How can I accelerate my personal growth?

Answer by Jim Stone:

Get In Over Your Head. Work To Get Your Head Above Water. And Do It Over And Over Again.

In other words, choose "anxiety-driven growth" over "boredom-driven growth".

To explain what I mean, I'll use Jesse Schell's elaboration on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow diagram:

For Csikszentmihalyi, flow is a magical zone between anxiety and boredom.

The vertical axis represents the size of the challenges we are facing.

The horizontal axis represents the power of our skills in relation to those challenges.

When our challenges exceed our skills (in the upper left part of the diagram), we feel anxiety.

When our skills exceed our challenge (in the lower right part of the diagram), we feel boredom.

When our skills and challenges are closely matched (the diagonal zone from lower left to upper right), we are in a sweet spot where we feel neither too much anxiety nor too much boredom.

Csikszentmihalyi calls this diagonal channel the “flow channel”.

Flow is what we feel when we take on challenges that are well matched to our skills. That doesn’t mean the challenges are “easy” relative to our skills. In fact, Csikszentmihalyi says that to feel fully engaged, we must stretch ourselves a bit beyond our current comfort level – but not so much that we feel helpless or completely disoriented.

The Relationship Between Flow and Growth

Shell’s directed graph allows us to talk about the relationship between flow and growth.

A4 is a better place to be than A1. At A4 we are working on bigger challenges than at A1, and we have more skills to meet those challenges.

And notice that there are two ways to get from A1 to A4.

First, you can move from A1 to A2, and then to A4. On this path, you develop new skills without much challenge. And once you start to feel competent with those new skills, and you start to get bored with the way you are using those skills, you can take on a challenge that will use those skills and get your mind back in the game.

This might be the approach of a math student who keeps working on easy problem sets until he gets so good at them that he’s bored, and then decides to tackle a harder problem set.

Second, you can move from A1 to A3, and then to A4. On this path you take on a challenge before you have the skills to meet the challenge. This creates anxiety, and the anxiety drives you to develop the skills you need to meet the challenge.

This might be the approach of a math student who jumps right to the most difficult problem set and fills in her skills as she works on those problems.

We can call the first path boredom-driven growth (which is actually boredom-driven challenge acceptance).

And we can call the second path anxiety-driven growth (which is actually anxiety-driven skill acquisition.)

Choose Anxiety-Driven Growth

Of course there is a limit to how far out of your comfort-zone you should go. You still need to be somewhat realistic. You shouldn't bet your whole career, for instance, on completing a project that's WAY above your abilities in too little time.

But, within reason, anxiety-driven growth will help you grow faster than boredom-driven growth.

So avoid the temptation to master all the skills you need before taking on a challenge.

Whenever you can, as long as the water's not too far over your head, just jump in, and figure it out as you go.



For a little longer answer, read this: To Flow, Or Not To Flow?

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How should a 22-year-old invest time?

Life Advice for a 22 year old

Answer by Tom Jackson:

I have a 22-year old son, and my advice to him is the same:

Between 16 and about 30, life gives us incredible energy.  After that, we have less energy and less time.  As Franklin said, "Do ye love life?  Then do not waste time, for that is the stuff life is made of."  You see, one of the great lessons of Western Civ is to delay gratification in hopes of a better reward down the road. Hence, the many compelling time-wasters of our day (mindless internet surfing, video games, texting, endless social media use, porn, bad relationships etc.,) –these are all a slow drip of poison for the life you hope to have. You can never get back those many hours wasted.

What should one do instead?  Read, study and build skills. Listen to old people.  Hone your ability to concentrate. You are now in the 'habit-forming' time of your life, that will carry forward for many years. Guard your integrity: your word, the quality of your friendships, the interests you allow yourself. Be fully in the moment; life is more interesting that way.

My son is a student and a cook.  If I was between jobs, I told him, or if I had some days available, I'd ask to work for a week at a few different restaurants as an unpaid intern.  Sign a liability waiver, smile, and tell them you want to learn from experts like them, and all you want at the end of the week is a great reference or referral.  They may feel complimented, and give you a chance. They may keep you on, as a paid employee. You'll learn to cook other things, and add a new cuisine to your experiences.  Think about your young life this way, as an opportunity to pack away experiences.  It's hard to find the time to learn them, later.

For those NOT on scholarship and WITHOUT deep parental financial support:  A young person should first seriously consider learning a trade, at a tech or occupational school, before their college career.  A trade: working with your hands with a bona fide skill connects you to the real world in a way classroom knowledge cannot.  Your work at that trade will pay you much more per hour.  Paying for college by working full time at a low-wage entry level job is mind-numbingly hard. Besides, this will make you more interesting.  "Hmm, an accountant who can weld? I better read this resume…"  Personally, I use all kinds of skills I picked up while young, which come in handy now.

Ah… but be careful: Peer pressure will urge you toward making that trade into your life. That extra money will be a big temptation. Do you want to stop there?  Or continue on to a better place, and a 4-year degree?  HAVE A PLAN – don't just coast along. Use the trade as a tool to better yourself, as part of a broader goal, with timelines, a series of goals and discipline.

Don't be afraid to realize that some of your friends may be time-vampires, or for that matter, emotion-, or energy-vampires. All relationships are a give-and-take, but if your friends chronically derail you from your goals, dreams or better judgment, get new friends.

One should avoid student loans if at all possible. In the US, we're probably looking at the bubble of higher education bursting soon, because the cost of education has risen so much faster than inflation, and because the quality of education is declining. Admissions officers lie. "Oh yes, Modern Dance is a fine major. I'm sure you'll find many rewarding opportunities with this degree, as do all our grads.  Just sign here…"  And on this subject, look at what starting income is for your proposed field of study. Don't waste your financial aid.  If you are going into debt with student loans, know that a new grad will almost certainly be paying huge bills in comparison to their salary – and for decades – if they've chosen a sociology degree, architecture, or fine arts, or womens' studies, or basically anything in the soft sciences, with the salaries those degrees command, even if they can find a job!  Sorry.  Hard sciences, business or pre-professional curriculums are a much better bet. [For more, see this link for a study of Return on Investment (ROI) for US colleges, and my response to Dan Dorpsworthy, below.]

I want to be clear:  I like (good) architecture, and women (as a rule), and (good) art.  But these degrees don't pay well, or there aren't many opportunities with those degrees compared to the number of grads.

Quick story: my car dealer had a 22 year old come in to buy a new car.  He'd just graduated from a state school with a degree in… Geneaology.  He had $140k in student loans, and was looking for work, having a tough time of it.  My dealer told him he was nuts to take on more debt, that he would be lucky to get even a $40k/yr job.  It absolutely shocked the kid, and when he recovered, he stormed out; it was probably the first time someone told him the truth about his prospects.  But it was the truth, nevertheless.
Ah, but I digress.  Let't talk about you.
 
Brain-building – If you can't concentrate and read a book for a few hours, work on it anyway.  Until at least the age of 25, the brain is still developing its habits.  Starve its craving for the video games you play, and feed its ability to focus on books or a study topic.  This gets much easier with practice. 

On that subject, your choices in life don't just define you, they become you. You are your choices:  That simple fact is the greatest piece of wisdom anyone ever gave me.  See, our brains grow to meet the experiences we give ourselves.  If you spent hundreds or thousands of hours on video games, your brain will be wired to seek pleasure through them, and it will be a serious battle of withdrawal to break away from that endorphin source.  The same is true with all habits we nurture.  When YOU control your brain's input, instead of passively seeking whatever is pleasurable, you can begin to change your habits and your very self.  Example: More study make studying easier. Or, regular writing helps you communicate better over time. Talking, versus texting helps you develop interpersonal skills that will make you more valuable as an employee. You'll create new clusters of brain synapses to support an ability or skill where they didn't exist before.  But the reverse it true, too, for bad habits…

Porn is destructive.  If you have to watch porn to get turned on, you are harming your ability to find natural pleasure with your partner. Eventually, that porn habit will destroy your relationships. It fairly quickly leads to other bad things, like dysfunction, secrecy, cheating, hurtful behavior, unrealistic perceptions of yourself and others, self-hatred, disease and destruction of trust.  It will consume you, and dramatically change how you would normally relate with your world. Ban it from your mind.  Be your own censor.  You are worth more than to let yourself descend into that hell. (Not convinced? Watch the video I've appended to the end of this post.)
 
Anything you do repetitively helps you become an expert at it. So ask yourself, "Do I really want to commit thousands of hours toward being an expert at video games, or at writing Reddit memes, or at an internet porn obsession?"  Ugh. At the end of your life, will you wish you had spent more time doing those things?  Do they offer any redeeming, long-term value to you? Of course not. Some day, young one, you will understand what I am writing here. I'd rather you understand it now, than as a broken 70-year old, alone and muttering about the unfairness of life, and all your missed chances.
 
Be discerning – don't just consume whatever mindless pleasure comes your way, like an unthinking organism.  Guard your gates.

Be Fully in the Moment – Do you find yourself texting in class, or at a dinner with friends?  When you do that, those around you often feel uncomfortable, as if you are saying they are less important. Put it away, and open up your awareness to all you are missing. There are people you know whom you will never see again, old folks who will die, and younger people who may move away. Let them have a great last memory of you.

Mentors: You may have a mom or dad who can give you practical advice.  Or a grandparent.  Seek them out, or an older person who is 'disinterested,' meaning they don't just think the world revolves around you. Give your mentors the freedom to tell you the truth, even to hurt your feelings.  Listen to how they perceive you, and your talents and weaknesses.  Eventually, you will use your talents to address and fix your weaknesses, but not if you're stuck blaming others for them.  Even if it was your parent's damn fault.

Ladies, be hard to get. Or at least, don't be easy. It messes with your head, and makes you think you have less value.  No meaningful relationship starts at 1AM.  At some level, men, more than women, are wired for the chase, for the conquest. Yes, it's disturbing to see how they can walk away from a brief fling with a partner. Yet, they often do walk away, unless you build a friendship first that shows him you have many attributes of value, not just sex. This link describes the hormonal and psychological basis for this. My dear, you are worth more than being a booty call. If, for him, you are just 'scratching an itch', it is unlikely to turn into something more when the other parts of his brain kick in and he associates YOU with BEING EASY. And, at 1AM, are you really in your best frame of mind to determine if he is worth your time? Focus on your goals, on real people and not players, and stay healthy and childless until you find a real partner. A man, not a boy. If you don't know, watch how he acts when under stress, or how he treats strangers. Don't make excuses for him: either he is ready for real life, or he's still in the nest. Maybe what he really needs is for you to walk away.

Especially for young men, a "coming of age" experience is crucial to our psychological development.  I hitchhiked across Canada. Leaving the safety net and going it on one's own is an important step for how a boy becomes a man because it gives us a foundation for our own self-reliance. You will remember it when you need a boost of courage.  Where others have suggested 'travel' here, that's fine, but just another spring break trip to a beach hotel is almost certainly a waste.

I'm personally very worried how we teach young boys, and the lack of ambition for many teenage males. It's led to a vast lost generation of aimless men in their 20s and 30s, and it is the reason why there are far more undergrad women now, than men. This is a topic for a different post, but if interested, read "Boys Adrift" by Leonard Sax MD PhD.  The summary: Boys and girls develop at different rates. At kindergarten, some kids are 'ready to learn,' while others need another year of playtime. This is normal.  But we harm those who aren't ready – as it turns out, this is mostly boys – by forcing them to sit at attention in school when their brains still have minimal (toddler) attention spans. (They'll catch up, sometimes surpassing girls, sometimes falling behind in all areas of development, but the error comes in thinking both sexes are the same.) Boys at the age of five need more physical activity or playtime as they transition into schoolkids. Without it, school becomes a chore, and an unhappy one, where they turn off to learning, and turn away from achievement and ambition, for life.  This isn't a reflection of natural 'smarts' or 'stupidity.'   Many smart boys can quickly make a habit of turning off when it comes time to learn, when if they'd waited just a year to start school, their lives would be completely different.  The book also outlines several other disastrous errors in how we teach boys compared to girls.  The concept I raised earlier about changing the mind's habits can be seen in effect from these early experiences.   New parents, this is a very good book for you to read
 
If I've described YOU, listen: it's not to late. Yes: knowing all this, you can change the way you think, but it's hard. It will be some months before you begin to see the rewards of denying bad habits with disciplined attention to productive pursuits. Don't focus on the time you lost, but on the future you can still gain.

Have you hurt someone recently?  Yes you have.  Face it.  Find a way to make amends, and explore and exhibit genuineness, kindness and empathy.  Let the other person's emotions wash over you, and get a sense of their perspective. Breathe it in, and let yourself feel bad.  It's human. Self-focused narcissism that would discount the feelings and needs of others is an utter epidemic right now; a little reasonable guilt, then forgiveness, is a healthy thing. And learn to be courteous to everyone.  You would be astounded to realize just how many people you pass every day who are suffering.

Finally, a habit of clear-eyed self-talk is incredibly valuable, and incredibly hard. If you can learn to put your B.S. excuses aside, and make agreements with yourself that you live up to, you will set yourself up for a far better life than giving in to every temptation that comes your way. When you realize that YOU own your life, and it is yours to create or destroy, that is the beginning of adulthood.

UPDATE:  I'm gratified at all the kind comments about this post, and sincerely hope it helps many of you. The dialog continued a bit, with my back-and-forth with Dan Dorpsworthy, below. It's difficult knowing where to stop giving advice in this kind of post, as while writing I am tempted to put in "just one more paragraph."  Maybe it would be better to do a series on my blog. Best wishes, -Tom
 
Last, on the porn issue. One of the comment writers here, Gonçalo Henrique, sent a terrific TEDS presentation on this subject, and how internet porn addiction – and other addictions – can screw up your life. It's worth watching:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSF82AwSDiU&feature=youtu.be

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Why is “neediness” such a repulsive characteristic?

Answer by Oliver Emberton:

Let's play a mating game.

Put 100 men and 100 women in a sealed room. On each person's forehead, write a random number from 1 to 10, and call that their 'attractiveness'.

You're not able to see the number on your forehead, and no-one will tell you what it is either. The game is to pair up with the highest ranked person of the opposite sex that you can.

Ready? Go.

Pretty much immediately, any nines and tens are surrounded by huge crowds vying for their attention.

If the crowds flock towards you, you know your score must be pretty damn good. If strangers flee as you approach – not so much.

People will lower their expectations when rebuffed, and raise them when surrounded. If every single person you meet wants to pair with you, you'll probably never settle for less than a ten.  

But for everyone else, you're forced to guess and gamble. And the clue to your attractiveness is how needy other people act around you.

This game is simpler than real life, but the essence holds: if someone is desperate to be with you, chances are they think you're better than they are. They may be utterly wrong, but that's what they're conveying.

Conversely, if someone is aloof with their affections, they probably think they can do better. They may also be wrong, but in both cases we're wired to interpret this as feedback on our own attractiveness. You're trying to guess the number on your head, and their feedback is all you have.

You can't help being influenced by this, and it's one reason why 'playing it cool' is such an attractive trait, even if it's such an easily contrived one. Being needy essentially says "you're so much better than me, please pick me". Not a great sales pitch.

Neediness is repulsive because we've evolved to recognise it as a bad signal. It's like a fear of spiders or scorpions: a primal instinct which protects our best interests, even if we don't understand why.


If this strikes you as depressing and soulless, take heart.

Real life has a few extra qualities that make it less of a one-dimensional meat market. For one: all numbers can change. But most of all: everyone sees a slightly different number when they look at each other.

All the nines and tens follow my blog for more like this.

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My friend never studied during college, but now he has a great job and recently he became a millionaire. How is this possible?

Why the dumb guy in your high school is richer than you.

Answer by Adrian John Cartwood:

My friend never studied in college. In fact, at our high school, he was voted Least Likely To Succeed.

Yet, just last month, I bumped into him again after 20 years. We recognized each other straight away.

Only, I was getting out of my BMW, but he was getting out of his Ferrari.

Naturally, I was a little surprised/curious (with just a hint of jealousy?) …

… so, after the initial pleasantries were over, I jumped right in:

Me: "Looks like you've done pretty well for yourself, what do you do?"

Him: "I specialize in buying old rolls of material from fashion houses and selling them at various markets at a 3% profit."

Me [eyeing his Ferrari again]: "3%?! That doesn't sound like much margin to run a business on."

Him: "Oh, I assure you, it's plenty! I buy the material at $1 a yard and sell it at $3 a yard. That's 3% …"

Disclaimer – Old story, great moral: you don't need a college degree to succeed in business … just do it 😉

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John Sturges will school you on filmmaking in 30mins

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“My filmmaking education consisted of finding out what filmmakers I liked were watching, then seeing those films. I learned the technical stuff from books and magazines, and with the new technology you can watch entire movies accompanied by audio commentary from the director. You can learn more from John Sturges’ audio track on the ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’ laserdisc than you can in 20 years of film school. Film school is a complete con, because the information is there if you want it.”

— Paul Thomas Anderson

Part 1

Part 2

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Go ahead, go start your filmmaking career by watching movies.

What is this thing called A/B Testing?

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I only recently understood A/B Testing when my boss asked me to work on email marketing campaign. We signed up for mailchimp (free account, those guys are awesome), and after a reaching some milestone on using the application. I unlocked the A/B split testing tool on the application.

Basically mailchimp A/B testing for email newsletter helps you test which subject lines work best.

A/B testing is testing an original idea vs. a new version of that idea to know which works best (sells more, as the case may be).

But if you still dont understand all my rambling then you want to watch this brilliant cartoon about A/B testing from the folks at VisualWebsiteOptimizer.