Brain Gains # 2 - Annual Reviews, Shower Thoughts and Pushing Limits
The Power of Annual Reviews 📝
Am I climbing the right mountain? Where am I spending my time and energy? What did I accomplish this year, and where did I fail?
These are the types of questions that an annual review process can help answer. I’ve been writing an annual retrospective since 2019 based on James Clear’s framework. It’s been a useful practice for reflecting on my wins and struggles, and for reminding me what happened over the last year.
I’d highly recommend giving this process a shot this year. Even if you don’t publish your work online - but you should try! - write it down in a journal or in a Google Doc. You’ll feel proud of what you’ve accomplished and inspired to make positive changes for the forthcoming year.
I’m still working on my review for 2022. Below you’ll find links to my prior retrospectives for inspiration:
2021 Annual Retrospective (I forgot “What I Learned” in this review…oops!)
How to Talk to People 🗣
Conversation Skills Essentials
The COVID pandemic ruined my conversation skills.
All of a sudden, I felt awkward more often talking to people I knew pretty well. I had more difficulty focusing on what they had to say, filling my head instead with a reply when they stopped speaking. I also struggled to come up with topics to talk about.
I’m willing to bet I’m not alone.
Tynan provides some useful conversation advice. Most of it would appear straightforward at first glance. But I would urge you to ask yourself some of the following questions:
How often do I interrupt the other person? Do I mentally disregard parts of what they are saying to recall what I’d like to say when they’re done speaking?
When the other person is done speaking, do I immediately relate what they’ve said to my own experience rather than honing in on them? How often do I truly listen to what they are saying?
Do I show the other person that I’m interested? Do I ask follow-up questions?
How many of my conversations stay surface-level? How often do I try to ask more personal questions to learn more about the other person?
Keeping questions like these in mind when conversing with others will make people enjoy sharing their stories with you.
Everyone has an interesting story to share. They’re just looking for someone willing to listen.
A shower a day for great ideas, you say? 🚿💭
The science of why you have great ideas in the shower
Unless you sing in the shower, you may have come up with an interesting idea or solution to a problem while standing under the hot water.
Showers are a great place to let your mind wander. Studies have shown that the default mode network (DMN) of your brain becomes more active during mind-wandering. In this state, our brain “keeps spinning and you can get restructuring of elements of the problem, pieces get reshuffled, and something clicks”.
I don’t spend enough time mind-wandering. I listen to a podcast when doing the dishes or vacuuming. I listen to music at the gym. And I catch myself scrolling through apps when I have a second of downtime.
We should carve out more time to flex our creative muscles. Going for walks without headphones. Doing the dishes without the TV on in the background. Working out without music or a podcast.
As a software developer, I’ve encountered some complex problems that I would break my head over. Usually, the solution would come to me either after a good night’s sleep or while my mind was wandering.
Take some time this week to put your phone down and enjoy wherever your mind decides to take you. Or go take a shower.
Stoic Practice: Negative Visualization 🏛
Stoicism is an ancient philosophy that has gained traction over the years thanks to the likes of Ryan Holiday and William B. Irvine. Over the next several issues, I’ll share a Stoic practice or idea that you can reflect upon or apply to try yourself. Hopefully, you’ll discover that Stoicism has numerous practical applications to bring more joy, calm, gratitude, and intention to your life.
This week’s practice: Negative Visualization.
Negative visualization is a short practice in which you picture your life without someone or something important to you. This could be a loved one, a pet, or even your morning cup of coffee. Sound dark? Maybe. But this practice is meant to be brief and can last only several seconds if you’d like.
By imagining what life would be like without that person or object, you’ll feel grateful for their existence. In just a few short moments you can gain a greater appreciation for someone you might take for granted.
Your turn 👉. Spend a few minutes - or seconds! - practicing negative visualization today. How did it feel? Did it improve your day? Let me know in the comments!
Chris Hemsworth is one of my man-crushes. He shares his experience filming Limitless, a short documentary on pushing the body and mind to their limits. Chris talks about:
How fully submerging in the Arctic was the most difficult thing he’s ever done
His experience living like an 80-year-old for a few days and stepping into the shoes of the elderly
How he’s combatting his heightened risk for Alzheimer’s disease
Growth comes from doing difficult things. Chris took this to the extreme in Limitless. I haven’t watched the documentary yet, but I certainly want to after listening to this episode.
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