, to shape our beliefs? It reminds me of one of my favorite posts I wrote during my time at Lifehacker, about removing status quo bias. This book is super practical, tying decision-making with psychology and biases that our brain naturally falls into ( a comprehensive list exists here). Naturally, The Scout Mindset has been one of my favorite books of the year. It has made as much of an impact on me as Annie Duke’s Thinking In Bets, which I recommended in the March 2018 issue




On wanting things to be true: The best description of motivated reasoning I've ever seen comes from psychologist Tom Gilovich. When we want something to be true, he said, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe this?,” searching for an excuse to accept it. When we don't want something to be true, we instead ask ourselves, “Must I believe this?,” searching for an excuse to reject it.


On motivated reasoning: Even if you've never heard the phrase motivated reasoning, I’m sure you're already familiar with the phenomenon. It's all around you under different names—denial, wishful thinking, confirmation bias, rationalization, tribalism, self-justification, overconfidence, delusion. Motivated reasoning is so fundamental to the way our minds work that it's almost strange to have a special name for it; perhaps it should just be called reasoning.


On the scout mindset: Being in scout mindset means wanting your “map”—your perception of yourself and the world—to be as accurate as possible.


On sweet lemons: A close cousin to the sour grape is the sweet lemon: when it doesn't seem feasible to fix a problem, we may try to convince ourselves that our "problem" is actually a blessing, and that we wouldn't change it even if we could.


On self-protection: For the sake of self-protection, you might err on the side of assuming the worst about yourself. In a popular video, YouTuber Natalie Wynn calls it “masochistic epistemology”—whatever hurts is true. The term resonated with a lot of people. As one viewer commented, “It feels safer to assume that people think I'm unattractive rather than getting my hopes up that someone thinks I'm pretty when they really don't.” [Herbert’s note: Here’s the video and timestamp.]


On beliefs as fashion: Psychologists call it impression management, and evolutionary psychologists call it signaling: When considering a claim, we implicitly ask ourselves, "What kind of person would believe a claim like this, and is that how I want other people to see me?" [Herbert’s note: See The Sum of Small Things from the May 2021 issue, and Galef’s link to Robin Hanson’s essay, “ Are Beliefs Like Clothes?”]


On the wisdom of the crowd: To be clear, deferring to a consensus isn't inherently a sign of soldier mindset. In the web comic XKCD, a parent asks their child that age-old rhetorical question: "If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump, too?" The correct answer is presumed to be a grudging “No, of course not.” But the child replies, “Probably,” because after all, which is more likely—that his friends all went crazy at the same time or that the bridge is on fire? The kid's got a point. Deferring to the consensus is often a wise heuristic, since you can't investigate everything for yourself and other people know things you don't.


On self-image: We use motivated reasoning not because we don't know any better, but because we're trying to protect things that are vitally important to us—our ability to feel good about our lives and ourselves, our motivation to try hard things and stick with them, our ability to look good and persuade, and our acceptance in our communities.


On accepting reality to improve it: Rather than boosting your self-esteem by denying your flaws, you could instead boost your self-esteem by noticing and fixing those flaws. Rather than pursuing social acceptance by suppressing your disagreements with your community, you could instead decide to leave and find a different community you fit in to better.


Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer


This book is probably the most unlike any other that I’ve recommended… ever. In many ways, I’m glad—it is far outside of my filter bubble. Its author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, is a botanist and distinguished professor at the State University of New York. She is also a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Informed by these two realms of experience, she brings an incredibly unique, and well-written, perspective on our relationship to nature. I grew up in the suburbs and city with a very different set of experiences with nature and my environment. This book made me think a lot, not just about how I think about nature, but also how I see my relationships with everyone else in my life, and what we define as progress (see Joel Mokyr’s A Culture of Growth, which I’ve partially skimmed and haven’t fully recommended yet). It also made me reconsider the way I labeled “plants” or “animals”—to paraphrase Kimmerer, the more-than-human beings in my life—who have as much to offer as people do and deserve to be treated as such. Hat tip to my good friend Peter, who mentioned this book a few months ago. The seed of this interest was also planted by my partner Bernice, who has been the more environmentally mindful partner between us. 




On origin stories: Same species, same earth, different stories. Like Creation stories everywhere, cosmologies are a source of identity and orientation to the world. They tell us who we are. We are inevitably shaped by them no matter how distant they may be from our consciousness. 


On instructions: The Skywoman story, shared by the original peoples throughout the Great Lakes, is a constant star in the constellation of teachings we call the Original Instructions. These are not "instructions" like commandments, though, or rules; rather, they are like a compass: they provide an orientation but not a map. The work of living is creating that map for yourself. How to follow the Original Instructions will be different for each of us and different for every era.


On becoming Indigenous: For all of us, becoming Indigenous to a place means living as if your children's future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it.


On Eve: Look at the legacy of poor Eve's exile from Eden: the land shows the bruises of an abusive relationship. It's not just land that is broken, but more importantly, our relationship to land. As Gary Nabhan has written, we can’t meaningfully proceed with healing, with restoration, without "re-story-ation." In other words, our relationship with land cannot heal until we hear its stories. But who will tell them?


In the Western tradition there is a recognized hierarchy of beings, with, of course, the human being on top—the pinnacle of evolution, the darling of Creation—and the plants at the bottom. But in Native ways of knowing, human people are often referred to as "the younger brothers of Creation." We say that humans have the least experience with how to live and thus the most to learn—we must look to our teachers among the other species for guidance.


On land: In the face of such loss, one thing our people could not surrender was the meaning of land. In the settler mind, land was property, real estate, capital, or natural resources. But to our people, it was everything: identity, the connection to our ancestors, the home of our nonhuman kinfolk, our pharmacy, our library, the source of all that sustained us. Our lands were where our responsibility to the world was enacted, sacred ground. It belonged to itself; it was a gift, not a commodity, so it could never be bought or sold. These are the meanings people took with them when they were forced from their ancient homelands to new places. Whether it was their homeland or the new land forced upon them, land held in common gave people strength; it gave them something to fight for. And so—in the eyes of the federal government—that belief was a threat.


On science’s biases: Science pretends to be purely rational, completely neutral, a system of knowledge-making in which the observation is independent of the observer. And yet the conclusion was drawn that plants cannot communicate because they lack the mechanisms that animals use to speak. The potentials for plants were seen purely through the lens of animal capacity. Until quite recently no one seriously explored the possibility that plants might "speak" to one another. But pollen has been carried reliably on the wind for eons, communicated by males to receptive females to make those very nuts. If the wind can be trusted with that fecund responsibility, why not with messages?


On reciprocity: How generously they shower us with food, literally giving selves so that we can live. But in the giving their lives are also ensured. Our taking returns benefit to them in the circle of life making life, the chain of reciprocity. Living by the precepts of the Honorable Harvest—to take only what is given, to use it well, to be grateful for the gift, and to reciprocate the gift—is easy in a pecan grove. We reciprocate the gift by taking care of the grove, protecting it from harm, planting seeds so that new groves will shade the prairie and feed the squirrels.


On strawberries: In a way, I was raised by strawberries, fields of them. Not to exclude the maples, hemlocks, white pines, goldenrod, asters, violets, and mosses of upstate New York, but it was the wild strawberries, beneath dewy leaves on an almost-summer morning, who gave me my sense of the world, my place in it.


On strawberries 2: In Potawatomi, the strawberry is ode min, the heart berry. We recognize them as the leaders of the berries, the first to bear fruit.


On the gift economy: I experienced the world in that time as a gift economy, “goods and services” not purchased but received as gifts from the earth. Of course I was blissfully unaware of how my parents must have struggled to make ends meet in the wage economy raging far from this field.


On gifts: It’s funny how the nature of an object—let's say a strawberry or a pair of socks—is so changed by the way it has come into your hands, as a gift or as a commodity.


On capitalizing on gifts: As a gift-thinker, I would be deeply offended if I saw wild strawberries in the grocery store. I would want to kidnap them all. They were not meant to be sold, only to be given. Hyde reminds us that in a gift economy, one’s freely given gifts cannot be made into someone else’s capital. I can see the headline now: "Woman Arrested for Shoplifting Produce. Strawberry Liberation Front Claims Responsibility."


On a gift’s obligations: A gift is something for nothing, except that certain obligations are attached. For the plant to be sacred, it cannot be sold. Reluctant entrepreneurs will get a teaching from Wally, but they'll never get his money.


On the appreciation of gifts: That is the fundamental nature of gifts: they move, and their value increases with their passage. The fields made a gift of berries to us and we made a gift of them to our father. The more something is shared, the greater its value becomes. This is hard to grasp for societies steeped in notions of private property, where others are, by definition, excluded from sharing.


On responsibilities: From the viewpoint of a private property economy, the gift is deemed to be "free" because we obtain it free of charge, at no cost. But in the gift economy, gifts are not free. The essence of the gift is that it creates a set of relationships. The currency of a gift economy is, at its root, reciprocity. In Western thinking, private land is understood to be a “bundle of rights," whereas in a gift economy property has a "bundle of responsibilities" attached.


Make Your Art No Matter What by Beth Pickens


For some of us, creativity is the soothe getting us through this pandemic. I mention this because as the volume grows on talk of the creator economy, it’s important for us to remember that creativity should be seen way beyond a commercial perspective. Author Beth Pickens works as a creative consultant and counselor. She covers much of the practical, functional, aspects of making art and making a living. I really appreciated her insightful and often incisive observations. Equal parts practical and psychological, I found Pickens often saying what I was thinking, and pointing out myths and challenges I’d internalized and was often wrestling with. I’d recommend this to anyone interested in doing something creative for fun, or for a living. It could save you days, weeks, months, or even years of confusion and doubt.




On defining an artist: These are just a few of the reasons I've heard from artists as to why they don't use the identifier. Making the art seems more certain than calling oneself an artist. Often, it is easier to do than to be.


What is my definition of an artist? The quick and dirty is this: Artists are people who make art.


On compulsion: But I discovered a distinction between my experience of art making and that of every artist I’ve worked with. I do not have the deep compulsion, the crucial need to write or make any kind of work. When I spend great swaths of time distanced from a creative project, my life doesn't suffer. I write because it's part of my job, and I want to offer my services far beyond what my one-to-one consultation practice can accommodate—hence this book. I do not have a compulsion to write, and, when I don't write, I don't feel an internal drifting or a sense that something is wrong. (I just get anxious about my deadline!)


On Shabbat: Though observant Jewish artists make up a small fraction of my consulting practice, I bring the concept of Shabbat to all the artists I work with. I ask them to choose a twenty-four-hour period every week from which they abstain from any work that could lead to making money, including their art. On this day, I instruct them, they can engage all the other selves they contain. They can tend to their bodies, relationships, homes, rest, leisure, and all else that becomes neglected through a week of living in late capitalism.


On administration: I learned this tool from human rights technologist Sabrina Hersi Issa, who I’d like you to look up right now. (Yes, I realize I am asking you to pick back up your phone, but she's worth it: I heard her on the January 5, 2018, episode of my favorite podcast, Call Your Girlfriend. On that episode, she talked about creating a "possibility model" for her life using a monthly Personal Inventory Day. She sets aside the day on her birthday each month (in her case, the 16th). Every month, she dedicates this day to her life maintenance. These days are devoted to things like checking her personal finances, making medical appointments, reviewing long-term goals, sending gratitude notes, considering her obligations, and reflecting on her life. She urges us to remember that “we run our lives, we set our priorities, and we get to thrive.” Go to her website and then listen to the episode now; I’ll be here when you get back. [Herbert’s note: Here’s the episode!]


On warming up: An artist in any discipline can benefit from creating warm-up rituals and practices; warming up doesn't have to be correlated to your practice at all! Painters might listen to loud music and dance alone before they start working. Writers might draw or do a few writing prompts unrelated to their project. Some artists like to read or look through art books before they get going. A brief silent or guided meditation is very useful; you can even try a book-end meditation—a short meditation at the beginning and end of your working time. The point is to ease your body and your brain into your art rather than asking it to suddenly be productive without first warming up.


On monetizing art: Capitalism isn’t something to figure out; it is something to navigate and live within, while chipping away at its harmful effects and structures and finding strategies for usurping its rules. I don't believe that making 100% of your income from your art is a barometer of success, unless you explicitly decide you want it to be. I have a few clients who make 100% of their income from their art and, lo and behold, they are not happier and freer. It turns out happiness and peace of mind are not connected to free time and money; more on that if you return to the Time and Money chapters!


On creative wellness: Your art is already doing a lot for you. Can you consider the radical proposal that even if your work never pays you, it will still be a valuable and integral part of your life, for the rest of your life? What if your art gives you life and your employment pays for that life?


On myths: They often internalize poisonous myths saturating the culture, such as: If you work a day job, you’re a lesser artist; if your art were good enough, you would've made it your full-time job; your creative practice is just a hobby; you should make or will never make money from your art. The reality is, whether your creative work has earned you a dime, it's an essential fact of your existence. And for most of us, earning a living is another essential fact.


On work ethic: It's appalling how many of my clients over the years have called themselves lazy or said they hate to work. Artists are often working more hours than non-artists. The majority of you work one or more jobs to earn a living, and then, during the reprieve from the paying jobs, you devote more hours and days to your creative work.



If you’ve ever wondered what it is I actually do for a career, I wrote about it at my blog, which is the best place to find my writing. I also syndicated it to Medium’s Index publication, where it’s getting decent circulation. 


I’ve also started exploring why I dislike deadlines and meetings (and time pressure in general) so much. I think I’m onto something here—it’s the driving force behind why interruptions are so damaging for many of us, and why ideas like Deep Work and the Maker’s Schedule are so important. 


Also, Humans of New York featured Michael Saviello, also known as Big Mike ( #1, #2). I had the pleasure of interviewing Big Mike for my book, and I wrote about it at this excerpt at Fast Company. His creative practice of painting for an hour at lunch continues to inspire me to write amidst my various other businesses and projects, and I think it will inspire you too. It’s very fitting I included this along with Beth Pickens’ Make Your Art No Matter What.


I started a couple of projects with my editorial studio, I’m excited to share more details in the coming months.


I have a favor to ask of you: If you find this newsletter useful and are interested in supporting it, or please forward it to a friend or share it at your favorite social media platform:


The marketing side of my brain is kicking the writing side of my brain for mentioning this at the end, when it’s—understandably—much less likely you’ll read it. Maybe both sides of my brain will shake hands and reach a compromise one day. But, it only feels fair that you read this when you can decide if you’re satisfied with this issue. 



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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