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Weekly 3: Listening to yourselves


Idea Journal Weekly 3

June 21 · Issue #144 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Get in touch with your past self. See the many faces you wear. Picture yourself in 10 years. (~4 min read)
Note: Ideas #1, #2, and #3 are taken from previous issues, and we’ve combined them here to explore a new core theme: listening to yourselves.

#1. What would your past self say?
In an interview on The Knowledge Project podcast, organizational psychologist Adam Grant points out that we’re not very good at “mental time travel.”
For example, when we face a personal or professional hardship, we tend to amplify its importance in the moment: it can feel like it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.
But it’s unlikely that any single hardship is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, given all of your experiences.
Grant suggests that a crucial skill in successfully dealing with adversity in the present is the ability to get in touch with your past self.
When you’re facing adversity, he recommends these 2 steps:
1. Ask: What would my past self have done in this situation?
When you do this, you’ll often find that you now have resources and skills that help you deal with the present challenge that you didn’t have in the past.
2. If the first step doesn’t help, ask: What’s an adversity I faced that was similarly difficult, or even worse, and how did I overcome it?
Remembering that you’ve overcome challenges in the past has the following benefits:
  • It boosts your self-efficacy and gives you confidence that you can do it again.
  • It can sometimes help you remember problem-solving strategies you applied in the past, but have since forgotten.
You can also use mental time travel to better appreciate those things you’ve already accomplished.
Grant talks about how much he’s loved reading ever since he was a kid, and what a “meaningful life transition” it was for him to become an author and publish his first book, Give and Take.
But by the time he wrote his second book, Originals, it hardly registered as something to mark as a significant milestone: “It’s not like I should have been less excited or proud when book two came out than book one, and yet I had totally adapted to the idea of being an author.”
To better appreciate such milestones when they do occur, Grant now asks himself: If my five-years-ago self knew this was going to happen, how excited would I be?
#2. Each one of us wears many faces
Author Robert Greene writes in his book The Laws of Human Nature that we learn to be consummate actors from an early age.
For example, we learn how to get what we want from our parents and siblings by using certain looks to elicit affection or sympathy. And we become good at flattering people who are important to win over, such as popular peers or teachers.
As we get older and strive to carve out a career, “we learn how to create the proper front in order to be hired and fit into a group culture.”
Whether we become a bartender or an executive or a professor, we must act the part.
This behavior is so ingrained that many of us aren’t aware of it even as it happens.
For contrast, imagine a person who never develops such acting skills. Someone who grimaces when they dislike something you say, who always speaks their mind, and who acts the same way whether they’re talking to a child or their boss. As Greene notes, this is a person who would be “shunned, ridiculed, and despised.”
To better appreciate your own acting skills, Greene recommends paying attention as you interact with different members of your family, and with your boss and colleagues at work: “You will see yourself subtly change what you say, your tone of voice, your mannerisms, your whole body language, to suit each individual and situation.”
You wear, for example, one face when you’re trying to impress someone, and a different face if the person you’re interacting with is familiar, and you can let your guard down.
For Greene, our natural tendency to play different roles is best captured by Shakespeare in the play As You Like It:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.”
#3. Taking inspiration from your future self
In an interview titled How to Design a Life, designer and educator Debbie Millman tells entrepreneur Tim Ferriss about an exercise she gives her students to help them imagine what their lives will be like in the future.
Millman’s “Your Ten-Year Plan for a Remarkable Life” exercise prompts you to write down exactly what you think you’ll be doing on a given day in 10 years.
Here’s how to do it in 2 steps:
1. Imagine yourself as 10 years older, and in as much detail as possible answer the below questions. Capturing your responses could take up to 20 pages or as few as 2 – the key is to dream big and without fear.
  • Where are you living?
  • Who do you live with?
  • Do you have a significant other? What are they like?
  • Do you have children? What are they like?
  • Do you have pets?
  • How is your health?
  • Do you live in an apartment or a house?
  • What is your furniture like?
  • Are you in the city or in the country?
  • What kind of clothes are you wearing?
  • What is your career?
  • What are you reading?
  • What are you creating?
  • What excites you?
  • What do you want?
2. Then read your answers once a year and see what happens. For Millman, this process works like “magic.”
Quote of the week
“The only style worth having is the one you can’t help.”
- Entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham in his essay Taste for Makers
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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